Issue: February 2006
Backing into Winter

    This, to borrow from T.S. Eliot, is the way the boating season ends, not with a bang but a whimper. So I was thinking last Sunday as I motoredQuillacross the creek toward the launch ramp. Backwards.

     More than once I've suspected that boats can read our minds, and this was one of those moments. I didn't want to go, and neither didQuill. Which may explain why she refused to cross the creek in the traditional, dignified, bow-first fashion.

     December had come upon us with a fierce frost in its heart, and nearly every morning we woke to the sight of a cove glossy with ice. The plan had been--as it always is--to keep the boats in the water as long as possible; you never know when we'll have a warm snap, right? One of those lovely uncanny days when it's suddenly 50 degrees, and the sun on your face is like the warm hand of a long-lost friend. Pneumonia weather, it's often called. I call it a good day to get on the water again.

     But we were having none of that in December, and so one gloomy Sunday morning Johnny broke the bad news. We needed to get Quill out of the water while we could still get her out of the cove. The big boats could stay a little longer--they were already winterized.Quill, the runabout, was not, and was the least able to punch through any ice.

     Johnny walked down to the dock to get her started; I moped around the house, nursed my despondent sailor's soul and fended off my desire for comfort food (it was a little early in the day for chocolate, even by my standards). Finally I crunched my way through the ice and snow down to the dock and stepped reluctantly aboard. I would drive the boat and Johnny would meet me at the ramp with the truck and trailer.

     Except the boat wasn't having it. I had cast off all the lines and backed carefully out of the slip, then put the throttle in forward . . . and the motor just made an obnoxious, irritated clicking sound. I tried again. Same result.Quillwas fine with going backward (toward summer, I couldn't help thinking), but not forward. Not toward winter. I paddled back to the slip, and Johnny popped the cowling and fiddled a bit with the throttle cable. But his heart wasn't in it either; he wanted to go backwards too. Still, we had to get the boat out.

     So backwards I went. I trundled all the way across the creek to the boat ramp in reverse, feeling completely ridiculous. And a little miffed. It was actually turning into a decent day, fine enough for a ride up the river.

     "If you would just behave," I said to the boat, "we could go for a nice spin and avoid this on-the-trailer unpleasantness." As we approached the ramp I decided to give it one more try and, wouldn't you know, she slipped right into forward. Once, twice, three times.

     Who knows, really, why boats do what they do? Perhaps it was that mention of a last blast up the river that made her reconsider her behavior. Or maybe she--as I--still had to let the grim reality of no more warm summer evenings for a while sink in.

     But there was Johnny, waiting, and winter, too. So I turned her around and nudged her gently onto the trailer. And that was that, but not without a whimper.