A Real Power BoaterA couple weeks ago my kayak and I went out to Molly's Glen Falls, better known as Lake Marshfield. It is a sizable lake, over 400 acres, somewhat L-shaped with the landing and a dam at the bottom and end and a long stretch of about three or four miles down the long end opposite the landing. It straddles the tiny villages of Calaise, Greensboro, and Marshfield Vermont, about twenty miles east of Montpelier toward St. Johnsbury along Vermont Route Two.
It was Friday afternoon. The day had been windy but sunny and warm. The sun was just slipping down, leaving one half of the lake in shade when the kayak and I pushed pushed off from the boat landing. Lake Marshfield is a beautiful lake to paddle with gorgeous scenery of Vermont's rolling hills and a mountain called Camel's Hump in the distance. The Green Mountain Power Company owns much of the shoreline and there is only one house on all this vast expanse of water. Despite the lake being a haven for motorboats, waterskiers, people out fishing, and the incessant and uneven rush of traffic along Route Two Lake Marshfield can still feel quite remote, especially at the back end where there is nothing but water, woods, and that haunting call of the loons which nest there.
Though the winds had died somewhat they were still something to contend with. Hard experience had taught me well that Lake Marshfield can be a bear when the wind is up and I was glad I waited until just before dusk. My kayak is an eleven-foot AquaFushion Breeze, made by Novak Canoe of Canada, blue in color (I named it The Blue Meanie), with a multi-chined hull, and generally much stable and tougher than its rather diminutive size would indicate. Heavy winds and high swells hardly bother the Blue Meanie. We went down along the sunny side toward where the loons lived. The winds were at my back. The Meanie and I rolled along in an easy stride over the slight waves. I tried to expend as little energy as possible; it would be a good ways back and things would be a little harder.
The paddling was gorgeous. Only one motorboat was out, a water skier behind it. It was further up toward the road and I watched it buzzing around, the skier jumping over the boat wakes. Then the boat's motor stopped and the skier slid into the water. After that tranquility had returned and I listened to the loons' song. I felt almost like Thoreau on his Walden Pond. As I paddled back, returning along the sunny side, digging harder into water against the wind, the Meanie's bow having fun splicing the waves, I looked again at that distant motorboat and, through the binoculars that I always carry with me, saw someone on the motorboat paddling with a water ski. Something was wrong. I changed course and headed over to them. At least a mile's distance lay between us; though the Meanie moves fast, it took a while to get there. There were three people in the motorboat, a man and two boys. One of the boys was paddling with the water ski. The other was swimming out in front, a rope tied to him, trying to pull the boat along.
"My motor died," the man in the motorboat said. "I can't get it started. I think it's flooded. We don't have any paddles. We just want to get there before nightfall."
The sun had by now slipped below the mountains. They still had a long ways to go to reach the landing.. We all knew that they would never make it before darkness fell.
I still am not sure what foolishness prompted me to do this, but I told the father to fasten the rope to the carry handle on my stern.
"Are you sure?" the father asked with some disbelief.
I was, of course, not sure that this would work but it was worth a try. We tied the rope up, the swimmer climbed out of the water and I dug the paddle in well forward to get a bigger bite. The rope got taunt as I pulled back, then slackened during the glide until the next stroke. The capricious wind decided to pick that time for a last round before nightfall and the waves rose again, necessitating a shorter glide time. How I relished that gliding interval, but with the wind blowing harder this was gone. I just had to keep pulling. Slowly, the landing began to get larger. It must have looked rather interesting from shore to see a paddler on a kayak, a low shape in the water, towing this sixteen-foot behemoth behind it. Someone on shore did question my sanity.
My shoulders hurt and my arms ached. Though the wind was stronger, the Blue Meanie seemed wholly undaunted and we kept a steady pace.
"Damn," the man in the boat said, "We're going to make it."
We close enough to discern the shapes of people fishing from the docks. The cars and trucks there that had been mere specks took shape and form. Night had almost come. I ignored the aching in me and kept paddling. Then, suddenly, a few hundred yards from shore, the boat's engine coughed back to life. I could smell the exhaust.
"You jumpstarted it," the man said. "Who would have thought that a kayak could jump start a motorboat?"
"Certainly not me," I said.
Heartfelt thanks went all around and the man untied the line and I cast off. The boat did a few more turns around the lake. Things felt so much lighter like a great burden had been lifted off me. The Blue Meanie and I headed for shore and pulled out. I could not believe how exhausted I was. Later that night I had a few beers and fell fast asleep, still shaking my head in utter disbelief that a little kayak with a fifty-year-old man paddling it could have pulled in and jumpstarted that motorboat.
Submitted by Walter Carpenter - Montpelier, VT
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