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Tarred & Feathered

About seven years ago, I had just separated from my marriage and decided to do something just for me. It was Father's Day and I was still living in Portland, Maine; enjoying a day that could only be described as an "11" on a scale of 10. High vaulted cobalt blue sky containing the occasional 'cotton ball' fair weather cumulus cloud held motionless for decorative perspective.

I had been 'yaking for about 3 years and had done several arduous trips, including parts of the Maine Island Trail, and had well experienced what the sea can throw your way in an instant. However, I was in for a lesson that beautiful day.

In the town of Cape Elizabeth there is a natural formation, which is used as a more than adequate boat ramp by the locals for power and paddle boats of all ilks. There are two [+/-] twenty meter granite spits situated about ten meters apart, forming between them a very nice natural boat ramp to either drop a canoe, kayak, or to back down with a boat trailer. This ramp dumps you out into the most northerly part of Saco Bay, an area called Kettle Cove, which is well sheltered by a sizable island, and forms a lovely and protected playground and feeding area for the local seal population.

I put in fairly early that Sunday morning, wanting to be alone on the water and away from stressors. The water was smooth as a lake while I paddled out several hundred meters to the center of the cove to enjoy it's solitude before the power boats started spoiling the scene; as well as to catch some rays [not an easy thing when wearing a PFD]. It was the picture of perfect peace and the tonic I needed for my Father's Day celebration.

After about an hour of sitting, gently bobbing and reading a Tom Clancy novel; something caught my eye in the water. A flash. Another. Several more. Cool! There were fish all around the boat and their silver scales flashed like shards of aluminum pushing upward towards the surface. I was enthralled. The sea was supplying me with a shower of confetti under my boat.

And then… the flashes became much more frequent and pronounced in their intensity. The water around the boat started to roil and bubble with a brawling mass of silver bodies. Fins and bodies started to break the surface and splash me and the boat with water. Refreshing in the heat of the morning, but understandingly unsettling given that I was alone off shore. As the tumult continued to increase, fish started to jump out of the water and plop with a loud splash back into the water. As things continued to crescendo they began to bounce off the deck of the kayak leaving scales and blood streaks across the deck.

It was then I realized what was occurring. The fish I had been so delighted to see were Maidenhead [aka Porgies] and had been drawn to the white hull of the kayak. Since they were so concentrated they had, in turn, drawn the attention of a school of Bluefish, whom were now feeding on the bait fish and making my situation less tenable and decidedly less serene.

Very quickly I found myself floating in a boat which was becoming smeared with scales, slime and blood. Time to beat it out of there in a hurry! I dipped the paddle and stroked off at a rate reminiscent of the local kayak racers, determined to out run the situation. I finally pooped out about five or six meters off the coastal rocks, ending up in a spot with about a meter and a half of depth under the boat. Whew!

Except… the school, still attracted by the white hull and being pursued by the predators, quickly followed me into the shallows! Things quickly became worse than while out in the deep; and all the commotion inevitably drew the attention of the hordes of aggressive gulls making a living in the area. My kayak was sitting in the middle of a 'washing machine' of agitated water and fish innards as the gulls began dive bombing the school looking for an easy meal; all occurring within a paddle's length of the boat. Guts, blood, slime, and feathers all swirled and cluttered the air; invariably attached themselves to the boat and me!! Birds and poop fell from the sky into the water all round me in a screeching and splashing frenzy. YUCK!!

Once again, with adrenaline pumping and a face full of muck, I pulled hard toward the shallows of the shore, finally gliding into and stopping hard in the gravel at the middle of that natural boat ramp. The fish, running out of depth, left abruptly; leaving the water around me once again calm. Whew. That was nasty. Virtually tarred and feathered. Ptoo! What else could go wrong after all that? Oh man!

It was then I finally looked up from my boat to the two spits of granite, towering on either side of me. There looking down at me were about fifty people standing and watching all that had occurred immediately in front of them. After an interminable period of 5 seconds, in unison they broke into applause, cheers and uproarious laughter!

What else could I do? I sighed, gave a deep bow and jumped into the sea.

Chagrin was my lot that day… But at least I didn't get pooped on. It was Father's Day, after all.

Submitted by John Orlowski - Westbury, NY

For more great stories: See the Archive!

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