G. SAM PIATT
PDT Outdoors Writer
In a way, I’m glad that I’m a simple man of simple pleasures.
I’ve never been able to afford many of life’s possessions. I’m talking here about wants, not needs. A lot of things I want – a new truck with an extended cab, a new car, a camper – but I don’t spend much time dwelling on such. My needs have generally always been met, for which I am extremely grateful.
And there are so many of the good things in life that are free: The big maple in the front yard filled with the sound of songbirds at daybreak; the sunset that turns the evening sky crimson; the laughter of neighborhood children at play; the aroma of steak on the grill (or at least hamburgers).
People who accumulate vast holdings and possessions far beyond their needs, I would think, would live in dread of having to go off and leave them. And leaving can come much more suddenly that we expect, though it should never be a surprise, for we surely realize that we are all just one heartbeat away from leaving. I’ve lost friends during the past few years to cancer, stroke, accidents and heart attack.
A WILD RIDE
And, speaking of leaving, I’ve sometimes wondered how I’m still here, considering the storms of life I’ve been through. I’m talking literally. I’ve survived some horrific storms on lakes from Canada to Florida.
Still uppermost in my mind is the storm that hit us more than 35 years ago on Rondeau Bay, a seven-mile long by three-mile wide bay off the shore of Lake Erie at the tiny village of Erieau, Ontario, Canada. The twin tornadoes that roared around that mid-September evening on parts of Lake Erie missed us, but their aftermath, carrying winds of 60 mph, hit the dock where we’d tied our boats.
The four of us – John Weiss and his father, Bill, and me and my father, Bruce – were in the cabin deciding the Shanghai Rummy Championship of the camp when we suddenly heard the wind roaring through the treetops like a runaway freight train.
Camp owner Ted Higgins stuck his head in the door and yelled at John, “Your boat’s sinking! It’s about to rip loose! Waves are breaking over the dock!”
This was the maiden voyage for my friend John’s new 1976 Ranger bass boat, an 18-footer made especially for him by Forrest Wood in Flippin, Ark.
He likened his feel for the new boat to one of a first date with a beautiful woman. “We became a team on that first day,” he said. “I felt a certain inexplicable sense of warmth, satisfaction and love for that Ranger.”
My father and I fished in my 16-foot Sears aluminum v-nose. That first day was fabulous fishing for all four of us. If not for the card game after supper, we would have been back out on that bay when the storm hit.
John’s Ranger was equipped with lots of electronic equipment and a 115-hp Evinrude outboard. The rig, which sold for $7,000, could swamp and fill with water but would never completely sink. That’s because it had lots and lots of floatation foam pumped into its hull.
Smaller boats had broken loose and were bobbing and cutting through the water all around. Some of those that had been secured to floatation rings out away from the dock were floating upside down.
Higgins and others had a line on John’s boat and were trying to pump the water out of it with a portable gasoline pump. I somehow got the hair-brained idea that my 190 pounds on the bow would provide a counterbalance that would help pump the water out from the rear.
As the bow rose above the dock on the crest of a seven-foot wave I leaped and landed on it, holding on to the electric trolling motor for balance.
“Sam! Get off! You don’t even have your life jacket on,” John screamed above the wind.
“He goes in that water he won’t come out alive,” I heard Higgins say.
Seeing that I was to have no counterbalance effect, and that the wind and waves were about to cause the men to loose their hold on the lines that secured the Ranger, I abandoned ship on the next high wave and, luckily, landed on all fours on the dock.
The boat ripped free from its handlers and was soon driven under the dock at Brown’s camp, to the east, where it roared up under the support structure, ripping off the pedestal seats and the bow-mounted trolling motor.
We managed to grab one of the lines and pull it out of there, but then the wind shifted out of the north and drove it against a concrete retaining wall, nearly ripping off the big motor’s lower unit.
We secured the line to the dock, and went to bed.
All but John, that is.
Insurance helped offset his losses and he was able to restore the boat.
An amazing footnote to this story involves my boat. I had secured it to the dock with lines on either end, leaving enough slack in the lines to account for rising wave action. It took on rain water, but held tight to its mooring.
Another near-disastrous storm came three years ago on Cave Run Lake. We were on a family houseboat vacation. There were 12 of us with enough beds for nine. My son, Kendall, pitched a tent on the top deck, securing it with twine to the low railing. He and Luke and I slept in it, on air mattresses.
Ever try to stake a tent down on a steel deck? We were very vulnerable to any wind at all. Luke doesn’t weigh as much as a wet blanket, but, thankfully, Kendall weighs 250 and I weigh 210.
We had nosed the boat into shore and tied it off to trees, two ropes angling off from each front side at about 45-degree angles.
An hour before dark I decided to move the boat into a large cove where Warix Boat Ramp is located, and we tied off to trees there. If I hadn’t made that decision to move in off the main lake, I don’t think I would be writing this today.
It was just after 4 a.m. when the storm hit. Continuous lightening flashing and thunder crashing. Rain coming down so hard you could hardly hear the prayers uttered by me and Kendall and Luke. The wind whipped the canvass tent to the extent that I thought it must surely be a mini-twister.
Had we been blown into the lake in a zipped-up tent, we would have been doomed. The wind struck on the side that was tied down.
The wind, rain and lightening lasted at least 45 minutes.
That evening’s sunset was one of the most beautiful ever.
G. SAM PIATT can be reached at (606) 932-3619 or Gsamwriter@aol.com.