Lighter Side

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December 16th, 2002

How To Drown Your Buddy
Colston Newton, Heathsville, VA

(A mostly true account of a fly fishing trip on the Shenandoah River that highlights the dangers of canoeing.)

I've always known my old buddy, Jack, was clever. If he wasn't, I wouldn't suspect he was trying to kill me.

A recent e-mail from the local Coast Guard Auxiliary unit was what started me suspecting Old Jack was out to get me. The message listed the most common causes of fatal boating accidents. As I read the list, I started comparing it to fixes Old Jack had gotten me into in the past couple of years, particularly the time he put a knock-down, dead sexy, beer-swilling 23-year-old lady in a canoe with me. That time, by itself, according to the statistics, I had something on the order of a 200 percent chance of drowning.

Old Jack had called saying we ought to fetch the fly rods and go smallmouth fishing up on the Shenandoah River. The trip was scheduled for a Tuesday, a day on which I'd have likely been up all the night before putting the Northumberland Echo together. "What the hell," I thought. "Adrenaline will keep me awake and if I don't go I'll just sleep the day away."

"Yeah, I'll go," I told Old Jack, "provided you don't care if I sleep all the way to the river and back."

(Right there is part of the 9 percent of boat accident causes tallied as 'unknown' and Old Jack had me stepping right into it. Boating asleep probably causes plenty of accidents.)

Old Jack had told me his daughter, Mary, would be along with her pal, Sarah. I assumed they would be in a canoe together and didn't think anything of it. Wrong. Old Jack put Mary, an accomplished canoeist and fly fisher, in the front of his canoe and Sarah in mine.

Now, Sarah maintained she'd had experience, which I don't doubt, but her canoeing experience was limited to floating down a mild section of the Shenandoah with a bunch of other youngsters one time. That's not precisely the same thing as going down the stretch we were on, which is primarily tame but has some ugly sections. (Chalk up 8 percent more likelihood of my getting drowned on the trip. Eight percent of accidents are caused by inexperience.)

Now, let me tell you, this child Old Jack had slapped in front of me makes Al Capp's Supefyin' Jones look anorexic. I haven't been within 15-feet of anything shaped like that since the lawyer lady ran me off in 1968.

Anyhow, Miss Sarah jiggled herself into a comfortable position on the canoe's front seat and we headed downstream. I was watching her make some minor seating adjustments when, about 150 feet into the trip, we blew through a shoot of fast water, struck a boulder and went pate er posterior into the river. (There's another 37 percent of boating accidents accounted for. Four percent are caused by passengers' behavior, 19 percent by hazardous water and another 14 percent by inattention. Even if I'd been trying to pay attention to the water, tall as she is, I couldn't have seen past Sarah in front seat and she insists on looking the way she does, not good behavior as bowman in a canoe. I can't blame the hazardous water on Old Jack other than to say he picked out the stretch we'd be running.)

Putting Sarah up in front of the canoe ought to count as improper loading, which accounts for 12 percent of boating accidents, too. If she'd been more experienced and behind me, I wouldn't have been in nearly the jeopardy I was in from inattention on my own part.

When I got to thinking Old Jack might be trying to do me in, I started to discount the thought because I certainly wasn't guilty of the conduct that causes 15 percent of boating accidents - alcohol use. (Not that I wouldn't have been, but every time I'd crack a beer, I'd get about two sips before we'd hit a patch of rough water, swamp or come close to swamping and, when I'd reach for my beer, it'd be floating around on the bottom of the canoe.) Then, I remembered Sarah had gotten aboard with what seemed to be an inexhaustible supply of brewskis and had done her level best to exhaust it. Old Jack probably knew she'd do that.

There you have it. Old Jack had set me up to go canoeing with an almost perfect array of statistical reasons to drown: inattention, inexperience, improper loading (not even counting Sarah and the brewskis), dangerous passenger behavior, hazardous water, alcohol use and at least one unknown but highly suspect condition - my weariness.

Old Jack had even been able to count on the remaining two causes of boating accidents to kick in: speeding or reckless behavior and a catch all category, "other."

He knows me well enough to know that if he put me in a canoe with a girl who looks and acts like Sarah every "old fool" impulse I have would take over, starting with trying to hold my pot belly in for an entire eight-mile canoe trip. That covers the 6 percent of accidents caused by "other."

My putting on a Clint Eastwood act in an effort to look cool to a 23-year-old certainly covers the "reckless" 13 percent even if just being there didn't.

Yep, Old Jack is fixing to get me killed. He'll likely succeed, too, as long as he keeps using the same sort of bait in his traps. ~ CN

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