How To Drown Your Buddy
(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.
Colston Newton, Heathsville, VA
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
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
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
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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