In Praise of the Simplicity of Human-Powered Boats

Like most summers, I’ve been doing some fishing in small waters using a canoe. In fact, one place is a lagoon that is almost un-fished because there’s no access for typical boats (carried on trailers). In every case I enjoyed myself, sometimes caught a few fish, and generally appreciated how easy it is to plop a solo canoe in the water in places where access would otherwise be difficult or impossible. This past weekend I was reminded of how handy that simplicity can be. I took a friend and her grandson fishing on a dammed-up section of a small river where I had not fished in years, and when I had fished there it was either by canoe or a tiny aluminum Jon boat. This time we took my old 14-foot fishing boat that happens to have a 20-H.P motor (though I only planned to go a little faster than idle speed).

Once in the area I wanted to fish, we drifted with a surprisingly fast current along a narrow open channel which meandered through what was otherwise pretty much solid weeds. Toward evening, the bass were pretty cooperative, though not easy to hook, but it was still fun. Once it got dark I decided we should head back, and after starting the motor and moving a short distance, inadvertently got out of the little channel we had been in because I could hardly see where to go in the dark. The motor seemed unusually bogged down in the weeds and I knew I had to get back to the channel before we’d make any headway. I tried to free up the prop by reversing it periodically, but even with that usually successful trick, we could barely move. Only once it was too late did I realize that outside of the flowing channel the water was extremely shallow and the prop was bogged down in soft mud. I saw the telltale coolant stream turn dark, and then stop, and then steam began to shoot out the telltale port. Time to shut the motor off or risk wrecking it. Of course, at that point I finally remembered from my small-boat travels 10 years ago or so, that yes, the whole wide part of the reservoir was way too shallow for a motorboat, except in the channel. Oh well - I’ll remember that next time.

That boat is too big and cumbersome for easy rowing, especially against a decent current, but that’s what was needed. And wouldn’t you know it, halfway back, one oar started to feel funny and I looked at the oarlock and the oar was about to fall right off. A pair of bolts clamp the oarlock to the shaft of the oar and they had come loose after one nut had spun completely off. Lucky for us, the wayward nut had fallen into the boat instead of out of it (it had a 50-50 chance of going either way), and also lucky was that I had not left my long-nosed pliers at home, so I was able to put the oarlock back together and tighten the nut enough to keep going. Had we been left with just one working oar, it would have been impossible to get back to our landing at all, and poking along downstream to find some other landing, far from the car, would have been the only option and would have taken much longer. It would have been a case of more minor complexity leading to more difficulties in the end!

It all turned out well in the end. We got back okay and I successfully flushed out the motor’s cooling system the next day. I’m almost sure to go back after some of those eager bass, which probably have never seen a fishing lure before simply because the place is nearly inaccessible to small motorboats, and I’ll be sure to go by canoe!