Tiny boat - Enough adventure

Originally published in SCA, September/October 2005

Scheibeck, before he was to ride with me to Cedar Key in May, asked if he could bring Wee Wee Winkle, their folded boat, "six feet long, about a foot and a half wide, and three or four inches thick."
Sure. I'd wanted to try the Stowaway 18. The folded 1.8 meter tender stows in a berth in their Menger 19 catboat. The Scheibecks are conscientious penny pinchers - they give astonishingly of time and money to local charities. So why did they spend the money?
In e-mails we'd speculated about rowing WWW the half mile to Atsena Otie Key. If winds were light, and everything thumbs up, why not?
Before noon in Columbus, Ohio, he laid WWW's bundle in the very short bed of my 4-door pickup. Kentucky, Tennessee, and Georgia came and went. In the dark, off I-75 and ahead of schedule, we aimed through fog for the Gulf Coast, slowly, staring for deer.
At the first bridge across the salt marsh we stopped, and waited for sunrise and black skimmers. Last year skimmers flew by at first light - wings and body flowing, head level, lower bill creasing the water. This year dawn was cloudy. A light mid-60s northerly whisked away the usual heady musk of oyster flats and marsh. White egrets were the obvious birds.

* * *

Scheibeck assembled WWW in ten or fifteen minutes, the flotation collar taking most of the time. His wife, Barbara arrived, and Bill Ling too, with his red canoe. By 1 p.m. the next day, we were ready. Sunny, upper 70s, southeasterly 3-6 knots.
Cedar Keys mixed semi-diurnal tides gave a high tide at 11:40 a.m. of 3.1 feet above mean lower low. The next low was 5:29 p.m., falling 2 feet to 1.1 feet above MLL. The next high before midnight was the higher of the pair at 3.3 feet, the following early morning low, the lower low was .5 feet. So the current for us would be modest, draining only from its middling high to its middling low. Could conditions be more perfect?
You know a short boat is a slow boat unless it planes - and six foot by three and a half foot WWW would not plane with either of us rowing her, nor even Iron Mike Tyson in his prime. At our best we'd be lucky to touch three knots. Cruising might be one and three quarter to two and a quarter knots.

Ling led off The Island Place beach, eager for this light wind - he was finally trying a bigger sail. I followed as Scheibeck settled Barbara onto WWW's thwart. Because of childhood polio, she has difficulty getting down to, and up out of, low seats.
The red canoe and Walela, my wife K's sailing canoe, glided into the Main Ship Channel to marker #36, where the current showed just a light roil in the wavelets, a knot or so to the southwest.
From Atsena's north tip, Ling and I watched them slip down current, then more at us. They landed a couple hundred yards west, B taking to the beach, and Scheibeck wading WWW to us, the current making a stubborn puppy of her.
He e-mailed, "With both of us aboard, B sits on the port side facing forward and I sit on the starboard side facing aft, hedged toward the middle, 'cause I'm heavier. From there B can transit between docks, beaches and catboats without undue hardship - praiseworthy in such a little boat. I row with B on my right hand, which helps me with the 'off center' rowing, since I'm right handed."
Of the crossing he wrote, "B was glad she'd let herself be talked into this, as her first reaction to the idea of taking WWW to Atsena Otie was to have nothing to do with it! But she knew she'd regret staying ashore. We talked about how small boats turn ordinary things like crossing to Atsena into an adventure. She'd done it pretty casually with me in Magic Pearl (SeaPearl 21)."
Scheibeck continued, "I explained we were expecting the tide carrying us sideways (to her right) and the idea was to row so the far shore of Atsena didn't appear to move to her left or right. She told me what she saw, me correcting and asking for more feedback."
For a quarter hour or so I rowed WWW in the poppling current over Atsena's sandbar tip. What a little jewel! Rowing considerations were as perfect as I could've hoped. Oar length, and relationship of seat position to oarlock location were spot on. Lighter oars would've been nice, but less rugged.

* * *

By the time Scheibeck and B would start back, the current would be a little stronger. For an easier row for him, I offered maybe B could ride back with Ling, freeing Scheibeck to row more efficiently, and making a shorter, more comfortable ride for B. Ling's open canoe often carries his wife and him, sailing or paddling.
Getting B seated in Ling's canoe was easy. Ling has had training with less than mobile people, and they quickly had her in a folding camp seat on boat cushions.
It it were me, I told Scheibeck, I'd row east sticking close to Atsena's shore. Before crossing, I'd probably beach briefly on the northeast corner islet to recon and pee.
Ling and B left the beach. With the bigger sail in light air he gave a convival service. I followed and we chatted happily back across the channel, B relaxed, Cap'n Ling as witty as ever.
Maybe halfway back, the breeze switched to west northwest 4-6, making even easier sailing. I wondered if Scheibeck noticed?
Back on The Island Place beach, Ling arranged a milk crate for B, making an intermediate seat height to help her up. She gripped the mast to get to milk crate height, then stood and stepped easily over the open canoe's gun'l. Ling and I sailed out to Scheibeck.
He e-mailed later, "I headed uptide along to the shore to get some easting out of the worst of the current. I laid out behind a little patch of grass for a minute, drinking water, snapping pictures, enjoying the scene, bidding Atsena Otie farewell, collecting my thoughts about what I was getting ready to do, getting a feel for the landmarks, and lollygagging, as I was in no special haste to break the spell.

"Since Barbara wasn't with me, I was rowing by my little compass, hoping to make Iandfall near the village instead of ..oh, say... Pensacola. I d glance over my right shoulder to make sure the village was still there.
I rowed hard for the first fifteen minutes or so, figuring to get out of the worst of the tide as quickly as possible. I continued with little or no adjustment all the way across. If memory serves, I was pretty much headed northeast by east with a course made good of something like north northeast."
"I made landfall east of the waterfront restaurants. I wasn't rowing hard at the end. The sun felt good, though I was grateful of the long, light clothing and sun hat. The current about canceled out the light west wind with my arms spread, so I rowed down the length of 'restaurant row', which is, I believe, where you and Ling caught up with me before I ducked under the pier for The Island Place."
Scheibeck seemed as happy as a castinetting clam. As we circled around him, hundreds of black skimmers wheeled and barked above us. I got it. Cheap he's not. Frugal he is.

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