The dog stood at the bow of the boat, his nose in the air and his ears blowing backwards in the wind as we skipped from wavelet to wavelet. The sun was bright and the day was warm and the sky was an azure blue with picture cloud cumulus floating lazily.
Most people don’t know it, but french poodles are water dogs. Somewhere along the way people started giving them embarrassing haircuts, camouflaging their innate hunting instincts and love of the water. Worse, people like my mother saddled them with names like Vicki, multiplying the curse. Vicki was actually my mother’s dog. It was she who fed him, took him to the vet, and took him to the doggy hairdresser. She kept his bed clean and his water bowl full. That did not stop me from claiming the dog as mine much of the rest of the time.
I discovered that my dog was a great companion early on, and would take the dog with me on my boat excursions around Long Island Sound. Every so often the dog would see something attractive and leap out of the boat. What was visible from his raised place in the boat would disappear as his eyes dropped to water level and he would paddle in confused circles wondering what happened to whatever it was than interested him. Then I would idle around, chasing the dog so I could pull him back in the boat -but he would avoid me, sure he could find his object of interest if he only gave it another half hour or so. The dog couldn’t swim for another half hour pretty quickly and would turn my way and paddle back to the boat with a depressed expression on his face. Then would come the struggle to get him back in the boat which would end in his shaking off the twenty gallons of water his coat would sop up. My mother wasn’t thrilled with my maritime dog trips. She paid good money to have the dog’s hair cut with chaps on his legs, puff balls on the feet and tail, a distinguished moustache and a poofy topknot. As to the puff ball on his tail, Vicki’s tail had been bobbed as a puppy for nothing more than cosmetics by the breeder. I always thought about finding the breeder and cutting something off of them for cosmetic reasons to see how they liked it. His ear hair was cut so he had frills that dangled down giving them more length. I wanted my mom to have the dog’s hair cut ‘normal,’ thinking the poofy hairstyle looked silly.
While he did look a bit dorky, especially right out of the dog parlor, Vicki wasn’t stupid. On the contrary the dog was pretty darn smart. He’d play pirates and treasure with me on the rocky coast, ducking and hiding when I would. When we would trap our imaginary quarry, I swear the dog would chuckle as I yelled “Arrrr!” and we jumped from our hiding spots, ambushing our prey. It didn’t matter to the dog (or me) that we played pirate against pirate. Pirates were much more interesting than the frilly dressed captains of the sea who pursued them who I always saw as being French for some reason. Maybe because the dog was French. The dog was happy to carry a sword in a scabbard and wear a hat with a feather -so long as I tied them down. I’m not sure, but I think he liked the hat because it hid the topknot.
Today we were out on the bounding main in search of adventure. We’d been cruising for an hour and a half and were headed into Five Mile River to hit the gas pump. It was a busy day with a lot of traffic and we were in the channel. Seagulls were wheeling and calling, inspecting the comings and goings of boats in case they were making free fish available when Vicki barked once sharply and jumped headlong into the water. With so many boats and the dog’s head such a small object I freaked out immediately. I began to wave at the other boats, trying to guide them away from my dog. Some of the people on the other craft smiled widely and waved back, failing to understand I wasn’t being friendly, I was having a panic attack.
So was my dog. After a few boats barely missing running him down and their wakes giving him a snoot full of water, the dog was freaking out as well. He swam around in a tight circle and I motored over to him, hoping he would play his avoid Bob game. He let me pull up to him but there was a 40 foot Chris Craft that was just opening up its throttles and I was directly in front of him on the wrong side of the channel. He had the right of way and he was pressing the issue. He leaned on his horn and didn’t back off on the gas. I did a cross arm wave and then tried to grab my dog. Vicki was in a panic, seeing the large boat bearing down on us and swam for his life. I turned to try to follow the dog while making an obstacle that the other boats would look out for. I would wave, steer the boat, try to reach out to grab the dog and then repeat. The Chris Craft almost nailed the back of my Boston Whaler as it passed. The pilot was shaking his fist at me when a girl on board with him pointed to the dog and the guy got the idea of what was happening. He yanked his throttle to idle and then reversed his engines to make a quick stop. This caused two boats in trail to duck around him, one of them now bearing down on my dog. He was in a small ski boat and saw the dog and pretty much did the same thing the Chris Craft did. He managed to stop about five feet from my dog and my boat as I made another grab for the dog. Vicki wasn’t having any of it and started paddling for all he was worth, and made his way out of the channel.
The ski boat turned parallel to me and closed in, trying to drive Vicki to my boat, but Vicki had his eye on the shoreline and was paddling his little heart out. The ski boat stood off and I stayed next to my dog until I banged a submerged rock. It wasn’t a hard knock, but I knew I had to use an oar to pole myself to the shore. I kicked into neutral so I wouldn’t shear my propeller’s drive pin and riding the waves of wakes went bump, bump. bumping to the shore. Vicki got to the water’s edge and pulled himself onto a big and flat kelp covered rock and just collapsed. He was panting so hard it scared me. I grabbed the painter, a rope used to tie off the boat, and hopped onto the rock. I knelt down and took the dog’s head into my lap and petted him and reassured the dog he was okay. The guy in the ski boat shouted out asking about the dog and I yelled back I thought he was okay. The guy hung around for a few minutes until Vicki stood up and shook, soaking me with water. He laughed and powered up and headed out to the Sound.
I pulled the boat close to the rock and hopped into it, cringing as it bounced against the stone. I called the dog and slapped my side, the signal to come. Vicki looked at me like I was out of my mind, tilting his head to the side and blinking his eyes. The dog sat there a moment and then sighed deeply and stepped over near the boat. Coaxing him, the dog wouldn’t jump into the boat though. I finally lay over the bow and grabbed the dog by the collar and yanked him so his front paws rested in the gunwale. He looked side to side, sighed again and hopped the rest of the way into the boat. I used the oar to work the boat away from the coastal rocks and the dog and I putted over to the gas pier and fueled up.
Finding himself none the worse for wear, the dog retook his position in the bows, his front feet on the plank seat, his nose in the air and his ears flapping behind him in the breeze.