Playing hookey

The little Boston Whaler tugged at its anchor line as it rose and fell with the afternoon swells of Long Island Sound. The sun was directly overhead, dividing a clear blue sky punctuated by cottony cumulus picture clouds that moved unhurriedly across the sky. A few seagulls glided and hovered over the boat in hopes of scoring a free meal. I lay on my back on the floor of the boat and watched the clouds, thinking that one of them looked a lot like my mom. I immediately felt bad about comparing my mom’s lovely face to a cloud, but jeez, it really did look like her. I checked the other clouds to see if I could find one that looked like my father, but not a one looked anything like the butt end of a horse.

Yeah, I was annoyed at my father, but then that wasn’t a new thing. Neither of us had much use for the other. Adopting me was my mother’s idea, and according to my dad, she guilt tripped him into agreement after she had an ectopic pregnancy and ended up unable to make any more children. I wasn’t true family blood, and while I enjoyed the status my mother’s money had achieved for the family in society, internally, at home, my status was something less. I was currently angry because he refused to go to my school’s father-son picnic and barbecue. It was held at the end of the school year and was when different awards from the school year were presented to their winners. I was due to get an award for an essay I wrote about air travel and wanted my father to see me recognized as good at something. When I asked him to go to the picnic he replied with a succinct ‘no.’ He didn’t say that he had a previous engagement or would be traveling for the company where he worked. He just said no. I could have gone on my own, or suffered the indignity of showing up with my mother, a situation that would bring no end of hazing from other kids. My mom would go; my mom would hitch hike to hell in bare feet if I asked her to go with me. My mother was a wonderful woman.

I didn’t collect my award because not only did I not go to the picnic, I played hookey and took my boat out rather than go to school. Laying on the hard floor was getting to me, especially where my shoulder blades contacted the stiff fiberglass flooring. I climbed up behind the steering wheel console and cranked up the outboard.  Turning into the wind I rammed the throttle to max and the Whaler immediately came up on lane and started jumping from the tops of the swells. The boat made yeee-umpf, yee-umpf noises as I skipped like a rock over the sound. I loved that boat.

Off to port, which is left for those who don’t use nautical terms, I saw one of the Power Squadron boats making its way towards me. The Power Squadron were like water cops. They didn’t carry guns or anything, but they kept order by issuing tickets to people who made waves in no wake zones, failed to obey the channel markers, or pulled a water skier without a lookout in the boat in addition to the driver. They could detain people who chose to be uncooperative and the town cops and the Coast Guard were both just a radio call away.  The guy was alone in the boat and he hooted his air horn at me. The sign he wanted me to heave to for something. I figured he probably wanted to do a safety inspection, making sure I had a fire extinguisher, a life jacket, at least one oar and had my fuel tank properly mounted. Sighing, I backed off on the throttle and turned a quick U turn allowing him to sidle up next to me.

“Looks like someone who should be in school isn’t where they’re supposed to be.” he said. Looks like someone doesn’t know how to back away from the table and looks a lot like a whale, I thought to myself. I remained silent. “So, do you have a permission slip to be out here during school hours?” he asked. As if there was such a thing. I told him no, that today was father son picnic day and my dad couldn’t take me so I wasn’t missing school. He got on his radio and spoke to someone, I couldn’t hear either side of the conversation. “The police say this isn’t a day off.”

I was getting annoyed. “The police don’t keep school schedules,” I said, “and besides that, they have no way of knowing about special circumstances.”

“Special circumstances, eh? I think you better tie off and I’ll tow you in so we can get to the bottom of this.” I gave him an ‘are you kidding me?’ look and shoved my throttle to the stop. Before he could move, my little Whaler hopped u on plane and I went skipping off across the waves. Gaining his wits, he throttled up his boat and came after me, honking his stupid paint can air horn. I didn’t even look back. I knew he couldn’t really catch me. My boat could do an easy fifty knots and his couldn’t. But I knew also that he would dog me until I gave him reason to abort. I surmised that I hadn’t done anything the would merit a police response and so I planned to ditch him. I shot off towards the Fish Islands. They’re a few rock piles that manage to be taller than high tide and have a couple of die hard scrub trees popping out of them like candles on a birthday cake. There are two or five islands, depending on it being high or low tide. There are lots of rocks and you have to know exactly where they are to go between the islands, otherwise you’re likely to break a shear pin.

Outboard motors use shear pins. Their propellers slide onto the drive shaft without any keying. But the props have a channel carved into the rear face of the hub and a steel pin sticks through a hole in the drive shaft and nestles into the channel. A washer and nut hold it all in place. Thus if you hit a rock with your propeller, rather than breaking the drive shaft or damaging the gear case, you just shear off the pin. I had spent hours and hours exploring the cost near our home on Butler’s Island, and I had replaced enough shear pins that I knew where every rock was, and which ones I could clear and which ones I couldn’t. I had broken so many of the pins that I bought a bunch of nails and cut them to size with a hacksaw. A Mercury shear pin was $1.50 and my home made ones were like $0.25 for fifty of them. But all of those pins I had sacrificed taught me a lot about where I could safely take my boat and the path I’d need to follow.

Mr. Power Squadron was about 200 feet behind me when I started getting cocky. I mean, I was frustrated and hurt by my dad’s refusal and here this fat guy was just making my day worse. So I backed off the throttle a little to let him gain on me. I was sure he figured I was slowing for the Fish Islands, about a quarter mile ahead. I grabbed the tilt lever. It will tilt the motor forwards and backwards to allow you to get the best angle and bite for your propeller. By tilting the motor forward, it lifted the prop up closer to the surface and caused it to throw the water upward rather than straight back. As he got to within about fifty feet, I gave the tilt level another slight nudge and opened up the throttle. The motor responded by throwing up a beautiful rooster tail that lofted 20 or so feet into the air and came down right into the Power Squadron boat, drenching the guy. I pulled back on the tilt lever and dropped the prop back to its optimal position and shot perfectly between the islands. Mr. Power Squadron, wiping the water out of his eyes realized where he was and yanked his throttles back. He wasn’t foolish enough to try and pass between the islands. I made a good feeling skidding turn eastward and shot across the Sound towards the mouth of Five Mile River and the marinas and moorings that clogged it.

When I entered the river I dropped to five mph, the no-wake speed. I respected that rule because I knew how wakes could chafe boats tied at the piers and floats, damaging them. Besides, Mr. Power Squadron was way, way behind me. I motored into the river and moved up to the fishermen’s pier. I scooted underneath it and hid myself behind the fishing vessels tied off there. A few of the men looked at me briefly, and went back to what they were doing. When the Power Squadron boat came idling past, none of them made the effort to point me out and fatso cruised right on by. I motored out from under the pier and waved to the fishermen. They waved back, smiling. I headed back out towards the sound. Mr. Power Squadron saw me, and realized that I would be long gone by the time he made a three point turn in the clogged waterway and get back into the chase. I knew that he knew who I was, and figured that he’d call the house and complain.

When I got home later and walked into the house, my mother confronted me. “I got a call from the Power Squadron about you. The man said you refused to yield and eluded him as he tried to perform a safety inspection.”  I told my mom what happened. I could always tell my mom anything. She might not like it, but the way she was encouraged me to always fess up. “So, there was no safety inspection? He was just hassling you about school?”

I told her yeah, that was it, and I already felt bad enough about dad blowing me off. Well aware of the relationship between my father and I, she understood. My mom loved dad, but that didn’t mean she approved of everything he did.

“Well, I told the man from the Power Squadron that I would definitely be talking to you about this incident. And now we’ve talked about it.” She pulled me into a hug. “My little pirate.” she said.