Boating Pleasures, Season 2

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by Nikki Mantell on June 2, 2010

Readers may remember two summers ago when I wrote about my first taste of “speed” boat ownership and the 1956 fibreglass number with 50 hp outboard whose tendency to push through the water in a semi-erect position earned it the moniker of “The Bonoir”. (The Bonoir finally sank, but only after earning its owner and crew the reputation of laughingstocks of the Gatineau River.)

Still, the boating bug bites deep, and last summer fellow laughingstock crew member, Robin, bought a real boat: a 135 hp Stingray.

Now we had made it, we had truly entered the realm of the Gatineau River Elite.

Let me tall you, cruising on that gorgeous piece of machinery on the Gatineau was just fabulous. It seats eight, boasts a “sun pad” usually adorned by bikini-clad ladies, and starts the first try without gassing all its occupants. We water skied, tubed, wake boarded. It was very, very fast (compared to the Bonoir) and so very, very fun.

Until the day we hit a rock and ripped a hole through the lower unit.

That moment was very, very scary.

Fortunately for us, it was one our less obnoxious days on the water (the first ones were spent doing doughnuts trying to flip the overaged tuber off his tube – we very much merited the dirty looks from kayakers and canoeists), and we were cruising at a reasonable 20 miles an hour.

Heading north to Wakefield we knew to veer right and avoid the grassy land in the middle of the river at Farm Point. (Every local boater knows the power lines above are the unofficial marker.)

We also knew, but had forgotten about, the protruding rock just to the right of the grassy outcrop, usually marked by a squatting seagull, that didn’t happen to be squatting that day.

Our blissful cruise in the afternoon sun came to a violent end -boom! All six bodies were thrown forward when the nose dropped and the engine screamed as it popped out of the water.

Only three weeks after putting her into the water we’d killed our new beauty.

It was too fresh and too embarrassing to write about last season, but I did talk about how my newbie crew had once again proven themselves nautical ninnies. I expected mocking jeers of laughter from more seasoned boaters. Instead, my sad tale was met with sighs of sympathy.

No one laughed. Instead, everyone contributed their own stories: Wakefield’s Bob Milling ripped the hull out of his boat a few seasons ago (I admit, I’m getting this second hand), Chelsea’s Matt Brown has hit a few things in his day, (but said his most embarrassing moment was running out of gas in the middle of a lightning storm at 2 a.m.); and Farm Point’s pontoon princess Kitty Green was in the middle of giving us the lowdown on the hidden hazards to the Low Down on our yearly staff outing on her boat, when she actually hit one of the very points she was warning us about!

This river is treacherous. It begs the question: why is it not marked?

(Thanks to the Historical Society, we now know that what we hit was actually the foundation of the old Star Hotel.)

There is a map that marks its depth, and is available at Solstice Books in Wakefield, but for the boating newbie, or the now increasing number of visitors, how would one know about its many shallow points?

Alain Piché of Friends of the River said any initiative would require a broader discussion about marking a navigable waterway, increased speedboat activity and speed limits with all the affected MRC regional governments. But in the meantime, there’s nothing stopping volunteers from doing their own marking with those white plastic detergent bottles.