There was an old Carver motor boat parked in the lot out front of a local auto supply store two weeks ago. Even though it was half-covered with a tarp, I recognized the make of the boat as we sped past at thirty miles per hour because Carver’s logo is unmistakably stylized; the oversized V in the middle makes it look a lot like two words butted up against each other: CarVer.
My Dad used to have a Carver sixteen-foot runabout. If memory serves, he bought it from a farmer who’d kept it in a barn for years, or maybe that was the army jeep Dad bought for no really good reason other than he liked that jeep a lot. Coincidentally, I believe that’s the only reason he bought the boat, too, although, really, what other reason is there for buying a boat? He used fishing as a plausible excuse, but really he just liked racing around in a boat.
I know this because when he bought the boat, it had an antique outboard motor that would putt-putt along the river at a top speed of maybe twenty miles per hour, a perfectly respectable speed if all you want to do is fish. Dad ditched it at the first opportunity he got and replaced it with a sixty-five horse motor that made that little boat FLY. And many times we went out on the river, that’s all we did: Put the boat in at Fremont and fly down the river until we got to Lake Winnebago, then come flying back, with brief stops along the way for gas and maybe lunch.
One year, after the summer ended, he backed the boat into the garage and spent all winter refurbishing it. I remember helping him by doing little things like unscrewing all the cleats and lights and things and helping to sort all the screws and fixtures in coffee cans. He sanded off the old, peeling varnish, re-stained the wood, and laid on a new, thick coat of glossy varnish that shone. He fixed up a broken seat, and he installed a folding vinyl top to give us some relief from the sun. It was really a very pretty little boat after he was done.
We took that boat everywhere, and I mean everywhere. We even went fishing on Lake Michigan in that boat. On one trip, the waves were so high I couldn’t see over them. I had to spin the wheel like a dervish to keep it pointed in the direction dad wanted to keep it going, while he and his uncle Adrian calmly fished off the back. Apparently, Deenie did this all the time in his little sixteen-footer, but my experience was on calmer waters. We were pitching and rolling so dramatically I was sure they would go over the side.
On a camping trip to upper Michigan, we took the boat to Fayette. The boat launch was a steep incline down to the water, but the gravel bottom of the shore was much less so, requiring dad to back all the way down until the rear wheels of the truck were in the water. We had a truck-top camper that was about the size of a big-box Wal-Mart store. To launch the boat from such a steeply-inclined ramp, the prudent thing to do would have been to dismount the camper, but apparently dad was in a hurry, or he didn’t feel prudent on that trip, because he backed that big damn thing all the way down the ramp until he dipped its ass-end into Lake Michigan. We got the boat into the water okay, but as he began to climb up the ramp, the rear wheels of the truck repeatedly broke traction until I was sure he would never get back up into the parking lot. I don’t remember my father as a very patient man, yet he very patiently inched his way up that ramp. Not only that, but he repeated the performance when we took the boat out of the water later that week.
I took some friends out for a weekend ride in that boat, an act of trust that still sticks in my memory, especially as I came close to drowning every single one of those friends when I crossed the wake of a bigger boat that met us coming down the river. I’d crossed wakes with other boats dozens of times, but somehow misjudged this one. When our boat crested the wake and dove into the trough on the other side, the back end of the boat flipped into the air so quickly that for a few moments everyone seated back there was airborne. By sheer dumb luck, the boat was still under them when they came back down, and they all landed upright in their seats. I don’t know how I didn’t shit my pants.
I prefer much slower boats, the kind you paddle, these days. But I have to admit we had a lot of fun in that little runabout.