The great naval accident began innocently enough. The crew of four boarded their small craft at some point in the mid-afternoon. It was a muggy, July day and the sun dancing on the water blinded the seamen. With a unified effort they launched their craft from the muddy shore and set sail. Their paddles sliced silently in the water as the craft headed away from land. The water was relatively smooth, but occasionally a wave would still lift the front of their boat and set it back down. They had made good progress and the larger body of water loomed ahead when it happened. At first there was only a strange hissing sound, then water began appearing at their feet. Before anyone knew what was happening, all four were in the water. Disaster was at hand!
Okay, maybe it wasn’t quite so dramatic. If the truth be known, it was just me and a few buddies from junior high taking my sister’s raft out for a paddle at Raccoon Lake. There were four of us in a three-man raft, which should have been my first warning, but it seemed like a fun way to kill some time during our summer vacation. Jay, Dan and Danny had been classmates of mine for several years. Actually, Danny had only joined the class in 7th grade, but his outgoing, friendly persona soon made it feel that he had always been a part of the group.
We had paddled the length of our cove and were approaching the main lake where we planned to turn around and head back, a small rubber raft being no match for the army of speedboats slicing the lake that weekend. Suddenly, there was a hissing sound followed by bubbling, and I could feel the sides of the raft softening and buckling under my weight. Realizing what was happening, I called out, “It’s deflating! It’s deflating!” Dan, one of the more eccentric of the group, gave his own spin to my proclamation. Shortly before the end of school that summer, we had learned about the body systems in health class. A revelation to us all was that gas was known as flatulence. Giving this a slightly Latin turn, Dad changed my words into “It’s da flatus! It’s da flatus!” Dan must have taken those health classes to heart because today he is my personal physician.
Soon water was filling the boat, and the rear half where the air leak had originated collapsed into the water. The deflating boat and tumbling friends threw the remainder of us off balance and soon we were all in the water. We were dog paddling and trying to round up the sinking raft and the paddles that were being pushed away by our splashing. I stopped to take a survey of my friends to make sure we were all okay. I did so knowing that Jay had admitted beforehand that he could not really swim, but as kids are known to do, we had left without any sort of life preserver. I looked around and saw Dan and Danny, but Jay was not there. For a moment I felt panic shoot threw my body as I whipped my head from side to side trying to catch a glimpse of him. As my gaze turned towards shore, there was Jay crawling out of the water. It may be considered sacrilegious to make this proclamation, but I am quite sure that Jay walked on water that day. I know of no other way he could have reached the shore so quickly, especially given he was not a swimmer.
With Jay safe and accounted for, the rest of us relaxed and started having a good laugh as we drug the limp raft to the water’s edge. Although there was a small level area, we came ashore where the banks were tall and steep. It was no small feat to drag ourselves and gear up the hill and into the woods at the end of the camp road. There we tried to dry ourselves a little. I can remember how Danny was wearing corduroy pants (I am still not sure of his choice since this was summertime,) and he took them off to wring them out. There he was in his underwear while we grabbed each end of his pants and began twisting them as if we were taking part in a taffy pull. In the end, the pants were considerably dryer, but the lines on his corduroy ended up being arranged in a pronounced zigzag pattern.
In the end, we were all fine and had a good chuckle over the experience. My sister never fully forgave me for “breaking her raft” and still mentions it from time to time. The parents never did replace it, and for that I do feel guilty. However, the memory of that day is still afloat in my mind over 30 years later, and when I’ve mentioned it to my friends, I can tell it is still vivid for them, as well. Rafts come and go, but memories last a lifetime.
(Dedicated to my friend Jay who has subtly hinted I should write about our great water adventure. Jay, your memories may be different than mine, so feel free to add your own version below.)