By lex, on January 19th, 2004
To talk of many things: Of boats and rats and tickle sticks, of motorbikes and bees…
Gary from the Owner’s Manual sent me a link to a funny story , which put me in mind of something that happened once when I was stationed in Key West, Florida.
Key West was great duty of course – we lived in base housing by the water, which essentially meant that you had year ’round resort living on a lieutenant’s salary, something that would not, without the slightest risk of exaggeration, be otherwise possible.
Nearly all recreation that did not explicitly require and entail public intoxication or lewdness in Key West took the shape of water sports: deep sea fishing, tarpon in the flats, water skiing in the bay, lobsters on the reef, and diving pretty much everywhere. All of these activities were made vastly simpler and more enjoyable through the ownership of a boat.
Now anyone who has actually owned a boat can tell you that it is little more than a hole in the water, into which money is poured. I bought a 21 foot, cutty cabin Answer Marine sport fisher, which had a perfectly enormous 225 horsepower Evinrude engine on the transom. This monstrous (when attached to a 21 foot boat) engine was accompanied by a rather ridiculous looking 7.5 hp “kicker.” The kicker was started by a pull cord, like your dad’s old lawn mower, and steered with a tiller, rather than the wheel up in the cabin. Although it could not push the boat more than 5 kts or so, was awkward to steer from, and brought a sensation not unlike a Turkish sauna when starting in those tropic climes, I was nevertheless very happy to have it on board, on several occasions.
But it was a fast boat, fastest in the squadron, if by no possible stretch of the imagination the most reliable. I had customized it with a pair of outrigger poles on the gunnels and a bimini top, and I acknowledged no man as master when she was up on the plane – 55 mph or more, no problem. It was so fast in fact, that I was often “pulled over” by the Florida Marine Patrol carabinieri for fitting the drug smuggling profile. Once aboard, and realizing that I was an unlikely candidate for drug running, they would measure whatever lobsters I had harvested, count life jackets and flare guns, and make a general nuisance of themselves by way of justifying their presence aboard.
In flat water, there is an almost evil satisfaction to going that fast in a boat.
It came to pass that the boat was out of the water for a time, as one of the all-too-frequent maintenance intervals for the big engine came due. When I finally got her back in the water, it had been several weeks, and I thought the best thing for it was to take her out in the bay of Florida and “open her up” a bit, you know, de-coke the carbs. There was very light chop in the bay as she got on plane, and I was enjoying myself immensely – the engine was pushing the boat so fast, that there was hardly anything of her in the water but the prop, the skeg and a few feet of waterline. She bounded from wavetop to wavetop in way that was thrillingly at the very margin of control.
(Anyone who has read any of my previous work here will be forgiven for asking themselves if Neptunus Lex is an adrenaline junky. The answer, of course, is “Yes.”)
Just then something brushed my face – my first presumption was that one of the downhauls for my outrigger had somehow gotten adrift and whipped across my face. I was instantly disabused of this notion by looking down my right forearm, firmly on the wheel, and seeing a large and rather dubiously colored rat perched there, peering up at me intently.
I found this very exciting.
There are moments in one’s life, when one feels fully alive, every synapse firing. This was one of those moments. The next closest example I could think of was when I had an old Harley-Davidson Sportster as my daily ride, and the time once when riding it that I caught a brace of bees between my open faced helmet and my right ear at 55 mph in an “S” turn. It is a very energizing moment, for those of you not fortunate enough to have experienced it. I would try to share it with you, but it beggars full description.
In any case, I was equally energized to see a rat perched upon my forearm, so I calmly and bravely screamed “WAGHH!” and quickly (oh, so quickly) threw him up and off. He flew from my arm to the bimini top above, which trampolined him back again at my face with equal velocity, and with much greater malice in his beady little eyes than he had demonstrated heretofore.
I consider myself as brave as the next man, but this could not be borne. I unceremoniously dived out of the captain’s chair and to the deck, the wheel spinning as I left it unattended. The boat, at 55 mph and on the plane, started a broad left turn, going I could not say where.
Nor really, did I instantly care, since my nemesis, having bounced off the captain’s chair and fallen to the now sloping deck, was scrabbling his claws as he slid towards my face, fighting both gravity and centripetal force. Our eyes locked, and mutual distaste was thick in the air between us.
Now this was my boat, I had the title free and clear, and at this point, I’ve had all I really want of this rat in my boat. I’m very highly motivated to bludgeon him to death, once a suitable instrument could be found for the purpose. But the boat itself is still blindly scribing enormous arcs at high speed and no one is really at the wheel, which simply will not do, for so many reasons.
The rat evaded down a rod holder, which tunneled into the forward cabin. I pulled my way up the deck to the captain’s chair, chopped the throttle, made sure I wasn’t about to drive into anything unyielding and did a quick assessment of the tactical situation. The nearest weapon to hand was a “tickle stick,” a fiberglass rod used to back lobsters out from overhanging ledges, to be netted for later dining.
I thrust the tickle stick down the rod holder repeatedly, making no attempt, I must confess, to tickle. Not receiving any feedback in the form of blood or pelt upon the bitter end, the only thing to do at that point was to head down to Cuba Joe’s Marine Hardware store and find the biggest rat trap I could find. Twenty-four hours and a dollop of peanut butter later (it works much better than cheese, Cuba Joe told me), I had my revenge.
What, you were looking for a point to all this?