There are many types of boats – the sleek racing ones, the comfortable cottage-on-the-water ones and the purely functional ones. Ours recently got a rich red paint job, some TLC and a new 15 hp 4-stroke. . It’s not that pretty but in function not much can compete with it. It spends winters under a roof and out of the snow. It gets family and friends out to an isolated island in the North Channel of Lake Huron. I call it our container ship – although really an oversized rowboat – considering the loads it takes out to this isolated haven and the speed at which it travels. Its 16-feet long, steel, tough, heavy, flat-bottomed, stable and fondly known as a “Tilbury”.
With water levels the way they are on the Great Lakes, another attribute of the Tilbury serves us well. As you approach the island the boulder strewn sandy bottom eventually turns into stone riddled beach. No matter – as it gets too shallow for the outboard the oars come out and we either row or pole our way in. Perhaps a bump here or there, ultimately grinding to a halt as the steel bottom kisses the sand, gravel or stones.
After four trips all were island bound, but through the week differing schedules resulted in a staggered departures. As the days passed, the weather began to deteriorate. Some of those inbound trips were tricky but even with a cross sea and then a following sea situation, the Tilbury doesn’t get pushed around too much. The return trips to the island were relatively quick, even on plane at times; I was along for the ride. But the sea was building and at only 16-feet long a few feet of water rolling by makes you feel pretty small.
On my last trip back to the island we, the boat and I, were in for a workout. Winds were up over 15 knots and the fetch was almost 15 miles. The chop had turned to rollers of 4 feet and even a few 6 footers. My course would take me 4 miles into it, 1 mile across it (in front of a lee shore) and finally a ¼ a mile with it as I threaded the needle between two shoals and into a sheltered cove.
Flat bottom boats tend to slam hard down off waves so the 4 miles upwind was covered with zigs and zags, throttling up and down and a few stops for bailing too. The cross sea leg was actually relaxing although rolling through 70 degrees, rail to rail, did seem a little excessive.. The real trick came with the last ¼ mile as it wasn’t straight downwind but a little off the wind resulting in potentially great surfing except for those shoals I was supposed to go between.
Again, throttle work and timed zigs and zags kept the bow from driving into the wave in front or spinning off a crest and broaching. I wasn’t too happy to find myself in this predicament but I knew that the heavy, solid, flat bottom container ship wasn’t going to offer up any unwelcome surprises.
As the shoals and their breakers passed to either side, the needle was threaded and together we idled into the calm waters of the cove and unhurriedly crunched up onto the stony beach. There, my wife and two children were relaxing, oblivious to the conditions out on the water away from their sheltered sanctuary. I certainly felt invigorated after the workout but also a little scornful of myself for perhaps taking too many risks. However, the boat, on the other hand, had a bit of a smug deportment about it. Kind of like saying, “not just your regular ugly ol’ work boat, eh?”