In Memory of Dennis M. Drake

A

Al Heath

Guest
From the archives:

A Thrilling Misadventure

Their annual get-away weekend had been planned months in advance. Twenty

three year old Nancy, a slender pretty brunette with impetuous
tendencies
would drive her husband Mike's pride and joy, a 1965 Amphicar the 83
miles
to Weir's Beach, NH. Bearded Michael Branagan, three years his wife's
elder
and a tad short for his one hundred and ninety pounds, had spent the
week
polishing and detailing his treasured flame-red carboat, in preparation
for
the Third Annual Lakes Region Antique Boat Show. The white convertible
top
was squeaky clean, wide whitewalls gleamed in the morning sunshine, and
the
two propellers protruding from the rear were spotless. Nancy climbed
high
up into this eccentric but fascinating vehicle and examined the
cockpit-like
interior for points off imperfections. This had been her assignment.
She
had meticulously cleaned the black crinkle-finish dashboard taking care
not
to disturb the Bilge Plug Warning Decal and scoured each white control
knob.
The gray and white vinyl seats had been scrubbed until not a spot
remained.
Mike's confidence in first prize honors was evident in his almost
constant
beguiling Irish smile.
At last, the day arrived with brilliant sunshine and cotton-candy
cumulus
clouds. Packing the limited luggage area proved to be quite a feat. The
wicker picnic basket, brimming with home cooked goodies, had to be
carefully
arranged among the orange life jackets, first-aid kit, battered but
essential tool box, inflatable life raft and other boating accessories
occupying the car's front end. "Leave the life jackets behind if you
must"
chuckled Mike, "but don't forget the beer." There was no chance she
would
leave the life jackets behind.
At last their journey began. While traveling north on Rte. 93, Nancy,
with
some nervous trepidation, tried to make light conversation and enjoy the

brilliant autumn hues which make new Hampshire a fall tourist Mecca. The

surprised smiles and gawking stares of passer-byes inspired Mike to
perform.
With his nautical cap and bearded grin, the Captain of the ship waved,
pushed a control stick forward, and the two rear props whirred in the
wind
to the delight of the transient audience. As they continued on he spoke,
as
if to himself, "I sure hope we can find a smooth boat ramp, or we could
have
a problem." Nancy looked at him thinking of her inability to swim and
dread
of water. "Maybe we should forget the boat show and just have a picnic."

Mike glanced at her, winked, and affectionately exclaimed, "Have no fear

skipper, I wouldn't let this beauty sink." Nancy secretly prayed, her
only
hope was that they wouldn't find a suitable boat ramp.
"Hang on, here we go!" Mike yelled as they drove the Amphicar from the
street into the boat channel, in second gear with propellers spinning.
Mike
and Nancy had donned their kapok jackets and traded seats after what
appeared to be a suitable access to the lake. The nose of the carboat
submarined down, down, down or so it seemed. "Oh no" she screamed in
dread,
"we're sinking." Just as she exclaimed her terror, a slug of cold water

rushed over the windscreen and engulfed them. Splash, Squish, Burrrrr,
the
little Amphi bobbed like a lobster buoy in a hurricane, but to the
astonishment of both Nancy and several frenzied onlookers, they were not

only afloat, but making headway. The little red convertible had
magically
become a boat! "Guess that ramp wasn't as smooth as I figured" said
Mike.
"We'll have to find a better one to get out." As they eased out of the
channel into the harbor, a special patrol boat with a bewildered pilot
approached the buoyant auto. "I'll guide you to the Show Dock and find
you
a front row spot" he yelled and shone a beaming smile as he led us to
the
dock. Mike, oblivious to his "drowned rat" appearance was lapping up
the
hype as the astonished spectators flashed, beeped, and waved their
approval.
On the other hand, Nancy, with her drenched brown locks and wet purple
jersey was a woebegone vision in sloshing sneakers. "Just relax, Hon
you're doing great and we're almost to the dock." He said patiently
trying
to allay her fears. "Everything's OK" And it was for now.
Mike dropped the fenders and secured the boat to the dock cleats and had
a
delightful time explaining the seagoing ability and interesting history
of
his toy boatcar. Nancy, meanwhile, enjoyed the feeling of terra-firma,
under her feet and chatted amiably with the curious crowd. By Four PM
many
of the old brass laden steamers and mahogany Chris Crafts began to cast
off.
Mike and Nancy decided to follow suit and were assured a suitable ramp
was
available in Meredith, "just round the bend."
After pumping the bilge and checking the hatch locks, the Branagans left
the
dock, heading for the Meredith public boat ramp. A few minutes past
"The
Broads" the sky became threatening. Ominous dark clouds appeared out of

nowhere, and it began to drizzle. "No Problem", Mike assured his wife
as
they removed the boot, put the top up and switched on the windshield
wipers.
A strong wind had blown up and the darkened skies posed imminent danger,
in
Nancy's mind at least. "Please Mike, let's wait till the storm passes"
she
pleaded in a distressed voice. "We've had enough excitement for today."

"Now Nance" he said with assurance, "It's only a few miles we'll make it
no
sweat, just keep checking that chart."
The murky, choppy waters of Lake Winnepesaukee stretched before them
as a
challenge to be conquered. Bobbing up and down like a giant yo-yo the
Amphicar traversed the harbor and was soon alone in the middle of the
channel, with an impending storm moving closer and closer. "Check the
chart
for those black channel markers and keep an eye peeled for that ramp. We

should be seeing it soon." Mike hoped his sweetheart hadn't noticed the
bilge pump had quit, and his knuckles where turning white. "But this map

says we're in 160 feet of water and I can't swim," screamed Nancy with
her
eyes brimming like the water slapping the bonnet and sides of the car.
"I
know we're going to drown!" As if on cue the roar of thunder and a flash
of
lightening was seen in the distance, as huge raindrops splattered the
windshield. Calmly, Mike suggested they roll up the windows as he put
on
his Mae West. Nancy had been wearing her's since leaving the dock. The
Lake
quickly became a raging bull, charging relentlessly at the toy intruder.

Nancy's consternation mounted with each swell. She prayed silently for
their safety, quietly making deals in exchange for safe passage.
Plodding
along at about three knots, the trip seemed endless. Even Mike, usually

serene and unaffected by danger, was beginning to exhibit a nervous
twitch.
Abruptly, in the rear view mirror, Mike spotted a large object
approaching
on the port side, and leaving in it's trail a six or seven foot, white
capped wake. He shouted to Nancy to hold on while he maneuvered the
Amphi
to ride the wake with the least amount of danger. Our boat rocked side
to
side, fore and aft as the mail boat approached. It felt like David
facing
Goliath. Neither spoke but both knew that wake was going to be nasty.
Nancy
held onto the dashboard for dear life. At that moment the Motor Vessel
"Mount Washington" reversed her engines amidships to allow the little
putt-putt to regain it's composure and dampen the wake. The
unbelieving,
waving, and cheering passengers crowded the deck to see this weird
spectacle
in the turbulent water. Palpitations and sheer panic held Nancy
suspended,
as she dared not breathe. Mike, occupied with maintaining some
semblance of
calm, navigated his "Baby" with a captain's skill. Just ahead, finally,
they
spotted land and several locals waving their arms and applauding. It
was, at
last, the boat ramp "just round the bend."
As the tires of the carboat touched the macadam ramp Mike said " I knew
we'd
make it, but maybe we should go to church." He looked across the seat to
see
Nancy wiping her eyes, now smiling with such relief. "Remind me to learn
how
to swim," she quivered. "Nice sailing Mike." She silently whispered,
"Thank
you Lord" and wondered if He would really expect her to keep that
promise
of joining the convent.

This short story was written by Paula Drake over 20 years ago, and based
on
an actual experience in August 1977.
 

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