|Nanook's Campfire Tales|
|Jet Boat on the Nashwaak|
It's mid-summer, and there has been no rain for months. The radio says it's the driest summer since 1951, and as a result, the rivers I usually travel on are dry and unnavigable. I am fortunate to live on the shore of the Saint John River, a wide, deep stream where I can paddle on stillwaters for miles, and sunset finds me alone, in the middle of its wooded channel.
Alone, that is, except for the dubious company of a jet-boat, which rockets past me at break-neck speed, sending up walls of water as the driver sends it into tight turns and spins again and again in dizzying circles. As far as I can tell, that's all one can do, just turn round and round. The noise is deafening, the fumes are blue and smell foul.
Perhaps he's regarding me with the same disdain ... 'that's all he can do, just paddle up and down, slow as molasses running uphill in winter. Must be boring ... I'm glad I'm me, and he's him.'
I recall my first close encounter with one of these exciting personal watercraft. Biff and I were paddling under the Marysville bridge on the Nashwaak, on the last leg of our trip after starting out from the headwaters several days before. The lower section of the Nashwaak is slow and wide, and runs through pastureland, golf courses and forest.
As we paddled downstream, two young men on a jet-boat slowed and came abreast, greeted us pleasantly, and inquired what the river was like upstream, how far could they go, etc. We replied that there were rocky shoals just upstream that might present an obstacle. They thanked us, and sped upstream behind us. We never gave them a second thought, just immersed ourselves back into the quiet contemplation of the river at the end of the trip.
Two minutes later, a loud roar prompted us to turn in our seats and see what the racket was. We were greeted with a high wall of blue-green water breaking over us at high speed, thoroughly drenching us and causing our boat to rock dangerously over onto the far gunwale.
As our boat righted and we could see once more, the rooster-tail of the jet-boat's wake disappeared down river at top speed, around a turn and out of sight. We were cold, shocked and incensed.
Biff turned our canoe towards the shore, and jumped out as we landed. He chose several rocks, just the right size to fit in his fist, and looked at me with blood-lust on his face. "Let's go get those #$&*@!" Now, I know Biff as one of the gentlest people on earth ... the metamorphosis into a monster bent solely on revenge was all the more shocking because of this.
I am no angel, I was equally disgusted. I began to fantasize what might have happened if I had seen them coming at us seconds before, and been able to get my long spruce pole into my hands to meet them as they bore down upon us. If I had, I wouldn't be writing this in the comfort of my own home, but as an inmate in some dark, dank prison, I'm sure.
We paddled on morosely in silence to dock at my father's house on the banks of the Saint John River. All enjoyment we had gained from our trip down the river had been dashed by the driver of the jet-boat.
The final indignity came when I phoned the Fredericton police to report the incident. The police have a fleet of boats that patrol the river, looking for drunk boaters and other ne'er-do-wells. The dispatcher dismissed me with a sneer, asking me what we had done to provoke them into their act, and dismissing it as a harmless prank.
Well lady, maybe someday it will happen to you. All I know is if they had veered five feet to the right at their hundred-mile an hour speed, there would be no one left to tell this tale today, just a smear on the water. I can't help the disgust that wells up inside me to this day whenever I see one of these craft buzzing, spinning and hurtling on the river. I only hope it's fun for them, it sure was no fun for Biff and me.
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