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..There's a little Samuel Pepys in all of us..

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Memory's a funny creature..
 I can recall the summer of '59 as clearly as though it was yesterday.  My father had won a 45 foot grand banks fisher, which had been brought down the St. Lawrence, through the Great Lakes, up to the Kawarthas via the Skugog Riven and the Trent Canals. A full house, aces over queens.
It was a good time; my father was an engineer and the manager of the local Dominion Viscous, a plastic pioneer plant. I never had to think about money; we lived in a big old Victorian house on a hill in a good neighbourhood and my friends and I spent our endless summers playing in the woods behind our house, and the sand pits, a vast desert just half an hour from our front doors.
But the boat. 
It was called 'Manka', which is Algonquin or Chippewa for the Canada goose. It had been well converted into a cruiser which would easily sleep 8, if you were all friends. Powered by two massive, or so I thought at the age of 8, Grey Marine 440 cu/in engines, the Manka could, if pushed, hit 30 knots.
 I was in positive awe of my father, never had he had such stature in my eyes before. I mean we had had our moments, during summers at Balsam Lake at our cottage. He taught me to play cribbage and whist as we wiled away the odd rainy day during the summer holidays. 
 But this boat. This was on an entirely different level. I pictured sailing up the Skugog, up the Trenton Locks to Balsam Lake and our old place. I pictured the looks my summer friends would give us as we moored at our dock, and the fishing trips we'd take to the middle of the lake. I pictured an adventure.
Well, it turned out, that there was a problem. It had originally been a salt-water boat, and being in fresh water for a number of years, had caused the keel, from stem to stern, to rot. So, my father, who was still my image of John Galt (I had read Atlas Shrugged over the previous Spring), hired a long-bed trailer and a Peterbilt , loaded and braced that boat on the trailer, and hauled it through not only downtown Lindsay, but up the steep grade of Albert Hill. We lived at the top of Albert Hill, of course. It took them 5 hours of a Saturday morning, and required not only the permission of City Council, but the attendance of several cops on motorcycles, and as I rode along with my father in the cab of the hauler, several choice expressions found their way into my developing lexicon.
But, after toil and trouble, the route was negotiated with no more than frayed nerves, and the boat, still on it's flatbed with it's bracing holding it upright, as though waiting for Deucalions Flood, stood in our driveway. We had, in retrospect, a huge courtyard, and that 'damned boat' as it became known, took up most of it. Now, as I mentioned, Dad was an engineer. He examined the damage to the keel, crawling the length of the boat past my mothers protests of 'it's not safe Leon' to poke an awl deep into the rotten wood, and quickly decided the Manka was grounded. Literally. However, being the do-it-yourself type, he went to work calculating what material he could use to replace the rot, and after a week or so of thought, decided concrete would be the ideal material. He had considered ordering an oaken beam that would run the length of the boat, but the price was, even then, extortionate. He thought if the Romans could build Rome using concrete, he could cast a new keel for our boat.
He built the form in less than a week, and then we had the added excitement of an actual cement mixer taking up what was left of the room beside our house, as the keel was poured.
My friends were fascinated, and I found them showing up at the house just to look at the 45 foot beached whale of a boat in our driveway. It became the topic of conversation in most of the barbershops, Masonic and Kiwani's  Lodges, and anything else my father had contact with. Most were of the opinion the boat would sink like a stone, what with all that pavement weighing it down, but there were some who booked passage with my father for the maiden voyage. 
I was one of those, with a guaranteed berth.

It strikes me, that those endless summer days, that the social development of the adult male begins in earnest. Friends made during those pre-teen years were almost as close as family, yet as only a few years passed by as we continued on our various roads to adulthood, after only a grade or two had been achieved, we had seen our bond fade, almost losing form and shape until it was only an amorphous memory, with days we thought would be imprinted on our very beings slipping away into fragmentary glimpses of a shaft of sunlight seen through the eyes of a nine year old.
The re-launching of Manka was a momentous day. One of those which promised to be turned and honed by the emery of time. My father had invited all his friends down to Al Wilson's dockyard for a barbecue and general pissup, and to me, from my vantage, it seemed most of the town had shown up to watch this concrete hybrid settle slowly to the bottom of the Skugog and drink my fathers beer. Of course, my friends Larry Lancaster, Brian Broome, and Peter Hall were with me, enjoying the inattention and using it to clamber from stem to stern, touching every item on the boat we thought might be of importance, and being pirates intent on highjacking this worthy bucket.

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