What not to do when you’re out on the boat and a lesson staying safe on the water.

By Christy Heitger-Ewing

waves

As a kid, I loved reading the “Berenstain Bears” books, and as a parent, I read them to my sons. I’ve gotten the biggest kick out of the fact that Papa Bear, in the process of teaching his son safety tips, always got himself into the most precarious predicaments.

One summer when I was 16 years old, I witnessed a “Berenstain Bears” story come to life right before my eyes. I’d spent the morning sunbathing on the dock, but as the afternoon clouds thickened, I hunkered down on the boat’s floorboard to stay warm.

Over my blaring radio, I suddenly heard a frantic shriek. I popped up and saw a 30-something-year-old woman in chest-deep water, flapping her hands hysterically while trying to corral her 19-foot boat. The engine wasn’t running, but her petite body was no match for the heavy winds and enormous waves, which turned her Bayliner into a gigantic bobber.

“Help!” she screamed as huge rollers pummeled her.

An older woman sat in the pilot’s seat, whimpering and white-knuckling the steering wheel.

I yelled for my dad, who ran down, jumped into the lake, and grabbed the boat before it crashed into the neighbor’s dock.

“Christy, throw me a tie line, quick!” Dad hollered.

The air started to rumble and rain drops the size of globe grapes began falling. Dad secured the Bayliner to our buoy, then helped the two shaking women onto shore just as the skies opened up.

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I draped beach towels around them. “Th-thank you s-s-so much! I’m Jill,” the younger woman stammered through chattering teeth. “And th-this is my mo-mother, Stella.”

Inside the cabin, Jill patted her face dry and explained how she had just recently moved to town and purchased the boat.

“Was this your first time out?” I asked.

Jill nodded.

“I live on the river,” she replied. “I thought it would be fun to take Mom out on the lake, but it’s so much bigger than I realized. I figured it would be easy to find my way home, but when the weather turned nasty, I got disoriented and couldn’t locate the river mouth.”

I thought back to my childhood when my own Papa Bear repeatedly quizzed me to be sure I recognized every point and important landmark on the lake. He made certain I could identify the weedy areas, the rocky spots, the sunken islands, and the sharp drop-offs, as well as local marinas, state parks, and river mouths. He wouldn’t let me pilot the boat until I could prove that I knew my way around the lake and could find my way home.

“When the winds shifted, we suddenly found ourselves in shallow water, and I didn’t know how to raise the motor,” Jill said. “I panicked and hopped into the lake to try and push the boat. But I couldn’t hold it.”

Common sense dictates that it’s probably not the best idea to try and manually manipulate a 19-foot boat during a storm. But it’s true that panic will often cause one to make ill-conceived decisions.

“Why didn’t you anchor the boat?” Mom asked.

Jill’s face turned beet red.

“I, uh, tossed the anchor overboard without remembering to secure it to the boat first,” she stammered.

Rookie mistake. In fact, Jill made lots of rookie mistakes, which is why this day would forever play in my mind like a classic “Berenstain Bears” boating tale:

When you’re up at the cabin
when you’re out on a boat
You’d better learn how
to keep it afloat.

For when it comes to boat safety
Jill demonstrated
How bad things can get
When your ego’s inflated.

You must have the know-how,
the map, and the gear.
For when you’re tossed ’round
on the water
You’ll freeze in your fear.

You’ve got to be ready.
You cannot be fickle.
Or you may find yourself
In a bit of a pickle.

I hope Stan and Jan Berenstain, the original creators of the “Berenstain Bears,” would approve of my cautionary ditty, my take on their famous style. The Berenstains certainly made my childhood more enjoyable, as did the cabin.

Christy Heitger-Ewing thinks that if everyone could experience life at a cabin, the world would be a happier place.