Sunday, October 23, 2005

Rowing Miss Daisy

One of my students, Miss Daisy, asked me one day to go with him out to what we call “Gull Island.” That may or may not be the official name for the place but it’s a bit of island a very short distance outside of our island’s cove that ceases to be an island whenever the tide is high. Anyway, Miss Daisy told me he wanted to go out there because he’d heard another staff member talk about having taken a couple students out there to check out seals.

I hesitated to go with him on a couple of counts. First off, I’d never rowed out there before (in fact I’d only been rowing on the ocean once) and I didn’t know how long it would take. It seemed unlikely that we could get out there, check things out, and make it back before our usual break time would be over. The other reason I hesitated was because Miss Daisy has the figure of a chopstick and on the last rowing trip with two other guys he alone failed to do any of the rowing.

Anyway, my sense of adventure and curiosity won over and I decided to take him. It was a choice I do not regret despite my fears having been confirmed.

Compared to the last time I had gone out for some fishing, the rowing out bit went quite quickly and easily. We used a smaller, lighter boat that was a lot less work to propel and it seemed the currents weren’t against us as badly as they had been before. We didn’t make the straight line one might have hoped due to a little more paddling on one side than the other but it wasn’t too bad.

When we approached for our landing one could easily tell that it was of the same glacial deposit as the rest of the surrounding islands. It was a very flat lying pile of large sub-rounded stones covered in pine green mats of moss and algae. We brought the boat to a shallowly sloped part of the shore and threw our little anchor onto the rocks themselves and pulled the boat up a little onto the gravel. First glances revealed some large heavily rusted bits of ferrous material that turned me onto archaeologist mode. I started planning to walk over the island to see what I could find but then Miss Daisy says he wants to get back in the boat and leave again.

“What? We just got here.”

“I know, but it hurts my feet to walk across these rocks. I guess I shouldn’t have left my sandals on the beach back at the dock.”

“I guess not. Well just give me a second to look around anyway.”

I look longing down at a bit of the island that is of sand rather than gravel to walk on. I walk around, searching the ground for a couple of seconds when my student makes some exclamation. “What the @#$% is that? Is that some kind of bird, or is it just a rock and I’m seeing things”, he says pointing at a large rock about 50 meters out from the opposite shore of the island we’re standing on. It was pretty large, gray, and had big white splotches as if it had been the resting spot of a thousand gulls. Then suddenly it flexed. The top third of what I had presumed a boulder was in fact a seal.

Now, in coming from the desert I know exactly jack about the ocean and the stuff that lives in, on, and around it. Consequently I know perhaps diddly about seals. Either way this seal seemed to be about three times the size I expected them to be. Desiring to not chase it away I crouched down, shushed my student and whispered that we might ever so quietly and slowly work our way across to the shore near the seal to get a better look Unshod, Miss Daisy refused but suggested that we row around to the other side. This irritated me because by walking the distance would be so much easier to cross. Furthermore, there would be no way for us to approach unobtrusively by boat making a great deal of noise and motion in the water with every stroke. Seeing that the trip would otherwise be a waste and remembering the ease of our arrival I finally agreed. Continuing to look around before leaving we count something like 15 seals poised on rocks or swimming around. Lamenting as I frequently do, that I’ve not yet bought myself a digital camera, we re-launched and started making our way to the seal side of the island.

As we started to approach them from the west those on rocks flopped into the water and began swimming around, keeping their distance. Through later conversations it occurred to me that this decision might have been a bit rash and unsafe but we decided to row the boat out towards the middle of a big circle the seals made swimming around. While we moved in on them several dived to reemerge behind us. It was during this phase of the game that we got the closest we did to any of them, which was probably about 20 meters. It was all not quite as exciting as I might have liked but it was kind of cool. It was also a bit of a trip to realize that these things were easily big enough to tip us if they were so inclined.

Anyway, having about exhausted our current opportunities at this point and with the hour waxing late I decided it was time for us to start back home. We move along the shore of Gull Island alright and then break for a bit of open water between Gull Island and the cove of Penikese. It was about here that we’re rocked by a wave in a way that makes me uneasy. I look to my right and see a wave coming for us that’s about as tall as I am sitting in the boat. I reiterate, I’m ignorant when it comes to boating in the ocean. Perhaps I needn’t have but I became quite concerned. Then the wave hit us. Not feeling comfortable with the way we rocked I decided to row us so the bow of our boat faced the incoming waves. (I later found out that my student decided to rock the boat with his body when the wave hit significantly exaggerating the effect. Turns out that the effect had made him feel nervous about it as well.) With the next hit we didn’t rock so dangerously but I could see that these had not been isolated. We were going to need to just move as quickly as we could to get where we’d be protected in the cove. I told Miss Daisy as much and as soon as I felt balanced I turned us and started paddling for speed.

It was actually a simple matter. We moved quite quickly and the waves didn’t seem to hit us as hard. And then we started the home stretch. So far on the trip, I’d had some problems with Miss Daisy’s rowing. He liked to drag to get us to turn instead of paddle. This was annoying when we were (at least I was) trying to make time to get in for our regular schedule. On top of it, he would drag on the wrong side of the boat making us veer even further in the wrong direction. He would also paddle on the wrong side for getting us to straighten out our course. When we were able to start going straight, I would get in a strong rowing rhythm we would make some distance, then I would look around to find that we were turned in the wrong direction again. Miss Daisy had either quit paddling or wasn’t strong enough to keep up. Sometimes when this happened, being a bit fatigued I decided it would make sense for me to rest while Miss Daisy paddled on his side to straighten us out. This of course didn’t work. Every time I rested Miss Daisy decided it was extra time to add to his relaxation. At the end I would do the work of both, turning us back to straight and moving us forward. After I don’t know how many loops and 90+ degree course corrections, I started paddling both sides to almost ignore the effects of Miss Daisy.

Eventually we arrived. Having so easily rowed out, I miscalculated the time it would take for us to get back and we were in fact late. My two school students stood waiting on the dock for me to get back making jabs at the quality of our serpentine boat path but not at all disappointed for the excuse to miss a few minutes of school.