To tell this non-story, I have to first set the scene. It was (and still is) very cold outside. Yesterday it was -4C and, with the windchill, much lower. The wind was blowing down out of the North from Bute Inlet at about 22mph and gusting over 25 now and then. The seas were nasty little frothy bumps with a bit of spindrift. Short, close and choppy, they got meaner as the seas marched in tight little lines heading south. North of us, the channel was in the lee of an island and the seas were a bit calmer. There was no boat traffic on the channel. Sane people stayed home.
But it was bookclub day.
Sal headed out in her little 17′ boat and bobbed and ploughed her way over to the other island to pick up three more septuagenarians joining her in this casserole and eggnog enhanced December deathwish. She did not go quickly but the five or so knots of forward progress just added to the windchill. The bow of her little boat was a sheet of ice.
Their destination was another home 400 feet up a goat-track back on our island and so Sal’s path was a two km rough-ride zig followed by another jouncy 2.5 km zag. Once arrived, other old Lemmings joined them in two separate 4×4’s and they headed up the cliff to the party house (to all leap off the cliff in unison?). Scrambling and clawing speed up that hill is about 7 to 10 kmh and takes another twenty five minutes. Overall distance: about 10 kms. Time required under adverse conditions, about one hour and 15 minutes. Room for error? Zero.
They all chatted and had a fine time and then, after a few hours in the hostess’ home without ever taking off their coats, they piled into the trucks and crawled back to our island’s community dock and Sal’s boat. The island-side ladies, granted a new lease on life, headed back up the main road to their homes. Our intrepid four, headed out once again to tempt fate.
The wind was just as bad. The cold was just as cold and the seas were, perhaps, a smidge worse but at least they were going with the waves instead of against them. I watched through binoculars the small speck that was Sal and fiends (the ‘r’ purposefully left off) disappear into the other-island shadows of the late day but she was close to the other dock and I was sure she made it that far. A few minutes later, and 3 passengers lighter, she was slowly surfing along the tops of south-heading waves heading home. It looked horrific but not beyond doable. It was on the wrong side of the edge-of-reason but not by too much.
As I was speaking to Sal on the walkie-talkie the dogs were eavesdropping and, as soon as we stopped talking, they wanted out. They know that my talking on the radio is an indicator of Sal getting home and they wanted to run over the peninsula and greet her.
A few minutes later I got a call. “Unh, Sweetie? This is Sally. The controls on the boat have frozen and I was about to crash into the dock so I headed back out and killed the engine. I am now drifting down channel and fending off the rocks. Can you come get me?”
I dressed up and ran over to the neighbour’s dock. The dogs were staring out to sea when they saw me and came to communicate something was wrong. I continued to the dock but they must have thought I was daft and so they headed south along the peninsula because they saw Sally drifting that way.
My boat is covered tightly in tarps. It would take forever to get the tarps off and, as it was, it took awhile to untie the frozen lines. I got the boat running, left the tarps in place and looked for Sally through a small porthole-sized opening at the front and by hanging my head out the side. I found her, she took the bow line and tied it to her bow. I then went astern for about two hundred yards towing Sal back to the dock. Elapsed time from meeting dogs to returning to the dock ….maybe 35 minutes. That part was difficult because the tarps made it impossible to see backwards unless I left the helm and stuck my head out. A few peeks and a strong familiarity with the locale made it doable.
We got back. We had a short discussion while tying up about discretion being the better part of valour and the importance of knowing limitations. And then I fixed her controls.
When anyone reaches seventy or beyond, some of their previous abilities are lessened. And Sal has always suffered from cold hands. She cannot feel her hands in the winter and especially when it is as cold as it is now. And that is true despite wearing heated gloves! She was doing what she was doing with virtually dead hands. “How much force did you use to try the controls?”
“Twice what I normally do.”
We took each other’s hand and she pulled on mine to demonstrate the amount of force. Chihuahuas that fit in women’s handbags pull harder. I had used a bit more force and used my bare hand on the release button. I could feel the release. I know that she could not. That was the difference. I gave her hand the same tug and it was about the pull of a non-purse toy Poodle. “Oh! I didn’t want to break it so I didn’t pull that hard.”
For the want of a tug……..
This morning it is just as cold but not quite as windy. Sal was scheduled to work the post office. Normally, I do not try and tell her what to do. Waste of time. She makes up her own mind. This morning was different. “Unh, Sal? Yesterday showed that there is little room for error in these conditions. I suggest you NOT go.” She made a few calls. Explained the situation. Another worker closer and already on the island wanted the work. Sal employed the required discretion this time.