“A Successful Collection of Failures”

Sample Stories

The Algonquin

Throughout the 1940s, the MV Algonquin was a large passenger ship that was used by many visitors travelling between three linked lakes known as Vernon, Fairy, and Peninsula, in the northern Muskoka area. This craft was a sister ship to the HMS Seguin that still plies the waters of other larger lakes in the lower Muskoka district. The Algonquin stopped at the docks of various resorts on its trips through the lakes—provided that there were adequate docking facilities, water deep enough for a ship of its size, and the docking flag was up.

The helmsman of the Algonquin never ceased to amaze his passengers as he manoeuvred a ship of that size through the narrow canal between Fairy Lake and Peninsula Lake. On one occasion, I was a passenger standing on the upper deck close to the bow as the ship passed through the channel. One of the curves was so tight that the protruding bowsprit got caught in the branches of a large overhanging tree. Only skilled manoeuvring allowed us to reverse and later proceed without incident.

Puck’s Lodge was not a stop on the regular route of this ship. The closest it got to the lodge was when it passed by at full speed in the middle of the lake. Even though full speed was barely over a few knots, it created a large rounded wake—the result of a heavy boat travelling at a slow speed on its approach to the canal. At times it travelled closer to our south shore than others.

One day Greg and I had a whimsical idea. Along with our sister, Lynn, and two or three friendly young guests, we thought it would be fun to paddle out into the middle of the lake to meet this grand ship. The fastest boat to get us there was the cedar canoe Greg and I had once been banned from using. It was the tipsiest canoe at the lodge. We quickly headed out into the middle of the lake to get a close look at the Algonquin and “catch the waves.”

We were excited as we paddled feverishly towards the Algonquin but soon realized that ships get bigger the closer you get to them. With several of us inside the small canoe, our group was riding with the gunwales no more than a few inches above the surface of the water. The waves also appeared to get larger the closer we got to the vessel. I was too embarrassed to admit my misgivings, and no one suggested that we turn back, so we paddled on. I felt a bit like David going out to meet Goliath. Who knows what the others were thinking as we bounced over the large waves.

Aunt Pearl always arrived at the worst possible time. She would usually yodel to call us back to the lodge when we were a fair distance away. On this day, like many others, that yodel was spine chilling. We began to think about our actions. Only then did I see our adventure as a collision course with a larger ship whose manoeuvrability was much more limited than ours. We exhausted ourselves on repeated attempts to navigate our overloaded canoe into the most risky of waves close to the ship—without any margin of safety. Also, our inexperience led us to believe that we had not needed to bring our floating safety cushions simply because we were all good swimmers.

Until then, our inexperience had allowed us to view these hazards as the exciting parts of the trip. With my aunt on shore in an all too familiar militaristic stance, we paddled back. It was a long trip to the dock. Our voyage home gave us time to think about the potential danger we had escaped. There was also another precarious situation we had not considered—the impending danger we faced at our inevitable meeting with Aunt Pearl.

Without experience, danger can be mistaken for adventure.

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