Rare Bear: The Second Last Portage

The Marinas and Boat Yards are now open in Ontario. A delayed start to the boating season due to COVID l9. I love boats, and boating has been my passion since toddlerhood. As a two-year-old, I dragged an enamel baby bathtub to the edge of a large pond, limped in and shoved off. How I did it? I don’t know because I didn’t have a paddle. I just got into the tub and drifted until my mother found out. She stood at the edge of the pond screaming while a neighbor in high boots waded into the water and pulled me to safety.

Well, I’ve had a number of boating experiences since then. Most of them have been happy. Some of them not.

Since I grew up in the Toronto area, I had a berth in a yacht club in Toronto’s harbour and for three years I enjoyed the Toronto Islands and the Humber River. On one of those excursions, I was accompanied by my Father, two brothers, and an uncle. We were cutting across the bay between two Islands when a sea-plane began taxiing out from a dock. I did not see the plane but my Father, brothers, and uncle did and started screaming, “Watch out for the plane” they cried “Watch out for the Plane!” I was looking up instead of to the side, and when I finally saw the approaching plane all I could do, the only one thing I could do was try to carefully steer the plane between the Pontoons as the pilot lifted off thereby passing underneath the plane. This was a maneuver I had practiced several times before so I was quite calm as I executed the feat. My uncle never recovered but my Father and brothers did; although he lived to tell this story, he never would venture into another boat with me again!

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On another occasion, I was traveling through a lagoon when I picked up a load of seaweed on the propeller and it fouled.  My boat at the time was called a “Dippy,” a disappearing propeller craft with a one lunger motor amidships. Some may recognize them if they spent time in Muskoka. They were fishing-friendly in those waters where deadheads, logs, and rocks were common. You could cruise right over them because of the propeller hinged up into an aluminum hub in the floor. When you had a fouled propeller, you could simply take the top off the hub from inside the boat, clear the propeller and then after putting the top back, restart the motor and you were off once again.

Well on one occasion the battery was too low and it wouldn’t start. We paddled to a nearby dock and asked for assistance. What we didn’t know but were soon to find out, as we were at The Royal Canadian Yacht Club. At that time the classiest club in Toronto. And we were outclassed. We were dressed in jeans and there was to be a formal dance in the club that night to celebrate a regatta. There were many guest boats from around the lake and beyond.

However, the dockmaster provided a berth for the night and escorted us to the front.  We crossed a manicured lawn, and then a patio, and finally we were paraded through the dance floor and out the front door to the landing where a boat carried us and the battery to the shore about a mile or so in the distance.

The next morning we charged the battery up and came back to the club where we found the “Boat’’ ’hidden between three “Arbo”s– A classic yacht of the 1940s and ’50s.  They are called “Arbo’s” because the main mast has a bend near the top of the 30-some foot mast so the sail can clear the jib.

Ah, those were the days!   Now, some 65 years later, I am confined to a canoe or rowboat, but on a canoe trip through Algonquin Park in Northern Ontario, I penned these lines.

The Second Last Portage

The Second Last Portage,
Is usually the best…

For as you go

You relish
The memories of the rest.

Yes, the second last portage

Is usually the best;

For the last Portage

Takes the Canoe

From the water

To the car

Rev. C.J. Barry Kentner

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