You may have read the post below about The Iceman. This one is different. It’s about what not to do when dealing with ice on the Bay in the very early spring.
It was April in the mid-Sixties and I was living in Midland on the south shore of the Bay. Every year at that time certain people get restless and fight an urge to get out on the water and poke among the islands. I was (and still would be if not “retired”) one of them. But even though rain, wind and rising temperatures had been pushing ice from the channels, it was a slow process.
Some men over Honey Harbour way had flat-bottomed welded steel outboard boats they could use to fight the hard, loose honeycomb ice. I had a boat but it was a cedar strip outboard, not an ice fighter. My good friend had a tough little fiberglass outboard boat. I was able to persuade him that she could get us out on the water.
Saturday morning dawned sunny and calm. We launched his boat at Honey Harbour and set out up the main channel, which was mostly clear of ice, and the skipper opened the throttle. We skimmed over the flat surface towards Bone Island where his relatives had a cottage. As we passed entrances to several side channels I noticed they were still choked with hard honeycombed ice but didn’t give that another thought. Our route was clear almost to the end. As we approached the cottage, we had to stop and push aside a few floating ice pans to reach the dock.
By now the sun was smiling down upon the islands and we climbed the high rocks behind the cottage to absorb the view. There wasn’t another human within sight or sound.
Time slipped by as we explored the woods and shorline like a pair of little boys playing hookie from school. In early afternoon the faintest wisp of wind could be felt but we paid it no heed. Eventually our rambling took us back to the dock where the boat — our tiny ticket to the outside world — was moored. Gradually we realized that the zephyr we had felt earlier had become a brisk breeze and the peaceful shore had become filled with sound.
It was a gentle but massive tinkling, like a thousand glockenspeils sounding at once. The source soon became obvious. The wind was blowing bits of ice together towards the dock where our boat was tied. If it went on much longer we would be stuck there. And no one knew where we were! We had to get out, and fast.
The ice was a semi-solid mass by the time we got the engine started and the boat away from the dock. We had about thirty meters of it ahead of us before reaching open water.
My friend gently put the boat’s bow into the crystals, and I took an oar and pushed at them with all my strength to clear a path for our escape. Soon we were completely surrounded. Leaving the motor on “slow ahead”, the skipper tied the tiller and grabbed the other oar. Together we pushed our way through the mass with the motor providing forward thrust.
The hard chunks scraped along the boat’s sides. Straining and grunting, we fought the ice like a mortal enemy. We each wondered how the fiberglass hull was withstanding the gouging without being punctured. The sweat of our efforts became mixed with that of fear.
It seemed to take forever to reach open water. By then the afternoon was late and we still had miles to go. Keeping a sharp eye out for floating chunks in the low chop that was now riffling the water, we sped along in the fading daylight back to the mainland.
As we hauled the boat onto its trailer at the marina, we examined the hull. It was scarred at the waterline but not punctured, and for that we were grateful. But our carelessness had shocked us.
We had unwittingly taken some foolish risks: No one knew where we were. We failed to foresee that the loose ice moves with the wind. We did not watch closely how the wind rose in the afternoon. We were lucky we had oars, strength, a tough little boat, and a dependable motor to get ourselves out of trouble.
The moral? Don’t let enthusiasm trump safety. Plan ahead.