Volume XVII, Issue 22 # May 28 - June 3, 2009

On the Water

Bigger Is Not Always Better

I get great pleasures from my small boat

by Allen Delaney

There is nothing half so much worth doing
as simply messing about in boats.

–Kenneth Grahame: The Wind in the Willows

Truer words were never spoken, even if these were uttered by a river rat. Those words are exactly why I bought a simple, 14-foot, fiberglass crab skiff eight years ago.

My little three-person boat is not noteworthy by any measure. It’s dingy gray with a thick, four-and-a-half-foot plank across its beam that serves as a center seat. The stern has a built-in box seat on each side separated by a gap for the plug. From there the captain mans the outboard tiller. Spills, stains, dirt, sand and various crab parts decorate the deck and sides. The anchor, tools and what-not, are kept in a plastic milk crate secured to the front of the wooden seat, and the life jackets are kept in place by a faded bungee cord near the bow. I figured the little boat would be ideal for scooping up Patuxent River jimmies on a lazy summer morning. However, I got much more than I bargained for.

With a small, low-draft vessel married to a miserly 15-horsepower motor that can be adjusted for varying depths of water, I’m able to discover life that lies concealed in the river’s shallow backwater creeks.

Casting among overhanging branches and fallen logs, I have found an abundance of fat, white perch eager to attack my lures. I’ve watched a family of raccoons cavorting along the water’s edge and deer getting an early morning drink. Slowly puttering alongside marshes, I hear a cacophony of red-winged blackbirds and watch as they flit from cattail to cattail, flaunting the patches of bright red that adorn their wings.

Meandering up a narrow, winding creek, I marvel at the sight of a bald eagle circling overhead while turtles, lazing atop logs, soak in the sun’s warmth. Along the shore a heron tiptoes through the shallow waters searching for an unwary breakfast. I spy saplings toppled by beavers, their gnawed pointed stumps reaching skyward.

Having a boat that rides so low in the water allows a detailed view of the much despised, yet very beautiful, multi-colored jellyfish as they pulsate through the water. Small crabs sidestroke past me, while schools of minnows, as if choreographed, dart by in unison.

Unlike my larger boat, my little skiff can be beached, affording further discoveries. I’ve found fossilized crabs, oysters and a myriad of ancient shells poking from cliffs worn away by decades of erosion and storms. Along certain shores there are wild raspberries, red and fat, bursting with sweetness that no store variety could ever match. Driftwood lays awry, bleached and worn smooth from its watery journey, decorating the beach in a haphazard display, silently waiting to be carried off by the next nor’easter.

I named my little craft Dinkers, since it’s the perfect size for dinkin’ around back creeks and poking along shorelines. As the leaves change from a fresh spring green to a golden October hue, Dinkers gets more use than my larger boat. Bigger is not always better; smaller, at times, is just more fun.