Getting Started


Getting Started
Bob Peckham

Gliding around, propelled by your own power seemed like magic to me back in the early 1950's and I'll admit it still does today. I had been sailing with my mom, and motor boating with my dad, but nothing seemed as exciting as learning to row. My dreams revolved around an old twelve foot plywood rowboat my grandfather bought when he had his cabin built in 1950. By today's standards, the boat was heavy and the Brookline outboard motor grandpa hung on the transom made it even more clumsy. I didn't care. Rowing that boat would mean freedom to explore our small lake and that was what I desperately wanted to do.

When he decided I was ready, or perhaps just to stop my begging, my dad put me in the rowboat, tied a long rope to the bow and shoved me off into the lake. I rowed, or perhaps I should say, flailed stern first toward the middle of the lake until the rope was all played out and I felt a tug from the anchor on shore. I then reversed direction and rowed forward until I hit the shore. Most of the time I did quite well going back and forth by myself, but occasionally I panicked and dad had to retrieve me by pulling the line in hand-over-hand.

my brother Charlie on the left, my dad and me on the right.
This was taken about the time I learned to row

One afternoon, late in the summer, I rowed out into the lake and waited for the reassuring tug. Not feeling any, I rowed further, occasionally peeking back over my shoulder at the receding shoreline. Finally I panicked and yelled for my dad to pull me in. Etched in my memory is a picture of my dad holding up the anchor without any rope attached. I was on my own! Alone! Adrift! Abandoned! I don't remember rowing back to shore but I suspect it was a speed record for a kid my age. Panic is a wonderful stimulant. After that I was free to use the boat whenever it wasn't being used by adults.

I don't remember exactly when the Surgeon General published his report about smoking, but I remember grandpa quit right away and my dad began trying to quit. To help, my mom showed him that payments on a new boat were the same as he was spending on cigarettes. That's how we got our beautiful new Starcraft aluminum boat. The new boat was a dream to row and soon dad bought a Sears motor that pushed it along at a respectable speed. By that time I was old enough to use the motor but I often removed it and rowed for the sheer pleasure of watching the water swirl off the oars.

A few years later, grandpa decided to move our landing area down the beach about fifty feet. We moved the new Starcraft, but the old boat remained. It had been hauled up on shore, turned over, and forgotten. A few years ago I was cleaning up the waterfront and came across the remains of the old boat. Most of it had rotted away, but there were still bits of plywood, shreds of fiberglass tape, and, buried down in the grass, the oarlocks I had used as a kid.

My parents and grandparents are gone now but I still enjoy rowing around the lake. Last year, I'm proud to announce, my grandson Jeremy learned how to row. Notice I didn't say I taught him how to row because, like my dad, I believe people need to figure rowing out for themselves. My method is to pick a nice calm summer day, relax in the back of the boat, and let the learner figure out how to make the boat go where they want it to go. Using this patented method, both daughters, and now my grandson have successfully learned to row.

me and my grandson Jeremy
t he boat we are in is the Starcraft mentioned above

This summer my granddaughter, Bitsy, who absolutely must learn to do anything her older brother has done, will probably learn to row too. To make their rowing easier and to protect myself from splashes, I plan to build them a small rowboat of their own. I'll need to buy the wood and a few other supplies, but I won't need to buy new oarlocks. I know where a good pair is waiting.

Bob Peckham