I have unintentionally capsized a canoe exactly once in my life, in 3 feet of freezing Lake Superior water, while beached. To understand this story you need to know that in my family capsizing while getting into or out of a canoe is a mark of shame.
One summer Nancy and I vacationed with my father, his second wife, and her parents, in one of our favorite places: Copper Harbor Michigan. One of our usual pastimes was to paddle out to the island that sits in the mouth of the harbor and look for agates.
My father took one canoe, with his wife and mother-in-law (who was scared) and my wife and I took the father-in-law as a passenger. Since he'd never been in a canoe in his life, he got the standard how-to-get-into-and-out-of-a-canoe talk. You know the bit, stay low, feet on the center of the bottom, hold on to the gunwales and move slowly. We loaded the canoes and paddled out into the harbor. Our passenger squirmed a bit when the boat rocked, but he was just fine on the trip out. At the end of the day we loaded up and paddled back. The harbor was calm and I thought he was comfortable. We nosed up to the beach, my wife got out to steady the canoe, and our passenger stood up very fast, walked forward at nearly a run, and stepped on a gunwale to get off. This neatly rolled the canoe on its side and pitched me out, with my camera bag.
I rose sputtering from the water with the camera bag over my head to discover the guy hadn't looked back or even noticed the commotion, he was so intent on placing as much distance as possible between himself and the water. My first thought was to commit mayhem. My father, who'd gotten to the beach just a minute or two earlier and had successfully unloaded saw the whole thing, including my emergence from the water like a malevolent take on Botticelli. Dad said only one word, very quietly, my name. Which halted me just long enough to consider the jail time I'd get for throttling the man. My stepmother, who truly understands how seriously my father and I took our canoeing, could only stand there with her mouth hanging open as her parents continued obliviously to the parking lot.
Dale Austin, August 30, 2005
All images and text Copyright Dale Austin, 1962-2008