“Oh, so you did get back,” the couple observed nonchalantly when my husband John answered the knock on our camper door.
“Yes, we did” my husband answered frostily and then stood waiting for them to make the next comment. I didn’t want to hear their next comment. I didn’t want to talk with these callous people at all. I didn’t want to hear their explanations or their apologies, if indeed they were even going to offer them in the first place.
I stepped up behind my husband, looked them in the eye and bid them a cold, “Good night.” John picked up on cue and firmly closed the door in their faces!
Rude? Yes, we were being rude! But we had good reason to be. It was ten minutes after ten and almost dark outside. We had just got back to camp after a harrowing experience thanks to these people and all they could say was “Oh, so you did get back”? Were they expecting that we wouldn’t? Probably, judging by the surprised look on their faces and the tone of their voice. Did they think we had drowned out there? Where was the concern that normal people would have expressed about our safety in this kind of situation?
My husband and I exchanged exasperated glances but neither one of us spoke. We still found it hard to talk about how foolish we had been and how close we had come to meeting a watery grave as a result of our folly. John was just mad. Me, I was angry too, but I was also still physically shaking from the terror of the experience!
We had come up north for a little fishing and, having no set destination in mind, we had found, and had been captivated, by the beautiful Wukusko Falls in this northern Manitoba wilderness. We settled here at the campsite on the banks of Wukusko Lake late last night and all this morning we were quite happy fishing along its rugged but peacefully quiet western shore. We got a couple of pickerel and the pike we threw back but we were content. At noon, we took our catch to camp, cooked up the pickerel and enjoyed the fresh feast. In the afternoon, we set out again, to ply the waters for the supper meal.
As we sat in our twelve foot Lund boat, we marvelled at the serene beauty of the lake which boasted of a number of islands out in the distance but the opposite shore was not in sight. However, we had no desire to explore. We only had a little seven-horse-power motor on the boat and that was enough to limit any frivolous ideas. This area was providing all the pleasure and adventure we had hoped for on this holiday.
It was while we were trolling leisurely in the shallow waters off the shore that these people had driven up to us.
“Catching anything?” the man asked casually, eyeing our small craft with a rather condescending look. They had a sixteen foot boat and a large, probably at least a 40-horsepower motor. I suppose we must have looked like poor country cousins to them. Still, they seemed congenial enough.
“Got a few pickerel and some pike that we threw back, but we got our lunch here this morning, and now we have enough for supper with a couple to spare,” John replied.
“What sizes are you getting?” the woman wanted to know.
I pulled up the stringer and displayed our catch. We had mostly three and four pounders which were not really big fish but as far as we were concerned, they were perfect. The larger ones didn’t fry up as tasty because they didn’t absorb the salt throughout and they usually took longer to cook making them somewhat less tender. The two strangers laughed when they saw our catch
“Oh, you’re just getting the babies around here. The big ones are around those islands up there. You won’t get anything smaller than a seven pounder out there. And none of those slimy little pike either.” The man went on with disgust. “When you get a fish out there, you know you have something to bring home. Where you people from?”
“We’re from Dauphin,” John answered.
“Then you better get out there,” he pointed to the islands. You know that between the two of you, you can only bring home a limit of sixteen fish. You ought to make that sixteen count if you have come all the way here for it. Follow us, we’ll show you where the real fish are.” And with that he gunned his motor and they took off eastward toward the islands.
John and I looked at each other thoughtfully. The guy made sense about making our limit count. Limits were strictly enforced and we were not the type to risk a penalty for an illegal catch.
“Should we go for it?” John queried me thoughtfully. I shrugged my shoulders.
“Whatever”. He was the driver. The lake looked calm enough. If he thought it was fine, I saw no reason to refuse. So John gunned our little motor into action and we took off in their wake, but their big boat quickly left us far behind.
At first, everything was fine, but soon, we found ourselves in the middle of the big lake, far from any shore and our so called “new friends” never even looked back as they sped off into the distance. Then, to make things worse, a wind came up, whipping the deep water into ever frothier waves. As we traveled south, we were moving against the waves, but as the waves got bigger and bigger we really started to get alarmed. Going out farther into the big lake was pure folly with our little craft, and we knew it. There was an island to the east of us but in order to get to it we would have the waves hitting us broadside. By this time, however, we saw no alternative. The wind had turned into a gale. If we stayed on the water, we would soon be inundated by the ever increasing size of the waves. That island was our only hope – that was if we could make it to the island at all!
I was in the front of the boat. John was manning the motor at the back. Yelling to each other against the splashing roar, we decided to try getting to the island. As John turned the boat eastward, some of the waves started washing into the boat. My heart sank as I watched the grimace on John’s face and I turned my eyes away. If he was scared, then I knew we were in deep trouble. I started to pray as I turned towards the island, trying to will it to meet us half way or something. I could feel my feet wet and I knew the boat was filling up with water. My clothes were soaked from the spray, but I didn’t care. I didn’t dare look at John anymore, I was afraid of what I would see on his face. I just prayed.
Sometimes I think my guardian angel works overtime, because an answer to my prayers came in the form of a very wide rocky shoreline around that island. Just when the boat filled with water and we thought we were goners, we found ourselves on a rocky bottom but still about a hundred yards from the island itself. The motor stalled on the rocks and the boat sat there teetering on the rocks swaying against the waves.
John and I got out of the boat which raised it somewhat in the water, allowing us to drag it through the choppy water scraping the boat’s bottom over the rocks. We had a small 48-ounce juice can which was now floating on top of the water in the boat but we had no time to worry about using it to bale the water out. Our main concern was to drag that boat to that shore, as soon as possible and get ourselves onto dry land. After what seemed like an eternity, we reached the shoreline and, securing the still full of water boat to a tree, we fell exhaustedly on the ground to catch our breath and rest.
We would think about getting back later but our next order of business was to empty the water out of that boat and drag it onto higher ground; otherwise the force of that wind would probably break that rope and carry the boat away into open water. First, John took the motor off the back of the boat. That raised it higher in the water again. Next, we got the fishing gear, the cushions and everything else out of the boat. Then we tipped the boat on its side and emptied the water out. Now we were able to carry the light aluminium boat up onto the shore. Feeling safe now, we turned our attention to our clothes. We were soaked to the skin.
There were two cabins and a couple of sheds on the island. Hopefully, there were people here. We knocked on each door but there was no one. But one of the cottages had a clothesline – with clothes pins yet! How lucky can we get? We stripped our wet clothes off leaving only our undergarments, just in case someone was hiding in the cottage or something, and hung our wet clothes on the line.
Feeling like Adam and Eve incarnated we set out to explore the little island. The sun was warm and although the wind was still strong, it was refreshingly pleasant. It soon had our clothes, our boat and all our gear dry and ready to reload. Problem was, the water was still too rough for us to head back.
The day wore on, 5 o’clock, then 6, then 7. Still the wind kept whipping up those savage waves. For ourselves, we were safe and fine, but our truck was near the boat ramp at the campsite. If someone noticed that we were not back, they might assume we had drowned or met with some other ill fate. If word got back to the kids at home, they would be devastated until they found out where we were. Somehow, we had to get back to camp, but we had to get back safely! It was late August and we knew there was still some daylight left so we decided to wait. Often the wind likes to die down before dusk.
By 8:45, the wind had shifted to the west and it didn’t seem as strong as before. There were still whitecaps on the water but we would be going against them. God willing, we’d make it to camp in one piece. We didn’t dare wait too much longer. We had to make it back to camp before it got dark.
My heart was pounding as we dragged the now dry boat over those rocks back to deep water. Once in, John started the motor and turned the bow into the waves heading west toward the campsite. I sat in front, looking straight ahead at the distant shore and prayed. John opened that throttle wide and that little 7 horse motor gave it all it had. As we bounced over those waves, the spray soaked me through to the bone again but I didn’t even realize I was wet till we arrived safely at our boat launch.
As we silently unpacked the boat, we talked about those people that had talked us into doing such a stupid thing. Actually, we were just as angry at ourselves. We should have used our own brains and not attempted that dangerous a trip. John could have said no and so could I but neither one of us did. We had both used poor judgment and we both knew it. We could not even blame each other. Yes, those people had goaded us into going there, but it was our own decision to follow them. We had no justification to trust them or to believe them because we didn’t know anything about them, but it was easier to blame them then to admit to own foolishness. Oh well, such is the cost of education and we knew we would never! forget that valuable lesson. Fishing is for the hardy – not for the foolhardy and neither good sense nor sound judgement is not up for debate!