Sunday, August 15, 2010

Bow Bunnies and Monkey Girls

Fishing tugs in the "Fishing Village" at Two Rivers
We've crossed paths a couple times with a trawler named "Monkey Girl."  "It's not what you think," her skipper told us.

Apparently the boat has narrow gunwales, with no railings and only a few handholds. So the first time they took their new boat through a lock, his wife was clinging like, well, a monkey! He started calling her "monkey girl," and the name stuck to the boat.

First time for everything: First time we stayed at
a marina next to a McDonalds.

I thought of Monkey Girl this week, as we spend three days docked in the town of Two Rivers (formerly a fishing town, though these days the fishing tugs are mostly in a museum). Our first night, we tied up in a marina, but the other nights we tied to a wall in a public park.

It was great to stay for free. On the other hand, the wall was quite high--so high that when we docked, the boat's roof was level with shore.

It was also made of corrugated steel. And coated with spider webs. And in order to get off the boat, I had to climb onto a narrow ledge about three inches wide, and scramble sideways about 15 feet--above muddy brown water and rotting dead fish--to reach a shaky steel ladder and scramble up onto shore. In a situation like this, there's nothing to do but embrace your inner Monkey Girl.

We had desk work to do, and Two Rivers had an outstanding public library--big, clean, well lit, private study rooms, free high speed wi-fi. (One of the great inventions of a civil society, the public library.) We also checked out the farmer's market and the German beirhaus and enjoyed the really excellent bike paths that follow the shore both north and south of town.

Me Tarzan!    . . . No, Me Jane!
No, Me Cheetah!
One thing I didn't get to do was practice docking the boat, something I want to work on in an environment where I can't damage anyone's million-dollar yacht. (A rusting steel wall would have been perfect.)

We've observed that in the boating world, gender roles seem to be fairly well defined. The guy gets to steer the boat masterfully to the dock. The girl gets to stand on the bow and hold the lines, ready to fling them  to the dockhands. The guy gets called "Captain." The girl is the "bow bunny."

Back in Orillia, we docked in a very large marina, and Cap'n had to navigate some very narrow, boat-lined channels for what seemed like miles, then basically spin Dragonfly in place on her axis to turn an extremely tight corner to make it into our designated slip. Quite a crowd gathered to watch as Dragonfly slowly picked her way in, 14 tons of steel amidst a field of brittle and expensive plastic boats.

Finally, we docked, and as the designated bow bunny, I jumped down to tie the lines. I was immediately accosted by an older guy. He held a glass clinking with ice, and his bare chest was mahogany-brown and draped with amulets on a leather thong. "Did you bring her in?" he asked in a challenging tone. "No, my husband did the piloting," I said, as mildly as I could. "Of course he did," said the guy, draining the dregs of his drink and eyeing me from stem to stern. "Girls can't pilot like that."

Well, I aspire to pilot like that. And my role model is Libby Wiles of Mid-Lakes Navigation, our home port in Macedon, NY. (Libby is the daughter of Peter Wiles, Sr., who designed our boat). The day before we left on our trip, she told us the story of how she used to take some of the Mid-Lake canal boats to Florida for the winter. The boats rode down on trucks; then they would have to be moved along a canal to their winter port.

So Libby was doing this, and she was approaching a lock, and, following standard procedure, she radioed ahead to the lock tender. Hearing a woman's voice on the radio, the lock tender apparently got a little worked up.

"Is there a captain on board?" he asked. "Or are you bringing that boat through by yourself? Because I can't have a women bringing a boat through by herself."

Libby keyed the radio.

"Negative, I'm not bringing a boat through by myself."

"Well then, come ahead, the lock is ready," said the locktender, mollified.

And Libby was telling the truth. She wasn't piloting >a< boat by herself. She was piloting THREE boats--tied together side by side, gunwhale to gunwhale--all by herself.

Just call her "Captain."


  1. Speaking of gender roles in boating, the dock where we keep our new (to us) 28 foot pontoon boat at Raystown Lake is full of small houseboats and cabin cruisers as well as many large pontoons. The two 30 or so foot houseboats next to us are almost always piloted by the female owners and the males play the part of the "bow bunny" when they dock. I noticed this behavior with a couple of the cabin cruisers and pontoons too but not quite as much as with the houseboats. Don't know if it's a trend or not yet, haven't been there long enough. For the record, my wife brought our boat in for the first time yesterday and did a really good job too so I don't think it has anything to do with the sex of the pilot.

    Our dock is right across from the public launch at 7-Points and in the few short weeks we've had this boat, I've observed countless women motoring about while their male counter parts go to get the trailer. Interestingly, it is primarily the man that gets the trailer though - not that I haven't seen women back trailers mind you, it just seems to be the way it works. Don't know why.

  2. Wahoo for a library on your journey! And I look forward to your first post as pilot!

  3. Ahh, here's a wonderful opportunity to destroy some gender profiles and shake things up!

  4. Cynthia: You have it all wrong. You are my role model. I have always wanted to pull up stakes and head out via boat. I hope to take that one out of my bucket someday soon. Libby