The Infinite Mystery of the Starter Rope

Tales of Vashon

You know how fishes supposedly evolved to come out of the oceans as their fins turned to feet?  That’s us as kids.  Evolving from beach boys to smart ass primitive outboard motor operators…  Actual navigation came later with college and experience with genuine fisherman.  Navigation was an unfortunate neglect in our early beach life.

Dad had tied me to the side of the 14 foot kicker-boat, life preserver and all, as I was too small to be able to swim.   There were three wooden seats and I sat in the middle.  The old Johnson wouldn’t be coaxed and Dad was cursing a blue streak as we were halfway across the Colvos passage and already abreast of Olalla.  The current was carrying us north, as another knot flew by my ear.  “Keep your head down,” Dad yelled between pulls as he wound the knotted starting rope around the flywheel for the umpteenth time.  There were notches on either side of the flywheel that would hold the knot.  Dad wrapped the rope around the wheel for another pull, if the knot held, which it often didn’t.

When he pulled the spark plugs and found them soaked, he knew that the reason the engine wouldn’t start was that it was flooded with gas.  He used a couple of matches to dry out the plugs and tried once again, only to have the engine cough.    After several more tries, the old Johnson Sea-Horse kicked in and the boat started to move, so we could go back to trolling for salmon.  We trolled very slowly so as to make the twisting herring at the end of the line appear to be wounded, thus making it easy prey for a salmon that could swim at 26 MPH if he was trying to evade a seal.

Before us kids ever ran an outboard, we worked the beach for anything that could float and often made the mistake of trying to use a log or build a raft that would sink when one of us got on to it.  “Okay, you can push me off.”  Kit Bradley was sitting on one end of a 12 foot log that barely held his weight.  It was so water logged that it had lost most of its buoyancy and was barely afloat and hard to navigate.  Kit only had a stick to paddle with, a little thicker on one end than the other.

One of the problems with trying to ride a log is its propensity to spin where a water soaked log tends to be more stable with the heavy side down.  We never wore life preservers because we had learned to swim and felt impervious to danger which was what we were always looking for.

Brother Mike and I were on the beach and Kit was so far out that he barely heard  Mike yell at him, “Hey Kit, the tide is running with the wind.  You had better turn back.”  With only a stick to paddle with and no hope of swimming to shore, Kit was in trouble.  Mike and I ran down the beach to keep up with the tide and the wind as Kit struggled to paddle his log to shore.  We discussed just leaving him because it was getting dark and the wind was colder than you know what.  He was just a speck on the water and closer to Olalla than he was on this side.  We ran home and told Kit’s Mother who called the Kitsap County sheriff who was waiting by the old Indian fishing village when Kit drifted close enough to the shore to swim.  We were all grounded and couldn’t go to the beach for a week.

We weren’t old enough to be in the Boy Scouts, so the rafts we built were uncommonly lashed and frequently came apart in the most embarrassing circumstances.  None of the logs were the same size and the rafts were built from stuff we could drag from where the tide had left it high on the beach.  The logs were seldom bigger than what one of us could drag to the water, unless we practiced using “leverage” that Great Uncle Johnny had taught us.  “Get a large pole that won’t break and dig a hole in the gravel under the log.  Stick the pole clear under the log and lift it so as to roll the log down the beach.” Uncle Johnny said.  “Sometimes you’re going to have to put a block next to the log, with the pole on top and instead of lifting the pole, you pull down on it against the block to lift the log to start it on its way to the water.”

We did what Uncle Johnny said and had one big log and several smaller ones loosely tied together from pieces of rope we found in the drift.  Our first raft looked fine until we stepped on to it, only to find that it sank.  The logs were too small to take our weight.
Once we had a raft that supported our weight, we looked for a way to make a sail.  We had two sticks, a long one for poling the raft along the beach and shorter sticks or short boards for paddling.  Sticking the mast between the logs was easy, the cross piece above supported the stolen sheet and we steered it with a long pole.  The water was washing over the top of the logs because of too much weight and the fact that our lashings had stretched and the waves were lifting and dropping the logs as they rushed under the raft, making the top very hard to stand on as we poled the raft away from the shore.

The raft had to have provisions which included white Wonder bread which is all they gave us at school.  The Indian’s word for our bread was “punk”, because it resembles the insides of a rotten log, or so someone told me.  In the cafeteria, we used to wad it up into a ball and not use the crusts because they wouldn’t ball up and then throw them at each other, gambling that a teacher didn’t see you doing it.  Or, we took a slice of bread and cut eye holes in it to look like the “Lone Ranger.”

As I remember, on the raft we had old stale Wonderbread and liverworst slapped with an onion ring, mustard and pickle.  We had our sandwiches in a plastic bag that was tied to the mast so our sandwiches would keep dry; they didn’t.