Episode 6 Boying - Of Storms and Shoals

By: Sarah Bodine

Volume 19, Issue 4, April 2024

See Introduction: Roscoe Fish Stories, January 2024

  1. Episode 1: Roscoe Fish Goes "Boying"!  January 2024
  2. Episode 2: How Roscoe Fish Got His Name, February 2024
  3. Episode 3: The Journey Downriver, March 2024
  4. Episode 4: The Perilous Escape, March 2024
  5. Episode 5: Boying, The Lost Bait Can

Episode 6 Boying - Of Storms and Shoals

Roscoe darted back to the fallen tree to wake Amer and Bully. As he was describing the threatening weather and the bent propeller blade, flocks of birds appeared out of nowhere. Gulls circled madly, cawing and cackling, while swarms of swallows skittered across the sky. Roscoe felt a shiver, knowing that stormy weather was about to close in. He began to worry about the boys in their open boat with no motor. “The wind has picked up, and rowing home upriver will be impossible,” he heard one boy shout.

The bait can.

Roscoe and Amer watched the boys pull the little green boat back onto shore, while Bully swam off to retrieve the bait can where they had left it on the mossy ledge. Roscoe had little time to make a plan. Just then, he began to feel a low, rumbling, vibration through the water. He recognized the sound of the 30-horsepower Gray engine belonging to Pine Island’s sturdy runabout called the Margaret. And sure enough, in a few minutes he saw in the distance the familiar shape of the bow of the round-hulled wooden boat in the outer channel, cutting a wake past Slim and the Sister Islands. The youngest boy heard the sound, too, and, running down to the water’s edge, madly waving, yelled back to the others.

“It’s the Margaret. We’re being rescued!” And just in time, thought Roscoe.

[Photo courtesy Keats/Bodine Family Albums]

No explanations were needed. As the Margaret idled off the sandbanks’ shoal, the father struggled to hold the boat steady in the growing wind gusts. He waited for the boys to stow their gear, push the little green boat off the sand, and row out beyond the rocks. A dark cloud overhead was threatening to let go at any moment. The little green boat came alongside the Margaret, and the youngest boy climbed aboard. The father tied a bowline between the painter of the green boat and the Margaret’s stern line. The line was left long so that the bow of the small boat would ride high in the Margaret’s wake.

The two older boys remained on board the little green boat to heave in the oars and help steer the smaller craft. The father told them to keep the towline taut, to prevent it from slacking and catching under the Margaret’s propeller.

Meanwhile, Bully returned with the bait can and, unnoticed in the commotion, he and Amer refastened it to the clip on the manila rope at the little boat’s stern. One of the boys in the boat must have sensed something, as he remembered to pull up the can just as the jolt of the Margaret’s powerful engine tightened the lines. As he yanked, to his surprise, the bait can shot out of the water, attached but empty. “Look,” he yelled, swinging the can in the air, mouthing over the roar of the motor, “It was here all along!” He stashed the bucket under the stern seat and, gripping the motor’s handle, sat on his knees, so that he could see over the bow to steer into the center of the Margaret’s wake.

Suddenly, a blanket of fog enveloped them, as thick as cotton batting, reducing visibility to zero.

[Photo courtesy Keats/Bodine Family Albums]

Roscoe knew that the way home to Pine Island was littered with shoals. He worried about the safety of both the Margaret and the little green boat being towed behind her. By now, Christopher, steering in back, could just barely make out the Margaret’s white stern light, which the father had switched on, even though the sun had not yet set.

Underwater, of course, visibility was the same as always. Roscoe and the Bullheads had no trouble seeing the rock formations. So, Roscoe and Amer swam on either side of the Margaret to make sure that the boat passed safely through the shoals, while Bully stayed with the little green boat, giving it a fairly wide berth so as not to be sucked under its bow.

Just then, the Margaret began to veer off to the inside -– the wrong side – of the Sister Island buoy. She was headed directly for a line of shoals. In the low water these rocks protruded menacingly, and yet the father could not see them in the fog. Also, he needed to keep up some speed in order for the line on the little green boat to remain taut, and he was glancing back almost as much as looking where he was going.

Luckily, Roscoe knew that there was just enough water in the narrow channel between the shore and the shoal for the boats to slide through. He motioned to Amer and Bully, who were swimming on the shoal side of the boats to pull up alongside the hull of the Margaret and use their big bodies to bump the boat hard, as though it had hit something. The effect was immediate -– Roscoe felt the engine’s vibration stop. The father had cut the motor and was listening to the eerie silence. The little green boat bumped gently up against the Margaret’s stern, and both boats glided safely through the channel.

Roscoe a Small Mouth Bass and Bully and Amer who are Bullheads. 

The father peered down into the still, green water, checked his familiar markers on shore, and realized his mistake in steering too close to the island. He picked up an oar and walked up to the bow to test the depth of the water. But by then, both boats were already past the shoals, and the oar sank down at least two feet before hitting bottom. Setting the oar back on its hook, he looked over at the small boy shivering in the passenger’s seat and smiled. “We’re OK,” he said. “It’s a straight shot to Pine Island from here.”

The father turned the key and the engine revved. Again, he listened, just to be sure, but he heard only the purring of the well-oiled motor. Nudging the gearshift forward, he sensed the propeller spinning normally. Cautiously, he proceeded upriver, the little green boat’s towline stretched taut once more.

Roscoe high finned the bullheads, and they fell in beside the boats again. Just to be safe, they continued alongside until the boats nudged into their slips in the boathouse. The fish then parted ways, delighted by the River rescue – an ideal end to a perfect boying adventure.

Roscoe's Guiding Badge

When Roscoe had returned to the safety of his cave, he took his Boying Guide Manual off the shelf and rolled the seaweed scroll open to the passage about weather indicators:

“Red sky at night, guiding delight; red sky in morning, guiding take warning,” it read.

He remembered that the morning sunrise had indeed been rosy. So he scribbled a note on his brand-new guide pad to pay more attention to the color of the sunrise and sunset.

Further on in the manual, his eye fell on a passage about wind direction: “When the wind’s from the East, the boying is least.” Roscoe vowed to remember this as well, for future guiding parties.

[Illustrations by Sarah Bodine, ©2024, and photographs from the Keats Family Albums.]

By Sarah Bodine ©2024.

Sarah Bodine is a writer, editor, designer and book artist. She spent the summers of her childhood at her great-grandfather’s house, known as Cliff Cottage, on the Ontario side of the St Lawrence River near Rockport. The three Keats children were her cousins, and she often ran an outboard across the Canadian channel to spend the night on Pine Island. John Keats, fondly known as JK, made Roscoe Fish the main character in his bedtime stories, which were loved by all the children. To this day, the next island generation is forever looking for Roscoe under the boats in the slip.

[From the Editor: In April we present Episodes 5 & 6. Like Episodes 3 & 4 in March, we split the actual chapter into two parts - Each is a story on its own.

Those of us who read JK's (John Keats, "Of Time and an Island," 1974) books will smile and thank them for the opportunity to read more - even if in the imagination of Sarah and her cousins. Authors and readers will know that our TI Life articles are usually limited to 1,200-1,500 words - but this series of short stories about Roscoe are longer - long enough for all young River Rats to want more! The good news is there will be several more Episodes!]

Posted in: Volume 19, Issue 4, April 2024, Fiction

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