Belle, our canine companion of 12 years, insists on acting as a hood ornament for our dinghy. She must have her front paws hung over the front of the dinghy, her chest resting on the inner tube, her rear paws dancing uncontrollably over the small hatch cover, ears flapping in the wind and a big smile plastered across her face. Simply no other position will do for her.
Sometimes she bounces along with ease. At other times she must hang on for dear life. That’s when Mike, Mikayla or me will grab her life vest, pull her to the floor of the dinghy and yell, “Get down!” all at the same time. This effort lasts about a minute. Then she reclaims her position as a figurehead on our dinghy, a canine gargoyle happy to have her ears flapping in the wind.
Belle has been thrown overboard twice; once with Mike and once with me. Today’s dunking occurred because I drove too close to the reef, and a one-foot wave bounced her out of the dinghy.
The passage between Hog Island and Secret Harbor can be tricky. A couple of stakes that someone thoughtfully installed marks the spot beyond which one must not go, else you risk running into the reef. Your dinghy must pass just to the right of the stakes. Then you must line up your dink with a red-topped building in the distance. While making the curve around the point, you eyeball a line linking the building, a red buoy on the reef and the desired destination. When all three form a triangle, it’s safe to turn. The same thing happens on the return trip in reverse order.
I was in a hurry to return to Happy Times at dusk and misjudged the distance or simply ignored it. I thought I could cut the dink as wide as I did and I paid for it. A wave cresting the reef came rolling toward the us. Although it was only a foot high, the wave unexpectedly bounced against the inflatable’s bow and knocked Belle out of the dinghy.
At the same time I grounded the dinghy. Of all the stupid things I’ve done, this may top the list. I tried to lift the motor out of the water halfway so I could still drive to my dog a few feet away. As usual, I couldn’t find the right slot and could only leave the engine sputtering all the way out of the water.
Mikayla was rounding the point in our kayak. She yelled at me to shut off the engine. (Great idea, daughter!) She didn’t realize that I needed to perform a DOB (Dog Overboard vs. Man Overboard) drill.
Belle grinned as she swam to me, completely at ease in her buoyant life jacket. She came right to the dink’s stern and I grabbed her by the collar and pulled her in. We had drifted to slightly deeper water, so I restarted the motor and headed back on the inside track to the markers, which led back to Happy Times.
Exhausted, our hood ornament sought her favorite cushion in the cockpit and fell asleep.