Whatever happened to the flagpole sitters, the marathon dancers, the Channel swimmers and all the other exemplars of silly seasons long gone? After a cursory look at the news of late, we are inclined to guess that a lot of them have put to sea with an outboard motor. The chatter of the outboard has long since dismissed the distinction between landlubber and seaman, and Neptune's kingdom is no longer reserved to the hardened shellback. During the holiday weekend just past and for many months before, U.S. waters have been acrawl with all manner of foolhardy enthusiasts engaged in a mad flirtation with an elemental femme fatale as seductive as she is saucy.
In northern Michigan the craze is for home-made stern-wheelers (see upper right). Whole families of Michiganders have apparently whacked the veranda off Uncle John and Aunt Minnie's old house, launched it somehow and gone cruising in droves. For all we know, Uncle John and Aunt Minnie are still sitting there as the old porch chugs along in a westering breeze.
Provided they stay reasonably close to shore, we guess nothing too bad can happen to the seagoing porch-sitters, though we shudder to think of what might if a sudden squall whipped across the lake.
Of more concern to us as responsible observers are the plans and antics of the deep-sea Argonauts of the outboard. We were glad, in this respect, when Texans Roy Sutter (an oldtime marathon swimmer) and Jim Pirtle decided at the last minute to ditch setting forth from Boston to Mother England in an 18-foot out board-powered fiber-glass cruiser (lower right). Our satisfaction was short-lived. The Texas admirals (each holds a bona fide commission from Governor Price Daniel, C in C of the Texas navy) promptly announced they would set sail from Montreal instead.
July 13, 1958
In undertaking their hazardous trip, the admirals were following what is by now a well-established tradition. Last year a boatload of actors (that's right, actors) followed a seagoing ketch 2,500 miles across the Pacific in a 15-foot outboard. Two Washingtonians set sail from their home waters in craft almost equally small to view an annual icefall near Juneau, Alaska. The Great Totem who watches over all flagpole sitters somehow managed to keep them from being swamped by the tons of collapsing glacial ice.
No such protection, however, was afforded the doughty North Carolina disk jockey Melvin West, who set out from Morehead City planning to fetch Bermuda in his outboard in a matter of 40 hours. Four days later, a tramp steamer found West short of food and fuel, restocked him and sent him on his way again. The Coast Guard later picked him up and sent him home, but Melvin stubbornly tried again and was finally lost at sea.
All of which leads us to believe that fun's fun, but only up to a point. Bon voyage, we say to all true adventurers on the sea, with only a slight interruption to remind all hands that President Eisenhower proclaimed the past week as National Safe Boating Week.