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The boat

08/14/07 5:55PM By Jay Parini

(HOST) For commentator Jay Parini, boating is a recently acquired summertime pleasure.

(PARINI) It's amazing how often we miss what lies under our noses.  For most  of my adult life, I have lived within a few miles of Lake Champlain.   I used to see it glimmer in the distance as I drove along Route 7,  heading into Burlington.  Roughly a dozen years ago, I began to swim at Kingsland Bay, taking my children on picnics there.  I loved the cool shadows in the water, and the tall locust trees.  The sharp Zebra muscles had yet to become a major nuisance.  I would lie in the sloping grass, watching as small boats drifted lazily into the bay itself.  I watched with interest the swimmers from those boats, and wondered about boating.  I had never sailed, never driven a boat.  Cars had given me enough trouble for one lifetime.

One winter day, about a decade ago, I saw a lonely boat by the side of Route 7, with a for sale sign on it.  It was a nineteen-foot  
motorboat, an old one.  And I bought it, no questions asked.  It was just one of those whimsical moments.

I got a slip at Tom's Marine, near Basic Harbor, on the Otter Creek, and soon became a floating obstacle on the creek and the lake  
itself.  I loved both unreservedly.  The Otter Creek always surprises, with its bountiful wildlife:  otters and leaping fish, osprey and herons, the occasional eagle.  The lake offered vistas equal to anything I'd seen before.  Coming out of the mouth of the Creek into the lake was always something of a revelation, the light ever-shifting, endlessly fascinating.

I often tell new guests aboard my boat - I'm on my second boat now, a 25-foot Searay -- that if you take a left out of Otter Creek, you can run all the way to New York City.  And I've done this, in fact.  With my youngest son, a few years ago, I plied my way through the ninety miles of the Champlain Canal to the Hudson.  From there, it was on to New York City, past Albany and West Point.  We slept and ate on the boat, feeling wonderfully self-sufficient.  It was thrilling to sail past the Palisades, and under the George Washington Bridge, although I felt suddenly adrift in New York Harbor among the huge ferries and massive ocean liners, police boats, and 100-foot yachts with flags from Panama and elsewhere.  The water was choppy, with three to four-foot swells, and I couldn't find the Chelsea Marina, where I had booked a slip.  Indeed, I sailed right past it, into much calmer waters. Rather lost and befuddled, I called for help on my marine radio, and the woman at the other end asked what landmarks I could see.  I told her, and she said, "Well, for a start, Captain:  the Statue of Liberty should NOT be behind you."  It appeared that I was heading for England.

I was mightily relieved, a week or so later, to get back to Lake Champlain.  This was home now, and that's really what it felt like.

Jay Parini, a poet, novelist and biographer, teaches at Middlebury College.
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