Sept 4, 2021, Connection On The Waves
We set out from the Eldorado Hotel dock with a north breeze at our back. My excited group of adventurers sat in the bow of our pontoon boat and got comfortable for their two-hour journey on the waters of Okanagan Lake.
It was one of the last tours of the summer of 2021, Labour day weekend unofficially signals the end of summer in our beautiful valley. There may be more warm days ahead but most people have resigned themselves that summer fun is over.
The group was originally from Romania and they were very excited to be on the water. The sky was overcast and smokey but the mood was bright and cheerful. The twins were very quiet as they donned lifejackets and sat between their parents. He was a middle-aged balding man who filled his seat comfortably. His wife had a timid glow about her as she looked across the water. She reassured the two eleven-year-old girls that they would enjoy the ride. Across from them sat the other couple and their autistic daughter. She was twelve years old and a feeling of controlled anxiousness drifted through the air as we floated out onto the lake.
Cruising with the steady breeze, my guests settled in for their tour. I have done this route many times this year and it always fills me with a sense of confident joy seeing the lake through the eyes of tourists from near and far. The gentlemen told me that they emigrated from Romania in the last twelve and six years respectively and they loved their new lives living in the booming city of Burnaby BC.
It was a long way from Romania and even further from the days living under the shadow of the Soviet Union. Communism they said was nothing like what was happening here in our beloved country. They couldn’t understand all the recent upheavals and protests against the vaccine. Real control and communism were nothing like what was happening in Canada in the last eighteen months. If you protested in 1980’s Romania you would just disappear. That would be it, no protests in front of hospitals or in parks downtown. The leaders vanished and were never seen again.
Still, my guests told me that their parents lamented the loss of security and comfort that the old ways brought. Everyone had a job and everyone had a house. There were no millionaires and no homeless either. Given a choice, my group of immigrants said they would not go back, despite those things.
We looked with wonder and envy at the huge homes nestled along the shores of the Okanagan. Lakeshore Drive is home to many gorgeous mansions that line the waters of the 130km long lake. The last home we cruised by had a guest house that would make most people very happy. It has a private nine-hole golf course in the back yard and the towering windows are framed by cedar beams that arch impressively two stories above the shore.
Where does such wealth come from?
I powered up the fourteen-passenger pontoon boat and crossed the 3 km of the lake to the other shore. We were sheltered from the increasing north wind and settled in for the last half of the tour. I took them along the water to see the West Kelowna Yacht Club. They were impressed that it was a restored ferry boat from another era. The autistic girl was doing well staying in her seat next to her mom and connecting with her device. I felt sad that the best way to keep her distracted was with a device. I wonder if it would have been possible to distract the autistic girl with views of the surrounding lake instead of a program on a phone… What do I know of her challenges in life?
I steered my vessel past the luxury homes along the waters of Gellately bay in West Kelowna. It is an interesting dichotomy looking at the mobile home villages nestled on the water in the Westbank First Nations land. Next to those remnants of an affordable time stands a huge mansion with a brand new dock that juts out into the water. The mobile home parks of Princess and Paradise used to have docks of their own but they were destroyed in the floods a couple of years ago and the pilings stick out of the water like monuments to a better time. I wonder how much longer those mobile home parks will survive, despite the fact they rest on native land.
As we rounded the bend of Gellately Bay and left the shelter of the leeward shore the white caps on the lake were getting bigger and the chop of the water bounced the hull of my boat. I knew we were in for a bit of a rough ride home.
I was glad to be on the twenty-four-foot watercraft in those choppy conditions. Going straight into the wind and waves it was a pretty smooth ride despite the swells that churned around us. I could see the twins were getting anxious and I smiled and reassured them we were in a very stable boat.
I knew that the cruise across the water toward the Eldorado would be rough and I didn’t want to get my guests too wet. I continued on along the shoreline where the waves were the least and headed straight toward the bridge. The wind was now howling out of the north and the gentlemen asked if it was usually so windy on the lake. I nodded in assurance and said it does get windy but not that often. We had just timed it so we could have a bit more excitement for the evening.
My autistic guest was getting a little visibly nervous but seemed to do well. The twins on the other side of the boat looked to be a bit more restless and I gave them a big smile and a thumbs up.
Closer to the bridge we cruised and I watched for my chance to turn with the waves. The last thing a captain wants to do is ride sideways across surging waves. The swells were now over three feet and the lake was churned up with a froth of whitecaps dancing over the rolling waters.
I felt a nervous excitement course through me. I was confident in my ability and the stability of my craft. Triple hull pontoons perform well in rough water and I had no doubt we would make it back safely. I needed to convey my confidence to the young girls in my charge. They snuggled in close to their dad as I saw him reassure them.
I confidently called out that we would go a little further into the waves and then turn back toward the Eldorado and across the lake. We saw a wake boat pounding into the waves and it looked very rough in the middle of the waters.
I saw my chance as the lake seemed to have a flat plateau between swells. I called out to them, “Ready, here we go!” I turned my steering wheel to the right and brought the bow around and sideways with the cresting waves. Power is a boat’s friend and I opened up the 150 Mercury to keep pace with the surging water. We rolled and rocked but managed to stay on top of the churning swells
I pushed the throttle forward and then brought it back. It was a dance keeping twenty-four feet of aluminum and wood from rocking too much as we went with the swelling waters. At one point I stumbled as I stood at the helm. My heart raced as I quickly recovered control as the boat rolled with the surging wave. I saw a look of terror on one of the twin’s faces. I was impressed at the control the autistic girl showed. Her mother held her close muttering words of love and encouragement. I knew then the depths of love the mother had for her daughter. It didn’t matter what challenges they had, that family would triumph over them.
For the group on my boat, I’m sure those eight minutes we took to cross the lake to find the shelter of the opposite shore felt like an eternity. I slowed the boat and grinned widely at the seven people sitting in the bow of the boat.
“Were you terrified?” I heard mom ask her autistic girl.
She nodded in response, her eyes like saucers in the night.
“Good, sit with that feeling, embrace it, and remember it. You survived it and now are stronger for it.” She said these words as she looked at the wide-eyed twins across from them. I felt warm inside at her words.
They were so human.
It is a part of the human spirit to challenge ourselves, to face fear and triumph.
I hoped at the end of all the fear we are living in our society can emerge stronger like those girls on the boat.
I dropped off my guests back at the dock in front of the Eldorado Hotel and wished them a great evening. They beamed with relief and fulfillment as they stepped off the boat. I knew that I had given them a memory to last a lifetime.
Darkness settled over the valley as I cruised back across the lake to the Westbank Yacht Club where I launched my vessel that morning. It was time for me to return home. I was thrilled at the connection with the heaving water. I clipped over the three-foot rollers on the water, as I crossed the widest part of Okanagan Lake. The wind howled around my ears and my heart flew as fast as the boat I was driving.
It is in those moments I feel most alive.