A new aquatic adventure

Last weekend, I was given a rare opportunity by some good people who believe in sharing the good things that have come their way. The Josephs and their extended family in Wheeling are a significant part of the committee that organizes the Wheeling Vintage Raceboat Regatta each Labor Day weekend. They also own several of the boats entered in the event — hydroplanes old enough not to have the safety features of modern boats and therefore banned from true competition. These are, essentially, exhibition events.

Well, they let me try one, and it was awesome.

Challenge number one was finding a racing suit that fit me, but the boat-owner’s daughter provided that, along with gloves, goggles and a helmet. Next, I needed a life jacket. The owner’s son-in-law let me borrow his.

Then of course there was the small matter of teaching me how to drive the thing, while it was still nice and dry and on its trailer. No problem. The owner was very patient in explaining the controls and procedure to me — answering all my questions and reassuring me that I would pick it all up quickly.

Finally, it was time. The brother of the owner of the boat I was in would be driving his own boat ahead of me. And, though we were not supposed to be racing, he jokingly said to me “Try to catch me,” as he walked past me on the dock.

Now, I can be a little competitive. Just a smidge.

So I was focused. The boat owner’s other daughter had smushed my helmet down on my head so tight I worried it might never come off — but hey, at least I was all suited up. Two members of the family held on to my boat with hooks while I sat at the docks waiting to fire up, and they continued to talk me through everything. And then, the green flag.

“Go!” they yelled.

Right. Go. Pull switch, press button, hit the accelerator, don’t hit anything in front of me … VROOOOOOMMMMM!!!!!!!

Immediately the rest of the world disappeared and it was just me, the boat and the water … and the speck of the other boat in front of me as I did, indeed, try to catch him. Negotiating my first turn was a little tricky — I may or may not have yelped an unpublishable word — but after that, I think I did OK.

And, man, was I having fun. If you are not the kind of person who likes to go fast, this might not make much sense to you, but there is something about the sound of the engine and the adrenaline-fueled focus that comes when you have your foot all the way in it. I think I probably had a big dopey grin on my face during my laps. But, no, I did not catch him.

Then the checkered flag came out and it was time for me to come back to the docks. That was, of course, when I realized I had no idea how to come back in to the docks. So I chickened out and cut the engine way too early, yelling “I’m sorry! I don’t know what I’m doing,” to the people who had to throw me a hook and then drag me to where the crane was supposed to be pulling my boat out of the water.

Again, it was the owner of the boat who greeted me and told me I’d done a great job. His brother got out of his own boat and gave me a hug, and more kind words. The entire family seemed to make it their mission that day to make sure everyone around them was getting as much joy out of the thing they love as they were.

My moment of fun was just a small part of three days’ worth of activities these good people and others like them have been able to bring to their community (yes, with the help of multiple corporate sponsors — you can’t do this sort of thing for free). I am so grateful to them for making me feel comfortable and confident as they let me do something most people have not had the opportunity to try.

When I got off the docks, a man with a microphone asked me “How was it?”

I babbled “It was awesome. I had a lot of fun. It wasn’t as scary as I thought it was going to be …”

He gave me a funny look and said, “Um … you’re supposed to be a LITTLE bit nervous.”

Oh. Right.

Well, I’m not sure what I was “supposed” to be feeling, but as I write this I’m still bouncing around a little on the fumes from that good day. I hope all the people who gathered by the Ohio River for the event are also still holding on to a little bit of the sense of excitement and community it brought. I understand now why one of the women on the committee (she is the driving force behind much of what happens) summed up how the event made her feel by exclaiming “I love the smell of methanol (racing fuel) in the morning!”

Christina Myer is executive editor of The Parkersburg News and Sentinel. She can be reached via e-mail at cmyer@newsandsentinel.com