Illustration by Mike Mockford.


Illustration by Mike Mockford

Don’t all of us hopelessly compulsive water people remember, as with a long-ago first love, our first time in a boat?

Mine occurred one hot August afternoon, when I was five years old, on a very small, very secluded, very shallow, Nova Scotia lake. Many would call it simply a large pond. The boat was a square, flat-bottomed, galvanized washtub, just big enough to hold one squished-in kid.


An hour earlier, I had been plunked into the back seat of a car—kids’ car seats not yet invented in the forties—the car being driven by my parents to visit their friends who owned a lakeshore cottage. Upon our arrival, I was once again plunked, but this time into the tub, the hosts telling my now-worried parents (I being their precious first-born and all) not to be concerned: “No problem. Relax. He’ll be absolutely fine. This is what we do with every little kid who comes to visit.”

Our hosts gave me two wooden spoons, and then carried the tub and me to the lake where they placed craft and captain in about eight inches of water.

I had never actually spent all that much time in a washtub. What would follow? Simply sit in it, folded and squeezed like a carrot in a cup, bored out of my tiny mind, until the adults had finished their tedious, boring, visiting?


What did follow, was an hour of being treated to some kind of other-worldly rapture, where I discovered some of the most wonderful laws of physics ever invented:

There are hollow objects in this world which float on water;

Your can sit in these objects and somehow remain dry;


You can hold skinny things in your hands and propel these objects;

You can make a washtub go forward, backward, left, right, you can make it spin, you can do absolutely nothing and yet feel the tiniest of breezes transport tub and you across the water, effortlessly and mysteriously and in exquisite silence.

I also discovered a whole other world exists, besides the one of hayfields and forests, a world of magic, shining, transparent liquid. And when you’re the only washtub on the lake, you are King and Emperor of all you survey.



And one of the primary principles of naval architecture revealed itself—keep the vessel’s centre of gravity low. It is a very good idea to not stand up, when travelling by tub.



Editor’s note: This story took place in the 1940s. Always wear a life jacket and do not leave children unattended.