When my Dad looked at the busted seats in our boat, the first thing I said was, “No sir, we weren’t drinking.” “Were those Ward boys with you?” he asked. “Yessir, both Jimmy and Steve,” I told him. He just shook his head, mumbled something in disbelief and listened as I went into the story of how all four seats in our 18-foot ski boat/fishing boat got busted all to hell. We were on Lay Lake on the Coosa River system in central Alabama. The usual crowd of Jimmy Ward, Steve Ward, Van Wilkins and I were trying to teach Tim Vaughn how to water ski. Tim Vaughn was the funniest guy I ever met growing up and as usual, when we took him skiing, the laughs came in waves. As soon as we got him up on two skis (after about 20 failed attempts) he immediately tried to kick off one ski and slalom. Of course, he busted his butt after about 50 feet of an ill-fated balancing act. It was one of the ugliest falls any of us had ever witnessed – arms going one way, legs another, ski up in the air and head setting up for a face plant. I think it was the face plant that opened the floodgates of laughing, and drinking. When we got the boat back to the floating Tim and saw that he was still in one piece, one of us asked him why he tried to slalom so soon after he got up (slalom skiing is no easy feat you know) and he answered in the way only he could, with a straight face, “Well, I was doing so well on two, I thought I would just go ahead and try to slalom.” After Tim drank up a few more gallons of the Coosa, we got Jimmy out there. Jimmy was like a marathon skier. He could slalom as long as there was gas in the tank. Once, during the second annual Lay Lake Labor Day Regatta, Jimmy had skied all the way from Logan Martin Dam to Lay Dam, the entire length of Lay Lake, which was about 25 miles, without a single fall. Jimmy could ski for so long it got down right boring and sometimes we would quit watching. Once he fell and no one saw. We went about two or three miles up the river before we realized he wasn’t behind the boat. On this particular day, Jimmy was doing his thing on skis and we were downing beers, getting sun burned and talking our usual bullshit, because that is what 20-year-old college students do. I motioned to Jimmy that we were turning by circling my arm and making a funnel shape in the air and as I turned the steering wheel, suddenly, without warning, the 65-horse-power black Mercury outboard jumped all the way to the left, putting the boat into a death turn. Luckily I was driving, having driven boats for many years. I immediately pulled the kill switch to shut off the motor before anyone was thrown out of the boat. Back in those days, the steering on an outboard motor was controlled by a steering cable that wrapped around a cylinder on the steering wheel column and ran to the back of the boat, attaching to each side of the motor. The cable ran through several sets of pulleys and when you turned the wheel to the right, the cables would move and pull the motor to the right. When you turned the wheel to the left, everything worked backward. This would send the boat in the desired direction. The cables on our blue fiberglass boat were worn and for some reason decided to jump off the steering column that day. After checking to see that everyone was O.K., I jumped on my back under the steering console and started to mess with the cable. “Do we need to get Jimmy back in the boat before you do that?” Van Vilkins asked me. “Naw,” I said, cock sure of my abilities to fix the problem. “I’ll have this thing fixed in a minute or two. Throw him a beer while he’s resting.” I had the cable back on the column in less than two minutes. Proud to show off my mechanical prowess, I popped the top on a Budweiser, took a big swig, toasted the Blue Goose, the name of the boat, and cranked up the motor. Thank God I remembered to hook up the kill switch by clipping it to my bathing suit pant leg. I looked back at Jimmy and asked if he was ready. He gave me the customary thumbs up signal and I gunned the throttle. The old Merc was running good that day and we took off. Jimmy immediately got up (he and I both used the drag-a-leg approach made famous and taught to us by another of our ski buddies and local ski immortal Russ Grant) and we were off and running. About a minute into the run, we needed to make a turn to avoid a quickly approaching jut of land, so I gave the Jimmy the big turn signal with my arm and jerked the wheel to the left. The boat made a sharp, violent turn to the right, and that’s when the seats all broke off their moorings. Lucky for us, the kill switch was invoked for a record-breaking second time that day when I, like everyone else, went flying across the boat to the left. As it turns out, those cable steering systems can work two ways: the predominantly used correct way where the turning of the motor matches the turning of the steering wheel; and a little used incorrect way, where the turning of the motor is the opposite to the turning of the wheel. In my drunken state, I had applied the cable to the column backward, or left handed. It didn’t occur to me or anyone else to test the steering before we took off – I think that decision was alcohol induced as well. When we all braced for the big left-hand turn, we leaned our body weights to the left, expecting centrifugal force to work as usual. When the motor turned the wrong way, the force of the turn plus our wrong-way body leans placed too much force on the seats and the wood bases of each seat broke loose from the fiberglass bottom and slide across the floor of the boat slamming into the far wall, each seat with a startled young drunken passenger. I fixed the cable again, and this time we remembered to test the steering before we took off.
Causes John Haslam Supports
I support the Constitution of the United States of America.
I support St. Jude's Hospital.
I believe in GOD.