Blanche Shows the Way

One spring many moons ago my brother Bill climbed aboard his sailboat after a long winter’s nap, anxious to get her ready for the season. He had the buckets, he had the rags, he had the elbow grease, he had the desire. He also had a duck. She’d built a nest in a coil of line that he’d thoughtfully left under his dinghy.
Being a softhearted kind of guy, Bill worked all around the duck (he named her Blanche) for weeks, getting the boat as ready as he could without disturbing her. When the ducklings hatched he was happy for Blanche—and happy she’d be moving out soon so he could, in good conscience, go sailing.

One afternoon about Miller time, the magic happened. Bill was sitting in the cockpit and out came Blanche. She balanced on the toe rail a moment, gave a commanding quack, and dropped to the water. Then she turned around and started quacking like crazy. It wasn’t long before the ducklings got the message. They emerged from the nest and headed for the rail, where they teetered and peeped, perhaps alarmed at the precipitous drop. But Blanche didn’t raise no chickens. One by one they did little Greg Louganises off the rail, landing with a plop in the water. With her dive-bombers
bobbing like little fuzzy corks around her, Blanche quacked a goodbye to my brother and paddled off to show them the world.

Last fall, Johnny and I decided to follow Blanche’s example. We were anchored in a cove off the Wye River and had been watching a parade of sailboats heading into Dividing Creek, right around the corner. We recognized some of them, so we decided to investigate via kayak. The kids, though, had just come back to the boat from a long and busy adventure on the beach, so they wanted to chill out down below for a while. No problem, we said, when you’re ready, put on your lifejackets, hop in the dinghy and head toward the creek. Kaeo is the captain, we reminded his little sister Kailani, and we’ll be on channel 68 if you need us.

Now, before you all call child services on me, realize that our kids have grown up on the water and on Luna. They’ve been practicing paddling the dinghy for several seasons and Kaeo is an expert. They know the rules, they know the ropes, and this seemed like an ideal time and place to let them jump—the weather was calm and there were few boats around, other than a couple of fishermen and the sailboats we’d seen. Was it risky? Of course. So is walking out your front door. It seems riskier, though, not to give them the chance to make the jump.

The boats were from West River Sailing Club, rafted up for their annual fall race and rendezvous. We tied up to visit. People kept asking where the kids were, and we said, “They’ll be along.” But mother ducks do worry. I jumped into my kayak and started down the creek . . . then around the corner came the little red dinghy, Kaeo at the oars and Kailani navigating. They followed me to the raft-up and joined right in. Kaeo handed the dinghy’s painter to a boy who looked about 12. “That your boat?” he asked my seven-year-old son.

“Yep,” Kaeo said, puffing up proudly under his lifejacket.

“Nice,” said the older boy.

And so the magic happens.