The Catamaran Incident

The hot days of high summer always remind me of the infamous "Catamaran Incident" that occurred on Willard Bay, a fresh water portion of the Great Salt Lake, more than 10 years ago. You may think that for an incident to be "infamous" more than four people need to have heard of it, but, heck man, you really need to stop thinking because it's making you unconsciously grunt and people are starting to stare at you.

So. The "Catamaran Incident." It was mid-August 1997. The skies above the Salt Lake Valley were blazing blue. The mercury had easily topped 100 degrees. Thomas and I were killing the last two weeks before the start of our freshman year of college, staying with our friend Evans, who has a first name too, but whose first name is irrelevant to this story. Frankly, his last name is irrelevant to this story too, as are a lot of other details I'll probably share. But I've got artistic license, along with a Tote-N-Chip, so I'm allowed to include irrelevant details AND use a hatchet at Scout Camp. Back off.

So we're staying with Evans. Evans's uncle noticed that we hadn't really left Evans's room in several days, seeing as how we had rented an N-64 earlier in the week, so the uncle invited us to spend the day with him at Willard Bay.

None of us were sure how cool a day at Willard Bay would actually be, especially since Evans's uncle didn't have jet skis or a boat or even any water wings. But he had a catamaran, and even though we didn't know what a catamaran was, it sounded vaguely feline, and it had to be interesting to see something vaguely feline get in the water, so we agreed to go.

Turned out that a catamaran isn't really very feline, but the uncle fortunately smoothed over our disappointment with several bags of BBQ potato chips. So we pulled up to Willard Bay, backed down the boat ramp, and unloaded the catamaran. 'Twas a small vessel. It sported two long, thin hulls with a 3x5 section of hearty mesh stretched between them. A six- or seven-foot tall sail topped it all off.

The day was stiflingly hot with nary a whiff of wind as Evans's uncle explained how one operated the catamaran. Evans, Thomas, and I didn't really even pretend to listen -- we instead carefully surveyed each car entering the park for any signs of cute teen girls -- but the uncle dutifully marched through his 15-minute tutorial despite our near total disregard for anything he said. It just didn't much sense to waste valuable (and limited) mental energy to learn how to operate a sailing vessel when no breathe of wind moved the hot summer air.

When the uncle finally shut the heck up, Thomas, Evans, and I scooped up two or three bags of potato chips, a six-pack of off-brand root bear, two oars, and crammed onto the square of mesh stretched across the dual hulls. We energetically paddled out to the edge of the swimming area where the girls on the beach couldn't actually hear us making passes at them. We popped open the chips, guzzled root beer, and conversed as teenage boys typically do:

Teenage boy 1: Dude...
Teenage boy 2: Duuuuude...
Teenage boy 3: [Belches] Sweet!
Teenage boy 1: Dude, you want Kimberly.
Teenage boy 2: She's hot.
Teenage boy 1: You should talk to her.
Teenage boy 2: Yeah....
Teenage boy 3: [Belches] Sweet!
Teenage boy 2: Kimberly.... dang, she's so hot.
Teenage boy 1: [Passes gas] Safety!
Teenage boy 3: Safety!
Teenage boy 2: [with glazed eyes] Kimberly.... Huh? Doh! Safety! Safety! Ow! Ow! Ow! (As he gets repeatedly punched by teenage boys 1 and 3).
Teenage boy 1: Heh, heh, heh.
Teenage boy 3: [Belches] Dude... sweet.

So we passed the time in our inanity until... a sudden and intense gust of wind slammed into the sail! The canvas snapped against its moorings and the three of us started in surprise. "Dude, what the--?" For the first time in over an hour we paid attention to our surroundings. We had drifted perhaps a quarter mile out past the boundary of the swimming area and the sky was suddenly impossibly black overhead as a freak squall blew in. The water around us began roiling angrily and growing white caps slapped at the fiberglass hulls of the catamaran.

Another wicked gust filled the sail so abruptly that the small boat capsized in an instant. The sail slammed into the water and the wind whipped the spray into our eyes as we treaded water.

"Dang! The potato chips!" I cried, watching them scatter in the wind and bob lightly on the waves.

"Dang! I can't swim!" Thomas yelled. Oh yeah, I thought. Potato chips = not really a big deal. Thomas can't swim = bigger deal. Fortunately, he had been dumped near the capsized vessel and was able to easily latch onto one of the hulls. Crisis averted. Now, about those potato chips...

As the storm increased in intensity and the waves swelled larger and larger, we struggled with the wind and the catamaran's awkward shape to try to right the craft. Each time we nearly succeeded, the stiff wind would catch the sail and flick it back onto its side. Things were actually beginning to look a little unpleasant for us, and we repeatedly accused each other aloud of failing to listen to the uncle's instructions for catamaran operation earlier in the day. "Dude, if you hadn't been scoping chicks we wouldn't be so near death!" was a typical line.

Finally, after much strife and toil, we ably exploited a brief lull in the wind and righted the vessel. Thomas scrambled aboard with a little push from me ("Dude, stop touching my butt!" he called as I boosted him. "Dude, stop not knowing how to swim!" I so cleverly retorted). The instant I climbed aboard with him, a gargantuan gust of wind swept across the bay, gathered the little catamaran between its teeth, and slingshotted us (mercifully) toward shore. Only the completely unintentionally opportune placement of our body weight kept the craft from capsizing again, but once we got up to speed we could see that it would be smooth sailing.

Two unfortunate issues still needed to be solved though: 1) Evans was a rapidly shrinking speck of flesh bobbing in the waves behind us. "Well, he's got the oars, right?" we reasoned. Which was true enough. They offered some floatation, and he was able to leisurely make his way back to shore, arriving nearly an hour later. 2) Neither Thomas nor I knew how to operate the catamaran. This proved a more vexing problem. Again, we had completely and utterly ignored the uncle's careful and seemingly totally unnecessary "how to work a catamaran" speech.

So, there we were, speeding toward shore in a small catamaran, a chum trail of BBQ potato chips spread out in our wake. We were probably skimming the tops of the waves at around 30 or 35 mph. I seriously doubt that little catamaran had ever traveled so fast -- in fact, moving at such a velocity is probably not possible if you know how to properly operate the craft. But we didn't, and I swear we were passing seagulls who were returning to shore to roost out the rest of the squall.

With nothing to really do and nowhere to really go as we whizzed toward the beach at a breakneck pace, Thomas and I discussed how we wanted to be remembered. "I just hope they dye my hair back dark for the viewing," I lamented, suddenly regretful at having died my hair blonde three months earlier. It was only as I stared death in the face that I realized how ridiculous I looked. "Man, I wish I'd have asked out Brea," Thomas confessed. "Now that I'm dead, she'll probably date Travis. I hate that guy." "Me too," I agreed. "I bet you could beat him up." "No doubt, bro. No doubt."

Okay, actually those conversations didn't happen. I just wanted to see what you'd say. Then I realized I won't actually know what you say, unless you do a podcast or something, which is a lot to ask, I admit.

But, truthfully, we were quite panicky as the shore sped toward us. "How do we slow down?!" Thomas yelled. "I don't know!" I hollered back. "I was scoping chicks!" "Me too!" Thomas admitted.

With no plan we bore down on the sandy beach where youngsters squealed and played in the high winds and powerful surf. "WE CAN'T STOP!! GET OUT OF THE WAY!! MOVE MOVE MOVE MOVE!!!" we shouted in unison at the top of our lungs, frantically waving our arms at the munchkins and their parents. It seemed like we traveled from the edge of the swimming area to beach in just a few seconds, and, with no other options to protect our lives, Thomas and I simply bailed off the catamaran the instant the water seemed shallow enough that Thomas wouldn't drown.

I honestly believe we were going fast enough that my body skipped when I hit the surface of the water. I just remember white spray, a shriek of wind, the screams of children and flashes of color out of my peripheral vision as their colorful bathing suits scattered before the out of control catamaran. Then waves were washing over my head and my bare skin was grating against the gritty shallow water sand. I tumbled, somersaulted, splashed, sputtered, and finally rolled to a stop several feet up the beach.

When my vision stopped rolling, the first thing I saw was the catamaran. It was vertical, wrapped around the tall trees lining the beach area. It had hit the sand and cartwheeled, driven by the gale, across the beach for dozens of feet, finally slamming into the wall of trees separating the sand from the grassy picnic areas. Relieved, I noticed no bleeding children lying motionless in the sand, their plastic toy shovels protruding from their spleens. Phew. Evidently, they had all successfully fled for their lives and avoided the demonic catamaran. Thomas was spitting out sand and water several feet from me.

Our gazes met. "Duuuuuuuuuuude...." he grinned. "Sweeeeeeeeeeeeet!" I agreed. The uncle was less enthusiastic about his mangled catamaran, but I'm sure by now he's come around to how sweet the whole episode truly was.