Your Plan B has to be better than everyone else’s Plan A

May 26, 2006  •  Leave a Comment

CAPTAIN’S LOG

Time Index 2006.05.28

 

Day 8: Prince Edward Island

 

“Your Plan B has to be better than everyone else’s Plan A”

 

            Waking up with a massive hangover on the morning following the first anniversary of my 38th birthday was no pleasant matter, but staying in bed proved even harder. The day was so beautiful that it seemingly drew me out of the bed and demanded that something be done with it.

 

            Before arriving on Prince Edward Island, I had thought to myself that the sailing would have to be wonderful, and on surveying the ratio of sailboats to powerboats at the Charlottetown Yacht Club (15 to 2), it seemed that I wasn’t the only one to think so. After a little research on the Internet, I gleaned a couple of names and set about making phone calls. The first guy I called said their charter season didn’t really begin until mid-June and it was actually a little cold to take a boat out at the moment. The second guy said much the same. The net result for Todd was that nobody wanted to go out for a nice sail on a perfectly sunny Sunday in Prince Edward Island. Just as I was hanging up the phone from the second conversation, I looked out the window and from my vantage point overlooking the Yacht Club, what do I see but a beautiful 30+ foot sailboat motoring out into the harbour. “It doesn’t seem to be too cold for them!” I thought to myself.

 

            No sooner had they cleared the Yacht Club did the sails get raised. As they steered out of irons to let the boat catch some air, suddenly it dug in and the wind hit the sails with a force that for a moment looked like a knockdown. As the crew shifted its weight windward, it rebalanced and took off across the harbour like a scared cat. Too cold to sail… indeed!

 

            Thinking there might be another boat at the Yacht Club preparing to go out for the day, I hustled downstairs and across the street to offer my services as free crew, but alas, nothing was stirring.

 

            Arriving back in my room, I decided it was time for Plan B. Now the trick to having an effective Plan B is that your Plan B always has to be better that everyone else’s Plan A. Bearing this dictum in mind as I perused the tacky tourist guide that hotels everywhere in the world put in their rooms, I spied a small ad that I thought might fit the bill. “Yeah,” I thought to myself, “I’ll charter a plane!”

 

            I called the number and chatted with the pilot, Mark, who seemed amenable to allowing me to ruin any plans he might have had on a Sunday. We discussed money and after finding out the price he was asking was about half of what I might have expected it to be, got directions and set off on my trusty motorcycle.

 

            Perfect weather, immaculately maintained highways, no lurking cops, and I think probably every Japanese motorcycle on the island was tearing up the roads with me, just so I wouldn’t look out of place. How kind… Canadians are always so thoughtful! When I arrived forty minutes later at Mark’s hangar in Murray River, I told him that if the airplane ride was even half as good as the bike ride to his location, it was already worth the money.

 

            It turned out to be worth so, so much more…!

 

             Mark was intently executing preflight preparations on his Cessna 172 seaplane (always a reassuring characteristic in a pilot) and we chatted about where I might like to go. He explained the things one would see on his standard half hour and one hour tours and inquired whether I had anything particular in mind I wanted to see. I explained without further elaboration that I was celebrating a couple of personal successes and a watershed event, and that, combined with the fact that I had never before been on a seaplane, had never chartered a plane before, and didn’t know when I would have the opportunity to do so again, led me to think that this was not an occasion to be penny-wise and pound-foolish. If he only had half an hour or an hour to spare, that would be fine, but if he felt like flying all afternoon, that would suit me too.

 

            Bear in mind, the rate was half of what I thought it was going to be, but I felt deliciously decadent all the same.

 

            Mark described a couple of extended tours he had on reserve, and then came the hammer: “Now if you really want to see something spectacular, we could fly over to Cape Breton.” “Ahh…”, I thought to myself, “now we’re getting somewhere!”

 

            Cape Breton, the northern peninsula of Nova Scotia, it seems, is resplendent with rugged cliff lines plunging hundreds of feet into the ocean, pristine forests populated by bald eagle, moose and bear, picturesque fishing hamlets, remote lighthouses, and for the twenty-five mile flight from PEI, fifteen to twenty minutes of whale watching on the way over and back.

 

            “Oh, that doesn’t sound like it could be any fun at all!” I thought to myself ironically.

 

            “MAKE IT SO!” I declared, although I probably worded it differently.

 

            Preflight preparations complete, Mark used the boat ramp to launch the seaplane into the water. We climbed aboard and the takeoff was picture-perfect to match the weather. The scenery and the view were spectacular and as promised, twenty-five minutes later we arrived at the coast of Cape Breton. On the way, Mark had pointed out a pilot whale preparing to dive below us, a bald eagle flying beside us, and countless mussel beds lurking just beneath the surface of the ocean where the aquaculture farmers harvest their lucrative bounty.

 

            Surrounded and overwhelmed by such an overabundance of natural beauty and wonder, in a similarly familiar and yet completely different point of view from that of a sailboat, it struck me somewhere north of my thirty-fifth utterance of the word “wow” that at some point, saying “wow” too many times doesn’t say anything concrete about a situation other than to debase the value of the word “wow”. This realization was amplified by the mikes and earphones we were wearing to talk over the engine noise of the plane, so that every time I said, “WOW!”, the circuitry of the system had to detect that I was saying something, turn itself on, broadcast my “wow” to Mark, and shut itself down. At some point, the redundancy of my wows reached the surreal and I realized that rather than invoking the technology of Mark’s plane to express my wonderment, it was sometimes better to just sit quietly and absorb the zen-like beauty around me. And the amount to be absorbed was mind-boggling. Put it this way: if nature were a church, I was attending an audience with the Pope. If nature were classic rock (note the simile, for rocks are indeed the foundation of nature…), I was in an after hours dive bar in Greenwich Village at five in the morning smoking Marlboro Lights with Keith Richards.

 

            Then, Mark went and kicked it up a notch…

 

            “If you used to live on a boat, you probably don’t get motion sickness.”

 

            Music to my ears. Now something really interesting is about to happen. We’re about to agitate the hell out of our little propeller-driven cocktail shaker, and I have the good luck of being stuck inside it with someone who knows how it works!!

 

            I tell Mark that for me, it’s not a matter of motion sickness or my personal comfort, it’s purely a matter of safety. “If you feel safe with it, I feel safe with it…” Mark took that to heart and pulled hard right on the throttle. Off we veered from the coast into the Cape Breton Highlands National Park and into a gorge with spectacular scenery and a mind-boggling updraft. When it hit and the wind catapulted the plane fifteen or twenty feet up into the air, I looked at Mark and gasped, “…now I understand how this could really fuck some people up!!” with a big shit-eating grin on my face. Fucking phenomenal… I thought to myself. Best roller coaster I’ve been on in a long time…

 

            My only regret is that the photos, however good they might be, only capture a fraction of the intensity of the moment.

 

            After we landed, I rounded out the day with fresh lobster rolls (three of them, at six dollars Canadian each, hold the bread, hold the sauce!!) at a hidden spot in Murray River called Brehaut’s, on Mark’s recommendation. And the lobster rolls were followed by a forty minute sunset motorcycle ride back to Charlottetown. I took a long, luxurious soak in the sauna, after which I had two dozen Malpeque oysters at the bar, followed by a gigantic bowl of the mussels I had seen from the air being raised three hours earlier, rounding out the evening with a double single malt Scotch, a Cuban cigar and a book of entirely too poignant local poetry on the hotel veranda.

 

            As much as I’ve attempted in the past to overwhelm the superlative, I don’t think I’ve ever succeeded to the degree I did today. Having always tried to live my life by the maxim, “live each day as though it were your last, because one day you’ll be right,” I can honestly say that today was the first day in a long, long time that would have been a good day to die.

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