Coming of age on the waterI

Proud and independent Miah and Addison pose in their respective boats at the dock with Kathy in the inflatable in the background.

October 2021

By Tim Plouff

It is not unusual to see young people finding their way while messing about in a small boat in the harbor, on the lake, and up and down the rivers. For families living near or on the water, small boats are a ritual of life – a series of lessons on life that can be tutored but mostly learned by yourself.

Every generation gains insight from previous ones. Not because they are smarter, or the technology or equipment is better, but because kids can soak up the general nuances of boating. Experiences on the water and the inherent lessons learned there that relate to all other aspects of life – just that much better than many people before them could. Perhaps the only time when youth is not wasted on the young.

Beech Hill Pond isn’t very salty – in fact, it’s a spring-fed lake. Yet the life of a young girl, chasing her friends up and down the lake in an old wooden boat with a three hp Johnson, led to exciting experiences that helped shape a young life. Replacing cotter pins and bent propellers from the constant and unforgiving rock strikes, pull-starting a stubborn old two-stroke motor, and ultimately learning to row – a lot – when that recalcitrant motor refused to run helped develop deductive reasoning power, an opportunity to gain planning skills, as well as deliberation, that surpassed what was often evident in the young women of the day because it was generally a boy’s world – even on the lake.

Fast forward to today, as we witness two strong, independent, young females execute their freedom while stretching the paradigms of their world on a regular basis in the same mold.

Miah Coffin grew up around the water and believes she started tubing behind the family boat soon after learning to walk. Addison Atherton, also an incoming freshman in the local high school, has similar memories, as each family lived near the water since their birth and owned camps on the lake for over ten years. Miah, with two older brothers, soon learned to compete with them for everything – sports, swimming, fishing and using the available power toys inherent to living on the water in Maine.

Addison, the oldest of three girls, immediately embraced the whole “living at camp” lifestyle. “I’m on or in the water daily. My friends can’t believe we get to have this much fun every day of the week. Almost every day last summer, Miah and I took her boat to “Junk of Pork” (a large rock in the lake). We must have climbed/jumped off it 500 times! I cut my knee once and we had to figure up how to clean the blood out of the boat. But despite the stitches, it was all fun.”

Miah’s former motor, a five hp Mercury 4-stroke, is now on Addison’s 12-foot aluminum boat. Miah’s boat, which she demurs, “Is the family boat, but I use it all of the time,” is a 12-foot Lund with a 9.9-hp Honda outboard. Miah doesn’t boast about how much faster her boat is than Addison’s, but it’s clear that she readily enjoys the newfound power. “I like to go fast. I come into the dock pretty hot.” “Like a lobsterman showing off his docking prowess, I ask her?” She gives a huge smile.

Miah also likes to spend alone-time fishing. “It is nice to escape and enjoy the freedom our boats give us,” she says. “But I also like the wakeboarding, kneeboarding and water skiing that we do with Dad’s ‘big boat’.” Addison concurs: “We have it pretty good with our water options.”

Almost finishing each other’s sentences, they relate how boating has helped them become more aware. Addison said, “My Dad told me that my paddle could be my best friend in the boat, helping me conquer docking, getting around obstacles and more. But then he broke it.

“But I’ve learned common sense awareness, like looking out for hazards and rocks, how to work on my boat, and getting better at my directional challenges. I feel really good on the water.” Miah adds how much more she appreciates the outdoors because of the boating. “From four-wheeling to the lake and the ‘bunker’ that Addison and I built last winter, I’m happiest outdoors.”

Both Miah and Addison want a pickup truck for their first car – Miah says it’s more practical, and she can do more with a truck, than a car. When asked who they take after, Miah said, “Dad introduced me to this world on the lake, but Mom is really involved.” “I’m a Dad’s girl,” Addison said as she discusses helping her dad while driving the trucks and construction equipment on several jobs.

Which was a good segue to my navigator’s experiences, as first alluded to, growing up on “the pond.” Her woodshop causes man lust and she pretty much tries to do what most people pay for. She also prefers a pickup truck over a car. Her “lake boat” is a 9-foot rigid inflatable with a 9.9-hp Yamaha. Naturally, she and Miah just have to see who is fastest. It turns out to be a close race – practically a draw as each works to keep the bow down with their throttles pinned. That’s another part of messing around in little boats: figuring out who is fastest.

At this point, it seems prudent to challenge Miah and Addison with adventures at sea, as we are only 12-miles from salt water. Addison; “We went two years ago out to Pond Island. Dad didn’t read the tide chart right and we got stuck in the cove and didn’t get back to shore until dark.” Miah’s eyes sparkled at the idea of new places to explore, but one could tell that she wasn’t yet anxious to leave the lake.

Very poised and articulate, both Addison and Miah admitted that they felt a certain advantage over their peers when pressed how they related to their friends. “We get to do so many things that many of our friends don’t,” Miah stated.

The hidden takeaway is that for young people like Addison and Miah (and my wife, Kathy, who is a better, more patient, and smoother captain at sea), it is that they can do so many things that their peers can’t because they have been doing them for longer. They have been taking risks, making decisions, literally growing up – while messing around in boats.

It’s not just confidence. It’s a whole lot of freedom. And it’s big smiles from young women that know they are learning more than just about boats.

Tim is recently retired from 30 years in the energy industry the last ten years as the wholesale salesperson for propane, heating oil, and gasoline for Dead River Company throughout northern New England. He has also written the weekly “On the Road Review,” automotive column for The Ellsworth American and other newspapers. Tim and his wife, Kathryn, the navigator, live lakeside in Otis, Maine, while they trailer-boat up and down the Maine coast in their 2000 Searay 21-foot express cruiser, Tegoak.