This is a true story. Only one name has been changed to avoid a civil action of libel against this publication and the teller of this story.

We’ll call him Ahab, borrowing a handle from Mr. Melville’s classic novel about the brave men who went to sea in the whaling ships.

Our modern-day Ahab is a kind, thoughtful man who loves to fish and handle boats. He makes friends easily and did so with Diane and me while we were camping and fishing on the West Branch of the Penobscot River in June.

He graciously helped me change a flat tire. He gave us some hand-tied fishing flies of his making. He stopped by our camp for chats and exchanges of fishing information.

“How would you and Diane like to take a short trip down the river tomorrow morning in my new drift boat?” asked Ahab.

There was a pause. Diane and I exchanged glances. Her expression, which I was familiar with, said, “You decide.”


I didn’t hesitate long. Having been in drift boats on the Kennebec River and a passenger on a commercial raft on the West Branch long ago, I knew it could be a hoot. (Diane likes it when it’s a little scary.)

“Why we’d love to, Ahab. You’ve run those rips before, right?”

“Oh yeah,” he said. “Not to worry this is a tough boat and I know the water.”

Mid-morning found the three of us in Capt. Ahab’s well-constructed drift boat being carried down river on a stiff current. It was pleasant. We stopped to fish and chat along the way.

“You and Diane ever done whitewater before,” the skipper queried.

I told him about our one maiden river trip years ago in early April on the mighty Souadabscook River in Hampden. We made it around the first turn in the swollen river. Diane reached out, grabbed an alder branch. The canoe swung sideways in the stream. We flipped over like a seal in heat. It was cold.


Ahab seemed amused.

“This boat floats like a leaf,” he said with an air of confidence. “The trick is never let the boat get sideways in the current,” he offered, all the while rowing vigorously as we made our penetration into the foaming, frothing water of the West Branch Rips.

The boat got sideways.


It was like being stepped on by a bison. Fate had placed a large rock just under the frothing water at the very place where the boat had gone astray.

The boat snubbed up. We were aground on the rock amid the watery turmoil. It seemed for a second that the big craft might go over on us as it tipped up and water poured over the bow gunwale and down my back.


Diane, viewing the snub up from a higher, dryer seat in the stern, said that my face turned white. (Fear does that to me).

All is well that ends well. The rock released us and we made it to the take out a short time later. Capt Ahab apologized, which he needn’t have done. We at least knew that when you challenge whitewater, always expect the unexpected.

On the ride back in the truck on the Golden Road – which is almost as choppy as the Rips on the West Branch – Diane caught the smirk on my face during a lull in the conversation. This makes her nervous. She knows when my plotting brain is up to no good.

(“Hmmm,” I’m wondering. “I don’t know this new friend that well. I wonder if he can laugh at himself?”)

“We’ll have to try that again real soon,” Ahab offers, looking with raised eyebrows at Diane and me for some sign of affirmation.

“Sure thing,” I said, “just as soon as I can get a football helmet and a mouth piece.”

Ahab smiled. That was a good sign.

The author is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. He is also a Maine Guide, co-host of a weekly radio program “Maine Outdoors.” His e-mail address is . He has two books “A Maine Deer Hunter’s Logbook” and his latest, “Backtrack.”

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