Field of Play: Heaven is a "tinny" | Sports | CBC Sports

Field of Play: Heaven is a "tinny"

Posted: Wednesday, May 29, 2013 | 10:10 AM

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Scott Russell's tinny is secured to the dock with mooring whips on the sparkling waters of Gull Lake near Minden Hills, Ont. Scott Russell's tinny is secured to the dock with mooring whips on the sparkling waters of Gull Lake near Minden Hills, Ont.

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If I had to trust one thing to transport me to my concept of heaven, my old tin boat would most definitely be it.

Each winter, I move the jet-black, outboard motor to my home in Toronto. I lug it up 102 steps from the shore and its natural habitat, the waters of Gull Lake, only to heave it awkwardly into the trunk of my vehicle.

Then I drive it south and eventually lean the Mercury 9.9 against the furnace room wall, prop down, and let it rest. 

No muss, no fuss, no oil to drain or antifreeze concoction to pump through the arteries. I just keep it warm until the agonizingly long winter once again extinguishes itself.

That motor represents my propulsion, my rudder. And when attached to the stern of an old and battered aluminum boat that I'm sure originated at Canadian Tire decades ago, my freedom.

It gets me where I need to go and always delivers me to the sweet spot in the middle of the lake where no one can get to me. Even the connectivity of my wireless, digital device is mercifully compromised.

300-tinny3.jpgI guess you could say I got it for free as it was a throw-in when I bought my cabin in the Haliburton Highlands a few years ago. 

Well, actually, that's not completely true. If you want to get technical, I got the boat for nothing. But the motor that came with it never did start, so I had to go out and buy a new one. No matter. It's the watercraft that I'm here to talk about. And besides, if you don't have a boat to call your own, then the best motor in the world is absolutely useless.

My boat is butt ugly -- maybe 16 feet long, I'm not sure -- with the hull painted a sort of rusty orange. The transom, the place where the motor is attached at the back, is in an advanced state of rot. 

The bailer plug is an odd size, bigger than 5/8ths of an inch but not three-quarters. Consequently, it has a tendency to leak. I've found a solution, though, because one of those plastic, re-usable corks for wine bottles that you can buy for a buck at the LCBO is a perfect fit.

That's the thing about my boat, it inspires ingenuity.

The two-stroke engine requires me to mix the gas and oil myself and I fret over getting the formula right -- I think it's 50-1 -- but so far, so good.

Here's the other thing. You've got to operate a choke when the engine is cold and make sure not to flood it. And you have to be vigilant that the red switch on the side of the motor is in the "Run" position before you pull the cord.

300-tinny6.jpgOnce I spent nearly an hour trying to fire it up to no avail. Frustrated and angry, I gave in and went back upstairs to the cabin to wait it out. 

Meantime, my wife continued reading down at the shore and our next-door neighbour, who had patiently watched the whole episode unfold, walked over, flipped the switch and got the motor going right away.

"I'm not sure Scott's very technically inclined," he reportedly said.

My poor wife smiled in her gentle but knowing way.

These kinds of vessels have less glamorous names than most. Unlike the "Catamaran," "Bowrider" or "Cruiser," they fall under the general category of tin boat or "tinny." My sister actually calls mine a "tin fish."

It's great for fishing and for moving stuff, like a dock or lumber or a floating propane tank that you can tow to an island without road access. And it operates best when there's only one person in it, namely me. Otherwise, the boat tends to plow through the water and send up an awful spray to soak the passenger in the bow.

All of this is fine with yours truly because the other folks aren't overly respectful of the tinny. They're more infatuated with boats they can go fast in, lounge on bucket seats in or ski behind. 

I can forgive them for that because it gives me a chance to be alone on the lake.

300-tinny4.jpgMy 13-year-old nephew Sam might be the lone exception to this rule. Then again, he's as light as a feather and, when riding in the tinny, stays still without saying a word and just grins at the wind whipping through his hair.

Mostly, the tinny isn't about appearances; it's about the basics.

I leave it out in the winter, flipped over in the turtle position and it never rusts or, when properly secured, threatens to float away. It's as if the old boat is just thankful to be on that shore and poised to greet me when the snow and ice finally recede in May.

In fact, the boat is never covered up and it braves the elements 365 days a year. Even summer storms cannot do it in, although I have bailed thousands of litres of water out of its belly with a plastic juice bottle over the years.         

Unlike a canoe, the tinny is less than serene. Nor is it graceful like a sailboat. Rather, it's determined and able to handle the chop of the open lake or the "high seas," as I like to say. Still, I can see the first flicker of dawn in this boat, witness the majesty of the sunset in the wake of the motor and ride out many a storm. I feel tremendously safe and secure in my tinny.


The most important voyage it makes every day that I'm at the cabin is to my best friend's dock directly across Gull Lake. Early in the morning, I start the engine and point the nose to the west, where the sun is already bathing the edge of the water.

My lifelong pal greets me on arrival and then we foolishly throw ourselves into the frigid lake. We're just a couple of 55-year-old kids at play, doing the things we did more than four decades ago and have continued doing ever since.

Without much further ado, he casts me and the tinny off.

"See you next time, captain," he says every time.

And that's what I like most. To be at the helm of the tinny and headed for home.  

If I had to trust one thing to transport me to my concept of heaven, the tinny would most definitely be it.

Follow Scott Russell on Twitter @SportsWkndScott and @TheFieldofPlay 

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