Driving the Boat. That’s the Way You Do It.

I finally got to drive the boat. It only took 52 years, two disinterested women and a boy too young to steer, but hey, I’ll take it.

Brits also got the day off Monday, courtesy of a second bank holiday in May. Our friend Eileen offered to drive us to Enniskillen in County Fermanagh to visit several National Trust properties and overnight at a B&B.

That’s how we wound up Sunday afternoon on Upper Lough Erne at the Crom estate, me at the helm of a small aluminum boat with a standard outboard motor. I know, small potatoes, but these small pleasures were denied me growing up.

Chores, I’ve done a few

As the youngest of five, I always got the ass-end of the chore stick. Washing the dishes? No, I had to dry them, the dish cloth becoming sodden with each plate or bowl, forcing me to wipe more and more to get them sufficiently dry.

Drive the tractor on the farm? Of course not! I was the boy pulling the weeds in what seemed to be a 10-acre garden that was perpetually in sunlight.

Actually, we didn’t do much (OK, any) boating after we moved to Tennessee when I was 9, but I do remember Dad or my oldest brother puttering us around Lake Juliana in Florida during family vacations in an aluminum boat with an Evinrude outboard at the rear. Or fishing with our grandfather (Pooch) and his reminders that one peed off the side of the boat. Anything more substantial required a trip back on land, which was greatly discouraged.

So driving the boat was a big deal. And a whole lot of fun. The lough is wide, with floating reeds and lilypads everywhere. We saw swans, swan nests, ducks, a heron flying low and a couple of cormorants. The estate features a home still in family hands and off limits for tours, but you could see the remains of the former home and learn more about the history of the estate in the visitors’ center, located in a former stable.

The estate has several holiday cottages, a campsite and a handful of “glamping pods,” basically small, semi-circular concrete tunnels below the visitors’ center with no windows save for the front door and sidelights. We found out from a worker that the glamping pods were former pig sties.

Sunburn? What sunburn?

Our afternoon of boating flew by, with us zipping to and fro in the Matt-led boat. At the risk of boasting, I felt like a natural boater, even when my companions tried to convince me a rush of reeds was a continuation of the lough and I had to carefully back our way out of a tight spot.

But what I wasn’t prepared for was the sun. The morning had been gray, and showers were forecast. So none of us thought about sunscreen—until the brilliant sun shone through the clouds not 15 minutes after we started a two-and-a-half hour boat trip. I did my best to block the sun and did a fairly good job—except for my rudder hand, which had turned bright red by the end of our journey.

A little sunburn, however, was a small price to pay for my first boat trip in the captain’s seat.

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