Dr Vadim Chelom is a Veterinarian, a writer and an educator. You can read his blog at www.doctor-pets.com
Published May 22nd 2012
Think up an activity which will keep kids entertained for hours, costs next to nothing to run (minimal start-up cost only), and will bring a surprising amount of enjoyment to the parent as well. Hint: it involves water. Give up? It's rubber boating, of course.
The idea came to me one day while watching the sea shore. Wouldn't it be nice to get the kids on the water somehow? But boats are so expensive and difficult to transport. Even a measly two-seater kayak (aka. a glorified piece of shaped plastic) retails for no less the $200 second hand on e-bay. So the idea sunk to the bottom of my mind bobbing occasionally up and down like a safety buoy.
Until one day I saw it, it was nestled in the back isle of a supermarket between boxes of toothpaste and discounted toiletries: a rubber dinghy, oars and pump included. On sale for only $25. I did a quick calculation in my mind - 100kg maximum weight, that's 75kg for me, which leaves 25kg to play with. My 8-year-old is about 20kg or so, then there is my 5year-od daughter. Close enough. I think the text books would call this one an 'impulse purchase'.
The blue waters beaconed but there was one more essential purchase to be made - life jackets. No boating trip would be complete without them. I did the customary run around of the usual suspects - Target and Big-W, only to find that the best price was once again on Ebay. The jackets arrived on time and looked a little bulky but sturdy enough to keep my kids buoyant no matter what. The next sunny Sunday morning we were ready to depart.
Here in Victoria we are fortunate to have countless little still water spots just perfect for a bit of rubber boating. I picked a small lake in a suburban park not far from home. A word of advice - when setting out on a rubber boating expedition leave early and plan kid friendly distractions (like a fruit snack) to buy 40 minutes or so. Those boats take surprisingly long to inflate.
Once inflated, the boat did look a little flimsy and I was starting to have second thought but the kids' excitement was now beyond containing so we settled in (a little squishy) and set off. Another advice - leave your wallet/keys/mobile on shore and wear appropriate footwear as you are bound to get wet somehow. I got whet when launching the boat and then again when disembarking at the end of the journey.
Rowing (preferably in the direction where you want to go) took some practice. Acing back and some muscles later I found that pulling is much harder then pushing. This means that you, the rower are pushing the oars away from yourself while facing the back of the boat unable to see your destination. This presents some challenges and the kids' spirited efforts at navigating are of questionable help but it does make the trip more entertaining. A rubber boat is feather-touch sensitive and just a little sideways push will send it sailing off course, hence genteel patience often beats brute strength.
My worst fear was spiking the boat on some loose piece of reeds or a submerged twig and watching our leisure craft disappear into the blue deep with a hiss. Thankfully the rubber walls have proved much sturdier then I imagined. I held my breath more then a few times but despite a torturous course and an abundance of sharp objects in the water, the boat proudly held its' own.
Fore some take home ideas, how about combining your boating trip with a spot of bird watching or fishing (watch out for those sharp fishing hooks). As for me, I will be looking forward to the next weekend.