It was the early 1990’s and my young family and I were at the lake. This is where we vacationed and water toys were a part of the fun. Some friends had recently bought a new toy that I had only admired from a distance. It was called a Sea Doo. It was kind of a water motorcycle and it looked like great fun. Connecting with them one day on the boat dock they offered me an opportunity to play on it and I jumped at the chance.
I spent about 30 minutes on it cutting up the water before I returned to the dock to find my wife and two young daughters relaxing on our boat parked in the boat dock. As I pulled up behind our boat my youngest daughter was very intrigued. She was about three and always ready for adventure. When I asked if she wanted a ride she quickly said, “YES!”
The dock was a long line of twenty three boat stalls that stretched north to south across the end of a narrow cove. Our boat was parked on the north end, about stall twenty one. At the other end was as gas stall (where fuel could be purchased) and just beyond that a sea wall.
I pulled the Sea Doo right up to the back of our boat and pointed it south toward the sea wall. I turned the bike off and waited for my daughter to get her life jacket on. As she stepped on to the water bike and sat down in front of me I gave the instruction, “Grab onto the handle bars and hang on tight.” With a big smile she did exactly that, fully stretching out her young arms and hanging on to both handle grips.
With the dock to my right I pushed softly away from the back of our boat. I grabbed the left handle grip and reached down to push the start button. My agenda was to idle slowly away from the dock to the left into open water before we sped up.
But that’s not what happened.
As I hit the start button something went wrong. The Sea Doo leapt to life and we quickly launched forward as if riding a horse in full gallop. The dock was about 18 inches to my right and we were quickly picking up speed with the sea wall straight ahead of us.
We were at stall 19 when I started trying to pull left to get us away from the dock. It was stall 18 before I realized that the bike was resisting me.
At 17 I realized why. My young daughter’s arms were fully extended and she was hanging on tight (per my instruction). If I pulled too hard to the left, in her present stance, it would pull her off the bike.
The Sea Doo continued to pick up speed at a feverish pace.
At stall 16 I considered just grabbing my daughter and jumping from the bike. But by stall 14 (still picking up speed) I realized if I did that, though by my daughter and I would be fine, the Doo would very likely hit the dock at a high rate of speed – and that would not be good.
Trying feverishly to figure out what was going on I was at stall 11 before I chanced to look down at the right handle grip to see that my daughter had inadvertently smashed the throttle lever (which was on the right handle bar) all the way down. This was what was causing the bike to accelerate so quickly.
The dock still only 18 inches to our right.
By stall 9 I realized that there was no time to reason with my daughter about needing to release her right grip, which was now critical to her not only because Dad had asked her to do so but because the bike was moving so quickly that holding on tightly was required just to stay on the bike.
So about stall 7, I reached down with my own right hand, and unpried hers from the handle grip – immediately allowing the engine to stop accelerating.
With the engine idling down, my daughter’s right hand removed from the grip and the Sea Doo decreasing speed I was then able to pull on the left handle moving us away from the dock and toward the open water.
We were at stall 3.
This entire event took place in a span of about ten seconds. In the years following I shudder to think about how close we were to real calamity. Thinking about my daughter’s view point. She trusted me absolutely but had no idea that the logical act of holding so tightly to this thing that was propelling her forward was actually catapulting her toward her very demise.
I wonder how many times I have done the same thing.