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Column: Boats, Toads Spelling & ‘Wisdom’

July 1st, 2011 Posted in Arts and Life

By Ted Pease

TRINIDAD, Calif.—This is a story about boats and spelling.

My boat’s name is Toad. Everyone on the water in Trinidad, California, knows Toad. It’s that little Bayliner that is way too small for either the Pacific or the big guy who drives it.

A friend in a much more substantial boat asked me on the radio last year what the hell I was doing out there, salmon-fishing offshore. We were in our boats, maybe three miles out to sea off Trinidad Head.

“Insanity runs in my family,” I replied.

There was a long pause on the radio. And then Red said, “Well, that makes sense.”

But I like to think that in the five years Toad has lived on the Blue7 mooring in Trinidad Harbor, and has driven out through the Pacific swells—and come back alive—we both have earned a small amount of grudging respect. We have brought back some serious fish—salmon, halibut, rockfish (which anyone can catch), and even some good albacore tuna from 24 miles out. (That really was a crazy thing to do in that boat.)

The name “Toad” has two meanings. A big fish is a toad. But I didn’t know that when I named the boat, a low, fast, 19-foot Bayliner waterski boat that I bought in Utah and dragged to the ocean and converted into a salmon-fishing craft.

For me, “Toad” comes from my childhood and a lovely book by Kenneth Grahame, published in 1908, called The Wind in the Willows. It’s about a bunch of animals in England, including a drunken Toad who drives his motorcar too fast.

“Poop, poop!” he yells as he zooms past, “I’m Toad!!”

Anyway, when I bought this boat in Utah and brought it to northern California, and found out that it was ridiculously low and fast for the Pacific Ocean, I named it “Toad.” There are Bayliners on the ocean, and even some of Toad’s size and shape. But going out around Trinidad Head when the swells are coming in…well, that’s really just nuts. Which is exactly what Toad in the book is.

So the name fits.

Let me say in my own nautical defense that I am not particularly insane. I have been “messing around in boats,” as Mr. Grahame and my father, who taught me, would say, since I was in diapers. Long before GPS and radar and the other things about boating that now make it both safer and less real, I learned how to navigate rocks and find my way off the Maine coast. So Toad and I do know what we’re doing.

For five years, Toad terrorized fish and many of the other boaters off Trinidad. I think some of the locals—like commercial fisherman Jim Gullet and the boys on Pioneer, who thought I would drown when I followed them 20 miles out after tuna that time (which really was crazy), and Craig and the guys at the pier—worried about me and Toad. I know many of them quietly checked up on me when I was out there to make sure Toad hadn’t taken a big Pacific wave over the bow and was sinking.

But Toad was “yar,” as Katherine Hepburn would say. She was a strong boat and—not to brag—her skipper knew what he was doing, even in big swells and 20 knots from the south.

That Toad is gone now. I sold her a couple of weeks ago, and there’s a new, bigger Toad that has made many of my fishing friends breathe a sigh of relief. I am less likely to drown in the new, more substantial Toad—a “grownup boat,” as one deep-sea fishing buddy put it.

But there’s a bit of a problem with the new Toad, and this involves spelling and language.

So I’d been out with the new boat. It was our first day, and we’re still getting to know each other. Before we launched, I’d taken off the old name, but although I had privately and publicly reanointed her as Toad, I hadn’t put the letters on her stern.

So I bought the stick-on plastic letters and took them out to the boat, which happily rests on the D5 mooring in Trinidad Harbor. T-O-A-D isn’t a complicated name, even upside-down. I hung myself over the stern to put on the letters.

T. Fine. Then the O, which was a little harder to get straight. Fine. A. No problem. And then D. Line it up and stick it on. Got it. Done.

The dog was aboard, and eager to get ashore. But I can’t blame Sadie. We’d been out for 6 hours and both were tired. There were fish in the box. We both needed to pee.

Understand that I am a writer and a finicky editor, so words and spelling are important to me. I take pride in getting it right.

When Joe picked me and Sadie up in the water taxi to take us in from the mooring, he said, “What are you, dyslexic?”


And then I saw the stern of the new Toad. The D was backward.

Some editor I am.

My friend Mark Damen is a classics professor, and he made me feel better about my screwup. In some ancient, dead language, T-O-A-backwardsD is pronounced “toath,” he said, which means “wisdom.”

Even if I’m not, this is a wiser boat, so I think I’ll leave it.

Ted Pease is an aspiring fisherman and professor of journalism at Utah State University.

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  1. 2 Responses to “Column: Boats, Toads Spelling & ‘Wisdom’”

  2. By Eric Stockwell on Jul 1, 2011


  3. By Christopher West on Jul 7, 2011

    Great name for a boat and great story as well. I hope you catch even bigger fish in your new TOAD.

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