Respecting the limits of technology


The car that was driven into Little Tub Harbour in Tobermory with the help of a GPS on board is shown here in the process of being towed out. A courageous young woman managed to open a window and swim out of the fully submerged car

Let me say right off that I have a deeply respectful attitude toward any boat launch ramp I may be anywhere near ever since Mr. Massey sank in Lion’s Head Harbour.

Let me also state the obvious – as she and any number of people from far and wide have no doubt already observed: the 23-year-old woman who drove her car down a boat-launch ramp in Tobermory, Ontario’s Little Tub Harbour is very, very lucky to be alive.

But it’s also more than luck. She must also be a remarkable, young woman, to have had the presence of mind and courage to get a car window open while completely submerged, and then swim out to safety  in that very cold Georgian Bay water. She and her family have a right to sing her praises.

I also think it’s fair to say she more than likely now has a healthy respect for the limits of modern technology and has made some sort of personal commitment to rely more on her own senses, rather than put all her trust ever again in the Global Positioning System (GPS) everybody seems to have in their vehicles these days.

Everybody but me, that is, and maybe a few other geezers like me. I may have a better-than-average sense of direction, and maybe I don’t get out much into unfamiliar territory, but I still chose to rely on well-engraved, route-memory, road signs and that old stand-by, highway maps, to get me from A to B on the road.

In general, I would say without hesitation these days modern society puts far too much faith in modern, computerized, or whatever, technology. If you think you’re not at risk of being watched as you surf the internet for entertainment or news, and even do your financial business on-line, think again. There’s somebody sitting at a row of desk somewhere on the other side of the world – or Heaven knows where – dreaming up news ways of hacking into your private, supposedly confidential, on-line life. If you don’t think so, and if you don’t have one of the better internet security systems loaded on your computer and kept up to date, then you’re living in a risky dream world.

For what it’s worth, the on-line encyclopedia of sorts, Wikipedia describes the Global Positioning System (GPS) as “a space-based navigation system that provides location and time information in all weather conditions, anywhere on or near the Earth where there is an unobstructed line of sight to four or more GPS satellites.”

Am I about to put my life in the hands of something of that description in a location as positionally sensitive as Little Tub Harbour and its boat ramp? I don’t think so.

Trust me, you don’t want to take any chances around boat ramps. They may look from their approaches like a gradual slope into the water, but that water can get very deep very fast at the end of the ramp. That’s if you consider, say, 20-ft (7 metres) very deep, which I do.

So there I was, oh, about 12 years ago, backing a boat-trailer down one side of the ramp at Lion’s Head Harbour with the help of Mr. Massey, my old Massey-Harris 22 tractor. I was the proud owner at the time of a new-used toy, a small boat with a fairly powerful outboard motor.


Mr. Massey, the “submersible” tractor

It wasn’t the first time I had used Mr. Massey to back the trailer and boat down the ramp; so, I had probably gotten a little too comfortable with the procedure, especially the part when, at a critical moment, the clunky old transmission gears had to be shifted from reverse into first-gear forward. That required bringing Mr. Massey to a full stop before shifting.

But this time, you can guess what happened: Suffice it to say, I didn’t get my old tractor shifted in time, and with the clutch disengaged, he started rolling down the ramp. I managed to jump off just in time. And then with a sinking feeling of disbelief, I watched Mr. Massey, the boat trailer and boat disappear.

Before too long a crowd of about 200 people had gathered along the dock on this otherwise beautiful, sunny spring day. It was very embarrassing. Someone got in touch with John White, at White’s Garage, and he came down with his tow truck. But of course, somehow the cable had to be attached to Mr. Massey.

Now, I’m not a good swimmer, except underwater for some reason, sort of. And the Georgian Bay water was still very cold. But I was all set to strip down right then and there to the bare necessities and dive down to do the deed.

Fortunately, common sense prevailed in the form of a cottager who happened to be a scuba diver. That wonderful man offered to go to his cottage, get his scuba gear, and bail me and Mr. Massey out, so to speak.

And so he did. There was much applause when he got back to the surface, and then again, when John White and his tow-truck pulled my old tractor, with trailer and boat still attached, back up the ramp.

Mr. Massey sat for a couple of days up at White’s garage to dry out. Then we drained and changed all his vital fluids. Then I flicked his toggle-switch, pressed his button, and . . . he started right up.

And people wonder why Mr. Massey and I have a special relationship.

I’ve always said, if his date with full restoration comes, his new set of decals will include a special one just for him that says he’s the one-and-only-in-the-world “Submersible” model.

And now, as fate would have it, that date appears to be this summer.

Stay tuned.

And in the meantime, this boat season, be careful around boat ramps.


A version of this post was initially published in The Sun Times May, 2016.

3 thoughts on “Respecting the limits of technology

  1. Haha…good to hear the whole story. I didn’t know it was THAT eventful and exciting. Yes Mr Massey is a special tractor. You really are just a boy with a toy tractor at heart Daddy. 🙂


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