Anna Tambour presents 


The virtuous medlar circle
thoroughly bletted
    In the rabbit hole
a monthly column by A.C.E. Bauer

September 2006

My family spends a good chunk of every summer on a lake in the Quebec Laurentians. There we breathe clean air, swim in clean waters, read books, and get bitten by a miscellany of bugs. We also boat.

As everyone knows, boats come in more flavors than ice cream—even on fresh-water lakes. And our family has tried a fair sampling of them, over the course of the 47 years since my parents first built their small chalet. We’ve owned a canoe, two sailboats, a kayak, a pirogue, three speedboats, and four chaloupes, in additon to a windsurf board, various rafts, inner tubes and children’s what-nots. Although the canoe, kayak and pirogue (a flat bottomed canoe) are still in use, the real workhorses over the years have been the chaloupes.

Now chaloupe translates as “longboat”, but that doesn’t quite tell the story. They are what most people think of as row boats or fishing boats, traditionally made of wood, although airplane-grade aluminum is now the standard. They are open boats with two to four cross-benches, oar-locks on each side, and a stern built to accommodate an outboard motor.

Before the advent of roads on the west side of our lake, everything was transported by boat: people and supplies. Speedboats could carry luggage and visitors, but when you needed to haul half a cord of firewood across the lake, you filled the chaloupe, started up the putt-putt, and floated it across. If you were moving lumber, and the boards were long enough, you would place two chaloupes side by side, lay long boards across, load the boards with the lumber and slowly transport what you needed to where you needed it to go. Everything imaginable was brought that way: from the nails, saws and tar-boards to build the chalets, to beds, cast-iron stoves and gas-powered refrigerators to furnish them.

I don’t remember our first chaloupe—its once-green hull is rotting away on one of our shores—but I vividly remember the next two: the big white boat and the small white one. Those are not just descriptions of what the boats looked like; they became their names.

The Big White Boat was a wooden, ocean-going dinghy with a curved keel. We kept a large floor made of white boards on its bottom so that there would be a flat surface under our feet. The boat was enormous, in my childhood memory, the sturdy, completely reliable but boring transport for all things big and messy. It lumbered in the water. And on the too-many occasions when Monstro, our speedboat, was out of commission, it was our primary means of transport from the pier where we parked our car, to the chalet, across the lake.

We got the Little White Boat when I was 7 or 8. It was half the size of the Big White Boat, and made out of fiberglass—an innovation, at the time. My father, with canny foresight, outfitted it with an old 9.9 horsepower motor. All of a sudden we had something entirely new: a chaloupe, yes, but one that could pick up speed. And kid-friendly, too. In a place crawling with children between the ages of 5 and 13, a boat that we could use, and that moved faster than your average canoe, was a godsend. Every one of us mastered that motor in a heartbeat. It didn’t replace the speedboat, of course. Each of us clamored for the privilege of driving Monstro—our father standing behind us the entire trip. We all learned to water-ski behind it. We played games inside it, when Monstro was docked at our pier, pretending to be race car drivers, or using it as a favored clubhouse. But when we wanted to be masters of our own vessel, or wanted to explore, or simply yearned for some wind through our hair, we took out the Little White Boat.

We drove it to the island to go blueberry picking. We ran errands in it to the nearest of the three stores on the lake. We even used it to pick up the occasional visitor. But our greatest discovery was that, with one kid driving and one kid spotting, the motor was just strong enough to pull another kid up on skis. From the moment the boat was floated in the water in spring, till it was stowed in the fall, we had a use for it.

It was a sad day when the back of the Little White Boat tore away. The Big White Boat had already been retired to rot on shore. So we got a new chaloupe—a blue and silver aluminum one, about halfway between the size of the Little White Boat and the Big White one, with a new 15 horsepower outboard. Gone was the romanticism of our childhoods, and we never christened it. Still, it became our new workhorse, transporting people and goods. But then they bulldozed in a road to our camp, and people and goods began arriving by car and truck. When the old speedboat died, we bought a second-hand one that only lasted a few seasons: we sold it because it didn’t get enough use.

We kept the chaloupe, though. When our children wanted to water-ski, she proved her worth. We still use her to transport whole families to the island to pick berries. We take her to visit friends on the lake. And sometimes, we just tour around, and let the wind blow through our hair.

We’ve stowed our chaloupe for the season now, upside-down, under the eaves of the house. But she’ll be there, come spring. And when her day is done, she will be replaced, not by a speedboat, sailboat, or new kayak. But by a new chaloupe. Because you need a real boat, on a lake.


A.C.E. Bauer has been telling and writing stories since childhood. She took a short break to write dreadful poetry in college, and then a longer one while she worked as an attorney, writing legal briefs and telling stories about her clients. She has returned to fiction, and now writes children's books and short stories for all ages. Her novel, NO CASTLES HERE, will be published by Random House Children’s Books in autumn 2007.

Born and raised in Montreal, she spends most of the year in New England with her family, and much of the summer on a lake in Quebec. You can read more of her musings at, a community blog of children’s-books authors whose debut novels will be published in 2007.

In the Rabbit Hole began in December 2005
A list
Copyright won't give you an hourly wage
How to ruin TV
A love story
Breathing water and pine
"It's just a children's book"
Reconciling to the Impossible
Write to A.C.E. Bauer at
acebauer at gmail dot com

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"Chaloupes" copyright © September 2006 by A.C.E. Bauer.
This essay appears here with thanks to A.C.E. Bauer, whose payment was less than a brass razoo.
This is part of a series of invited pieces by people I find deliciously inspiring, always a hoot, and who write like a bletted medlar tastes. A.T.
The Virtuous Medlar Circle © 2004 - 2006