Mud Boat

Try as I do to get them to admit it, the mud boat industry denies their boats are designed for the specific purpose of terrifying passengers. They are also strangely silent when confronted with the fact the leading cause of hearing loss among mud boat operators is being subjected to the loud, quavering screams of anyone fool enough to get in the boat with them.

In the event you have never heard of one, a mud boat is an aluminum river boat built on the half-tank\half-Polaris missile principle. It is heavily armored boat propelled by a “mud motor” which is basically a super-charged lawn mower engine. The average speed of a mud boat is too fast.

On paper (and the mud boat builders state this with a straight face) the true purpose of a mud boat is to transport outdoorsmen to hunting and fishing locations normal boats cannot reach. The mud boat gets you there by propelling itself over or through water-borne obstacles that stop normal boats driven by sane people.

I say, ‘sane people,’ because there is no such thing as a sane mud boat driver. They are all, to the man, possessed of a death wish and they don’t care who they take with them. I have personally witnessed mature; safety-conscience adults transform into gibbering maniacs the moment they set hand on the throttle of a mud motor.

“You promised you’d drive carefully,” the passenger says staring at the driver nervously. It is not helping that the driver who was his normal, sedate self a moment ago is now cackling as he pull-starts the mud motor. The engine roars to life and before the passenger can jump back to the safety of the bank the mud boat is screaming (along with the passenger) down the river.

In mud boat promotional videos, passenger and driver laugh heartily as they rocket over logs, fallen tree trunks and rocks. They are all grins as they slide across sandbars and grass beds. They joyfully tear through tangled clots of brush or streak across water so low it barely qualifies as damp.

This, of course, is a work of fiction perpetrated by the mud boat industry.

As a frequent passenger in my son, Matt’s, mud boat, I can assure you I don’t laugh or grin. What I do is desperately clutch the sides of the boat and shout at Matthew. Typical of a mud boat passenger, the source of my terror is my assessment of whether or not the mud boat can make it past a rapidly oncoming obstacle versus Matthew’s opinion of his boat’s chances against the same obstacle. There is no one on the planet more optimistic than a mud boat driver. The passenger, on the other hand, is a completely different, albeit, more pessimistic, story.

“Log! Log! Log!” I bellow as we hurtle toward a Sequoia-sized tree trunk lying on its side. Instead of slowing, he guns the engine. Vroom! We rocket into the air and over it.

“Rock! Rock! Rock!” I screech as a cluster of rocks the size of Mount Everest looms. There is a sickening scrape along the bottom of the boat. It shakes terribly. The motor roars as it is kicked out of the water. And, just like that, we are past them and rocketing along unscathed.

“I always liked your sisters better than you! You little…” as we careen through a creek no wider than a bathtub.

Lest you judge me too harshly, it should be noted that I, the passenger, sit well forward of Matthew, the driver, which means I will be the first to experience any negative impact (‘impact’ being the operative word) of an overestimation on his part of his mud boat’s ability to go over or through whatever it is looming ahead.

Eventually the terror stops. The ride is over for now, and we get to the business of fishing. Here’s the insidious part: the fishing is great. The mud boat has transported us as promised to his secret fishing spot way, way off the beaten path. The waters are choked with fish. We spend the day – a glorious day – catching bream as fast as we can drop a hook in water.

Lost in the joy of the moment, I forget the terror I experienced getting here.

Then the sun lowers beyond the trees.

“It’s about time we get going, Dad,” he tells me.

I hear him pull-start the engine. Is he cackling?

A few minutes later, we are weaving around a stand of stumps at full throttle.

“Have I ever told you your mother and I never wanted children?” I bellow, but he doesn’t hear me. His hearing was damaged long ago by my loud, quavering screams.