I’d always wanted to visit Caterpillar Island and I’d long wanted to go to the Coots Summer Solstice Messabout. When they announced that it would be held at Caterpillar and they were going to have a wedding at the event (with the theme, Sea People) I decided that the time had come.
But I didn’t want to go alone. Enter my sailing pal Sergei. Always up for an adventure, he readily agreed to go. I explained to him that people were supposed to dress up for the wedding with a nautical theme. I had heard that the Coots were a real kick and expected a gaggle of people donning sea captain, loch ness monster, and other interesting costumes, so I put a lot of thought into what I could dress up as and still carry comfortably in an open boat.
When the solstice dawned, the river had only a modest current and the sun shone with an expected high of about 75. There was a steady breeze on the river when we launched a few miles upriver of Caterpillar Island in ideal conditions. Sergei and I traded tacks, dodging the few motor boats on the river and made it to the island a little earlier than I expected.
We tied up at the dock and noticed that the Coots already there weren’t wearing costumes. I assumed they’d put them on closer to the wedding and since we barely knew a soul there, it didn’t seem any more embarrassing to don a costume than to crash the wedding of couple we didn’t know. When the Coots wandered off, we changed out of our sailing clothes.
I have long enjoyed the tales of the paddle-wielding Voyageurs who traded furs and did superhuman feats (while eating vile sounding food like pemmican), so I decided that I’d dress as one. I made good use of my sun hat by turning it sideways and folding up the brim. I added a bandana around my neck, donned a vest and a strange looking button-down collar-less shirt made of a coarse material. I had no suitable shoes, so my Teva sandals had to work (Looking back on the picture today, I have no idea what I was thinking.)
Glancing over at Sergei in his boat, I noticed he was unrolling a black canvas outfit. He slipped on a pair of loose strait-legged pants. I stood there puzzled as he took out a matching jacket, then a green belt of the same material, which he wrapped around his middle.
“Uh, Sergei,” I called, “What exactly are you dressed as?”
“I’m a kung-fu master,” he noted plainly. “You said this was a costume party.”
“I did, but didn’t I tell you it was water themed?”
Unconcerned, we headed up the gangway to a bluff overlooking the water. People milled about near a few dozen chairs scattered in the shade. Although most still weren’t in costume, we didn’t mind. Our costumes excluded us from social norms and we felt like big kids in our own little make believe world. Since the bride and groom were dressed in piratical outfits and the officiator was clad in a fur-like vest and horned Viking helmet, we just focused on them.
After the ceremony, we nibbled on some food, made a bit of small talk and then like children, snuck away. The wind was still blowing steadily and the sparkling ripples on the water lured us to leave the land behind.
We hauled up our sails and left Caterpillar Island in our wake. For such a nice day, the river was surprisingly empty and our boats danced about it freely. Costumes or not, I couldn’t think of a better way to spend the longest day of the year.