Saturday, August 2, 2014

Commander’s Picnic Finds the “BOOM”

I'm a member of the Fort Macon Sail and Power Squadron. Some might call it a yacht club. However,there are no yachts or club house, so you could probably say that we are a group of nuts, nuts about boating. There are so many personalities and great people to just hang out with that, sometimes rather than go boating, we just hang out.

Case in point.

Despite the constant rain on July 21st, a large group of FMSPS “ducks” couldn’t be swayed from gathering for the Commander’s Picnic. We lounged under a huge gazebo to share the masterfully grilled hot dogs, hamburgers, tequila lime chicken, fabulous side dishes and high-in-calories deserts.
Scott is in the red shirt

The conversation was friendly and like most gatherings, the guys and gals tended to part ways and congregate together. The wind picked up a bit, and cool air brought a chill to anyone still wet; I grabbed my damp raincoat and so did a few others, but the conversations continued.

I couldn't help but think it was a perfect time for a nap, if only there had been one of those zero-gravity lounge chairs.


“What the heck was that?” I asked.

Someone answered, “That was a potato cannon firing.”

“A what?” still unsure what to make of it.

Another replied, “J.B.’s shooting potatoes.”

My curiosity got the better of me, and I had to lean over the gazebo railing. “What kind of potatoes are you using, red potatoes or russets?”

J.B. replied, “Red potatoes.”  

Bob Howd supervised J.B. so that he put the best potatoes in the tubes. Of course, they had to do some field-testing before allowing others to join in. Moments later, the first person on the scene ready to do some potato firing was none other than the soft-spoken, Pat Hardee.

This is Pat Hardee and J.B. Bagby.
Pat is one of the “quiet ones.” You know the kind of person that surprises you by pulling a prank, leaving you amazed and smiling. Case in point, she was one of the first down the gazebo steps to wait her turn.
Not afraid, she held on to the tube as J.B. directed, and it fired with a loud “Boom.” Her first attempt went about 80 feet.
“Holy Crap, look at the arc on that,” came out of my mouth. Everyone laughed; I was seriously amazed.

“Hey J.B., did you learn to do this in Chemistry Class?” I asked.

He replied, “Yes, I did.”

“That’s our UNC university dollars at work,” I retorted.

I could only imagine what the neighbors would say. “Do you need some sort of permit to shoot one?” I asked. Nina said, “Please, don’t give the government any more reasons to tax us.”

Scott was next in line. He rested the potato cannon rested on his left side, since he is left-handed. As a retired USMC Colonel and an expert in handguns and rifles, he was confident to shoot a mere potato. He stood erect, aimed and “Pop.” The dud landed about 25 feet from the standing point. Dejected and hanging his head, he feigned humiliation.

J.B. ramming down the potato.

Before I could retain some sense of dignity, I too lined up to shoot a potato. J.B. tutored Roy Thompson and me on the mechanics. PVC tubing, shaved at the top end, left a razor-sharp edge that cut the right potato diameter so that it could be rammed down into the barrel. It was surprisingly simple and yet amazingly efficient.

“How do you hold this thing?” I asked, grabbing it under one arm to rest it against my body and the other arm to steady the trajectory.

“You want to hold it about 45 degrees, not 20 degrees like Scott held it, but 45 degrees,” said J.B.

As I gazed out over the firing range, to my right, there were at least 25 boats in their slips and to my left, two other boats, tied off along the walkway. There was little room for error. What would I do if I hit one of the boats?  How could I justify insurance payoffs for potato shrapnel?

Okay, let me get my aim right. Asking Bob Howd, “Does this thing have a kick?” He just smiled without answering. I didn’t know what to expect.

J.B. spayed White Rain hairspray, the highest volume of alcohol/lacquer mixture in the cheapest form, into the end of the barrel and closed it. He turned the Coleman camp igniter, again and once more, “Boom!”
My potato went the farthest, about 100 feet away.

“I almost hit the trees, “I said. Thank God, I didn’t hit a boat.

I was too proud to shoot it the second time- there was no way to break the best distance and there was still the matter of the boats. However, Scott was willing to pay cold hard cash so that Pat Hardee could fire one again. I still held the distance.

 “That was the most redneck fun I’ve had in years,” I said laughing.

Walking to our car Scott said, “JB has to be adding extra hairspray to the ladies’ tubes. I’m sure I was given just one little, whiff. You had more stuff in your tube.”   

Maybe so.

I foresee potato-firing competitions in our squadron future. 

May all your potatoes land where they should. Email me, I'd love to hear from you.
Have a great weekend.

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