Maiden voyage


When I was a child and the rains came, I'd peak over our back fence, hoping to catch a glimpse of the neighborhood playground. If the storm was big enough, the sandbox would flood and I'd grab whatever looked seaworthy: sleds, inflatable pool rafts, snow saucers, sticks and, one time, Whiffle Ball bats stitched together with shoelaces and blind hope.

I couldn't help it.

I was called to the chocolate-colored water, the pools and channels and foamy storm wrack just deep enough to paddle around in. Amid the slides and swings, I waged a mutiny on the Bounty, captured treasure on the Golden Hind and explored new worlds on the Nina. When my vessels inevitably foundered, I pretended to be on the Titanic, grasping for life rafts.

Years later, when we moved to a new neighborhood in San Francisco, I noticed during a storm that the playground at Dolores Park flooded into miniature lake.

"Someday," I told Dana, "Someday Emme will be old enough to go sail in that."

Dana looked at the muddy pools loitering under the play structures.

"That?" she laughed, "Why?"

Because it's fun.


Last week, during a big storm, I hurriedly gathered supplies when I noticed the playground had flooded again. At nearly 5, I figured Emme might be into it.

Was that an understatement.

One day after preschool, we spent a long, rainy afternoon with a massive cardboard box begged from a trendy furniture store, a couple rolls of duct tape, some makers, garbage bags and a miniature soccer goal. I made her an oar out of a Swiffer pole.

When we finished, Emme dug through her dresser for a "pirate outfit" and then helped me load the vessel into the car.

"Do you really think this will float?" she asked.

I shrugged. To be honest, I wasn't sure. I never remembered using a cardboard boat, but we had shellacked the seams with duct tape and plastic bags, so I was hopeful we'd get at least a few minutes of floating in before disaster struck.

To our surprise, it worked.


Emme puttered around the playground in the rain, shouting "argh!" and "Ahoy!" to anyone who would listen. At one point, she demanded I hide some "treasure" on the land, while she planned a daring raid.

I got the biggest kick watching her drift around the seas, blasting the slides with cannon shot or forcing invisible pirates to walk an invisible plank. I felt a tinge of envy, because I desperately wanted to be young enough to fit into a cardboard boat; and I felt a touch of guilt, too, wondering if I was foisting my childhood desires and memories onto her. Then she slashed me with her cutlass, stole my treasure again and laughed as she sailed off, shouting, "To my pirate island!"


It was a wise move, heading to port. Seconds later, the boat broke apart.


On the drive home, I turned the heater as high as it could go and blasted us with warm air. In the living room, there was still half of a cardboard box left.

"What do we do with this?" I asked.

Emme's eyes twinkled.

"I know just the thing."

She was pretty sure astronauts didn't have to take a bath after their voyages.


  1. Gorgeous! Well done :-) And the mermaid's a nice touch.

  2. That is quite the vessel! I can't believe that it was even slightly seaworthy. So much fun!

  3. Wonderful boat!

    ... and it takes me right back to the pleasures of the next door neighbor's buying a new refrigerator. Because WE got the BOX! It lasted almost the whole summer, as clubhouse, submarine (without any actual water), pulpit, Tower of London, airplane, I forget what else.

    But I envy you two ... our box of imagination was always stationary except when being dragged to a new fixed location.

  4. Nice! That brings back memories of when I was in architecture school and we had our annual cardboard boat race.

  5. This is such an awesome boat! I can vividly remember heading to Woodcreek Park with Aly Samson one day after a big rain storm. We came home covered head to toe in mud and I ruined my outfit. I was in trouble for making a "bad choice". I wish I could remember how old I was. Not very. Only barely old enough to go to the park alone. I look back and laugh because I don't see that as punishable behavior... even if I was wearing my new pink oshkosh overalls!

  6. OMG! LOVE that you did this! You are like the best dad ever! If you send me your actual photos I will make you a kick arce scrapbook page. (That sounds stalkerish doesn't it? Ok, nevermind.) But all I could think of when looking at the pix was what awesome pix you now have of an incredible day. A day, she will, no doubt, be telling her grandkids about. Seriously, you win this year; BEST DAD EVER. (Just don't tell my husband. ;-)

  7. I'm sorry, I've had to add your website to the list that the kid-safe filter keeps out, in case Elisabeth finds your site and realizes how pathetic her own boat-less, rocketship-less life is.

    There is no greater toy than a huge box. Well done!

  8. Freaking amazing - what a great idea. Will you be my Dad? Or maybe adopt my kid for a few hours? LOL!

  9. So unbelievably amazing and I lOVE that she's dressed the part!

  10. Awesomest (despite its duration) maiden voyage ever.

  11. Seriously, I want to be adopted too!

  12. I need to find a cardbaord box now, that looks like a lot of fun. But I think I'll send the hubby out in the cold when it's actually time to "set sail." What a fun way to deal with winter weather, color me impressed!

  13. That is one lucky pirate girl. Kudos indeed.

  14. Thanks all. I don't think she counted herself lucky on the way home, when we were both shivering like mad. But up until then, she did have a great time. Now she wants to build one for the little boat pond in Golden Gate Park ... we'll see.

  15. Awesome. Just awesome.


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