A motorboat experience

Rachmaninoff was a great lover of motorboating and used to go out every day.  He always steered himself.  Often he went out alone.  This hobby of his nearly proved fatal during that stay of ours.  About an hour before dinner he said:

“I think I shall go for a spin on the lake.”

He got up quietly.  He did everything quietly and firmly; hesitation was alien to his nature.  It was a lovely afternoon, one of those rare and bright afternoons in the Swiss mountains in May.  We joined him.  At the last minutes Mr. Ibbs, Rachmaninoff’s agent in England, asked permission to come along also.  He was a corpulent man with a round, ruddy face.

The lake was as still as a fishpond.  Rachmaninoff took the wheel, and we glided smoothly out of the boathouse on the lake.  We were well out of sight of the house when Mr. Ibbs asked if he could try his hand at the steering wheel.  Rachmaninoff handed it over to him and joined us on the back bench.  No sooner had he sat down than something very strange happened.  Evidently Mr. Ibbs had decided to make a sharp turn.  But, instead of turning, the boat began to spin and bend over to one side.  We all slide on the back seat and watched Mr. Ibbs in dead silence.   But when his face had turned as red as a beetroot, Rachmaninoff got up quietly, as if he had merely given Mr. Ibbs time to correct his mistake, reach the wheel with a few big strides, and pushed Mr. Ibbs aside.  The screw was already thumping loudly in the air, and the left rim of the boat was touching the water.  Just as the heavy boat was about to capsize and bury us under it, Rachmaninoff set it right and we glided back to the embankment of the Villa Senar.  Nobody said a word.  Silently we got out of the boat.  On the way up to the house Rachmaninoff touched his left side several times and frowned.  When we were quite near the veranda, he said:

“Don’t say anything to Natasha.  She won’t let me go boating any more.”

Alfred Swann.  Cited in: Bertensson, Sergei & Leyda, Jay (2001) Sergei Rachmaninoff: A LIfetime in Music.  Bloomington: Indiana University Press, p. 320.