I’ve done just about everything you can imagine to a boat without sinking it.
First there was the 1969, 14-foot Larson All-American. It had a steering wheel and a windshield, so it felt like a real runabout. But it also had a lot of wear. Every 30 seconds a gear would slip, causing the outboard motor to lurch violently, shaking the 25-year-old fiberglass boat like a rattle. That did little to instill boating confidence in my oldest child. Eventually we fixed it.
That boat was later sold and replaced with a 15-foot, mid- ‘80s Sun Ray open bow. Forgot to put the plug in that one once. I didn’t realize it until the oldest daughter asked, “Dad, where’s all this water coming from?” Mild panic, but we survived.
Another time I had just gotten the boat off the trailer when a large wave swallowed the back of my Suzuki Samurai four-wheeler. Water rushed over the tailgate, all the way to the front seat floorboards. Thankfully the car was so cheaply built that rust holes in the floor allowed the water to drain within a few minutes. No kidding.
It was in that boat that I also donated an anchor to the bottom of Lake Waconia after punching the throttle without pulling up the anchor. That boat only hesitated for a moment before the line snapped. Drifting is greatly underrated.
Our ‘93 Larson cuddy was decommissioned after being rammed by a rambunctious teen on a WaveRunner. It split that boat down the side horizontally. My youngest daughter gets to take credit for that adventure.
We’ve had engines die in the middle of the lake. Throttle cables have snapped. And props have been damaged.
But all the while, an education is taking place. For every misstep, a new wrinkle forms in the brain.
So when we sold our last boat, after the girls had graduated high school, I thought our boating days were shelved. A good decade passed. But those daughters started families of their own and they had kids. So we got back in the game.
It had been 12 years since I’d pulled a trailer and backed a boat into the water. To ease into it, we chose an off time of the day to launch, or so we thought. Anyone who has ever experienced a public access knows full well the comedy and stress that occurs there. Husbands barking at wives. Wives barking at husbands. Trailers jackknifing. Boats ramming docks.
As somebody who has witnessed inexperience and avoided the title of “That Guy” at the access, I checked and double-checked to make sure my launch would be uneventful. Plug in? Check. Gas? Check. Battery charged? Check. Life jackets? Check. We are good to roll.
As I back it down the access toward the water, it feels very natural. Navigating between two docks that are close to each other, I mentally give myself a slap on the back for a job well done. I jump out as the trailer and boat are now in 3 feet of water. I toss the boat rope to my wife so she can guide it to the dock once I pull away. As I wade back to the boat and try to push it off the trailer, she won’t budge.
Must be the darn bunk trailer, I say to myself. Every other trailer we’ve owned had rollers. I push and shove and grunt. Nothing. So I back it a little deeper into the water. Still nothing. I remember some boaters like to back up quickly, hit the brakes, and allow the boat to glide off the trailer, so I attempt that maneuver. A rush of water washes against the docks as I make my move, but still it won’t release.
By now an older woman has joined my wife at the dock watching the show. Her husband is next in line to launch, anxiously waiting for me. And behind him is another. They are standing at the top of the access assessing the delay. “What is this, amateur hour?” the husband clamors from the top of the runway.
Just as I am about to completely pull out of the water, it comes to me, which was precisely the same moment the older woman bellers out, “I think you forgot to remove your straps!” Her penetrating voice reverberated off the water and through the parking lot like a blow horn.
Yes, thank you ma’am, I had just figured that out myself and now everybody knows, I whisper to myself. Yes, thank you so much.
I sheepishly wade to the back of the boat, remove the straps, and the boat effortlessly slides into the water. My wife is left with cleanup duty, apologizing to everyone within earshot that we haven’t had a boat in 10 years and this is all new to us again. I pull the trailer out as a new wrinkle forms in my brain. I promise myself I’ll never be annoyed with another driver at the access because at some point we’re all going to be “That Guy.”
And the boat? She didn’t sink, stutter, lose an anchor or run out of gas. Small victories, but the summer is young. — Keith Anderson is director of news for APG of East Central Minnesota