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Boat Stories – Part Four: Addendum

One of the few times my father towed that big, 26′ boat, we had a collision. We were taking the boat from his cottage in Port Clinton to the marina in Marblehead. At the time, he was having problems with the wiring harness and the supplemental brakes on the trailer weren’t working. It would have taken a few days to get all that corrected, so he, being a former jet pilot, discounted the risks greatly, and decided to drag the boat to its new home.

Port Clinton is mostly a single strip of action that runs along the southern shoreline of Lake Erie between Toledo and Sandusky, but much closer to Sandusky. There is an older downtown region, but most of the action is along that main strip where motels, taverns, and restaurants attract a rowdy crowd in the summer — the sort of folks that are getting warmed up before some fun on the lake, or even greater rowdiness on the islands.

In the town proper, there are tree lined streets, carefully laid out in straight lines and filled with small bungalows and ranch houses. The town regulars who stay there year round, and generally are an all-right bunch of people. My father decided to drive through the residential streets so as to avoid the nervous police on the strip, and thereby avoid possible questions of his street worthy trailer.

He had a little trouble stopping because of weight and the lack of braking assistance, so he cruised through the neighborhoods very slowly, approaching the stop signs cautiously, and looking carefully. If no one was coming, he would roll through the intersection and begin looking ahead for the next challenge.

At one such intersection, there were no cars approaching. My father did not notice a girl on a bicycle but even if he did, he may not have stopped for her. He rolled through the intersection.

I was in the passenger seat, and the girl was coming towards me. As we pulled out into her path, she looked with some concern at us, but seemed to calculate that we wouldn’t collide. However, she had not seen the boat behind us, and as she approached, the boat on its trailer rolled in front of her.

I leaned out the window to watch, and heard her exclaim: “I have no brakes.” Because she was next to the curb, she felt she had no where to turn, and instead she plowed into the boat, face first, and fell off of the bike and into the street.

I told my father of the situation, and he did finally bring the van to a halt. But he did not get entangled. The girl had picked herself up by the time my father approached her on foot. The moment she said she was fine, he returned to the driver’s seat, and we resumed our slow-motion journey.

As we drove away, I watched as the girl picked up her bike, and tried to straighten the handlebars so that she might ride it again.

Storytelling

Boat Stories – Part Four: A Three Hour Tour

My father was lucky enough to retire early, at the age of 62. He decided to buy a fishing boat capable of braving Lake Erie in almost any weather. If you’ve never heard, Lake Erie is really shallow (210 feet maximum depth) and is therefore particularly vulnerable to the wind, and churns up into white caps at the mere suggestion of a breeze, much like the the French surrender at the first hint of hostility.

So my father bought a 26′ aluminum boat. I forget the make, but it was designed for fishing with an open deck, and only a small area enclosed in the bow. The comfort features were minimal, and it came with outrigging stuff, radar, fish finder, and other gadgets. Because it was aluminum, it was still light enough for him to tow with his van, and he believed he could handle launching it by himself. He was wrong.

My mother was still deathly afraid of the water, and would not go for a ride, so she was useless to him for handling this boat.

He rented a slip at a local marina, and intended on fishing a lot. I don’t believe he ever put a line in the water from that boat. On its maiden voyage, with my brother and my brother’s fiance on board, the engine quit. The radio turned out not to work, and so they fired a flare in distress. My brother aimed the flare gun straight up, pulled the trigger, and watched as the flare rose up high, and returned to earth, nearly hitting the boat. It splashed down and fizzled in the green, algae reeking waters of Erie just a few feet from the boat.

As they awaited help, my father realized that they did not have the adequate safety gear on board, namely life preservers for all passengers. So it was decided that my brother’s fiance would hide under the bow when the Coast Guard arrived.

The wind picked up, the waves grew heavy, and the boat began to pitch violently. My brother’s fiance grew sea sick, but she was forced to crawl into the tiny, cramped, and stuffy “cabin”.

My father had been trying to troubleshoot the problem with the engine, and decided it was an electrical problem around the distribution cap and the spark plug wires (it was a V-6 engine with a Sterndrive). As the Coast Guard approached, he found his largest lead sinker and used it to close a break in the electrical system. The engine started.

The Coast Guard verified that everything was fine, and allowed them to leave without inspection. They made a bee-line for home, not wanting to tempt fate further.

The next week, with the engine repaired, my father attempted another voyage, this time with my other brother. They made their way along the Portage river towards Lake Erie. It was a warm morning, the sun shone brightly, and numerous boats were making the same journey. As they neared the Lake, the Sterndrive made a strange, higher-pitched noise, and the boat stopped moving forward. My father moved it into neutral, back into drive, then reverse — still the strange noise and no motion. He lifted the Sterndrive out of the water, and ordered my brother to the stern to look.

“The propeller fell off,” was the official report.

My father was, at that time, not a particularly calm or easy-going person. He had a temper, was prone to anger, and had learned numerous colorful expressions for communicating that anger. There was very little that was right with the world when he was angry. This was one of those times.

They were towed back to the marina by a helpful, albeit amused boater.

I went along next to help get the boat out of the water so that it could be taken for repair. My father brought his twelve foot aluminum with the small outboard motor, and we launched that craft and crossed the marina. My father commanded what was now a tug boat, and I was stationed in the crippled vessel, monitoring the rope tied to the bow cleat.

This was late on this particular day, once again warm, and mostly calm. My father was quiet and sombered as he towed the boat back across the marina. He was somewhat anxious because, near the end, to get this much larger boat close to the ramp, we were going to be juggling boats and pulling rope, but, at the moment, it was a nice little trip. I sat on the bow, enjoying the sun and the relative calm.

We had to brave a stretch of open water, exposed to a breeze and other traffic, and it was at that moment that the small outboard motor on our tug boat quit. My father worked methodically to restart the motor, pulling on the rope, adjusting the choke and the throttle, and pulling again.

The breeze picked up. Because the large boat was made of aluminum, it sat high on the water, and became, essentially, its own sail. We were pushed across the open expanse as my father struggled to restart the motor. My quiet, calm tour was clearly at an end as the boat was being pushed closer to a stone breakwall at the far end of the water. Being the senior officer on deck, I readied myself to either abandon ship, or to leap onto the stone breakwall just moments before the wreck, and try to prevent severe damage. I was going to take my cue from the tone and intensity of the vulgarities now streaming from my father’s mouth. Although, looking back, I really didn’t know how I could have justified not sacrificing my body to save his boat. But I really didn’t want to do it.

I was saved from this fate at nearly the last moment when the small outboard motor started, and the tension in the rope returned, and we once again approached the cement boat ramp.

That big, aluminum fishing boat was taken from the water, never to return. It was repaired, but my father had lost the precious and very necessary belief that the effort involved in boating was going to be worth it. He parked it at his cottage, and it remained there for the next six years while he slowly died, and for three more years after that as we, his sons, decided what to do with it.

The last time I was on that boat, I was busy cleaning out the dirt and destruction left by a family of raccoons that had taken up residence the previous year. There was feces in every crevice, and all soft materials had been shredded. As an added bonus, three separate yellow jacket nests also had to be removed.

Lake Erie is arguably one of the most deadly bodies of water on earth, with a wreckage rate per square mile of its surface that puts it in the company of the most lethal and damning places on earth, at least for boats. It had stopped my father before he ever started, and perhaps that was a lucky thing, although, if he’d known the manner of his death, he might just have taken his chances out on the water.

We decided that the boat was beyond our abilities to repair, and donated it to charity, taking the tax deduction on our mother’s tax return. If only there was something pithy to say about all of it, but, alas, I can think of nothing.

Storytelling

All Others Pay Cash – Episode #1: Death By Chocolate

Back once again is the short film I created two years ago with friends about a failed internet millionaire who is hoping to regain his glory, but his family and his housekeeper are not helping.

It’s here on this site, under the stories menu. Soon, I hope to have all of my stories there, at which time I’ll rearrange that part of the site.

All Others Pay Cash – Episode #1: Death By Chocolate

Storytelling

Boat Stories – Part Three: The Ape

In the late seventies, my father made his next move in boat ownership and bought a used, aluminum Duo with an outboard motor and a trailer. I was there when the purchase was made, and to my immature mind, it had all the trappings of a clandestine and somewhat illegal purchase: we met a gentleman at the edge of a parking lot where the boat had been parked one evening. The nearest road was deserted, and the light thrown from the street lamps offered shadow and false colors. My dad handed the man a wad of cash, and the man assisted us in getting it attached to our hitch. The boat was named “APE”.

There were problems from the start. My father was suspicious of the power offered by the Johnson 25 horse, and so he immediately acquired an Evinrude 35 horse (I may have those reversed, but the point is that when you buy something like a boat, add-ons and upgrades are inevitable). He also took it to a specialty shop to have a canvas cover made. Changing the outboard revealed problems in the pulleys that were attached to the steering wheel, and so another day was lost to anger and effort.

In spite of these things, it felt like a real boat. It had a closed bow, and my brother and I were still small enough to crawl underneath amongst the extra life preservers. We imagined sleeping there on our long voyages (but never did). There was a windshield and steering wheel and levers for the throttle and gear shift (forward, neutral, and reverse). There were four seats and a floor rather than the benches and exposed hull of the rowboat.

I believe my brothers and I had more fun sitting in the boat parked in our backyard than we did on the water.

But in the water it went. We lived in Cleveland and that little boat took us out onto Lake Erie. I remember one trip in particular when we were far afield, looking for walleye near the Portage river, and a storm rolled in quickly from the west, black clouds low, and a sharp cold breeze its only warning. What saved was that the storm pushed us back to the harbor where we needed to go, but the four-foot, white-capped waves made it a ride to remember.

Another time, we were on Lake Pymatuming, which straddles Ohio and Pennsylvania. That was a lake where my father liked to troll for walleye, and so we went back and forth along these long, narrow waters. Once more we were caught in a storm, but this time we had to fight the wind and the waves. The rain pounded the windshield, and my brother and I huddled beneath the canopy, greatful for the break from the elements. My father stayed back, I think maybe to balance the boat, and was pounded for an hour. Because the waves were so large, we went past the entrance to the harbor before turning so that the waves would be at our back; my father did not dare expose our sides. When we were safely ashore, he admitted to being afraid. I was grateful that he did not let on.

The APE and the outboard motors are still in existence, but are currently in drydock at my oldest brother’s house. He is replacing the floor, the seats, and the canvas. Other than that, it’s like new.

Storytelling

Boat Stories – Part Two Addendum: The Trailer

I checked with family, and learned that the first trailer my father bought for that first boat was a kit purchased from Sears. This is a throw-back to the day when almost anything could be purchased from Sears, and harkens back to the days of America’s rural, innocent past, when, once the natives were cleared from the land, only a catalog was needed to turn forest and prairie into a subsistence farm with a sod house, and, eventually, turn that into a corporate farm with twelve-hundred head of hormone-injected dairy cows, and genetically engineered feed.

The trailer was delivered in several large boxes. My father and brother tore open the boxes, laid out the pieces on the lawn, and assembled it as if it were just some over-sized Chinese puzzle. That did not go well. Things didn’t fit quite right (who knows if they read the instructions) and had to tear it apart and start over.

They realized one of the pieces was missing, and so the project was delayed. This being the era of telephone operators and typewritten letters, it was two weeks before they could try again. The only remaining challenge was setting the boat supports at the proper distance for the twelve-foot aluminum.

I wish there was a more interesting kicker for this one, like the trailer coming to pieces somewhere north of the Dells on that trip to Minnesota, and the boat skipping across the highway and, ironically, crashing into a reefer truck laden with frozen fish (such a story would stand proudly beside the giant mixing bowl tale). My father had something like that happen, but that story will have to wait until I broach the subject of camper-trailers.

I’d be amazed and shocked to hear of such a kit these days (although I know they exist) when it’s so easy to buy a boat with a trailer and the shopping mall-like dealerships. In the era of four-dollar a gallon gasoline, it may be twelve-foot aluminum rowboats, intended for fishing, that once more reclaim our lakes.