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.