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Pre-Float Checklist

January 11, 2013

We needed to take the boat out for a test run before our Canadian fishing trip. Just to be sure there were no problems…the last thing we needed was a leaky fuel line or a bilge pump that didn’t work.

So we hitched it up, an Alumacraft Classic Deluxe, and headed for the lake.

Jim backed down the ramp while I stood to the side and guided him with our own version of sign language. We’d done our ‘pre-float’ check and all the bases were covered…the gas tank was full, and the oars, anchor rope and life vests were on board.

We proceeded to float the boat off the trailer, with Jim keeping a good hold on the rope. Every other time, and there were many, this procedure worked like clockwork. Our boat would float out until the rope became taut, then Jim would gently but firmly pull it in hand over hand, and the boat would float gracefully back to shore. Then, we’d climb aboard, fire up the motor, and be on our way.

But not today. We watched as the rope fed out from the boat, expecting it to work as it did every other time. Only, this time was different. Jim held one end of the blue nylon rope in his hand, and waited for the coil of rope in the boat to unwind and stretch taut, so he could pull the boat back to shore. 

Then something unexpected happened…the end of the rope flipped over the side of the boat and floated on top of the water leaving the craft untethered…free to float with the breeze and the current, with no one aboard.

We looked at each other in utter disbelief…identical ‘deer in the headlights’ looks on our faces, I‘m sure. Our thoughts raced… What just happened here? Since when did we have two blue nylon ropes? One of which was still securely clipped to the bow of the boat…our free floating boat.

It was perhaps a good thing that no one else was around at the time…it proved not to be our finest hour…at least from a communications standpoint. Language flowed freely. Profane language, from both of us. Things we’d never say in front of our grandmothers.  An accusation or two may have been uttered. But quickly, we realized that finger-pointing and profanity weren’t helping. So we reined ourselves in, difficult as that was; we had a bigger problem to solve. We would have plenty of time to discuss the details of the day later. Right now, we needed to act. Fast.

Our boat was floating further and further away…past the reeds, toward the open water. Fishing season wasn’t due to open for another week, so there were no other boats in sight. No people, either. At least we didn’t have witnesses to our verbal exchange.

Jim enlisted in the Navy back in 1970. You’d think swimming lessons would have been part of his basic training. I mean, the servicemen in the Air Force are taught to use a parachute, so why shouldn’t the guys in the Navy be taught to swim? Or at least tread water. But no…if you didn’t come into the Navy with swimming skills, you were simply out of luck.  Military intelligence in action?  Like my friend who’d spent four years in the Navy…during peacetime. And he spent every minute of his time stationed in Arizona.  Hmmm…maybe it’s just a Navy thing.  Or maybe there’s something I don’t know.

So, boat retrieval was up to me…and I needed to act fast, before the current caught the boat and whisked it away. All my life, I’d been the family problem solver, and today was no different. It never even dawned on me that Jim, being taller, could wade further into the lake without having to swim a stroke.

So, without a second thought, I waded in…Reeboks, Levi‘s, and all. Lucky for me, it had been a warm spring, and this shallow little pond had warmed up quickly, so I wasn’t risking hypothermia. But I had another problem…

The TENS unit I was wearing was happily delivering its pain killing pulses to my lower back, short-circuiting muscle spasms and pain right up until it got wet. Then the pulsing stopped. And I thanked God that it didn’t electrocute me.

Lucky me…I still had a boat to catch. And a good sized one, too…a sixteen-footer.

Now anyone who’s tried to run through deep water knows it doesn’t work too well, even for the physically fit…a description that had never, ever been used to describe me. In fact, moving quickly through water while fully clothed is near to impossible, but on the upside, it’s great exercise, and non-weight bearing, too, so it’s easy on the joints.

But I wasn’t thinking about the health benefits I would reap.  The only thing on my mind right then was catching that runaway boat.

So I plunged on, through the ever deepening water. Knee deep, waist deep, then wet to my armpits, when finally, I was able to grab the rope…the blue nylon rope that was securely attached to ring on the front of the boat. The rope that was identical to the one that Jim had on shore.  The rope with the frayed end…which was probably the work of some rather industrious mice.  

I was able to walk the boat back to shore, kind of like leading a big well-trained dog on a leash. I led; it followed.  Not nearly as hard as trying to wade quickly through chest-deep water.

We were ashore just long enough for both of us to climb aboard. The weather was nice so we chose to complete our mission…the test run.

The boat floated…we’d already established that. So now we needed to finish testing the fifty horse Evinrude motor, bilge pump, fish finder, and finally, the Minnkota bow mounted trolling motor.  They all worked as advertised, so we were in good shape from a mechanical standpoint.  It was the human factor that sometimes got a bit dicey…myself included.  I would have to make checklists for both of us to use.    

I was drenched to the skin, and probably pruny, too, but it was warm and sunny, so I was wet, but not cold. I sat there, in the stern, hoping to dry off a little in the sun and breeze before we left for home…and dry clothing. And stimulating conversation.

  1. Oh would I have loved to have seen that!!!

  2. Margaret permalink

    Ha ha. That’s a funny one! Hey Lucy, hey Ricky, where’s the boat?

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