column: Down to the sea on pontoons
Part I - In Which We Find the Perfect Boat
There are some people who say that Pontoon Boats are just for deaf old men in sans-a-belt slacks. To that I say, “What? Speak up!”
One of the fondest memories I have of my first year living here on the lake was one fine day toward the end of the summer when I stood next to my neighbor Harold, gazing at a couple of youngsters being pulled on a rubber tube behind a speedboat. As we watched the kids being pounded to mush and enjoyed their blood-curdling shrieks of terror, Harold turned to me and said, “You know, we ought to go in together and buy a used pontoon boat.”
I nodded, squinted at the sun glinting off the lifeless body of a child who had been hurled off the tube, grabbed hold of the polyester sans-a-belt slacks that at that moment had materialized on me, hitched them up tight under my armpits, and said, “You know, that sounds like a great idea!”
And so on that momentous afternoon nearly 20 years ago began the great adventure of the lake-going vessel now generally known around these parts as the “HMS,” or “Harold & Mike’s Scow.”
Now back on those days, pretty much all I knew about pontoon boats was that they had pontoons. Also, people who had them seemed to enjoy packing a very large number of other people and coolers full of beer onto them, which I found interesting.
Harold gently told me that there was a little bit more to consider in buying a pontoon boat, and suggested that we let him do the research involved in finding us a boat. I was fine with that, so I pretty much forgot about the whole thing for a few weeks.
Then one evening, as I sat on the shore thinking about how much I hated sans-a-belt slacks and wondering how I could be wearing socks with sandals when I didn’t actually own any socks, Harold came over and said, “I’ve found the perfect boat for us!” He explained to me that it was about 12 years old, was a little bit sun faded, the top was worn out, and there was a little bit of crud on the pontoons that would “... chip right off.”
On the upside, it had nice big pontoons, the most reliable engine known to man, and the price was right. I told him that it sounded like my idea of heaven.
A few days later we hitched a borrowed “pontoon trailer” to my little truck and drove to a lake 38.7 miles away to pick up our treasure.
The first adventure we faced involved the pontoon trailer itself. If you’ve never seen one of these things, they look like they are made from a gigantic erector set, a huge lattice of pipes on wheels. They are also really long, so that when you drive around a corner and forget you have it trolling along back there, you kind of accumulate stuff around the fenders, like stop signs and school crossing guards.
The plot thickened considerably when we got to the lake, picked the stop signs and crossing guards out of the fenders, and realized that neither Harold or I had any idea whatsoever how to put a pontoon boat on a pontoon boat trailer. The thing had a baffling spider web of cables and pulleys, from which Harold was able to get me disentangled in just under an hour, with a minimal loss of blood.
We eventually discovered that if you uncoupled something Harold identified as the “flippy doo” and cranked “that thingerwhappy over there,” the frame-amajig would come up and raise the boat off the ground. A little bit.
Unfortunately, raising the boat off the ground a “little bit” left the pontoons just a few inches above the pavement (we found out, years later, that if we had only known enough to attach the loopiebob to the hookerdoodle, we would have been able to crank it really high, raising the center of gravity enough that the boat could then have toppled off the trailer and into the first busy intersection we went through).
I was a tad more optimistic about the whole driving with low ground clearance thing than Harold was, since the “little bit of crud” I had already volunteered to clean off the pontoons turned out to be a caked-on coating of lime more than an inch thick, and I figured that with a little luck we might scrape some of it off on the way home.
It took us more than 4 hours to drive the 38.7 miles back home, since we couldn’t go more than about 11 miles per hour. And we actually did manage to shave the pontoons down a bit; we found that railroad tracks were especially effective for this.
We eventually managed to get our treasure home and tucked away in a covered warehouse, where we could spend the next eight months making it ship-shape and ready to launch the following spring.
Next up, Part II - Spending Eight Months Chipping Crud Off the Perfect Boat.
"What I've Learned So Far..." and the books What I've Learned... So Far Part I: Bikes, Docks & Slush Nuggets and What I've Learned... So Far Part II: Angels, Chimps & Tater Mitts. The books are now available in all eBook formats on Smashwords.