This is a word I never like to hear because it usually means there is trouble. My husband and I had just purchased a 45 foot house boat and had no experience with boats at all. We loved being on the water and having a boat just seemed like the perfect thing for us. We would often be fishing from shore and we would see a houseboat go by and we would longing say “Wouldn’t it be wonderful to buy a houseboat and live on it?” Little did we know what was ahead or what our boating experience would be. When my husband and my nephew picked it up, the previous owner rode the boat with them and escorted them to the main river and the only thing he told them to remember was “red right return” which means keep the red buoy on your right returning to port. He put the boat close to the boat ramp and them jumped off and said “Good Luck”.
They were so excited and proceeded to the marina where we had arranged for a slip. Upon arriving at the slip, my husband put the boat into the slip slicker than a whistle only to discover a few minutes later that he was in the wrong slip. This is when things started turning interesting and when the “UH OH” word surfaced. When he started to pull into the correct slip, he went in too fast and proceeded to take the rails off the front of the boat. He bounced off the dock and the boat finally settled in and he got it under control. That cost a pretty penny to fix and was just the first of many “uh ohs” to come.
We had an apartment which for a while we continued to live in and we would spend the weekend on the boat. The first time we took it out on an excursion we were so excited. We started out on the first leg of our trip and my husband took the wrong tributary and within seconds we are aground. Luckily he backed off and we were ok. Our son and his wife and two of our nephews went with us and we spent the day in the St. Johns mostly anchored and fishing. Later in the day we noticed everyone heading back inland. The sky was darkening and it was apparent it was going to be stormy. We pulled anchor and started back to the marina. We had double gas tanks and my husband assured me that we had plenty of gas and that when one tank got low you just switched to the second tank… I think you can probably see where I am going with this. So we are cruising along in the middle of the channel of the St. Johns and my husband says “uh oh”. I asked what the problem was and he said we are out of gas. I said how can that be, we have two tanks. He said I think we need to flip a switch. I said… You think. So… they go to the back or should I say stern and check out the engine compartment and both tanks are empty.
There we are dead in the water right in the middle of the shipping channel. So we are trying to decide what to do and about that time we hear WHOOOOOOOO WHOOOOOOO and we look down river and headed straight for us is a super tanker. Well, I can tell you our hearts were beating. So… we started getting our life jackets on because we know that we are probably going to have to jump off this boat. I don’t know what I was thinking but I took my life jacket and was waving my arms in a crisscross manner at a passing boat… not knowing that this is the way you get help on the water. It was a small boat but it came right over and I yelled and they looked back and understood. They threw a rope and we attached it to the front cleat and the little boat started pulling. We looked back at the tanker and the crew was lined up on deck and I thought they were preparing to help us but was informed later that they were just there to watch the tanker hit the boat because the tanker always has the right of way.
The “little boat that could” got us back to the marina dropped us at the end of the T dock, threw back the line and took off. He didn’t even give us a chance to get his name, but I think he saved our lives that day. Well, you remember I mentioned that there was a storm brewing. Well, it was approaching quickly and we had to move our boat into the slip. They got gas and my husband proceeded to try to pull the boat around into the slip before the storm hit. Not having much experience, he kept trying to drive the boat like a car and it is very much different. He turned the corner and didn’t take a wide enough turn so he started to turn away and retry and the back of our boat hit the back of a $250,000 sail boat and I am standing on the dock watching this and I am speechless. Now my heart is going wild and I thought I was going to die. I kept waiting for the sailboat to go glub, glub, glub. My husband finally got the boat under control. and started into the slip and I could see that he was going to hit the sailboat again. The problem was that the steering has broken during the initial turn and now my husband had no control over the boat. He bounced off the back of the sailboat again and it popped our boat right into the slip. Meanwhile, all of the neighbors had come off their boats, we thought to help, but I am sure it was to protect their property.
Well, remember that storm I told you about earlier…. It arrived. My husband said we’ll just wait it out in the boat. So we all boarded the boat again and waited. In about a minute the rain started pelting down, the wind was blowing and the boat was bouncing around. It was really violent. I don’t know why, but we all put our life jackets on and packed into the head and waited. I don’t know why but we had all been taught that in a tornado, the bathroom is usually the safest place. It was roaring outside and it felt like the boat was lifted out of the water. We were all absolutely terrified. It seemed like an eternity but after about 10 minutes, it was over. We decided it was safe to leave the boat and we got off and looked around and there were boats upside down, the sailboat across from us had lost its mast and it landed on a catamaran. Another boat had been heaved up on a piling and had a hole in its keel. Other boats that were moored in the river were upside down. Needless to say, we were thinking how fortunate we were that none of us had been injured.
We managed to maneuver our way down the dock and the owner of the marina was at the end of the dock and said “I bet I know where you could buy a real cheap house boat right about now.” I couldn’t have agreed more at that time. Shortly after that, my husband and I took the Coast Guard course for boaters and the only thing we did right that day was waving the hands in a crisscross manner. The Coast Guard instructor got a big kick out of our story and used it to demonstrate what not to do, except for the criss-cross waving part.
We finally gave up our apartment and moved onto the houseboat full time. We also acquired an 18′ bow rider which we kept tied to the back of the houseboat which was nice for just going for a ride or even fishing. It was a lot of trouble to take the mother ship out. We learned a lot about boats and boating and we also learned a lot about ourselves. My husband went from a novice to quite an expert in boat repairs and parts. In self defense you have to know how to repair some of these things or it will eat you alive financially. We learned that nothing for a boat costs less then $100. The joke was that every day when I would come home from work, my husband would say, Honey, write Larry a check for $100. I finally told him that he needed to do some of these things himself if he wanted to be able to stay on this boat. We had a lot of really good times and a lot of scary times.
There are so many things that can go wrong.. storm in the middle of the night, cleat breaks loose, gotta get soaking wet and cold to fix it, but it has to be done, can’t wait til morning, west wind comes, water goes, no water under boat, can’t board boat. But on the other hand, visiting friends and family, beautiful summer nights, fishing off the stern, and sitting on the upstairs deck and watching the moon and stars. Going to sleep at night with the gentle rock of the boat putting you to sleep and hearing the gentle waves lap against the boat.
We also met a lot of nice, interesting people. Boating people are very friendly and helpful people. We rescued many boaters during our adventures on the water and we were rescued several other times as well, but nothing as exciting and frightening as the first time. You never pass a stranded boater without offering help.
Well, after a while, I tired of not having a place to hang my “stuff”. You know, those things you have collected for years from different places and my husband and I had made a deal that when I felt I didn’t want to do it any more, we would move back into an apartment, which after 1-1/2 years we did. We kept the houseboat for a while but finally decided it was time for it to go. We finally sold the houseboat and kept the bow rider. You know they say there are two happy times in a boater’s life… when he buys the boat and… when he gets rid of it. I’m afraid I probably agree.
Our boat was suppose to be our retirement home, but we learned early on that boating is not for old people which within a few years we would be. It’s hard enough to keep your balance when you are young, but add the bouncing of the water and you are in trouble. It took me several months to get my sea legs and when I did I would go to work on the 21st floor of the building in which I worked and all day long my desk would sway.
My husband’s brother and his wife visited for a week and we were told that on the way home they stopped at a hotel and that even when they were seated on the john, everything was swaying back and forth. It takes some getting used to. Later we traded for a 18′ bass tracker pontoon boat which was really a lot of fun because we loved fishing. Then came the 24′ party barge which was a blast. We would gather up all our neighbors and go out at night and cruise looking for gators. You would be so surprised if you knew how many gators were on the shore of places where people ski and swim.
One thing you need to know about a pontoon boat, if you are in a hurry and need to get somewhere fast, this is not the boat for you. If you need to outrun a storm, this is not the boat for you, but that is another story for another day. On the weekends we would go to the landing with our friends and go to special events. Although that wasn’t my favorite part of boating because I hated going to the landing by boat at night. I was so afraid of having an accident.
I remember one night (when we were still living on the houseboat) we went to the landing for fireworks on the 19′ boat and we started back and there were so many boats that the river was like the tub of a washing machine. We plowed all the way back to the marina and that is a very uncomfortable position as it tends to put the nose of the boat up in the air and visibility is not very good, plus it was the darkest night I think I had ever seen. I promised God that if he got us back to the marina safely, I would never do that again, He got us back to the marina, but I did not keep my promise and we did do it again, again and again, but each time it became less terrifying. There were many more “uh ohs” during our ownership of boats, but we also made some wonderful memories and when we look back on them, they make really good campfire stories. Jim would still love to have a boat and we do still like to fish, but we are finding with advancing age and some of the limitations that come with it, that probably is not a good idea. So we sit on the shore at our apartment fishing and watch the boats go by and we say “Wouldn’t it be nice to buy a houseboat and live on it.” Then we look at each other and laugh loud and long.
The moral of this story is “Be careful what you wish for, you may get it.”
And so the sun sets on another beautiful day on the water.