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Getting Ready--Shake Down Cruise

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Getting Ready--Shake Down Cruise
I will never be as prepared for duck season as Captain Sanford, lacking his skill, attention to detail, experience, and organized nature. I did, however, untangle the decoy lines and wash last year's marsh mud off the black duck and mallard rig, and set aside some of the cork whistlers for painting. I am not a fine painter, but they seem to pull birds more effectively when the the whites parts are bright.

The decoys were still in the bow of the boat from the last trip last season. Normally, they'd have been cleaned out when the snow in front the storage shed melted and I started to think about taking the boat out for some spring trolling, or early season mayfly hatches on the ponds, or early summer stripers or picnic cruises. Between a wet spring, a solid season of pond fishing from canoes, and too much work, none of those ever happened.

So, after hosing off and re-sorting the decoys, I determined that she-who-chooses-what-we-do-on-Sundays would appreciate a quick cruise and lunch on the lake. With the boat sitting through winter, spring and half of summer, the squirrels and the yellow jackets had both invaded the boat. Squirrel infiltration was evident from the piles of husked acorns, but the invasion force appeared to have moved on. The yellow jackets were another story. I somehow avoided getting stung, and a hose from 30 feet away took out the nest without incident.

Trailer tires were both full of air and round; trailer lights worked as soon as they were hooked up; and the old ratchet strap, which was surely a frozen mess of mixed salt water, road salt, and road sand after the last trip for saltwater ducks the week after Christmas, was fully functional. Last year's fuel looked good--Marine Stabil wins again. The garden supplied fresh cukes and cherry tomatoes and green peppers to fill out a couple of tuna sandwiches in the cooler, and we were out the driveway by 11:30 am. Quick stops for ice, fuel for the truck and the spare gas can, and a car wash to pressure wash off the worst last year's salt marsh gurry before she-who-prefers-a-clean-seat wanted to get in the boat revealed that we are deep into the season when 30-year-old small tin boats are out numbered by pontoons, water ski tow boats, jet skis and classic old wooden Chris Crafts. (Only the Chris Crafts made me jealous--my grandfather had two at 16 and 18 feet in my early days and I spent many fine days with him cruising up and down Great Bay and the Piscataqua River with him.)

She-who-chooses-the-destination had deemed the local lake the best option, as there is a lovely little picnic spot on an island owned by the local land trust. He-who-second-guesses suggested that perhaps mid-day on a hot sunny Sunday might make a smaller pond more off the beaten path a better option, and was over-ruled. Miraculously, we arrived at the launch with an almost full parking lot, but only a single boat ahead of us in line. Such luck at 12:15 on a summer Sunday suggested that the gods were surely with us, and this was confirmed upon launching when the ancient 2-stroke Yamaha turned over and started on the second pull.

The gods continued to favor us as we made a bee-line for the lake's best picnic spot and found it empty--at 12:45 on a summer Sunday! For the next two hours, the gods continued to smile, as the motor started each time on the first short pull, and pontoon boat and jet ski and water skier traffic was spread out enough that we were not constantly running over wakes, and several flocks of geese were observed and locations noted for the pending opening of the early resident goose season.

Alas, such favor with the gods could not continue, and we returned to the launch at 3:30 to a classic Sunday afternoon cluster. A just-launched boat was tied to the end of the dock with only a bow line and floating in a location that perfectly blocked anybody else from landing at the dock, launching a trailer, or pulling another boat. It was occupied by 5 children; all of the adults had retreated to park vehicles and trailers, slowly. An impatient guy with a big inboard bow-rider backed down and into the water, but did not have enough space to launch around the floating day care center. We stood off and watched from afar so could not hear the words exchanged as the strolling adults from boat #1 passed the honking and swearing "adult" trying to launch boat #2, but it seemed a safe assumption that the children in both parties learned some words they shouldn't have. Boat #1 finally pulled away from the dock. Boat #2 was efficiently launched and tied at the end of the dock, and I landed on the far side of dock to go get my trailer. I passed boat #3, a large pontoon, on its way to launch, then pulled down to the turn around to wait until he was clear.

I did not observe the next 20 minutes or so of activity on the launch and dock, as I was sitting in my car listening to Dire Straits, Live at the BBC, and Mark Knopfler just killed it on Sultans of Swing and a 12 minute version of Tunnel of Love. She-who-waits-with-the-boat later informed me that the impatient captain of Boat #2 came down on the dock, yelled for everyone to get in the boat, and spent the next 20 minutes continually cranking his boat, blaming each child in the boat in turn for doing something to screw up the motor, and loudly proclaiming that "It started like 20 times at home before I left." At this point I stepped out of the truck to talk to the driver of Boat #3, and we agreed that the smell of fuel was pretty strong even where we were 20 yards uphill of the boat, and it was likely flooded. He bravely waded into the fray and suggested to the captain of Boat #2 that perhaps he should let it rest for 15 minutes or so, and in the meantime shift places with my boat so that I could pull out, and then he'd have a space to launch, while Boat #2 was allowed to sit for a bit. This seemed a good idea all around, so the driver of Boat #3 and I shuffled trucks around so I could back down, assuming that the small army of hands on Boat #2 could pass my boat around the outside to the other side of the dock before I got there. (It had lines rigged bow, stern, and mid-ships, and was, after all, a 14-foot aluminum boat in shallow water on a windless day.)

According to she-who-was-stuck-on-the-dock-with-that-jerk, he complained that my boat was going to damage his boat. She somehow negotiated the situation and got my boat passed around; we pulled the boat; Boat #3 was launched, started, and pulled away from the dock; and as I drove away I could once again hear the sound of a starter grinding away and smell fresh fuel drifting in the summer breeze.

Moral of the story (#1)--Do the shake-down cruise in June, on a rainy week day, before the summer tourist season kicks in.

Moral of the story (#2)--Even on the busiest day in high tourist season, most of the people at the launch are competent, courteous, and kind.

Moral of the story (#3)--Just one person who is not can really screw things up for everyone else.

But, the old Yamaha has lived to fight another season, and I'll be ready to go for the early season next month. Now, if I can only find a post office with a duck stamp to sell me.

"At first blush I am tempted to conclude that a satisfactory hobby must be in large degree useless, inefficient, laborious, or irrelevant."
— Aldo Leopold
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Re: Getting Ready--Shake Down Cruise In reply to
Great post Jeff. Glad that you and she-who-makes-decisions were able to stay above the fray.

The one time I will not go boating (that is, if using a launch is involved) is on holiday weekends. Too much opportunity for bad ju ju.

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Re: Getting Ready--Shake Down Cruise In reply to
Good morning, Jeff~

Great tale, well told!

I remain,
He Who Enjoys Fine Story-telling

Steven Jay Sanford
Pencil Brook Farm
South Cambridge, NY