As a younger man, my boating experience consisted mostly of drinking beer on the pontoon boats of others. I went bass fishing with an uncle once (Caught my first bass, too. Thanks, Uncle Dwight!) but I was 10, so what did I know about boating — other than we went really fast? There was also a long-ago week on sailboats in the Caribbean but it was still more or less me drinking beer on someone else’s boat. And a lot of rum, too. I think. I can’t really remember, but that’s not the point.
Boating is just not something I grew up with. Knowing better than to fib about such a thing, I was completely honest regarding my lack of boating experience once, during an interview for a job that required quite a bit of boat work, and still got the job. I hauled people and gear, fuel oil, tractor parts and even sheep, to and from an island on Lake Champlain for a time and didn’t make the evening news so, while I may not be the most seasoned of skippers, I do have tales to tell and slightly more than a passing knowledge of boating safety.
If that is not enough to convince you of my experience with today’s topic, I currently oversee a small fleet of wooden craft resembling rowboats in that they have oars and are roughly triangular in shape.
One of the boats I used while employed as an island caretaker was a 16′ Lund which had more of a banana shape, due to a few too many trips into the rocks over the years. She was a rough, teeth-jolting ride as it was, in the choppy water of Lake Champlain, but piloting that boat was complicated even more by the curve she had taken on. At every wave crest she strayed to port, sometimes mid-air, and the route home on a rough day could be quite circuitous, like driving a dolphin.
Her rivet holes were stretched so she “weeped” a bit at the seams, taking on cold water sometimes faster than we could bail and pump, but we never worried about her sinking because she had compartments filled with Styrofoam™. A registered trademark of DOW, Styrofoam™ has been keeping boats afloat for years, which is nice to know when the water starts over-topping your boots because you had to stop bailing to knock ice off the bow with a hammer.
There was a time, in this case 1957, when not every boat was equipped with built-in, integral flotation. What was a guy with a waterlogged, leaky tub supposed to do, other than the obvious?
Thanks to the good folks at Milton Industries, every boat could be a safe boat with a Buoyant Float! Metal, wood, plastic or fiber glass boats, it didn’t matter! The Buoyant Float fit ‘em all! “Air blown in by mouth.”
My experience tells me keeping a boat afloat long after it should have been scuttled is to be avoided. “The Laura” was a boat at the island that I, not knowing any better, used for a while until another caretaker I knew suggested I stop before I died. When a man known for venturing onto thin ice wearing large, ply-wood duck feet tells me what I’m doing ain’t safe, I listen. Believing that most humans (despite tons of evidence to the contrary) would not put their families at risk in a boat so sad it needs its own life jacket, I had to wonder what need brought this product into being and drove it to market.
A few pages further into this old issue of Field & Stream I think I found my answer.
I have never actually seen someone cook a T-bone on a grill in a boat around here but I did once see a man rig up a live-well in an aluminum boat, hooked up to the same battery as his electric tolling motor. He sat on a splice in his wiring, pressing frayed copper to the aluminum seat with his wallet, and twenty feet from the dock his pants caught fire. Actually, they smoldered and smoked, not really bursting into flame, but he was never in any real danger; our aluminum boats have built-in Styrofoam™ flotation.
(More boats, ice and ply-wood duck feet here, “On Thin Ice”)