The Doodle Boat

Published in the September 2012 Issue September 2012 Ask The Expert

My husband, John, and I are not extravagant people. Our vacations consist mostly of driving home to Indiana or North Carolina to see family. I drive a beat up van with over 200,000 miles on it and enough dog nose prints to make it almost impossible to see clearly out the back window. The nose prints come from my canine companions, Vern and Fudge, who are my new children since my biological ones grew up. My Labradoodles are the reason I still classify myself as a stay-at-home mom, even though my daughters are well into their 20s.

Even through our frugalness, we have said all our married life that someday we're getting a pontoon. Last year, I put our name on the waiting list for a boat slip at Lake Marburg, in Codorus State Park, Pa. We were something like number 200 on the waiting list, so imagine my surprise, when they called me this spring and said a slip was available. I told her we didn't even own a boat. Luckily they were willing to give us extra time to figure things out.

Our Options

My husband, the practical one, told me to go take a look at pontoons. Meanwhile, I called my daughter in Oregon and made sure we had a backup plan for retirement. I asked her if we could come live with them in our senior years. After discussing it with her husband, they decided when I (they did not mention her father) got to that age, they were going to follow the Old Yeller plan. The laughter got worse when I said I didn't recall that having a happy ending.

So we went out and bought a 2012 Bennington 20 SLi from F & S Yamaha & Marine, Inc. However, deciding on which pontoon wasn't smooth sailing. I wanted a boat that I thought would work out better for the dogs and my husband wanted one and I quote, "That doesn't feel like we are sitting on cardboard just so two dogs can be happy."

He even told the salesman that I wasn't kidding when I said we were buying a boat for Fudge and Vern. In the end, he got his boat and I got a dog ramp so we don't have to break our backs trying to get a wet Vern back into the boat. When I asked family members to guess what we just got every single one of them said another dog.


The Ramp

One of the holdups along our path was the mechanic had to figure out a way to secure the dog ramp to the boat and make it feel safe enough for two large dogs. The mechanic was making all kinds of modifications to the Paws Aboard ramp and probably wishing we had taken our business elsewhere because it turned into such a big project that even involved a test dog.

When it was time to hit the water, F & S called and said we could meet for our first instructions with Tim Wilt, who is truly the nicest and most helpful guy. Wilt was going to go over everything and take us out on the water for our main lesson and cover the basics of how to operate a pontoon.

Wilt truly is the nicest guy and probably has no idea what to make of us. When he was explaining the wiring manifest and assuring us we would probably never have to mess with it, my husband said, "Here Laurie, hold this live wire for me," but I told Wilt not to worry that I wouldn't be falling for that one again. Wilt laughed, but it was one of those awkward laughs that people do when they are trying to decide if it really was a joke or not.

After that, we had one or two good conversations about the automatic anchor and what it could be used for. For example, it could be useful if we encountered an annoying person on the boat, which allowed John the opportunity to mention my mother by name. By the time we finished with our lesson, Wilt was probably questioning his decision to go out on the boat with us since it was more than he signed on for when he took this job.


Dogs First

The next day we took off for our first solo voyage. I had invited our friend Rose Jorgenson, but her son Hans warned her against going.

"Mom, if Fudge and Vern are along and that boat goes down, there is not a chance in hell you will survive because you know Laurie is going to rescue those dogs first," said Hans.

I let him know that I wouldn't have to make that decision since Fudge and Vern wear life jackets.

Once we got on the lake, there seemed to be more bickering without Wilt around to guide us. My husband wanted to take the time to practice unwinding and winding the docking line. He kept saying he didn't know we were in a hurry and I kept reminding him we didn't buy a boat so we could sit on it and watch him practice sailor knots.


Parallel Docking

Our maiden voyage was successful until I said I wanted to try docking the pontoon. It's not like parking a car, and luckily the slip next to us was empty because I ended up parallel parking the boat in both slips, which takes a special talent.

Well, I did what any good skipper would do and abandoned my post as soon as I got close enough to the dock, leaving John to deal with it. Since then I have been practicing, because I want to take the boat and the dogs out by myself and, rest assured, I now have parking down pat. Although I did almost lose a husband when I accidentally accelerated while leaving the boat slip after I thought I heard him give me the all clear. Instead he had really said, "Hold on, I'm not all the way on the boat yet." After that, we implemented a new rule that life jackets must be worn by the help when leaving or coming into the boat slip.


Assigned Seating

The dogs took to boating like ducks to water. Both dogs already have their seat and I have already had to tell my daughter to vacate one of the dog's seats and she gives us her "I am a human being" speech. We nod our heads in sympathy and then again tell her she needs to move. The dogs went for a swim and after they got back in, I asked my daughter to help me get the robes on so they didn't get too chilly. This led to a series of comments about dogs, robes and people who buy their dogs robes. I had to explain to her that the dogs dry quicker and the robes captured the frequent shakings. But we did take them off before we docked. It just seemed like the right thing to do in lieu of the fact that we already had some witnesses to our embarking and disembarking skills, and we didn't need to be labeled the "crazy dog people," too.

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