My family has been boating on Lake Hartwell in Northeast Georgia for more than 30 years. Our children learned to ski on tied Snoopy skis behind a 21-foot runabout. After years of squeezing two children, their friends, our friends, our friends' children and often the dog in our small boat to chase sunsets and take cruises, we decided we wanted a pontoon. We had noticed that every new dock sported the go-fast boat, a couple of PWCs and the family pontoon. But our family decided we wanted a boat we could load up with friends, dogs, coolers and kids to enjoy the lake. Little did we know what we were in for. We decided we would look for a good used pontoon. How hard could that be? The answer to this question is that it is a lot harder than it sounds.
Our quest created a few memorable adventures. Once we got serious about getting a pontoon, we searched the newspaper's classified sections. We saw an ad in the Atlanta paper for what sounded like the perfect pontoon for us. After a 45-minute trip, we rang the doorbell of a nice home and Mrs. Wilmer answered the door. She walked us through the house to the backyard (which had not seen a mower in months). In the corner of the lot sat a very nice fishing toon. We walked around it and thought how perfect it would be; we could see ourselves cruising, fishing and enjoying the lake on this boat. The only problem was it was a little out of our price range. Mr. Wilmer decided to venture out and speak to us. Seems he had just gotten up after an extended afternoon nap in his recliner only to tell us he would not come down one penny from the asking price, even though he had not had the boat in the water in two years. He really was not sure he wanted to sell it anyway. We wondered at this point why he ran an ad at all, but hoped we could make a deal.
While we were discussing the operation of the boat and motor, I got a sharp sting on my foot and looked down to see my entire left leg covered with ants. My leg was suddenly on fire, and I screamed and started running toward the faucet and hose next to the house. Mrs. Wilmer started yelling, "I told you to do something about them last week." My husband, Drew, started rounding the kids up and got them on the deck. We had seen enough. After an application of fire ant potion, which smelled like straight ammonia to me, we decided to leave. They let me keep the applicator bottle for my troubles. We jumped into the car, buckled up the children and left. A few miles down the road, we called and made a final offer which was again refused. Mr. Wilmer said he just couldn't say goodbye and would rather the boat sit in the corner than come down a penny on the asking price.
Off The Beaten Path
Our next adventure started when we called on an ad in the local lake paper. Again, it sounded like a possibility as the pontoon advertised was the right size, motor and price. Drew got directions to turn off the main highway and proceeded down several dirt roads that involved turning at the well house, taking the high road and waiting at the cement block shop for the owner, whose dogs were "protective." I'll say. As we got close to the shop, we passed what looked like a walled-in garden that resembled a pontoon boat. This so-called boat had wrought iron railings, no seats, a motor with the cowling cover off and several good-sized plants growing up through the floor. We had just gotten to the edge of the shop when a dog the size of a Mac truck started charging us; it was chasing and biting the tires-all the while emitting a growl that would wake the devil. We rolled down the window slightly as we approached the shop and waved at the owner and told him we were sorry to bother him, but we were looking for something a little less rustic.
Using Our Connections
Just when we were wondering if anyone would ever let go of a decent `toon, Drew received a call from Gordon Moore of Gordon's Marine. Gordon had worked on our ski boat for years and knew we were looking for a good used boat. Gordon had originally sold the boat 10 years earlier to a little old couple who took it out on the weekends. (I'm not kidding, his exact words.) Drew took the number, and, after a quick call, arranged to meet them at Harbor Light Marina. He arrived early and was waiting in the parking lot when he saw an elderly couple drive up in a meticulously clean truck. They were the owners of the pontoon that was for sale. While walking down to the entrance of the docks, Drew looked around and wondered which boat was theirs. The couple kept walking, all the way to the end slip and boarded their pontoon. So far, so good. There were no trees growing up from the deck area, the 70hp Mercury had its cowling attached, and the console and seats all sported perfect custom covers.
While the couple busied themselves uncovering each seat, Drew walked around and noted the boat was in perfect shape. Each seat looked brand new. After a quick test drive, Drew knew it was the perfect pontoon for our family. After the ride, Drew helped cover the seats and told the sweet couple he was very interested, but that I might want to see the boat first. As an afterthought, he asked what color the boat was. They looked at him strangely and he quickly explained he was color blind and knew the first thing I'd ask would be what color the boat was.
The husband said, " I'd say it's kind of pink." A pink pontoon? The wife then said the correct color would be mauve. Drew called me on the way home and said the boat was a good price and in perfect shape, but there was one problem. I asked after what we had seen on the market what could possibly be wrong? He said, "Well, the boat is pink." I told him that was impossible, and he said the wife said it was closer to mauve. Even that sounded crazy, so the next day we drove 90 miles back up I-85 to the marina. The second I saw this pontoon, I fell in love. The color was much closer to a burgundy, but I didn't care if it was flaming flamingo pink, I wanted this `toon. We closed the deal the next week, met the couple, exchanged a check for keys and took possession of the 1991 Aqua Patio 24-foot classic hard-top in April 2001.
Needing A Home
We finally had our pontoon, but all still was not well in the household. We did not have a covered dock. This 10-year-old `toon had never spent time parked out in the elements. I told Drew we had to get a cover for the boat. He looked at me like I was crazy. We had a 21-foot Chaparral that cost four times what this boat cost and had been in the water the entire summer for years. I told him this was different and we had to get it a proper house. Four weeks and many thousands of dollars later, we packed a picnic lunch and cruised in our `toon to a large public ramp in South Carolina to watch the building of our covered dock. It was so interesting to watch them assemble the dock on the water raising the supports for the roof and even roofing the dock while moving. Now we had a proper home for our new/old boat. The `toon fit perfectly in the new dock.
That was over 10 years ago and it's hard to believe how fast the time goes. It's impossible to tell all the stories of midnight cruises, sunset parties, long rides to the dam, Fourth of July firework excursions, and impromptu cove parties that were enjoyed on the Davidson family pontoon. All we had to do is ring our big brass bell on the dock and everyone knew we were headed out for a cruise. Everyone loved being onboard.
One thing we had not counted on was how pontoons serve as an extension of any dock. Pontoons serve as comfortable dock seating, much like a floating living room. Our family also found the pontoon to be the ideal place for thousands of afternoon naps, late night stargazing, reading, dining and the (occasional) imbibing of adult beverages. Our `toon instantly changed our dock into a large outdoor living space.
But something changed over the years. We noticed weeks went by and the ski boat was never even uncovered. Each year it was used less and less, and it was costing us more and more for maintenance. After an expensive $1,000 repair bill, we decided it was time to simplify. The only reason to keep the boat was speed and meanwhile we were keeping a large gas-guzzling truck only to pull the ski boat in and out of the water. We decided to sell the vehicle and both boats and buy a new three-logged pontoon with a powerful four-stroke engine. Basically a three-for-one swap.
Selling Our `Toon
We found a beautiful new Parti Kraft from the same manufacturer who built our old Aqua Patio and took delivery early last spring. The ski boat was traded in on the new `toon, and we sold the old truck pretty easily. That's two down. Now the hard part; I had to sell the ole' Davidson family `toon. We spent the entire weekend pulling the annual maintenance and cleaning routine and she looked beautiful. Now it was our turn to place an ad in hopes of parting with our mauve beauty. Several families came to test drive the boat, but each wanted power to pull kids on tubes. Although we wanted to sell the boat, we had to explain that our boat would not pull a skier or tuber. It was just for cruising. Then, a sweet older couple showed up, (in a perfectly detailed truck) and took her out for a test drive. While I was showing them all the features, I started crying. I couldn't believe it, they looked at me like I was crazy and I had to explain that 10 years of memories were flooding my heart, and I really cared about this old pontoon.
Who would have thought it would be so hard to say goodbye to a 20-year-old boat? Really. I've said goodbye to college-bound children, old friends, bad hairdos, parents and beloved pets. I never thought this would be so hard. The couple must have sensed it was very special, because they fell in love with our old pontoon on the spot and said it was perfect.
Now our beloved `toon was headed to a new home, with a new family for some new memories. When the day came for them to take delivery, a check and keys were exchanged once again. We walked down the hill and they boarded and started her up. As they pulled out of the slip the new owner turned to me and said, "We'll take good care of her, I promise." And that was that.
It's been several months now and we have come to love our new Parti Kraft pontoon. I'm sure the years and memories will build and create the same bond we had with our first pontoon, but you know what they say, there's nothing like your first love. Don't wait, create your own memories on the water and get a pontoon. Who knows? It could turn out to be your first love.