Born Again Boater

Coming full circle

Published in the May 2018 Issue June 2020 Feature Patrick Armitage

I bought my first boat, a 12-foot Sears Gamefisher, when I was 12 years old with money I saved from my paper route and a few bucks my mom and dad kicked in to help. My dad supplied a '53 10hp Johnson. I bought a trailer that someone had made from the front axle of an old De Soto car and we used to hitch the trailer to a ball I mounted in a wagon. One kid would sit in the wagon and steer while two others pushed it half a block down the street to Lake St. Clair. We used that boat for several years, exploring and fishing the lake.

When I was 15 one of my friends let me ride his Yamaha 200 motorcycle and I was hooked. I rode motorcycles for the next 42 years. I had a succession of seven motorcycles in that time, starting with a 1971 Yamaha 350 and ending with a 2003 Honda GL1800 Goldwing. My time to use a boat was taken over by motorcycles. In that time I trained to become a Motorcycle Safety Foundation instructor and a Harley Davidson Riders Edge instructor. I trained more than 2,000 people to ride, or to ride better. I trained with police motorcycle instructors who taught me to ride with a previously undreamed-of level of skill. My wife Kim and I put on about 200,000 miles riding motorcycles into and through every state besides Alaska. In all those miles I never had a serious crash.

Life Altering

A few years ago I began to notice small issues with the dexterity in my left hand. At first I rationalized that it was nothing and that it would go away. But I knew I was trying to fool myself. In my experience, that really never works.

I had to see a doctor to get confirmation for what I thought I already knew. Sure enough, it was confirmed: I have Parkinson's disease. At first I could still ride without any problems. Eventually my balance issues made handling a 900-pound Honda Goldwing too much. I could no longer in good conscience put my wife on the back seat. Something bad was going to happen if I did not stop riding motorcycles.

Trading In

It was time to sell the 'Wing. At first it was hard to accept but given all I had done with motorcycles I became okay with the decision. We bought a 20-foot Starcraft Stardeck pontoon with a 40hp Mariner and I began to rediscover how much I like boating. We keep the boat in a small lagoon on Tan Lake about five minutes from our home in Oxford, Mich.

I began saving food items to feed the fish in the lagoon and discovered we had more than fish there. Three snapping turtles began to show up for the regular handouts. The middle-sized one has one eye and has been named One Eye Willie by the kids who fish the lagoon. Being very close to Canada there are many Canadian geese that nest here and stay all summer. Most pairs of geese have two to nine eggs and last year we had a goose on the lake with 15 goslings. I don't know if they were all hers or if she adopted some of them.

We also have two nesting pairs of trumpeter swans on the lake and each pair will usually produce two to five hatchlings. There is a nesting pair of sandhill cranes that produce one to two hatchlings. I regularly see great blue herons and snowy egrets. Ospreys and bald eagles are in the area, but so far none on Tan Lake. I am hopeful they will eventually arrive here.

Look To The Skies

A commercial airline pilot keeps a float plane on the lake, a Maule MX7-235. The plane has pontoons with internally retractable landing gear, allowing water or airstrip landings. The boater's convention is when he fires up the plane and all boat traffic moves aside to allow an area for takeoff. When he returns he flies over the lake and once again the boats move aside to create a landing area. Our area is also popular for hot air ballooning and we regularly see colorful balloons flying over and sometimes dipping their baskets into the water.

On the weekend closest to the Fourth of July, most of the homeowners on the lake buy fireworks and put on an impressive private fireworks display that is best seen from a boat. There is a shallow sandbar area that has the usual boats anchored or rafted together every weekend.

I have begun to learn the lake and where to fish. I can always catch lots of fish, if I am not very particular about their size. I recently found a very productive spot for bigger ones. In one morning my brother and I caught more than 70 fish and most of them were keeper size. It was a diverse mixture of species including sunfish, bluegill, rock bass, perch, two good size largemouth bass and a turtle.

Different, But Good

Keeping the boat close to home in the water allows for quick and easy access, so we can use it regularly. We often invite friends and family for a boat ride and floating picnic. Surprisingly the boat uses much less fuel than the motorcycle would have over the summer too.

When I first bought the boat I was following in my boat behind a friend of mine in his pontoon. I had taught him to ride motorcycles and rode many miles with him. Following him at 10 mph on a pontoon was much different than 80 mph on our motorcycles. Different, buy very enjoyable. I am a confirmed “Born Again Boater.”

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