News From The Woods - July 18, 2011


By Bob Ketchum

Originally Published July 18, 2011

"Have A Good Summer"

UGH! What a weekend..........and before that....and before that.........

My brother in law showed up last weekend towing a "new" boat he had purchased. Although it was new to him, the craft has a lot of years on it. Back in the 60's a "Four Winns" pleasure craft was a top notch inboard/outboard cruiser, with a 4 cylinder engine and Mercruiser outdrive. The boat had seen better days, but the price was right, and Robert - who has ALWAYS wanted a "boat on the lake" - could not resist the temptation. He backed it into our carport and we spent two days cleaning it up and making repairs to the boat which had languished in somebody's yard for over a year in disuse. It was a mess, but with a lot of elbow grease we had cleaned it up. We hooked a hose up to the motor on the carport and actually got it to kick over. Next stop: the lake........

On Saturday we towed it down to our access road and backed it into the lake. Bro-In-Law Robert, always with a keen eye, realized after four or five minutes that there seemed to be a lot of water in the bottom, yelled "Pull it out! Pull it out!". Within ten seconds of getting it back out I knew what the trouble was, spotting a steady stream of blackish water pouring out of the drain plug in the transom. DRAIN PLUG! DOH! A search of the boats papers and contents revealed nothing. So Robert hopped into Jane's Trail Blazer and headed to the nearest Marine Outfitter. I took the rest of the waiting family out for a dip in our pontoon boat, reminding everyone that earlier I had said that "You NEVER expect to just get right out in the water on the first launching of a new boat".....It's a time-worn rule.

Half an hour later we saw him returning down the gravel road. I gathered everyone back into the pontoon and headed back to the launching area. Thankfully we had not picked a public launching spot so we left the boat and trailer backed up to the water's edge and I kept one eye on the spot as we sat out in the lake 100 yards from shore.

After wrestling with the drain plug for five minutes the verdict was that the replacement plug would not fit into the "boat hole" (lots of jokes at that point). Sweating and cursing (under our breaths... kids present), someone (I won't say WHO) says "I don't know WHY people don't always stow their drain plugs in the boat's glove compartment"......... short moment of silence.......sidelong glances..........and then without much ceremony, one person decides to actually CHECK THE GLOVE BOX and ***VIOLA!*** . . . . produces the boats original drain plug......... (DOH! moment #2)

Meanwhile........ water, and now thick, aged oil...... continues to drain from the bottom of the boat. However, every once in a while the flow subsides and draining is erratic, so #2 son Luke gets the privilege of stooping down and laying in the transom, extending his arm down into the muck with a screwdriver to remove all the rotten leaves and years of thrown-off oil from the motor so the passage is cleared and the water continues to drain..... literally GALLONS of it - from the hull. Luke's arm is now indistinguishable from the half-eaten arm of a Zombie, covered with think black oil and plastered leaf material. He mentioned something about "snakes" but I assured him that NO snake in the world could even LIVE in that muck!

Finally, the flow slowed to a trickle, and Luke inserted the drain plug. We backed the trailer back down into the lake, our immediate area resembling the Valdez oil spill, and Robert tried the ignition………..


Nothing at all. Now, let me add here that earlier (up at the house) the motor cranked easily. The battery was still in good shape and we were confident that we could get it to turn over. However…. Back down at the lake……………nothing………

Sooooooooo……… I spoke up and said "We'll have to pull this sucker out, go back up the house, and put the battery on the charger". LOTS of groans at that statement, but it is what it is and no one could come up with an alternative so the boat was trailered BACK up the hill, but not without considerable resistance from fate. The gravel access road is steep and was torn up from all the holiday traffic, and Robert ALMOST didn't get it back up the hill. Six inches of rubber off the back tires of his pick up later, we were commenting on our good fortune in learning about the backed up water in the hold, because if we hadn't drained all this much out, the boat would surely have been too heavy for the return up the hill. I followed him up the hill and after repositioning the boat and fastening up the charger they piled into Jane's SUV and we returned to the pontoon boat, loaded up the entire family, and went out for a swim until dusk. Luke spent his entire time in the lake trying to wear off all the oil from his arm. Finally, we began to see his tats showing through the blacked arm.

Upon returning to the house, we had just settled in for the evening when Robert came inside the house. I could tell something was up by theg expression on his face. I asked if the battery was still charging….. He replied "Yeah, but you remember that battery box on the back of the engine compartment with the large dial that selects between the two batteries?"…….I replied "yeaah…. But you only have one…". He smiled and said "I know. Well, somehow, while we were working on the drain plug, the knob had been switched over to battery #2, which I don't have……. So that's probably why the motor wouldn't kick over". I was too tired to even respond, and muttered something like "Well, at least the battery will be good and hot for tomorrow morning".

The next morning I suggested everyone just stay in the cool house while Robert and I worked on his boat. We drove it down to the launch area. My mind raced. I tried to think of every mishap back in my past of living on the lake as he lowered the boat in to the lake. Still sitting on the trailer, he attempted to lower the outdrive, and yelled "It won't go down!!" I didn't even hesitate, got into the truck cab and pulled it back out again. We inspected the stern drive unit but I could not locate a lock on the lower unit. I hit the RAISE button and it moved up about three inches. Just then a plastic locking sleeve fell off the unit into his waiting hands. "What about THIS!" he said as he held it up…….. Back down into the lake.

We re-launched it, and AFTER resetting the battery selector, started the motor right up! The old motor sputtered into life, shook itself off, and demonstrated a cranky shift linkage. However, Robert persevered and with my coaching he got the hang of it. I stayed on shore, clutching my pontoon boat keys in case he got stranded out there, and talked him through the linkage and power trim. He cautiously gave it some throttle and it slowly lifted up out of the water under power. It was a beautiful sight, and I felt his relief and excitement back on the shore as he drove off, hair blowing back in the hot wind.

While he drove back and forth in front of my dock I rushed over and made preparations on the stall next to my pontoon boat to lower the boat lift. As the air escaped from the ballast, the apparatus sunk down until tension on the holding chains stopped its descent. I waved at Robert on his next pass and he cautiously approached the stall. The motor's idle was set high and so I yelled out to him to put it in neutral from 20 feet away. After a brief fight with the linkage he found neutral just in time for the boat to glide into the stall. He shut it down immediately and we sat in silence of a brief moment until I exclaimed…. "Bro….. You've got BOAT!"

We drove back up the hill, took off his trailer and parked it off to the side of my house, gathered up his lady, and we wet back down to the dock. After fixing up tie-offs and installing clips on the rope ends, he took her out for their inaugural ride. I cautioned him to stay pretty close, and sat on my pontoon boat in the stall smoking a cigar and clutching my cell phone while he drove up and down in the Bayou below my house. After fifteen minutes I saw him approaching the dock. We tied it up and returned to the house. They left for Jonesboro a little bit later, but he left his keys with me, telling me to take it out and run it a bit during the week and "test it out".

Days passed but since Robert was at band camp in Russellville we never got much of a chance to go down to the dock. Finally, last Friday, I mentioned to Jane that I really should go check the dock as the Corps was draining the lake rapidly. I did not intend to drive Robert's boat but took his keys with me anyway. Jane said she'd like to have a cold beer and go look at his boat, so we drove down to the dock together. Upon arriving, I realized the lake had dropped dramatically. I raised the stand offs with the winches and played out some cable on both sides, while Jane pushed the ramp out from the shore.

Nothing……… the dock would not move.

A chill went up my spine. I slowly turned around and stared at Robert's boat, sitting idly in the stall, floating over the submerged boat lift, and it hit me……. The sunken lift had hung up on the bottom! DOH! (#3?). I told her to stop straining against the ramp as the dock wasn't going anywhere, in OR out. We unfastened his boat and manually moved it out of the stall. I unlocked the dock locker to get access to the generator (we do not have electricity to our dock) so I could crank it up and raise the lift…….. only………

I had left my "boat bag" up at the house, figuring I would not need it. Inside the bag was where I kept my 6' extension cord which connected the generator to the power outlet where the small pump was connected to the PVC pipe leading to the lift tanks. I jumped on the ATV (with Jane yelling behind me to "bring some more beers") and dashed back up the house, circumventing the excited dogs who knew what was going on and wanted to go to the lake, retrieved the bag, grabbed four more cold ones, and headed back down to the dock.

After hooking up the cable and pouring a very small amount of gas in the generator (which has a leak in the fuel tank hose) I began cranking. Did I mention that we hadn't used the lift in over a year and had always just left it "up"? Did I mention the generator hadn't been used in that long? Did I mention it was about 98 degrees? I cranked. Jane cranked. I cussed and cranked some more. At the point where my vision was beginning to blur, it sprang to life! I dashed over to the valves and opened them all up. In two minutes it was floating. I killed the generator and we pushed the dock out and locked it down. Then I once again lowered the lift as I knew his boat had to be returned to the stall.

We sat there for a few moments, swilling down beers #3 and 4. We were both soaked to the skin in sweat and wondering what the hell we'd gotten ourselves into. I looked at his boat and made an executive decision. Grabbing up beers # 4 & 5 (already warm), Jane, and his boat keys, I said "C'mon… we're going for some air….."

Five minutes later we were flying down the lake at 32 MPH, the hot wind acting like a giant blow dryer. But we were smiling and finishing off beers #4 and 5. I pulled it back to 2/3 throttle and we cruise out to the main channel of the lake. One eye was on the mirror, looking at the engine cover for any signs of smoke or trouble, while the other eye was scanning the gauges. Although his fuel gauge did not work, we knew he had filled the tank before the launching so I knew we had enough gas for a short jaunt. We were relaxing in the glory of the moment right out from Robinson Point when the engine started acting up. My heart sank as I immediately turned the boat back in the direction of our dock, some two miles away. We didn't even make it across the lake to the Henderson side when it bogged down and died. Jane and I looked at each other. Perhaps she had been in the beers before I had because she started laughing. I did not see the humor in the situation. My mind flashed back to 40 years of experiencing boat trouble on this lake. It rarely ends well.

I tried the ignition and it started up. I knew we weren't out of gas because the boat would still move in idle. I drove it for 5 minutes and then opened it up again. It roared to life, went about 500 yards, and choked down to a crawl…… I figured it was either the fuel filter, ancient spark plugs that got too hot, or some other fuel-related trouble. Either way, the sun was sinking (and we had no lights) along with my heart. I idled for a while and tried to rev it up again…… Same scenario, only with each new try the motor got crankier and started to run rough. I signed and settled in to a long idle back (if we were even that lucky to make it back). With each fisherman we passed I yelled apologies for staying too close to the shore due to motor trouble. Somehow…… JUST by dusk…..we made it all the way back to our dock, the motor coughing and spluttering as we drifted into the stall. We were V E R Y lucky to make it back, and I reminded myself that every time I took out someone else's boat I always seemed to get into trouble.

The very next morning we had to get up early to drive to Russellville and pick up Robert at band camp. We took Jane's mom and dad as they wanted to take a drive and see Robert's final concert. All in all it was a good day, although I DID hit a deer on the trip home. We were completely exhausted by the time we rolled into the homestead around 7PM.

At 8PM our power went out.

Cutting to the chase, I discovered that our main 200 amp breaker box servicing the entire house had a heat melt-down, resulting in my calling an electrician (on a Saturday night) who inspected the situation, and along with a very cordial North Arkansas Electric Co-Op Lineman, decided by midnight that the 3-hour job would be easier in the morning. It was a hot night, folks… I got no sleep at all but bunked Jane down on the couch downstairs where there was still a little cool left. At 8:30 Sunday morning, true to his word, the electrician returned with a helper and completely re-wired an entirely new electrical service to our house. He called the same friendly Co-op man who showed up and reset the meter. We had power by 11 AM yesterday, 16 hours (and $700) later.

But that's another story……….

Oh yeah, and did I mention the replacement engine for the one that died in my Sebring is ALSO dying after only 10,000 miles???................. [sigh]

Have a good summer…………..


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