Tales of the Normal: Sea Tow and the Value of Membership

The First Tale:

Married with Children

It’s looking like a fun day, starting with breakfast. Poached eggs, which creeped out the kids, over some stone-ground cheesy grits, a side of Neese’s country sausage and slices of a truly beautiful tomato. The kids aren’t into anything “runny,” of course, like their grandfather, who invented the word “squivity” to describe such things. One doesn’t eat anything “squivity.” Who are these people, anyway? But the love of my life was impressed with the effort and I got that little smile of hers, which hints of some future reward, as she packed a few things for the trip. Or it might have been my imagination.


So it’s down to the dock just below the house, where the boat lives on that new floaty lift we just bought. It’s pretty nice, since you can simply drive your boat over the sunken floats, switch on the pump and, presto change-o, the boat’s up and out of the water. Part of the return on that investment is the savings on a better-preserved wax job and some bottom cleaning.


We’re on a bit of a hill, so the kids always race to the dock, running down the incline, trying not to fall all over themselves while I hope no one breaks a leg. Children! Outings like this are the reason we bought the boat, and now the lift. “The family that boats together” and all.


It’ll be a good ride out of our cove, down the lake and across the main channel. Saturdays and nice weather mean boat traffic will be thick, but we arrive at our destination unscathed and excited for a day with friends.


The friends and the day didn’t disappoint. All the kids played well together with minimal intervention. There was swimming, those requisite cannonball dives off the dock, and general chaos held to a dull roar so as not to disturb that nice older couple next door … too much.


And there was some boating and attempts at wake surfing, resulting in some fun videos which I plan to post on-line later and, right, save for some future time when they can be used to torment these same children. “Let's look at old family videos” is always met with teenage eye-rolling. Particularly when that special date stops by. I can’t wait.


But now it’s time to head for home. Back out into the main channel as it begins to get dark. Once that night-fall process starts, it seems a switch gets thrown and suddenly it’s dark as pitch. That’s when it happened. The engine just stopped. There was a funny noise first, of course, and a little shudder. Then nothing. In the main channel. In the dark. At least the lights are working, so we must have some battery power left. I wonder how much?


Immediately, I spring into action, opening the engine compartment to find … that I have no clue. Bob, the neighbor down the street, would know what to do. He’s one of “those guys” who knows something about everything and can fix almost anything. If Bob were here, he’d have us back up and running across the lake in no time, using only a paper clip. But he’s not here. And I’m not Bob … or one of “those guys.” It seems the night is suddenly darker. Was that thunder?


It’s now that I remember buying that Sea Tow membership at the boat show. I love boat shows. But wait, do I have cell service? Do I have that little membership card? Will we live to see the dawn? It was. It was thunder. Damn.


Fortunately, the cell phone hadn’t fallen in the water during the day’s shenanigans. That’s happened more than once. And it actually has some battery and ... praise Jesus! ... cell service! I’m on a roll now. Where’s the card with the number?


It wasn’t long before that bright yellow boat showed up and gave us a tow back to the dock. What a relief. The kids fell asleep in the warm summer air, so the tow home was like an Uber ride. Someone else did the driving. Best of all, tows like that are included with membership. So, like the investment in that floaty lift, there are paybacks. Like the piece of mind that comes with the knowledge that someone has your back. Even on a dark night. In the middle of the main channel. With sleepy kids who just want to go home.

The Second Tale:

Millennials Go Boating

After graduation, I was lucky enough to snag an engineering job that landed me away from home. Finally! Being off at school felt “independent,” but having an actual pay check and my own place … well, now I’m really feeling “independent.” Of course, that brings heavy responsibilities, too. Like doing my own laundry. Life is tough.


Luckily, though, my new employer’s plant location is very close by the lake so, naturally, I was able to rent a place not on the water, but with a water view. For me, it couldn’t get much better.


Every day, though, driving in, I pass a boat dealership. My family had a boat – oddly, the same brand I pass every day – which dad kept in the driveway on a trailer. Nearly every warm day, he’d load us all into the family SUV and tow the boat to the lake. My siblings and I would spend the day blissfully forgetting homework assignments or room-straightening chores. And the odious trombone practice.


So now I’m out making my own way. And that actual pay check? Well, it’s larger than I imagined it would be. How is it these guys pay me this much to do something I actually enjoy doing? It’s amazing. But that little bit of excess cash, which appears monthly via direct deposit, was beginning to talk to me. It wasn’t too long before I pulled into that boat dealership for a look around.


And it wasn’t long after that that I had that little bow rider in a slip at the community dock. I can’t wait for warmer weather! Next step? Deciding on the passenger list. I’d met this woman at the grocery store, of all places. See? That’s another result of my new-found independence. I now have to do my own grocery shopping. But that just might have paid off because she, the woman I met, might be interested in me as well. I can dream, can’t I?


Like me, she’s recently moved to the area for a new job and, like me, was looking for things to do on weekends and days off. We have been out a few times, the weather has turned warmer, and now it was time to ask her out for a day on the lake. Perfect!


She came over early on a Saturday. We’d mapped out a route to do some site-seeing, peering into the yards of those lakeside homes, wondering what those people were doing. We watched as the fishermen buzzed around, wasting no time getting to the next hot spot. We dodged surf boats and I was able to navigate the wake like a pro. Thanks for those lessons, dad.


We beached the boat on a little island and did some exploring before devouring a picnic lunch I’d picked up at the local grocery. If it had been an outing with just my dad & me, that lunch would have consisted of a can of Vienna sausages and some of what he called “rat cheese.” Sharp cheddar. And probably a Dr. Pepper. Dad’s a class act. Me? I learned a thing or two from mom as well, managing to at purchase a few things that made me appear remotely civilized. Along with some sparking water. A cold beer would have tasted better, but I’m trying to be responsible here.


The day was nothing short of perfect and we’re headed back to the community dock when, wait for it … the boat just stopped running. Sputter, then out. Trying to swallow the panic I suddenly felt was the most difficult thing I think I’ve ever done. What do I do now? Call dad? No. I can handle this.


I’m checking everything I can think of, except thinking just now isn’t my strong suit. I have no strong suit. My date for the day is trying to stay out of my way, calmly relaxed at the helm, watching me doing whatever it is I’m doing. It’s then she spots the fuel gauge. You know, that handy dial that alerts you to the fuel level in your tank. Empty. The big E. Outta gas.

By Mike Aldridge

All we could do was laugh. I’d tried to plan for everything. The route. What to eat. I even learned a little lake lore to discuss during our day on the water. But I hadn’t given much thought at all to fuel or the rate of consumption. And I’m a freakin’ engineer. Ah, well.


Fortunately, that boat salesman had recommended a Sea Tow membership with the new boat purchase. I’d completely forgotten about that … until now. I’d stashed the membership card in the boat and had it out in a flash. I’d done an engineer’s job planning our route, so I knew pretty much where we were, and a call to Sea Tow dispatch had the cavalry on the way to us with a fuel drop. The value of membership. I need to remember to stop by the dealership to tell them how much I appreciate the recommendation.


And my date? Being the perfect diplomat, she congratulated me on the wisdom of my membership without one word about my neglect of some basic seamanship.

The Third Tale:

Gurl Power

The water is up again today. It has been up, it seems, forever. That’s great and I like it much better than low water, but I’ve had experience with that as well. The underwater topography suddenly becomes very real. When we’ve got six or eight feet then it’s smooth sailing. When the level drops below that you should begin to keep an eye out for surprises.


But the water’s up, mostly because of the rain. It has rained. And rained some more. The problem, then, is the detritus that has washed into the lake … everything from the neglected soccer balls to large limbs which can readily damage fiberglass or ruin a prop. There’s always something, water up or water down.


Today, though we’re headed out on an excursion to include a stop for fuel, then up and across the lake to a little island that’s a popular destination. On the side of the island opposite the main channel of the river which supplies this lake, is a sandy beach. Usually there are few obstructions and I’m planning on beaching my boat bow in, a soft grounding, then running an anchor line onto the hard, as they say.


My guy friends like to believe “girls don’t know anything about boating.” Au contraire, mon frère. My family wasn’t into boating, but I’ve always been drawn to the water and took it upon myself to learn the ropes. Unlike many boaters, um, many guys, I have joined the local Power Squadron and taken classes they offer as well as others provided by an assortment of boating-related organizations. And I read. And when I did finally buy my boat, I took advantage of the dealer’s offer for some tutoring, which was invaluable.


So, my girlfriends and I are off today to that little island and its sandy beach. Complete with picnic, sunscreen, hats, et al. The plan, like I said, is to beach the boat, anchor in and spend the day exploring the island, swimming, and generally having fun.


Beaching the boat turned out to be easy enough. I trimmed the outboard as far as it would go and we eased in. There was enough of a drop-off from the beach that the stern was still floating. With the anchor line set, high jinx ensued. It turned out to be a spectacularly fun day.


Unfortunately, we spent most of the day oblivious to the boat. After all, the soft grounding was textbook, right? I knew I could have backed the boat onto the sand, the motor complete trimmed, an anchor line out from the bow, but wind and wake can create problems in that situation.

What I hadn’t counted on was the water being up. Sure, I am aware of the navigational hazards, but we weren’t navigating. We were having fun. Other people, however, were. Navigating, that is. Or doing what boaters do, anyway. It could have been a series of bass boats careening across the lake. It could have been surf boats. Or it could have been wind and wave action. Whatever it was, the boat had shifted so it was nearly parallel to the beach, then pushed onto the sand. Not entirely, thankfully, but enough so that I couldn’t simply haul in the anchor and push it off.


After inspecting as much of the hull as I could see, I determined, aside from some scuffing, there was no real damage. I began to recall the lessons: How to deal with a soft grounding. The wind has shifted away from us, and boat traffic had slowed, so we might be able to work the boat out ourselves. There were 3 of us, so I conscripted my friends and we began to rock the boat side-to-side to shift it off the sand, at least enough that the stern drew more water and I might be able to use the engine to back us out.


I knew enough to be careful. Engines are expensive things and running it this shallow could cause it to draw sand and muck into the cooling system, leading to big, expensive trouble. It took some time, but my friends and I were determined. In time, we were able to rock ourselves off the sand and into water deep enough to ease back. That we got soaked in the process didn’t really matter. We’d been in and out of the water most of the day. But none of us expected this level of exertion.


My friends were impressed with how composed I was during these machinations, especially when we ultimately prevailed. My secret? I have a Sea Tow membership. I knew if we found ourselves in real trouble, help was a phone or radio call away. We ended a spectacular day with a victory and toasted our success back on the dock!

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