REFLECTION: RALPH BARTHOLDT — Boat facts for the faint of heart

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There are some things you need to know about a boat and a lot of them happen in the back end.

This at first blush may seem an unpleasant revelation, but itís not that bad even though you have to wash your hands when youíre done.

The plug goes in the back. It prevents water from flooding the runabout.

Put it in before you go out.

Also, the back is where oily water sloshes around the transom from an outboard motor that drips, leaks and sputters. This filmy, tacky water must be sopped up with absorbent towels, or something from the Martha Stewart collection, if thatís all you got. Sponges are good. You can store them in a coffee can.

Boat sponges, however, stay in the boat. Their luxurious and glamorous beginnings in the bed and bath aisle of your local Perfume Ní More are lost at the first soaking of Yamalube.

It should be noted that the water coming over the stern as you back into a chop that pounds the dock like a steady drumbeat and fills the hull is the reason for bilge pumps. The bilge lies hiccupping as it pumps the bilgewater back into the lake.

If thereís too much water coming over too fast, your boat will sink.

If you have a boat for a while ó yours, or your neighborís or a lucky, fish-chaser loaned by a friend ó the ownership inherent in having this vessel under your feet as you power across miles of open water with a grin pasted to your face like cheddar burned to the bottom of a frying pan requires you be a little afraid.

Fear is essential to all good boatmanship.

The floating fob attached to the key, reminds you of this.

Sometimes the fob is attached to your wrist or ankle in case you fall out of the boat after hitting a rock, or the floating logs we call dead heads, or if you tip unbalanced overboard after striking a wave.

The fall pulls the key from the ignition, killing the engine.

Itís so the boat doesnít aimlessly circle around you with a stainless steel prop chattering like shark teeth looking for some flesh to chew.

Or, itís just to make sure the vessel, unmanned, stops so you can swim to catch it.

All of that should induce fear, and it does.

The floating fob, usually a yellow PVC soft foam, also prevents the boat keys from sinking.

In some places sinking keys are fish food.

That sounds unusual, but I knew a man who claimed to have caught a lake trout on a plastic Batman figure tied to a hook that he dropped over the side of his boat with a steel weight to make it sink.

Those macks will eat anything, he said.

I donít know about you, but the thought of losing the key of a borrowed boat over the gunwale in 50 feet of water makes my knees knock, even without the presence of fish.

Theyíre knocking now.

Thatís how fearful I am of losing boat keys.

Once as a kid, my dad dropped the keys to our boat into Smart Bay, which immediately became a real dumb place to do that. We floated for hours that evening waiting for passing boaters to not just wave back, but to motor over and ask if we needed a tow to the docks.

Moorage needs to be considered too.

Fishing is best when the windís from the west, Izaak Walton wrote. The jury is out on that one, but if your dock points toward the sunset into the prevailing winds, tying up can be problematic.

Fish bite the least when the windís from the east, is another saying attributed to the father of fishing.

Thatís probably because, where Iím from, an easterly wind sends waves over the top of the dock and anyone who has tried to move by hand a boat that is being tossed in a semi-gale knows it ainít happening without much sacrifice.

Thereís no time to fish when wrestling with a fiberglass Boston Whaler and its 75 horsepower motor that the wind wants to paste to the shore.

Those are just a few things about boats to keep in mind when someone calls them pleasurecraft.

I know a person whose eyes automatically roll at the phrase.

She owns a canoe.

And sheís never lost a trailer hitch, or had to backtrack 75 miles to return one.

• ē ē

Ralph Bartholdt can be reached at

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