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May 29, 2014

STAWAR: Memorial Day shakedown

Although astronomers say that the summer solstice marks the official start of summer, every true American knows that summer really began Monday and with Memorial Day weekend. We know this just as sure as we know that summer will end on Labor Day.

The traditional summer vacation has long been sandwiched in between these two holidays. Some people may think of Memorial Day as the first barbecue of the year, or perhaps an annual day at the beach. They don’t give much thought to what it originally signified.

Memorial Day started soon after the Civil War to commemorate all the soldiers who died during the conflict. It was called Decoration Day, because that was the day when friends and relatives put decorations on gravesites. Later, Memorial Day expanded to now honor all Americans who died while serving in the military.

As a child, I remember Memorial Day as a time for picnics and speeches. The city would place white crosses on the front lawn of the Memorial Center, inscribed with the names of all the local residents who died in wartime. There would be a brief ceremony, featuring the color guard from the local American Legion Post.

This Memorial Day, after two years of disappointment, frustration and expense, Diane and I joined the ranks of boaters once again. We rented a slip at a small lake and were excited about the prospect of having our pontoon boat operational.

When we got to the lake, I realized that I had totally forgotten how to back up the trailer on the boat ramp. It is not like riding a bike.

After several failed attempts, I finally got the trailer into the water. I was just glad there was no helpful, but emasculating, teenager there offering to back it up for me.

I climbed aboard the boat and was gratified that the new motor started immediately and purred like a kitten. When I tried to shove the control in reverse, the lever wouldn’t budge. At first I panicked, not realizing that the new cables and controls were stiff and that it took a lot of effort to force it into reverse gear.

I eventually wrestled the control into reverse and was about to give it the gun. Diane saw our truck start to move toward the water and asked whether I had remembered to take off the tie-down straps at the end of the trailer, which, of course, I hadn’t.

I considered jumping into the cold water and swimming to the back of the trailer to remove the restraining straps so I wouldn’t have to back up the trailer again, but Diane also stopped that plan. I had to pull the trailer completely out of the water, remove the straps, and start all over again.

The next time the boat came right off the trailer as advertised. We had decided to take it right over to our slip. When we finally figured out which slip was ours, we realized that a blue fishing boat was already parked in it.

The park ranger said all she could do it put a red warning sticker on the offending boat and if she saw the violators, give them a ranger tongue-lashing. She said that she could not shoot them, but the red sticker was very difficult to remove.

We were told that we could tie our boat up in a marshy shallow area, until our slip became available. I didn’t care much for the idea, but it worked out OK, although I did bump into the park’s pontoon boat on the way over (accidentally).

The ranger told us that the park’s board refused to put up any signs saying that the slips were rented and could not be used by others. Apparently, they used the mind-reading honor system.

The next morning, the blue boat was gone and we were finally able to leave swampland and dock at our slip.

To add insult to injury, while it was in storage a lot of mildew and mold grew on the boat’s white upholstery. We ended up spending most of the holiday weekend trying to get it clean.

I looked for suggestions on the Internet, but nothing worked all that well, except for scrubbing.

We also discovered that the straps that anchor the boat’s canvas top were missing. We bought some bungee cords, which worked fine, except for that one that came loose and hit me in the eye.

I suppose shakedown cruises are always a bit hellish. Hopefully, we’ve worked out a lot of the bugs, so that we’re set up for the rest of the summer.

As the Russian proverb says, “The first pancake, she never turns out.” 

— Terry L. Stawar, Ed.D., lives in Georgetown and is the CEO of LifeSpring the local community mental health center in Jeffersonville. He can be reached at tstawar@lifespr.com. Checkout his Welcome to Planet-Terry blog and podcast at www.planetterry.wordpress.com

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