Boating 2005


Wow! It seems that it was not all that long ago when I was starting last year's boating treatise. Yet here it is 2005 already. 2005? Man, is the time flying by. I can remember, not so seemingly long ago when I was a kid, thinking that we'd be colonizing the solar system by 2005, it seemed that far away.  But now it's here, and while we haven't advanced that much farther in the space program,  I am quite a bit older.  Actually, I'm probably starting on this story a little early this year (It's not even quite April yet, and it actually snowed last night), and it's still at least a month or more away from our actual boating season. But a few factors have developed in the off-season which might affect how this year's boating activities unfold and, truth be told, I'm just anxious to be talking about boats again.

During the Boating 2004 season, I was elated to once again have the opportunity to take a ride on a towable water tube for the first time in over 9 years.  During that otherwise fun outing, a few facts became known. The most important one was that my current Checkmate was not the best boat for the the task of skiing and tubing. Maneuverability issues, mostly relating to the characteristics of the deep and wave vanquishing 24 degree deadrise, as well as keeping it planing at slower speeds and the large wake issues pretty much make it a less than comfortable task for the driver and, with the possible exception of wakeboarding, not too much fun for the rider either.  For the last several years, this wasn't much of a problem, as we had been doing more cruising and less (make that no) water sports.  But now that my daughter is getting older and enjoys the water, we felt that a change was in order.  Since we also changed from a drivable Class "C" motor home to a new pull behind trailer for our camping/boating trips, our remaining vehicle suitable for towing the boat would have to be upgraded to handle the over 5600 Lbs of towed weight (This ain't no job for a "Weenie Wagon" style mini-van or small SUV).  With the cost of fuel and other practical considerations, I felt that a change to a smaller and lighter boat would better solve all of these situations. With these revelations in mind, my wife and I agreed to sell the current boat and find one which more fits our current and foreseeable future boating needs. This will not be an easy task, and will likely result in some compromises being made as to our choice of waterways (big water places like the Chesapeake Bay would most likely be out) that we visit, as well as my "giving up" on having a boat which can exceed 60 MPH.  Last fall I perused several magazines and sales brochures looking for the "right" boat to take its place among my "fleet". The best boat that I found at the time, was a Stingray 220 SX. It was about a 1000 Lbs lighter, two feet shorter, and equipped with a much shallower deadrise, which should translate better to ski/tube performance.  Best of all, I could still hit 60 MPH with a more economical small block engine.  But I had some experience with a Stingray boat in the past, and I was a bit put off by them.  But I could not find any complaints about their hull quality as of late however, so I'm still on the fence. The wife didn't want me settling for a specific boat right away, so we decided to attend the annual boat show, which occurred in February.  While we were there, we saw a couple of other possibilities. The boat which we both liked the most (and my daughter liked as well) was a Chaparral ssi215. While not nearly the macho sportboat that the Stingray is (Even with the largest available small block engine, this boat probably won't do much more than about 53 MPH), it has better family oriented amenities, and seemed more comfortable. But all this is a moot point until the old boat sells first. I can only wait and see.  One thing which may affect my ability to sell the boat is the sudden crazy rise in oil prices.  For no real legitimate reason, the price of a barrel of oil (and consequently the price of gasoline) rose up over $10 a barrel in the last month or so. The price of regular gas finally broke the $2 a gallon hurdle a week ago for the first time ever here. I'm hoping for a retreat of the price soon, but it seems that the oil companies always manage to bring some sort of price rise just before the summer season, so as to give them an excuse to keep the price high all summer.

Things are not real clear on Art's home front either. He told me that he wants to sell his Wellcraft, but he also wants to get the Celebrity up and running this year. There are still water pump and carburetor issues, which should be simple (or not). But the seemingly daunting list of home projects (Including repairing an in-ground pool that hasn't been used in over 15 years) will compete for his time, so it's anyone's guess whether or not he gets anywhere with the boat. He may end up turning into a pool geek, and his boating may be reduced to the plastic floating pool toy variety.

I un-winterized my boat on a nice sunny 75 degree day on the 9th of May.  I took a day off from work to get it ready for the season, and do a little maintenance to the trailer, which had been showing a little rust and rot of the carpeted plywood steps. The engine, as in previous years, roared to life with little coaxing, and I'm now itching to take it out.  Coincidentally, on the same day, I also received two calls from people interested in looking at the boat.  Hopefully, now that the weather's finally getting nice, it'll sell soon and I can move ahead with my plans for a new boat.  Gasoline prices are still running ridiculously high, although they've backed off a bit from recent highs of $2.19/gal.  In my area, the price is now running around $1.97/gal.

The weather finally decided to get serious about becoming summer in early June, but not soon afterward, it got very humid. But the whole month went by with hardly a drop of rain, other than sporadic isolated showers.  But once again, chores, other plans, and nagging illnesses pretty much kept the boat in the garage for the month of June. The 4th of July weekend soon loomed in front of us, and once again, in a weird a sense of Deja-Vu, it looked as if my first trip to the water would occur on almost the exact same day as last year.  On the 3rd of July, We got the boat ready, and decided to travel down to the Schuylkill river where I hadn't been in over a year. I was hoping to catch up with some of my old "river rat" friends, and spend a nice day on the water. I was also curious to see how our 2000 Ford Explorer would tow the boat, since my truck was now needed to pull the camper, and our combined camping and boating trips would need to utilize both vehicles to tow both trailers.  The Explorer pulled the boat well enough, (Having a V8 and 3.73:1 gears helps) but I think I need to stiffen up the rear suspension somewhat to lessen the rear end sag and sway, when the 300 - 400 Lb of tongue weight is applied.  But alas, the day did not work out as I had planned.  We made it all the way down to the river without incident, but because of the amount of work involved in getting ready, and the time it took to get there (It's no longer a 10 minute trip), by the time we arrived, the parking lot was pretty much full. Then to make matters worse, during a momentary lapse in attention, I brushed a curb with the trailer and dented one of the wheels.  Concerned that I might now have a slow air leak in that tire, and not wanting to park where there was a good chance that my vehicle would either be parked-in or vandalized, I decided to just to bag it and head home. I spent the rest of the afternoon, pounding out the dent in the wheel, and smoothing and polishing out the scrapes and scratches. The whole experience has pretty much turned me off to any future visits back to this area.  Dealing with the potential weekend crowds at Blue Marsh Lake would probably be more preferable at this point. 

I'm planning a trip to Lake Wallenpaupack in the middle of July. Hopefully I'll get some serious water time then. This will be the first time that my wife has pulled a trailer, and there's a risk that the remnants of a hurricane might hit at the time I'm scheduled to be there.  Hopefully Murphy stays away and allows me to have a decent trip.

Well, as it turned out, a combination of sickness and iffy weather forced us to postpone our trip until the middle of August. I can only hope that THIS time our plans don't get wrecked. The weather has been a bit strange as of late. The remnants of Hurricane Dennis had fed the area with a ton of moisture which led to extreme humidity and daily afternoon thundershowers. Then we had a few days of decent weather, but that was short-lived and we then found ourselves  back into the sauna again.  But it was not all bad news. I actually did manage to get the boat into a body of water.  But it's official, this is now the latest that I've ever gotten the boat out for the season since I've owned a boat. The old record was the 2nd of July (Set last year), but this year that date has extended to the 22nd of July. I'm not too concerned as I am actively trying to sell the boat now, so I want to keep it clean and not risk any potential mishaps occurring while we're out.  But in any case, we made the trip up to Blue Marsh Lake and spent a nice afternoon swimming and cruising around. The water was warm and very inviting, but I just didn't feel like blowing up the tube to go tubing.  Maybe when I finally get the new boat.........

Art has started working on his Celebrity again. He's in the process of trying to replace the water pump in the outdrive. But with the hot and humid weather, it's not a job that either he or I would want to do. Hopefully when things cool down, I can hopefully give him a hand and get this thing up and running. 

It would seem that Art is closer to splashing his boat than first thought. I spent an afternoon checking out his situation, and found that his water pump is fine. Art repaired his trim pump, and rebuilt the carb again, and the engine now idles smoothly. The only remaining major issues are centering the aftermarket alternator drive pulley, wiring up the new alternator, and replacing the interior seating and trim. But all this is relative. Maybe, with a little luck, the boat might actually see water this year. My wife says no way, but Art insists that he'll be ready by October (just in time to winterize). But if the past is any indicator, my wife will probably win that bet.

Gas prices have continued to rise insanely. It's now over $2.50/gallon in my area, and there's no end in sight. As long as the demand holds, there's no incentive for the oil companies to lower prices. It figures that I have to deal with this while I'm trying to sell my boat.  Boats aren't exactly synonymous with fuel economy. Especially a performance boat.  I'm sure the rising cost of fuel has had a negative effect on my sale prospects, although I've had a few lookers, including one guy who's been over twice.  He seems to really like the boat, but I get the feeling that he doesn't quite want to pay what I'm asking.  But I'm patient.  If it doesn't sell this year, there's always next.

Finally, the middle of August had arrived. I had been holding my breath as yet another hurricane stood ready to come ashore just in time to dump tons of rain on my planned camping trip. But my spirits were soon lifted as the hurricane turned north and then northeast and never hit land. The weather now looked to be almost picture perfect. That's one check.  Nobody's sick this time. That's two checks. The tow vehicles seemed to be ready. Wow!, it looks like I might actually make it up to the lake this time.  Sure enough, the camping/boating trip turned out well, although my wife was more than a bit nervous towing for the first time, as was I, dealing with an unruly travel trailer that wanted to sway above 55 MPH.  But despite all that, we both made it there and back no worse for the wear.  We enjoyed two beautiful days out on Lake Wallenpaupack.  Once the boat was finally launched at Ledgedale, shortly after setting up camp, we started out with a leisurely cruise (32 MPH) around the perimeter of the lake before heading back to make the first of what would become 3 wonderful camp dinners.  It was a Wednesday, but you'd think it was a weekend with the amount of chop and boat wakes that we encountered. Luckily, my current boat slices through boat wakes like a knife through butter so it wasn't all that bad. I was saddened to see that they demolished what used to be the White Beauty View resort.  White Beauty had been a landmark in the lake area for many years, and its destruction marks yet another sign of the times, and of the simple past being moved to make way for the complex future. I'm sure they'll replace it with something much more "yuppified" and New York-ish, ($$$$$$) much to my dismay.....  We continued on past Kipp Island, the marinas, Spinnler's Point, the Tafton Dike, and finally up to Mangan cove and the dam.  We then cruised through Walt's Cove, and then back down the northern shore past Epply Island, Cove Haven, and the return trip back to Ledgedale. We then set up our rented slip with a sufficient amount of lines and fenders, so we could enjoy the turn-key convenience of a slip the next day when we went out, while at the same time protecting the boat's finish from the ravishes of an aged and rough floating dock, driven into convulsions by the occasional idiot who doesn't know what "No Wake" means.  Our second day was much the same, with a cruise of the lake, combined with some lunch and a bit of swimming, along with the company of some very domesticated (and somewhat moochy) ducks who had swam up looking for some bread or other handouts and didn't seem to mind our presence in the water with them.  I had thoughts on taking a night ride, but we had other things to do so that idea never really materialized.  The weather then took a turn for the worse on Friday (they can never get a forecast 100% right), with light showers early on, so we abandoned plans to take the boat out again, and instead pulled the boat out of the water, bringing an end to the boating part of our camping trip.  All in all, it felt good to be back at the lake again, but I was somewhat surprised at the number of boats on the water and people in the campground on weekdays. It was almost as busy as a weekend.  I guess August is a big vacation month, and it was just my luck to hit it at a busy time.  At least I hope that's the case, and not that it's just becoming more populated and overdeveloped.  I'm now planning my October "fall foliage" trip, and things will be much quieter then.  It's anyone's guess whether it will be unseasonably warm still, whether we will be experiencing an early winter blast or, as in at least one other year, a combination of both when Saturday was close to 70 degrees, while Sunday struggled to reach 50.

Soon August was in the bag, but it didn't go quietly. Hurricane Katrina, which started out as a pesky little tropical storm turned minimal Hurricane, slammed into Florida, causing minimal damage. But then it grew to category 5 strength when it re-emerged in the Gulf of Mexico. The storm ravaged the oil rigs in the gulf before slamming into the gulf coast right at the Mississippi/Louisiana border. The damage was extensive and New Orleans lost a couple of levees which flooded the city, which will likely take many months or even a couple of years to clean up and completely restore. But the effects of the storm were felt much farther away than just where the storm hit.  Since the Mississippi delta region is a major hub for oil tankers and home to numerous oil refineries, the effects of the storm shut down most of these operations and, as a result, the price of gasoline skyrocketed literally overnight.  Where I was lamenting just a month or two prior about gas prices crossing the $2/gallon mark, I was suddenly seeing gas shoot well over $3/gallon. Holy Crap! Refusing to deal with these price gouging miscreants in the oil industry, I opted to start siphoning gas from my boat, which still had a good 40 or so gallons left in it.  I figured that once oil production started up again, the price would fall back down.  But these high prices in combination with the end of the summer season looming in front of me, has pretty much dashed any remaining hope that I had of selling the boat this year.  I can only hope that next year will fair better. I haven't decided if I will take the boat back out any more this year. It all depends on how much gas I have to take from it, and whether the price of gas comes back down. I might opt instead to take out my 12' aluminum boat and explore the shallows of the Pottstown area of the Schuylkill River.  Something a bit different, easier the manage, and uses far less gas. I only hope that these high gas prices do not become the norm, or my whole boating passtime will be seriously affected.

Art is still making progress on his boat, but it looks as if he may need to replace some hoses and the main drive shaft bellows in the outdrive. Since this is a rather difficult job, it'll likely derail any hope that the boat will see water this year, but I could be wrong.

Another interesting and a much different chapter in the Boating 2005 saga came rather spontaneously on the 18th of September. I had mentioned before about possibly taking out my 12' aluminum boat, for the first time in 6 years.  Well that's exactly what I did.  My daughter and I took the boat down to check out the local Schuylkill River accesses, to see what we could find. The first place we went to was in a park called "Towpath Park" in Chester county. The park gets its name from being in a part of the old Schuylkill Canal system, and a section of the towpath is still in evidence here. After removing the remnants of old wasp nests, we launched the boat into the river at the ramp, but it didn't take long for me to suspect that things were not going to be all that rosy for very long. My first clue came when I  realized that the river here was very shallow, running less than 2 feet deep at the launch ramp. The river was running low due to the lack of rain that we've had for the last month or so. I started my trusty Evinrude 8 HP outboard, and put the engine up on the "shallow drive" position, and started heading downstream. We hadn't gone far when the current started running fairly swiftly, which coincided with a further decline in depth.  Rather than risk nailing the prop on a stray rock, I quickly shut the engine down, and switched to paddle power. The water got even shallower, and we ran through some "rapids".  While we made it through without hitting bottom, I become somewhat concerned at this point as it became painfully obvious that I could not run the engine to push the boat back upstream due to the extremely shallow water and those nasty random rocks which pockmarked this stretch of the river. The current was also way too swift for me to paddle against.  So, before we went too far downstream, I aborted our trip, and I turned around.  I ended up jumping out of the boat and pulling it back up through the rapids, which was not much fun for me as the rocks hurt my tender, used to wearing shoes and socks, feet and the strong current made the boat seem heavier than it really was.  Eventually we made it back to the dock, and pulled out.  Heather and I then headed back toward South Pottstown, and launched in another section of the river just downstream from the Hanover St. bridge. This section was a bit deeper and I was thankfully able to run the engine, and we started upstream. Unfortunately, about a 1/4 mile past the bridge,  the water started getting thin and the current increased again. I started threading through the deeper pools trying to get past the rapids as I had been told, by a couple of local fishermen, that this section of the river could be navigated (with care) for several miles upstream.  But when I spied two guys standing barely shin deep in the middle of the river fly fishing, I figured that I was taking too great of a chance in risking prop damage, and I turned around.  When we hit the deep water again, I dropped the motor down and jumped the boat up on plane just to give my daughter a bit of a speed thrill (she's her daddy's girl), for the short section of greater than 2 foot of water depth. We continued on downstream past the dock, and I raised the motor again as the water thinned out once more and we flowed on with the current. I spied a large concrete structure which looked to have been part of the old canal system, possibly a lock section. I tried getting a closer look, but the water became too shallow to even paddle though, and I aborted the mission.  Noting that the time was getting late, I decided to call it a day and we headed back. I'll probably try this spot again when normal rainfall brings the river back up a foot or so deeper, as that would be all I should need to get past the swifter current areas.

Despite the less than optimal water depth, my daughter and I had a great time, Nothing makes for better bonding than sharing a fun day on the water.  There's a good chance that we'll go out again before the weather gets cold.  One big plus was that the total day's cruising used barely a gallon of gas.  Much less than what the big boat would have taken.  The next time we go, I'll go to a deeper pool which will allow us to run a bit faster while we explore the river banks. 

As predicted, the very next weekend found the two of us again taking the small boat out (I've done more boating in the last 2 weeks than I have for most of the summer). This time I decided to go further downstream to the Black Rock section of the river.  Here, the river is deep enough for "real" boats, and the navigable portion is about 3 miles in length, starting from the Black Rock dam upstream to the Cromby power plant.  We headed down to the launch ramp which is located just off of RT-113, just north of Phoenixville. When we got there, I was greeted by the sight of a few boats running about along with a MasterCraft Skiboat pulling  a skier. I was surprised at the amount of activity considering that summer was officially over.  But the weather was still warm, and so was the water, which extends the boating season quite nicely. As I put in the boat, and carefully helped Heather aboard, I was hopeful that there wouldn't be excessive boat traffic along with the wakes that go with it.  Being in a relatively small boat, I was not about to take any chances. After a little bit of trouble starting the engine (It usually starts on the 2nd or 3rd pull, but for some reason today it was having a fit), we finally set off downstream toward the dam. I was curious to see if I could "lock through" from the dam into the renovated section of the Oakes reach of the Schuylkill Canal system, since I had read that they had restored Lock 60 to full operation.  On the way down, Heather was having a blast.  She liked running fast on plane, and I did a few zig-zags and surfed (Or, as we call it, "skurfed") a couple of boat wakes which made for an even more thrilling ride.  As we approached the dam, I could not see anything which resembled a lock entrance, and rather than risk a dangerously close encounter with the dam, I turned back. It turns out that, for whatever reason, the forebay to Lock 60 no longer has a discernable entrance from the river by which a boat can pass through. It appeared to be a solid wall of concrete, which makes little sense.  I don't know if that was done as part of a repair to the dam, long after the canal had been abandoned, or whether it was due to some other reason. 

We then headed upstream to see how far we could go. We passed the launch ramp, and then ran under the railroad bridge at the entrance to Black Rock Tunnel, past the Phoenixville Water Works, and on past the Cromby power plant.  Once we cleared the power plant, the water depth began to shrink rapidly, so I switched to shallow water drive and slowly continued upstream. The water depth held at about a foot for about a 1/2 mile farther, and then things started getting dicey, so we turned around again and headed back. Like in Pottstown, I'm sure I'd be able to go further upstream, if the river level was not so low due to the lack of rain. We putzed around for a little while longer and finally pulled out.  We actually had to wait in line behind 2 other boats.  But all in all, it was yet another great day on the water.  Next year, I'll be sure to get my fishing license, and that will be another dimension of boating fun that I can enjoy with my daughter.

The Boating 2005 saga officially ended on the 29th of October, when I winterized the boat and prepared it for its 6 month winter slumber. I must say that I'm a bit disappointed that the boat didn't sell, but I'm hopeful that next year will bring a change in my luck.

Art did not get his boat into the water for yet another year (My wife won that bet after all), although he did make some progress toward that goal. It looks like next year all he should need to do is replace the seats the framework, and maybe some soft decking boards, and we should be able to at least test it. He might have to replace the drive bellows, and the water pickup tube, but that can be done later.

See you in 2006!