Ahoy! It's Captain Dave At The Helm

It's well known to all women that men, behind the wheel of a car, are not the best at navigating our streets and highways. When it comes to swallowing our pride and asking others for directions, we become dismally worse as we try to arrive at our destination without assistance.

Our endeavors fail even more remarkably when we attempt to maneuver a watercraft on any body of water larger than a bathtub.

Shawnee State Park, right here in Pennsylvania, was the scene of one such example where a know-it-all man and his boat tactics resulted in total chaos.

My dad, my father-in-law, and I were on the lake fishing for bass one summer's day. We were in my father-in-law's flat-bottom boat and I was operating the electric motor located in the rear of the craft. I should also mention that both of my fishing buddies were well into their mid-to-late seventies at the time.

As the sky turned gray, we heard the unmistakable sound of thunder in the distance. I cranked up the electric outboard motor and navigated quickly to the protective area under one of the bridges where I assumed we would remain dry and still be able to continue our fishing.

As the self proclaimed skipper of the group, I was extremely proud that I managed to not only get us there safely, but also succeeded in anchoring our boat with a snug line that kept us almost motionless. The concrete bridge abutments acted as a great wind barrier, too.

The cloudburst commenced and before we knew it, we discovered that our boat was positioned right beneath a large, six-inch diameter drain pipe used to gather heavy flash rain runoff from the road above us.

Do you have any idea just how much water can accumulate in a flat boat, during a deluge, before the operator can get the motor started and the anchor pulled from the bottom of a lake? I bet not.

Both elderly fishermen were ferociously fighting to propel us out of danger with the oars, but it did little good. The anchor was stuck in the deep mud that plagues the depths of Shawnee. So the boat continued to fill.

By the grace of God, we managed to return to shore, but I have no idea how we remained afloat. Or, should I say, partially afloat?

The sun was shining brightly as we approached the dock with our liquid cargo, and onlookers just stared at us as we unloaded our drenched bodies and saturated gear. Do you have any idea, too, how heavy a boat becomes when it's filled to the rim with water? Again, I bet not.

Another bass boat blunder...

The next scenario took place at the same location a year later. This time my dad was not with us, and my father-in-law suggested, then demanded that he operate the motor. Obviously his vivid recollection from the prior summer was enough of a reason to not want to chance another maritime disaster.

I was not the least bit upset concerning the mutiny that he mounted to take me from the helm. I figured long before we arrived there that I deserved the demotion to first mate.

We completed our fishing for the day without mishaps and he ran the craft head first onto the concrete slope that served as our dock.

Always thinking ahead, I jumped out of the front of the boat and immediately turned around and snatched the rope and gave a heave to get my half of the boat out of the water. Now, had I known that my father-in-law was going to stand up in the rear of the boat at precisely the same time, I obviously would not have acted in such great haste.

He somehow pulled off an almost perfect backward somersault, in pike position, in full fishing attire. It was truly an impressive site to witness as he entered the water feet first, hardly making a splash.

He emerged from the water even more quickly than he entered, drew his wallet from his pants pocket and tossed it toward the dock. I ducked at first, thinking he threw something at me in anger. He stood there in thigh-deep water, totally soaked, while our gear and cooler remained unscathed – but the best part was yet to happen.

As he made his way up the hill toward the parking lot, he could barely look my way. In fact, he could barely look anyone's way due to his embarrassment.

A witness to this blunder just so happened to be sitting in his truck with his window down. He was waiting for his partner to come up the same hill with some gear. He had a clear, close-up view of the entire episode.

As the spectator scrutinized the elderly fisherman in his drenched, marsh-smelling attire, he asked with pity, “Is that your son with you?”

No, he's my son-in law,” replied my father-in-law.

The stranger then responded with a line that I will forever remember. “I'd kick his a_ _ anyway.”

A natural knack for kayaking...

You might sail the seas for many years before you'd experience the many miss-adventures that my poor wife had to endure after we purchased kayaks about 12 years ago.

Despite her pleas not to park our Jeep in the deep mud that bordered the Raystown Branch of the Juniata River, I attempted to back our trailer, carrying our kayaks, into the quagmire anyway. As if my testosterone levels took complete control over my mind, I could not resist my compulsion to show my wife that my manly boating skills were as sharp as ever.

If there's a silver lining in this story, it would have to be the fact that we only had time to float about a half hour or so on this lovely afternoon. Let's just say that my walk (in black, mud-covered clothes) to a local garage, my call for a tow-truck (and subsequent $75.00 bill), a lost paddle, two broken taillights on the trailer and a broken mirror on the Jeep prevented us from enjoying an otherwise great day.

When we finally did arrive at home,we were both covered in filth, to such an extent that we had to shower outside with a garden hose, and remove all our clothing before we even entered the garage. Good times, for sure!

Only thinking of each other...

Naturally, that incident referenced above resulted in a slightly more cautious approach when it came time to plan our next adventure. But, thinking that I really wanted to get back out on the water, my wife was reluctant to not go along with my suggestion that we give it another try.

I admitted later that I was rather apprehensive about our plans too. Maybe it was the threat of severe thunder storms on the Weather Channel radar. In any event, I honestly thought my wife actually semi-enjoyed our kayak activity a few weeks ago and I didn't want to ruin any fun she might be expecting this time. We men are like that, in that we have no idea what our spouses might enjoy and what they more than likely fear.

The first lightning strike hit close by as we arrived at the far shoreline of the Wilmore Water Dam in Cambria County. The thunder was as loud as anything we've ever heard, and the storm seemed to stall right over our heads. As the tempest escalated, so did the anxiety level of my first mate.

There we were, sitting under our brightly colored, fluorescent orange kayaks, (propped against a tree) trying to find shelter from the storm. My wife prayed the entire time, while I wondered what our kids might think if our electrocuted bodies were discovered later by rescue personnel. I could vividly imagine their faces and their conversation as they asked each other, “What were they thinking?”

As soon as the deluge subsided a tad and the thunder became more distant, we began paddling back across the dam toward the boat dock. But another storm approached, and my wife set world rowing records for getting back to the area where our auto and trailer were parked.

I could not keep pace and I thought my defibrillator was going to malfunction - if not from my exertion, then surely from the electric ion field that surrounded me on the open water. She not only reached the shore before I did, she had her craft dragged up the hill, placed next to the trailer; and was sitting inside the Jeep before my kayak reached land.

On our way home, we had a tough time coming up with any reasonable excuse for the two of us venturing out on the water - especially with the threat of a violent thunderstorm clearly visible in the distant sky. After much contemplation, we could only surmise that neither one of us wanted to ruin the outing for the other. Needless to say, since then, we have learned to scrutinize our thoughts more carefully.

Frugality to a fault...

As a happily married man, I can honestly say that there's nothing I would not do for my wife. But, if there's a chance to save a buck while I bestow bliss her way, I won't pass that up either.

Such was the case as I planned our next kayak excursion while Googling the PA Fish and Boat Commission site online.

[A side note – I have no clue as to how I persuaded my wife to go out again in our boats, but I did.]

While online, I was shocked to discover that the license and permit fees were rather pricey. And, after our last float on open water, I wasn't sure that we would use the kayaks again on state owned lakes or parks.

When I examined the bright yellow permit stickers on my computer screen, I immediately remembered that we had some yellow construction paper in our desk drawer. Before you could type out the word counterfeit, I printed out two authentic-looking replicas of the state stickers and had them laminated with plastic covers a short time later. Honestly, they looked pretty good, even if I have to say so myself.

After applying a little glue to fasten the fakes to the sides of our two kayaks, we were on our way to once again enjoy the day on the water with each other.

Needless to say, my wife was not on board with any of my ideas relating to the use of fake permits. And as much as I tried to reassure her that nothing atrocious was going to take place, she remained steadfast that this might not be such a great idea.

Upon arrival, I offered to wade the water to launch my wife's kayak, while she sat in the vessel with her paddle in hand. Then I followed her out onto the dam, in my own kayak.

I swear she was less than 10 feet from the dock, when I noticed that her flashy, yellow permit with glossy black print was now floating on the water's surface near her kayak.

Like any skilled skipper and thoughtful husband, I utilized my inner-most feelings as I directed her to get away from the shore as quickly as she could. The chances of her being caught by a fish warden was less if she was out in the middle of the lake. We males are quick to think about things like that.

Swapping kayaks with her never entered my mind. After all, my permit remained fast on my kayak for the entire three and a half hours on the water.

I doubt my wife's anxiety level escalated during this trip to the height it did during the lightning storm excursion. Then again, I can't say she truly enjoyed herself this time either.

We were very fortunate, or should I say, she was very fortunate that no wardens were patrolling the lake that day and we completed our outing without further incident.

I bet this won't surprise any of you, but we no longer own any kayaks. The captain and his first mate are now both land lovers. So much so, my wife refuses to even contemplate a cruise at anytime in the future.

My Roots - The Potchaks - circa 1927

My Roots - The Potchaks - circa 1927
From Left: Son, Steve - Dad, Frank - Mom, Anastasia (Makar) - Sons; John, Mike, Frank, Chuck (Author's Dad) - Twins, Pete & Mary - Daughter, Catherine. Photo taken in Wilmore, PA