Wednesday, September 10, 2014

A Day at the Lake

Not much to report.  This summer in Colorado has been unusually cool and rainy, providing fewer dry, sunny days for boating.  Yesterday we did take the boat out and had a bit of an adventure.  Friends brought their boat, a 21' pontoon boat, also.  I had checked the weather forecast before leaving; nice weather until mid afternoon when wind and possible rain was predicted.

We joined up with our friends, who anchored their pontoon at the entrance to a small bay, for lunch on the pontoon's broad deck.  Everyone was enjoying the beautiful weather and showed no concern about a possible change later that afternoon.  Then my wife, myself, and our friend, Roger, left in our boat to explore the lake which was several miles long.  His wife and her two sisters stayed on the pontoon.  As we headed up the lake, the wind picked up, and whitecaps started to appear.  The waves continued to build, but by now we were at the upper end of the lake where we were somewhat protected.  As we came downwind along the opposite lake shore, I was able to make out the pontoon in the distance and noticed that it was no longer anchored in the center of the small bay, but drifting toward the shore.  When I pointed it out, Roger agreed we better get over there to see what had happened.  As we crossed the lake we met with the full force of the waves, 2-3 feet high.  We lowered our bimini to reduce windage and took some spray in the cockpit from occasional waves breaking on our starboard side.

When we got to the pontoon, it was being pounded on the rocks on the lee side of the bay.  The three women on the pontoon had decided that the anchor was dragging so they started trying to pull it in.  They did not take down their boat's bimini; they did not start the motor and use it to position themselves over the anchor.  Thus, their efforts to bring in the anchor only accelerated the effects of the strong wind and waves which quickly pushed their boat onto the rocky shore.  My job was to get our boat as close as possible so that a tow line could be passed.

The wind and waves were too strong to keep the bow of our boat into the wind while maneuvering slowly, and I wanted to keep our propeller as far as possible from the shallow rocky shore.  So I approached the pontoon bow first with the waves breaking against our stern.  The engine splash well and covered rear deck were valuable in keeping our boat interior dry.  Roger went over the side (with a life preserver), waded chest-deep to the pontoon, and passed a tow line to our runabout.  Then it was just a matter of putting our 75hp Evinrude in reverse and backing off, pulling the pontoon with us.  I wasn't sure that the prop would have enough reverse thrust for the task, but it worked well.

Once we were free of the shore, they were able to get their engine started and the tow line was returned.  We headed for a somewhat sheltered marina which was further downwind.  With the wind and waves behind us, we were able to surf the face of waves, and it became an enjoyable run.  On later inspection of the pontoon, the actual aluminum tubes had been protected by aluminum angles welded onto the tubes to act as strakes which minimized damage.

It frustrates me that all the women involved showed so little interest in learning competent boat handling.  This entire situation could have been avoided.  What happens if they encounter a more serious situation in the future?  People die from simple errors.