Anderson: Size of the boat doesn't matter, time on the water does

  • Article by: DENNIS ANDERSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 31, 2013 - 11:01 PM
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Shelli and Chris Johnson of St. Fransis were in awe as they looked at a 29-foot Premier entertainer boat that had a bar and sink while they looked around at the Minneapolis Boat Show.

Photo: Renee Jones Schneider, Star Tribune

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A newspaper editor I worked for some years ago asked me one day if I'd take him fishing. Soon thereafter, we passed a long July afternoon floating the Upper Mississippi between Monticello and Elk River, slinging baits for smallmouth bass, feisty fish that whacked our Mepps spinners like cleanup hitters. This occurred exactly 24 hours before the guy bought a boat, motor and trailer of his own, announcing to one and all he "was going to spend more time'' with his kids.

Good as it was, fishing on the Old Miss that day wasn't reason enough by itself to warrant a plunge into boat ownership. But the opportunity to pass still more time on the water was worth every penny, my editor friend told me, and he forked over money gladly for his new toy. Subsequently, he had so many recollections of his weekend mini-adventures on Twin Cities lakes that I had to dodge and duck whenever I saw him, fearing no end to his enthusiasms.

I recalled this Thursday as the Boat Show opened its four-day run at the Minneapolis Convention Center. Like some 800,000 Minnesotans, I own a boat. Two, in fact. Also a canoe. So no practical reason exists for me to parade up and down the carpeted aisles of a spectacle that for the watercraft-afflicted is so seductive it borders on vice. Yet, of course, therein lies the attraction. And my reason for attendance.

On summer days when I was a kid, I'd pedal my bike to the harbor of the small town where my family lived in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Patrons of the low-roofed building perched adjacent to the protected anchorage generously referred to it as a "yacht club.'' But really it was just another UPer joint where on Fridays fish was fried and fistfuls of "highballs'' consumed. All of this I saw only from the outside looking in. More attentively, beneath cumulus wisps against a blue sky, I'd watch as Chris Crafts of all sizes came and went from the small harbor, their burnished mahogany transoms declaring home ports of "Chicago,'' "Muskegon'' and "Traverse City.''

At the time, my dad had a 7 1/2 horsepower Johnson he'd tote in the trunk of his car whenever we went fishing. Our modus operandi was to own the motor but to rent a boat from a resort. It took some years before dad ponied up a few hundred bucks for a 14-foot Crestliner and paired it with the Johnson. I believed then and still believe today that times could be no better, and we took no prisoners on lakes we patrolled for walleyes, northerns, sunnies and crappies.

But boat ownership is all about trading up, and one day dad pulled into the driveway with a 17-foot Thompson runabout. Some sanding and varnishing was needed, he advised, and my brother and I viewed with suspicion the big V-4 Johnson hanging on the stern. But dad was higher than a kite. "No dry rot anywhere!'' he declared. And so we started to fish on Lake Michigan.

As an adult, the first boat I bought was a 14-foot Aluma- craft. "Cherry'' is how the boat's former owner described the vintage 10-horsepower Johnson that came with it. The trailer had some rust. But I re-packed the wheels and the rig ran straight down the road. I was 25 years old, had no interest whatsoever in working for the government, and owned a boat, motor and trailer. The future, I figured, was bright.

Nowadays I own a bigger boat still, and fancier, too, outfitted with enough electronic gizmos to divine everything but the future. But the day I dropped $900 in cold cash for that old Alumacraft and pulled it to Ely, where I lived at the time, and backed it into White Iron Lake, I couldn't have ben happier had I inherited the Queen Mary.

Day after day, up and down that lake I'd run, arm bent at the tiller, sometimes banking from White Iron through Silver Rapids into Garden Lake, a thrill around every bend. If on a whim I'd shut her down and cast until I caught something -- or didn't -- I'd soon enough put her up on plane again, foam arcing from the splash rails, two-bit running lights bright against the gathering darkness.

So it is that owners of boats big and small not only are equal opportunity thrill seekers -- but more importantly, equal opportunity thrill receivers.

It is true that those with bigger pocketbooks often own bigger boats, evident enough this year as always at the Boat Show.

But boat ownership benefits aren't distributed by the foot.

Instead, it's time on the water that counts.

This summer, make sure you get yours.

Dennis Anderson danderson@startribune.com

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