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The Aristocraft – Part 1

A $200 1960s boat at a garage sale in Remer, Minnesota. First off, why don’t the people of Remer get together and change the name of their town. Secondly, this is the reason everyone should always carry cash. I apologize. I never carry cash. The Remerite must have taken a check.

Dear and kind boat fatigued reader, I’m sure you would rather hear another story about one of the pithy comments my children have made, but I can’t oblige today. I must tell you about a boat that everyone should have – then get rid of. The sign in magic marker, crudely etched, stated that the boat was $200. Could this be a mistake? Could this sign be referring to the water skis leaning against the boat?

I was instantly in love with the boat. I tried to play it cool and asked Cynthia if she had any feelings for the boat. We had only been married for a couple years, but I knew some of her pressure points. Art and design could move her in an irrational orbit. This boat had both. Let’s just start with the name. It had a 1960’s fonted cursive chrome name that read “Aristocraft”. Next, it had seats that were aqua with sparkles. Finally, there were those fins like a 1957 Buick and, finally, the engine. Well, let’s just look away from the engine because that may be a big problem.

The outboard motor was an old Johnson 50 hp. It looked like it was comparable in size to a Volkswagen engine minus the reliability and speed. My estimation was that this boat would hurtle through the water at speeds of upwards of 20 mph. I could almost smell the gas oil mixture that may be pouring out like a low blue cumulus cloud and resting on nature like a warm suffocating oil blanket.

We bought it. Thank goodness I had a hitch for just these kinds of occasions. We brought it home and cleaned it up like a Charlie Brown Christmas tree for the water. I added a new steering cable, bought a new battery and promptly oiled and lubed the mechanism that allows the semi tattered canvas canopy top to be hoisted. I was so excited to do a test run that I couldn’t even wait unit the weekend. My friend Chris Engstrom and I took the boat just north of downtown Minneapolis and put it in the Mississippi River.

Once in the River, we motored about slowly. Next we put the canopy up and sped up the River. The afore-mentioned engine smoke did appear right on cue. I just didn’t know that the draft created by the canopy would create some kind of vortex under the canopy. Apparently, this vortex craved blue exhaust fumes and every single piece of burned gas oil remnant flew directly under the canopy where Chris and I were enjoying the scenery. Sometimes affixation can come on slowly, but with the telltale blue gas oil dragon hitting our faces and tears involuntarily streaming we quickly knew the canopy would need to come off. All part of the test run. Good to know.

There was one more test run where Cynthia and I and a couple friends took the boat to a small state park with a river that fed into the Mississippi. We planned for a day of boating on the St. Croix River and we did that eventually- but not until we found that the river turned into a shallow sandy bottomed creek before emptying into the St. Croix. What transpired here was me pulling a speedboat through a shallow creek where my weight out of the boat was just enough to let us pass.

I pulled the boat while Cynthia and our friends, Lisa and Teresa, hung out in the boat. More than once I was offered some assistance by guys, as I pulled the water carriage of three attractive swim-suited women through the hot summer day, moved along by only a sliver of water. Once on the St. Croix we had a pleasurable time and chalked up the experience in the good column.

Now we were ready for another boating adventure. In northern Wisconsin, on Lake Superior, there are a group of islands called the Apostle Islands. I believe there are twenty two islands and could be wrong and don’t really care enough to check my facts. They were named the Apostle Islands by a New France Historian, a French Jesuit travelling in North America. He named them after the Apostles because of the twenty two there were 12 large ones. Then most of them were individually named after animals, descriptions of the islands, berries, or the Devil. It was quite a hot mess of exploring and discovery. I had lived my life in Wisconsin and Minnesota and had never been to the islands and thought it about time.

I had a friend with a sailboat anchored in the quaint small town of Bayfield, WI. Cynthia planned a trip where we would bring the boat up to Bayfield, spend the night on our friend’s sailboat and go out the next day with our boat and camp on one of the secluded parts of an island.

We used my rusty 1977 Ford F-150 to tow the tattered 1960s speedboat up to the picturesque harbor town of Bayfield. Somewhere I have a picture of our “rig” nose to nose with a brand new pick-up towing a brand new shiny speed boat. We went to dinner that night and nobody in the town could bring themselves to ask us to leave. We spent the night on the sailboat and left a bottle of wine for our host.

The next day we said goodbye to the sailboat. The plan was that our friend was going to be coming up on the weekend and he would call us on his marine radio (before cell phones) and come pick us up to go sailing. We knew we could spot him because he had a very colorful spinnaker.

The cost at the Bayfield marina was out of our reach for putting in and leaving the truck for several days. Instead we found a nearby Indian Reservation and put in there. The price was more reasonable and the truck felt more at home on the res.

Because the outboard was fueled by a red steel 6 gallon tank that required a gas oil mixture, I had five tanks pre-mixed and sitting in the back. With the array of gas tanks sitting around the battery in the back of the boat, it looked like something Captain Kirk would have rigged up to explode him and Mr. Spock through a Lake Superior time portal back to their ship. Cynthia tried not to notice this as we loaded on our camping gear.

It was a beautiful late morning with sun shining and only a scant scent of gas and oil fumes as a light breeze ever so courteously carried the noxious gases away from our vacationing noses. As we sped across the lake I believe we were smiling. For those of you from New York or Los Angeles, who don’t really know anything about anything, Lake Superior is a really big lake and we weren’t actually going to cross it.

After a few minutes we saw another speed boat approaching us. As it got closer I realized it was my boss and his wife with friends. We waved and they waved. I wasn’t playing hooky from work. My boss fully understood that I took time off when I took time off and regularly, in return for taking a day off work, I would gladly not be compensated for said day. I think he was secretly proud of me. What a small world, so was I.

We got to one of the close islands. I believe it was Bear Island, but dear reader I must apologize that I am still not going to check and confirm this information. We went to the side of the island where the ferry doesn’t stop. We landed the boat and had the entire beach to ourselves. The place where the ferry landed to drop off people for the day was over a half mile away. We decided to set up camp and stay here for the weekend.

That night was a perfect evening with a campfire and the sky pin pointed with stars. We watched as a storm moved south of us pushing lightning in the air what appeared to be 75-100 miles away. The whole world seemed calm and far away. We went to sleep in our tent excited for the next day’s exploring. I dreamed about swapping gas tanks with efficiency and becoming adept at breathing gas fumes. I would never have dreamed about how the next day would really go.

To Be Continued

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