This Boy’s Toys

Covid has caused all of us to figure out new ways to get by. I thought to get out of the house and have a little fun, and keep with the whole social distancing thing we could: (1) Buy another camper, (2) buy another boat or (3) install a pool. Our neighbor across the street is putting in a pool as we speak but all the pool companies are backed up till next year. I then found out this week that we can’t install a pool anyway due to the location of our septic system. (Crap…literally!) I couldn’t find an affordable camper or boat, something small enough that I could tow with my Jeep.  Everyone had the same ideas!

My favorite pastimes are camping, boating & fishing. (And college football, which hopefully will happen soon!)

I have had four campers (not counting a GMC van I did a little “camping” in back in the 70’s.) I had an old 1956 Rainbow bread truck conversion! Looked like crap on the outside (think camouflage) but was set up quite nicely on the inside. Wish I had a picture of it.  I had a class C cab-over motor home. I loved it but sold it to buy my future wife’s engagement ring! We bought a small single axle camping trailer that I loved. Took our very young daughter camping in it twice and she cried & screamed so much that we had to pack up in the middle of the night and come home both times! So we sold it, but that’s the one I really wish I still had. We later bought a small pop-up camper but never really had time to use it. I still love to camp and so does my daughter… now… but my wife has moved on to wanting to stay in condos!

So I decided on a boat. If we can’t swim in a pool the lake is the next best thing. You have to plan out a whole weekend and then some when you go camping but you can take off on a boat pretty much any random sunny Sunday. I’d been looking at boats for several months. I wanted a small, towable pontoon boat set up so that we can cruise, the kids can go tubing and I can fish (I sure don’t need to be water-skiing anymore.) I went to Knoxville last weekend and to Spruce Pine NC yesterday to look at boats. Also checked out a couple local boats for sale. Warning: Everything you look at online looks much better in pictures than in person…no Photoshop even needed!

I have had three boats in the past as well. (Not counting an old homemade party barge that several of my buddies & I went in on together in the 80’s. Oh the stories we could tell from then!)  My first was a 14 foot runabout with a 1960 Evinrude 40 HP motor that I bought from my sister & brother-in-law in the 70’s. My whole family learned to water-ski behind that little boat on Watauga Lake!  I had a Rivera Cruiser pontoon boat in the mid 80’s. Bought it on Labor Day weekend and used it a couple weeks before the lake dropped out from under it (thanks TVA!) I really enjoyed it the next season as I kept it on a slip at Lakeview Marina on Boone Lake with my camper just up the hill (thanks to my best friend Dave’s sister Linda & her husband Roger.)  I had a bass fishing boat briefly in the late 80’s that I ended up trading for a motorcycle. All of that is when I was young, dumb & single! Now with a family, we have usually rented a pontoon boat a couple times a year, on my birthday in June and my daughter’s in August. This year its been hard to rent a boat as again, everyone has the same idea! We usually go to Watauga but they were leased out from June till Labor Day. We were lucky to find one in August on South Holston for my daughter’s 21st. After spending all that money on rentals over the years I figured buying one would make sense as long as it gets used more than twice a year! We wouldn’t have to have it back to the marina by 6 and could do some night fishing. Besides, I grew up on the lake, as did both my daughters!

So this week I bought another Rivera Cruiser pontoon boat… again just before Labor Day. My nephew Landon took it in on trade and gave us a great deal!  I will be able to leave it on a slip at Rockingham Marina on Boone for a couple months to fish and cruise as long as the weather allows. I got the trailer too and hope to tow it next year to Watauga, South Holston & Patrick Henry lakes and beyond. I’m thinking Norris, Cherokee & Douglas. I’m pleased that TVA is finally going to start raising Boone Lake again next month after 6 years of dam repair.

But, who has much leisure time these days, right? I got the boat with an eye on retirement. That’s probably still a year or two away as I’m still paying for my daughter’s college classes. My ideal scenario would be to have another small camper and go back to local campgrounds like Little Oak on South Holston Lake. It’s on top of Holston Mountain and is very secluded. My past trips there included renting a pontoon boat from a nearby marina and pulling it up on the bank near my camp spot. I’ll settle now for taking the tent & the boat and heading out again. I’m not into “glamping” anyway.  I could stay there a month if I had the time off! (Mama is currently busy updating the house anyway!)

In the meantime, we still have a few weeks where we can cruise, the kids can go tubing & swimming and my buddies & I can go fishing. We’re taking it out for the first time this Labor Day weekend (with the wife & I also doing a little cleaning on it.) As I said, pictures don’t tell the whole story. Before people start thinking we hit the lottery, the boat is over 30 years old! It’s in great shape and has been well taken care of but yes, it needs some some work done. It will give me something to tinker on this winter! I have weddings to DJ the next three Saturdays in September (to help pay for it!) but hopefully I’ll get some fishing in before it snows!   See you on the lake!

My previous boats
My previous campers
My previous story


Big Boy Toy   Footnote   September 11, 2020

We did indeed take the boat out for the first time Labor Day weekend. Sunday morning we packed everything up and headed to Rockingham Marina. Boone Lake of course is still extremely low due to the ongoing repairs to the dam. Consequently the ramp going down from the marina parking lot is extremely steep. I was rolling our wagon & cooler down the ramp when they started to get away from me. My wife tried to bend down and grab them to slow their descent….losing her sunglasses in the lake and throwing her back out in the process! The poor thing is still hurting. 😢

Finally making it to the boat and unloading everything I started blowing up my daughter’s tube. While horsing the tube to the back of the boat I bumped our wagon over the edge and right to the bottom of the lake! We tried using the marina’s magnet to retrieve it but it’s a canvas wagon and any metal is probably aluminum. I had just bought a new anchor that flares up so I tried using it to grapple the thing. Got a hold of something that I couldn’t get to the surface that was probably an electrical cable so I gave it up…..I can buy a new wagon!

Finally heading out of the marina and up the lake the engine sputtered after about 10 minutes. I realized I hadn’t opened the gas tank vent! After that it was smooth motoring for the rest of the day. We went pretty much up and down the entire lake.

We decided to go to Lakeview Marina to eat and listen to music as we could hear the band playing. They still do not have many places to dock a boat with the low water level so we decided to head back to Rockingham and take the car. I was on the front looking for a place to park the boat as my daughter & her boyfriend were driving.  We headed out and as I was chillin’ on the front I didn’t realize we were heading up the wrong channel! We had just gone under DeVault bridge when WE RAN OUT OF GAS! We were right in front of Boone Lake Marina so we flagged down another pontoon boat to give us a tow to the dock. Of course they WERE CLOSED! It was about 7:20 and apparently they closed at 7! We couldn’t find anyone anywhere, even at the restaurant. You’d think they would be staying open later with it being Labor Day weekend!

I called my best friend in this world Dave Stapleton and he drove from Kingsport to bring us some gas! This is when you find out who your real friends are! We headed back to Rockingham but by then it was pitch dark & the fog was rolling in. Now I’ve driven that lake dozens of times in the dark but with the reduced water levels, and all the extra islands & debris floating we had to take it slow.  My daughter kept a GPS map on her phone as we meandered our way back. My wife did not enjoy this part as she was quite nervous and it was getting chilly…plus she was still hurting! I actually enjoyed the ride….love those moonlight cruises! After I got my bearings we made it back about 10 o’clock. Even after all that we still had a great time!

It was an eventful first day back on the water! I always carried two 6 gallon gas tanks in the past so I could switch over when running out. This boat has a 12 gallon tank so I thought we were safe. To be honest, dummy me didn’t even think about shaking the tank & checking the gas level as the boat has no gas gauge. I guess it takes a while for us old farts to get back in the maritime swing of things as a shrimp boat, ‘er pontoon boat captain! The next morning, Labor Day Monday, I went out and bought a second gas tank….and a paddle. Did I mention we didn’t have a paddle? It would have been most helpful when we ran out of gas!