Wild Side: Whatever floats your boatIn the classic children’s book “Wind in the Willows” by Kenneth Grahame, Water Rat and Mole were enjoying a nice summer day in a row boat on a river.
By: Dan Wilcox, outdoor columnist, River Falls Journal
In the classic children’s book “Wind in the Willows” by Kenneth Grahame, Water Rat and Mole were enjoying a nice summer day in a row boat on a river.
Ratty remarked, “There is nothing, absolutely nothing, half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.”
Many of us can relate to Ratty. Wisconsin people are crazy about boats. Wisconsin is sixth among states in the country in per capita boat ownership.
Carol and I contribute to that statistic. Much of our recreation during the open water season involves messing about in boats. In our household of two people, we have a minor navy of 11 boats. Five are “project” boats in various stages of delayed restoration, but we enjoy floating the rest of them.
Three of our fleet are canoes. Our big one is an 18.5-foot, fast and light Wenonah fiberglass cruising canoe that’s great for touring the Boundary Waters. The canoe I use the most is a tough 16-foot Royalex plastic Old Town Penobscot. That boat has made many trips down the rocky lower Kinnickinnic and Bois Brule rivers with only some minor scratches as battle scars.
Our prize canoe is an antique piece of Americana, a canvas-covered cedar 16-foot Old Town Octa model with caned seats built in 1936. It’s a strong, quiet, warm and comfortable canoe that Carol and I have paddled on many trips in Canada. It’s been up on a rack in our shop waiting for new canvas and paint.
I got a good deal on an old Grumman aluminum sport boat from a neighbor a couple of years ago. I re-painted it with fall colors camouflage and use it as a duck hunting boat. It flies with a small 4-horsepoer Evinrude outboard motor.
After fishing for years in a leaky old Shell Lake cedar strip fishing boat powered by a 1960’s-vintage Johnson 10-horsepower outboard motor, we bought a 14-foot Lund aluminum skiff with a 1985 25-horsepower Johnson outboard. That boat was fast but a bit small for us.
We sold that one and bought a bigger one five years ago, an 18.5-foot Lund Alaskan with a four-stroke outboard. That boat has plenty of room for cruising with the dog and camping gear and three people can fish in it comfortably. The motor is really quiet and it doesn’t burn much fuel.
The flagship of our fleet is Sea Dragon, a 1978 Southern Cross 31-foot cutter-rigged fiberglass sailboat. She was designed by the late Thomas Gilmer, former Chief of Naval Architecture at the U.S. Naval Academy, and built by Clarke Ryder in Bristol, R.I. She’s a strong, double-ended boat designed to cross oceans. A little 16-horsepower Yanmar inboard diesel engine sips fuel and can power the boat up to hull speed.
The rig is sturdy and easy to handle under different wind and sea conditions. Sea Dragon was sailed in south Florida and the Bahamas, on Lake Pepin and on the St. Croix River by previous owners.
Carol and I keep her at Washburn on Chequamegon Bay of Lake Superior and enjoy sailing around the Apostle Islands. We anchor in a sheltered bay, launch the fiberglass dinghy named Grif, row to shore and hike around the islands. Under sail we get grand illusions of speed while bounding along at top speed of six knots (7.2 miles per hour).
It doesn’t take a big expensive boat to get out on the water. Lots of people have fun floating down the Kinnickinnic River in small kayaks. You can rent kayaks for a day from Paige Olson’s Kinni Creek Outfitters on north Main Street in River Falls.
I’ve talked to many people in marinas and in backyards happily puttering around building, doing maintenance, repairs and upgrades to their boats. It’s a contemplative activity that produces satisfying tangible results along with great anticipation of time on the water.
There are many kinds of boats designed for different uses and different bodies of water. Boating can get you out into wild places. Regardless of what kind of boat you trust to buoy you up, messing about in boats is a magical thing. The fluid dynamics of river currents, wind, waves and clouds, reflected light, birds flying overhead and fish swimming below provide a stream of fascination that brings us out onto the water again and again.
Please send any comments and suggestions for this column to me at email@example.com.