By: Charlene Dunlap
When the Dunlaps acquire a pontoon boat, their Standard Poodles Jyah and Sydney think it's a great idea . . . until they find that their people know nothing about boating.
Our first boat trip. Trying not to think about how deep the water is.
We don't look at all apprehensive, do we?
Left: A yellow Lab in a snazzy red sports boat, and (above) a Belgian Malinois in a canoe
My husband Glenn and I were born and raised in the desert southwest at a time and in a place where the only bodies of water were man-made reservoirs and cattle watering tanks. We currently live in the southeastern U.S., ten minutes driving time from a large lake where we regularly take the dogs to swim and play. But, as often in our lives as we've been near or in water, neither of us has ever floated in a vessel over a large, deep body of it. So, it was with some trepidation that we decided to acquire a boat.
Nothing speedy - just something to putter about the lake in, something flat that the dogs could walk around on while we bobbed along, something slow, very slow . . . something like a pontoon boat.
But first, to see if we and our two Standard Poodles Jyah and Sydney were truly cut out to be sailors, we drove to a boat rental place and asked to rent a pontoon. As soon as we told the proprietor we would be taking our dogs on board, he said, “No dogs!!”
Reasoning with him about the hypoallergenic nature of Poodles was unsuccessful so we and the dogs left.
We located a private owner who had a four-year-old, 18-foot pontoon boat - a seemingly manageable size for novices. It was a cloudy day, and the boat was parked under a massive oak tree . . . which is why we didn't notice the large amount of yellow Lab hair woven into the blue carpet until we got the boat home. (Now I know why boat rental places are unwilling to allow dogs on board!)
For the next couple of weeks, we cleaned, vacuumed, re-vacuumed, and thoroughly checked out the boat. Then we could no longer put off the inevitable . . . we either had to launch the boat or admit that we now had a very large yard decoration. It was mid-June when we loaded the Poodles into the pickup, hooked up the pontoon trailer, and headed off to the lake.
When instructing us on how to launch the boat, the previous owner said, “Back the trailer down the boat ramp into the lake and, as soon as the propeller is under water, start the engine and back the boat off the trailer.” Well, first let me tell you that backing a pickup truck attached to a trailer is not as easy as it sounds; however, we finally got the trailer backed down the launching ramp into the lake to where the boat's propeller was under water.
Glenn said, "Get in the boat, turn the ignition on, and back the boat off the trailer." I got in the boat, turned the key, kicking the motor into action, and put the gear shift in reverse. The boat heaved and bucked . . . and stayed firmly on the trailer. (Now that I think back, that's probably a good thing since I had no idea how to drive the boat. I can see myself floating helplessly off while my Poodles' dear little worried faces got smaller and smaller in the distance.)
Meanwhile, Jyah and Sydney, wearing their snazzy red life vests, paced back and forth on the dock, wondering what strange experience awaited them - and probably about their people's sanity.
Glenn said, “Turn off the engine, take that rope and secure it to the rail of the pontoon, then throw it over to the dock and tie the boat up.”
I cut the engine, tied the rope to the back rail of the boat, threw the other end onto the dock, jumped out, and tied the rope to a pier post - or, thought I had. Soon the rope was trailing in the water, and I had to wade out to retrieve it. I climbed back onto the dock and tied the end of the rope securely to one of those little hooks on the edge of the dock made for that purpose (funny, I hadn't noticed those before) and shouted to Glenn, “Okay, go!” He gunned the pickup engine, yanking the trailer out from under the pontoon. It lurched into the water and, as if heading for freedom, floated out to “sea” . . . until it reached the end of its rope.
Meanwhile, Jyah and Sydney had retreated further up the ramp, both with very perplexed expressions. They must've thought their people looked like cartoon characters scurrying around with everything going wrong that could go wrong.
We finally got the boat pulled back in and secured to the side of the dock. Glenn parked the pickup and trailer, and we and the Poodles climbed aboard the boat. Jyah and Sydney are used to riding in the bed of our little Kawasaki Mule (a sort of miniature pickup) over bumpy woodland roads so the slight rocking movement of the boat caused them little concern.
We sat there for a moment gathering our courage. Then Glenn reached down and turned the ignition key. Nothing happened. Finally, after several sputtering false starts, the motor caught and the propeller began whirling.
We untied the boat, and it immediately began floating out toward open water. It was then that the thought struck us. “What if the engine dies while we're out in the middle of the lake and we can't get it started?” Jyah and Sydney also seemed to share these concerns as they both kept looking over the rail apprehensively at the murky liquid surrounding the boat.
We decided to stay close to shore as no one else was out boating and, if we got into trouble, we were on our own. I suppose we thought we could swim to shore if the engine died; however, since it was a good 400 feet to shore, and since neither Glenn nor I have swum since our youth, and since Jyah and Sydney have only ever swum short distances, it may have been a false sense of security. The thought gave us comfort though, and we glided back and forth near the shore on glass-smooth water, in circles and in loops.
Glenn captained the boat while the Poodles and I sat clumped together on the little sofa in the middle of the deck; however, it wasn't long before Jyah was walking around looking over the railing into the water . . . probably assessing his chances of reaching solid ground. Sydney stayed on the sofa, the highest place she could get above water, seemingly more confident in her crew's abilities than was Jyah.
Within the hour, Glenn and I began getting antsy as our minds were dwelling on how difficult it had been to unload the boat and about what the odds were of us getting it back onto the trailer successfully. However, apparently the odds were in our favor since, with a slight learning curve, we guided the boat easily onto the trailer's rails. Breathing a sigh of relief, we all hopped into the pickup and headed for home.
For one reason or another, we were unable to take the boat out again until mid August; however, this time we and the Poodles set out with a more confident outlook.
Now that we were “experienced,” Glenn quickly backed down the boat ramp until the trailer was under water, and I attached ropes to the front and back of the boat and tied them to the dock. We acted just like a couple of old pros. Glenn pulled the trailer out from under the boat and, while he parked the pickup, Jyah, Sydney, and I boarded the boat.
Glenn clambered aboard, untied the boat, and started the engine. The boat floated out toward open water drifting on the waves . . . with no propulsion. “Is the propeller going?” he asked. After checking, I replied, “Yes, I think so.” He pulled down the lever and the engine roared . . . without moving us an inch. Not a good way to start out on a boating excursion! After several minutes of manipulating the levers, he finally found the “magic button” and off we went.
We chugged boldly out to the middle of the lake. Strong breezes rumpled the water as we wafted along. Again, we had picked a time when there were few boaters out. The fewer people there were to see our ineptness, the better. Of the few boats we saw, three had dogs on board: a family of four with two yellow Labs, a young woman in a snazzy red speed boat with a yellow Lab (I wondered about their "Lab hair" carpets), and a man canoeing with his Belgian Malinois.
Sydney and Jyah look forward to their second outing.
At one point, as we floated along next to the highway which was on an embankment 25 feet above us, a passing trucker honked at us and waved. We gaily waved back then, a beat later, thought, “Why would a perfect stranger be trying to get our attention? Maybe we're on fire or something!” But, all was well, and we and the dogs bobbed serenely over the choppy waves for the next couple of hours.
As on our last outing, Sydney kept to the sofa. However, as someone who takes his responsibilities seriously, Jyah felt the need to do a lengthy maintenance check. When he found everything was in order, he stretched out on the deck to work on his tan.
By the time we headed back to the docks, the wind was picking up. Pontoons drift easily and, because of the strong breeze, getting the boat lined up to the trailer rails turned out to be more difficult than we expected. During our numerous attempts, people would come and back their trailers down our sister ramp, slide their boats off, and speed away. As our boat kept bobbling into the neighboring lane, Glenn said with a grin, “If those people only knew what amateurs we are, they wouldn't risk unloading their boats next to us!”
Finally, with the help of me pulling it on a rope, our pontoon glided onto the rails and we secured it to the trailer. We put our panting Poodles into the air-conditioned pickup and headed for home.
Even with a few glitches, it was a perfectly enjoyable morning. I think we and the Poodles are getting the hang of this boating thing. However, since Glenn and I both grew up with the ground firmly under our feet, we may always be somewhat apprehensive about the thought of deep water beneath the boat.
I have a brilliant idea though. Since the Poodle's cousin, the Portuguese Water Dog, is trained to jump in the water, grab a rope, and tow a boat to shore, I figure Jyah and Sydney could be taught to do the same thing. However, judging from their horrified expressions when I mentioned it to them, I don't think they are too keen on the idea.