good sense

You have the admire the sense of humor of a God who invents a bird the size of a walnut that eats by sticking its tongue in the throat of a flower and flies backwards and another that sits sideways on branches and says whippoorwill for hours without taking a breath.

shine on

With hummingbirds dive bombing the feeder behind me, this was one glorious spring day of work. The weather finally decided to give up winter and handed over a day of sunshine and not-too-hot-to-work weather that didn’t require choppers and Sorrels. A welcome relief.

I put the long aluminum pontoon rails — I think they’re officially called fence — on sawhorses on the deck to be spruced up. Last year I’d removed the panels that prevented small children and pets from crawling overboard. Having none of the above on the boat as regular passengers, this wasn’t a concern, but I did mean to eventually replace these panels. Trouble is, they look like this.

Believe it or not, they looked worse when they were on the boat. That chartreuse is the color of the boat when we bought it in 1985. I’m sure we paid extra for the color. Some year in the past, I couldn’t stand it anymore and painted it navy. A different year I painted it red. THOSE colors are very cooperative in letting go their grip from the aluminum. The School Crossing Guard Green? Not so much.

So, here’s what I’m doing. I found some CitriStrip, which I’ve used on a few projects in the past that eats right through Red and Blue, but finds Chartreuse a bit of a challenge. The Pontoon Factory back in ’72 no doubt had a torturous technique for getting that substance to stick to the aluminum under pain of death. It doesn’t help that the aluminum is stamped with a wood grain texture. Probably made from aluminum trees. Quite rare. Found in the arctic, I believe, where they can withstand the cold.

I finally did get to the bottom of things using some stray brushes and lubricant of the elbow persuasion. Metal scrapers are out of the question because that fragile aluminum scratches easily. The pressure washer was only partially helpful. The panel above is for the pontoon fence door. About two feet wide. I only have 3, 784 square feet to go. Both sides. I suspect this is a summer-long job that will be done while there’s a good book on my headphones.

Because that little piece started out looking like this:

I’m not sure I need to get it to bare aluminum as the paint I intend to use — Rust-Oleum that’s how they spell it on their website –Top Side Marine Paint claims the metal primer doesn’t mind a bit of residual paint. I’m thinking that if my elbow grease, scrub brushes and chemicals can’t remove it, then it’ll stay put under a coat or two of paint.

I did actually consider leaving the sides sans paint, but Ansel pointed out that it might be a bit hard on the eyes. Especially on sunny days. We’d look like a block of Reynolds Wrap with a motor.

De Rail

Meanwhile, there was the rail. It’s in good enough shape to re-use, so I bought a magnum tub of Flitz polish and began to get it all shined up.

Photos don’t do justice to the magnificent difference the polish makes. Rub on the Flitz and you can see the black corrosion start to come off. It takes a LOT of rags to get all the black stuff off, but it really shines things up. I cut up several old towels to absorb the mess.

Flitz sent along a couple of these buffers that attach to a regular drill. I kept wearing out the batteries on my cordless drills, so finally plugged in the old reliable and it did a great job. But this was hours of buffing. I preferred the quiet of hand buffing. The strain on my hand was about the same when you factor in holding a 50-year-old 350-lb Craftsman drill that wants to spin out of control every five seconds. Indeed I may have missed the cry of a loon flying overhead during the hours of polishing.

what the helm?

I could have bought a steering console — official name: helm — from the marina, but had all the materials for building my own. So several knuckle-busters and lots of colorful cup holder circles later, I had a laughable but functional helm for my boat. I had ordered an extra sheet of marine plywood for this purpose and used most of it. And, I’ve had the vinyl for this and other projects for quite some time. So.

I started out on Google Images looking at pictures of pontoon consoles to get even a rudimentary idea of what I wanted. . . At this moment, I was envisioning myself seated behind a square appliance box steering my boat down the Flowage. But I found a drawing with some dimensions so I donned my tool belt, picked up my trusty Porter Cable circular saw and got ‘er going.

Since the 4×8 plywood was still down near the lake and I wasn’t about to be hefting that up Killer Hill, I made my first cuts down there. That reduced the size enough for me to wheelbarrow the remainder up the hill. With rest stops.

My trusty dusty 40-year-old sander with some super-rough sandpaper did the trick of rounding off the rough patches so the plywood wouldn’t eat the upholstery. I also bought a $16 Diablo saw blade specifically for plywood, which was well worth it. No splintering.

After three cuts, I could see something coming together.

I used scrap wood for the inner structure. I know it’s not pretty, but I really didn’t want to run to the lumber yard, plus this wood languishes and needs a purpose in life. Most of it was treated deck boards. Some was questionable, but solid.

My idea is to have a door on the front with hinges on the bottom so it swings open for access to the inside (and maybe some storage). The top will be removable. The front diagonal will hold the steering wheel. I added boards so I could screw this piece on from the inside so no screw heads would show.

Now to beautify it

First I put on its underwear.

Found low-loft batting in my stash. This will prevent the corners from wearing through the vinyl.

I want the boat’s color scheme to be green, but since vinyl doesn’t come in the color I want, I decided navy blue would be the next best thing. I also wanted some color variance in the console — hopefully I’ll be able to continue this throughout the boat’s cushions and paint, but we’ll see. True kelly green is a rare color indeed.

Several years ago, I made patio furniture covers out of some vinyl that I’d gotten who-knows-where. It’s not exactly kelly green, but it’s not lime (yecchhh), so I Frankinsteined a strip of it from the bottom of the patio cover.

And made a green stripe in the middle of the console.

Along with a white stripe. I had a roll of white in my stash.I put some iron-on batting on the back of the green, since it didn’t have a backing at all and I was afraid it would rip. Although I guess it’s spent the last four winters outside, so what me worry.

I rolled that rascal around the cabin for a while stretching and stapling . . . until I got this.

Then began my hourly trips to the hardware store. I wanted to mount the diagonal steering wheel board from the back so as not to have visible screw heads, but also not to have little leaks and therefore mold inside the vinyl. I’ve seen that already. It’s a rerun.

2-1/4″ screws were too short. 3-1/2″ were too long. Countersinking wasn’t working. Adding washers for depth didn’t cut it. So I ran to the hardware store — twice — to Goldilocks the Just Right screws for this so they didn’t pop through the top, but buried themselves cozily into the front plywood. The steering wheel will be mounted here and it has to be solid.

I am now the proud owner of every single size of deck screw known to the modern world.

On one of my HS trips, I picked up a box of these little dudes

and spent copious hours lining them up so the top of the console snaps on and off. My plan is to build a little shelf inside for storage. This will need to coordinate with the steering cables and other wiring, so I’ll do that at a later date.

Then I made cup holder holes. You can see my crop circles here because I can’t absorb the concept of flipping over a board and having the opposite side facing me. This is a flaw in my synapses, I’m sure. Having ordered two cup holders from Amazon, I drilled a hole with a spade blade and used the jigsaw to cut 3-3/4″ holes per the cup holder description on Amazon. I used an Ikea flower pot to trace the holes. I’ll cut the fabric when I clap eyes on those cup holders just to be sure they’re the right size. Good old fabric has the ability to cover so many flaws. Paint has that attribute as well.

After scrunching and pushing, I managed to get the whole helm sticking out of the trunk of my car, secured with bungee cords and delivered it to Shell Lake Marine. Tom unloaded it onto my pontoon. Of course I failed to take a picture because I suspect he’s ready to call the loony bin for me and my construction antics. I just didn’t want to prolong my stay.

of wind and amphibious superheroes

There’s really no way to describe the de-launch of my crippled, ugly Huck Finn raft posing as a pontoon boat. As I said, my neighbor, Craig, had agreed to tow me to the landing with his pontoon, so with Tim’s help we pushed her into the water, I jumped onto Craig’s boat and took the tow rope.

It had occurred to me as I fell asleep the night before (lots of things occur to me in that state) that there was nowhere to tie a rope to the boat. So in the morning, I took a couple of the cleats from the old deck and attached them to the front, reinforcing them with a couple of pieces of 2×4 so they wouldn’t rip out the plywood under pressure. It was brutally cold at 8 am while I did this. I knew it would be impossible to use the drill wearing choppers, so I went inside for another cuppa and tried again when the sun worked its magic. Which it never did. Why is 40 in May colder than 40 below in January?

Can’t use a drill driver while wearing these. They’re essential for ice fishing, though.

When we got to the landing, I could see that there was a boat being launched, which I thought was probably my pickup. The marina schedules pickups for when they’ll be launching another boat at the same landing. In an effort to pull my boat alongside Craig’s and maneuver it up to the landing, (there was NOTHING to grab on my boat. It was like working with a jellyfish) we started blowing all over the place and ended up two doors down from the landing bumping into the dock of these people who ran out of their house. (In alarm, I’m sure but I was too alarmed to tell, although I did notice they had a $40,000 pontoon on a lift and a sparkling new dock which my raft was bumping wildly in the wind when the rope let loose from one of the cleats.) It was mayhem.

Nope. Not fit to be tied. And NOTHING to grab when pulling alongside. Rails are really handy on boats. And not only to keep people from falling overboard.

My vote was to simply go to the landing and let the Professional Boat Launchers lure the boat onto the trailer in some magical way. All this was negotiated in yells over the wind while trying to instruct the poor dock owner how to use a cleat and a rope. At one point, Craig gunned the motor and we were inches from hitting my boat broadside and pushing it into the peoples’ dock probably maiming Mom, Guy Trying to Tie, Child and Two Large Yellow Labs who love to be in small spaces with lots of people yelling and proclaiming alarm. The louder we yell the faster their tails wag.

My knees went weak.

Finally we cleated (a new verb as of today) the rope and swung back around to the landing where 97 people were waiting to launch their boats — annoyed, freezing, but no doubt plenty entertained by the Craig and Barb Huck Finn Raft Show. As we approached, four guys in wet suits ran down the landing into freezing water up to their shoulders, grabbed my boat and pushed it onto the trailer.

I was aghast.

I yelled, “Do you hang around landings just to save boats?”

Deadpan. “No.”

how rude. that’s why it’s called an evinrude

But the worst thing that happened was that the motor. . . well. . . . It fell off the boat. In fact, the entire assembly that holds the motor on the boat fell off. This could possibly be the result of my having unbolted it from the boat. Yes, I’m sure it’s because there was nothing holding it and the boat together.

So a couple of days ago, during one of my climbs over the big round pontoons to get under the frame, I noticed that the transom was a bit unstable. It suddenly occurred to me that there was nothing holding it in place but a couple of rusty bolts. It was staying in place only because the motor itself was standing on the ground inches from the bottom of the lake.

Now it had slid down and was IN the lake and took the entire transom with it. With my usual razor-sharp quick thinking, I pulled one of the old pieces of decking over and detached the motor to lay it down.

Yes, I see that my finger is in the picture. I had just run up the Killer Hill for my boots, was standing in the water and was still totally freaked out about this accident. It was one of the more discouraging moments of this project. I have no idea what they’re filled with, but boat motors weigh 850 pounds each (warning: exaggeration). But really! What kind of junk is inside there that makes them so impossibly heavy?

Not to be defeated, and knowing I would need help, I removed the four bolts that held the transom to the motor (or vice versa, if you think that way) which now made the thing light as a feather and I was able to bolt it to the bottom of the boat while holding it up with my knees. Lying on my back.

But wait. There’s more. As with most projects, I’m eager to get to the upside, meaning that the tear-out is fun and all, but the best part is seeing the project take shape as you build up the new part. So I was eager to get that new plywood bolted down. So eager that I put this piece on three times.

First, I realized that the cables were still stuck under there in a way they couldn’t be released. Remove new plywood number 1. Next morning I walked down tools at the ready and realized that I hadn’t removed the old bolts from the transom and they were occupying the holes in which I needed to put the new bolts. They were trapped under the plywood. Remove new plywood number 2. And this one entailed hacking the rusty bolts off, one broken hacksaw blade and. . . a transom/motor-fall-off-the-boat disaster.

For the record, I did try clamps, but they didn’t work.

Now I had two major issues. Get the motor out of the lake and get the boat into the lake. Neither of these activities were lone jobs. I like to do things myself and asking a friend to come over on a day with a high of 44 degrees, 20-mile-an-hour north winds, stand in water up to his knees and lift a 250 pound motor out of the water is way more than any friendship could endure.

Every problem has a solution:

When Tim said he’d use his tractor for the motor, I thought he’d be nuts to drive it into the lake. Just shows you how different brains work on different paths. Maybe I should accept help more often. He pulled the hood off the motor, had me jump in and attach a hook to the gadget on the motor (presumably made for such things), drove to the edge of the lake, picked up the motor and placed it on the boat along with its accompanying cables and steering.

Unfortunately, in my excitement I didn’t take a picture of the crusty old motor laying on the boat on a tarp. Too bad, because I had ample time before Craig arrived to tow me to the landing.

And that is a story unto itself.

Meanwhile, Tim cut down a rotten old tree in the yard.

steering committee

Indeed, I should have had a committee to figure out how to get the steering and gear cables maneuvered around all the obstacles so I could disengage them from the boat without disconnecting them from the motor. Believe me, I tried that and it wasn’t going to happen. As in life, it’s the steering that’s the most complicated, right? ha.

So here’s the strange homemade aluminum console we’ve had for 20-some years:

Very strange. And no cup holders. What’s a captain to do with her Leinies?

I managed to get enough slack in the cables to detach it from the deck, but the cables are still attached to the gear box and steering wheel, which are attached to the console.

And here’s how it met its demise at the hands of a reciprocating saw:

I just cut out a big hunk of aluminum with the steering wheel and cable attached.

Reciprocating saws are an amazing invention, but I’m afraid I have rattled my brain to the point of no return. It’s an octopus job. One needs at least two hands to hold the saw and if the object being cut is not stable, it’ll just bounce all over the place. I thought of clamps, but that wasn’t going to work, so I used knees, feet, butt, legs and every other body part until the deafening roar of the saw was over and I had this steering mechanism with a hunk of aluminum attached. Probably should have worn a football helmet. Me, not the steering.

There have been a lot of really lucky aspects to this project. In spite of a few stubborn rusty bolts and broken hacksaw blades, a lot of things fell into place beautifully. I ordered marine plywood from the lumberyard and they said it was out of stock and might not be in until …..yada yada. Of course, I’m under a tight deadline here. And yada yada won’t work. Then I was concerned that they would drop it at the top of the hill near the cabin which would be pretty much useless, since I can’t carry 4×8 sheets of plywood around by myself. I happened to be coming up the hill when the yard driver pulled up in a 4×4 pickup. A day earlier than anticipated! Yes!

I said, “You can back down the hill and drop it near the water.”

He said, “I don’t think so.”

I said, “Yep. Do it.”

We unloaded five sheets of beautiful plywood onto the boat deck. HA! All I had to do was slide them into place and bolt them down. Well, “all” is a pretty misleading word.

I also had to find someone to tow me to the boat landing and found my really good friend/neighbor, Craig Roesler was not busy Friday afternoon and happy to help. Then, there was the problem of getting the boat pushed into the water. Although it’s inches from the water — I can’t walk behind it without getting my feet wet — it’s pretty solidly set into the ground. This is a good thing, because I’ve spent a lot of time under that rascal and I was glad it wasn’t rolling around threatening to take me for a wet ride into the Namekagon.

Tim Sather is the one who does my spring and fall maintenance — dock and boat put-in and take-out. He just happened to call yesterday and said he’d be in the neighborhood taking down some trees. I had mentioned that I wanted a tree taken out and he was following up. He offered to stop over and help out.

So everything falls into place.

the accidental project

So since the pontoon is still on land because the @)$%*@^&@)%* motor won’t start AGAIN, I decided to clean these crusty pontoons that have been sitting in the water for 35 years.

The Namekagon Waters are tannin stained meaning they’re supremely clean, but brown with the stain of whatever’s upstream.

What causes that “root beer” color in some lakes?

from Wisconsin DNR

Sometimes described as root beer, coffee, tea, or bog stain, such coloring is natural for many waters in northern Wisconsin. The coloration is not harmful and results from incompletely dissolved organic materials, sometimes referred to as tannins, which come from the decomposition of wetland plants in the watershed of the lake. Often, the greater the amount of wetlands in the watersheds, the darker the color of the water. Since the predominant land type in the watersheds of northern Wisconsin lakes is often a mixture of forests and wetlands, this can result in many lakes having this dark coloration.

Knowing full well that they were swamped with eager anglers wanting to get on the water for the fishing opener, I called Shell Lake Marine to see if they could ONCE AGAIN fix my poor crippled Evinrude and they said they could pick up the pontoon next week Friday. That gave me exactly eight days to get some maintenance done. You know, the kind that can only be done on land.

Thursday was a nice day, so I loaded the wagon with every cleaning agent in the house and shed and headed down to the lake. I sprayed and sponged on pretty much everything in my arsenal and here’s what happened.

Magic. It was Flitz Metal Pre-Clean that did this. Yes, Flitz from our own Waterford, Wisconsin. Since I had one little spray bottle of it, I knew I needed more, so I went online and ordered a gallon, paid expedited shipping and had it in hand Friday morning. Well, first I talked to a very kind woman who told me this would happen. I was delighted.

No more tannin:

I used it very sparingly and did not scrub. Just used a sponge.

Pontoons came out nice and clean. If I get time, I’ll crawl around underneath and get the black stuff off the bottom, although it’ll be far under water when the boat is launched.

It started to rain just after noon on Friday, so my work was cut short and I had to run for cover with my big rolling toolbox and collection of rags and sponges. Up The Killer Hill!

Here’s the accidental part: I pulled off the skirting around the edge and discovered that, although the deck is still firm, it’s pretty rotten and the carpeting has been driving me nuts with its colonies of algae. I debated on whether I had time in eight short days to replace the deck. [cartoon of me with hair standing on end] Yikes.

I guess the decision made itself. I’m committed now. I’ll need a new deck by next Friday when I need to have a friend tow the boat to the landing for pick-up by the marina. A deck would be mighty handy during that process..

Saturday was sunny and warm. Potential for a full day of work. So I removed the rail, skirting and the first of the 4×8 deck sheets. Everything is going well and suprisingly all the bolts and nuts removs easily in spite of a lot of rust. The only problem is that some of the carriage bolts holding down the deck are turning with their bolts because the wood is too rotten to hold them. So those have to be cut off with the oscillating tool from underneath. A bit cramped and very loud with the sound bouncing off aluminum pontoons. Plus my blades were far from sharp.

Trip to the Hardware Store for one new blade that should make it through this project, I hope. By 4:00 my body was wearing out. This morning it’s rebelling mightily. Could it have been lifting that 4×8 water-sodden, carpet-covered piece of 3/4″ marine plywood? Huh.