best boat on the water

OK. Let’s catch up my many thousands of readers with what’s happening with the pontoon project.

With the first coat of thinned-out spar varnish happily lapped up by the bare pristine marine plywood, I applied the required coat of marine wood primer.

I had to tape off the fence and helm. Would have been easier to do the painting without the fence, but I wanted to fish during June and somehow driving the boat around without the rail was very disconcerting. So I opted for the extra work of painting the deck in two stages.

I was finally able to put my roller into some blue paint and get started on the real color of the boat deck.

Yikes. I ended up with this splotchy mess. 🙁 Do I need to resort to carpeting? I added grit (actually pumice) to the paint to prevent it being slippery.

Here’s hoping subsequent coats don’t look like finger painting by a toddler.

It actually turned out pretty good. Hard to get a detailed look because of the sheen, and since it’s not perfect, you don’t really want a detailed look anyway. But, you know what? When I’m boating on Trego Lake? I don’t spend a lot of time looking at the boat deck.

I took a little break in here because of some strange weather — a lot of wind. It’s hard to paint with the boat moving around and also tons of rain, which wreaks havoc with 24-hour-dry-time marine paint. But finally I removed the fence again, parked the boat against the shallow, sandy shore and began painting the sides and back. Five full coats of stuff again.

Finally, with the entire deck painted, I was able to replace the fence and for the first time attach the front part with the gate.

I didn’t have enough of the teal for the front skin, so I improvised. Both sides of the fabric are exposed when the skin is finished and since I had nothing in my stash suitable to show both sides, I sewed together this patterned teal and an off-white.

I cut the patterned vinyl 1/2″ larger than the off-white, spray-glued them together, then top-stitched around the perimeter. This, I hope, will prevent moisture and mold from accumulating between the layers.

Because of its fragile state, and the fact that it takes octopus arms, I waited for Kent and Brenda to be here before I attempted putting on the bimini. I plan to buy a heartier bimini next year. The vinyl on the floor is not attached, so I can easily remove it and hose it off.

I still want to build some unique furniture, which is hard to describe and the helm needs a door on the driver’s side. That should have been done this past week, but it rained. A lot.

No project is ever completely done. That would spoil all the fun. But the boat is very comfortable for now and the motor always starts. Yay.

who needs a play date

Every morning in summer I stumble from bed, brew a coffee and take a spot on the front steps of the deck. The photo above is my front yard and you can bet I’m aware of how lucky I am.

This morning I caught movement to my left and was treated to a sight I’ve never seen before: a fawn playing tag with his mom.

life on a continuum

Life itself probably runs on kind of a continual timeline, but blogs, not so much. So let’s back up a little. What I called a pontoon boat — but was really a raft bereft of anything but four sheets of expensive plywood and two pontoons — left my hands on the fateful day that the Amphibious Superheroes jumped out of nowhere at the Trego Boat Landing. I subsequently delivered a homemade helm. At that time Tom at Shell Lake Marine said I would get the boat back with a motor in about a week.

And it was exactly a week. Saturday morning of Memorial Day weekend, I got a call from Shell Lake Marine and met Tom at the landing where he had my, um, kinda “boat” ready for launch. I brought a lawn chair, a life jacket, a throwable (part of boating regulations is that you have a throwable life preserver on the boat), boat registration and one Leinies Summer Shandy. Because no boat should be launched without a beer. In Wisconsin Leinies is mandatory. (Sorry other Wisconsin breweries. I love you all, but in my family Leinies is a tradition.)

So here’s what I sent to the marina:

And here’s what I drove back from the landing:

Huck Finn would be jealous. I must admit that it was a bit unnerving driving along with no rail. And I loved waving at all the big shiny boats out on the lake on the busiest weekend of the year. That odd lady with the . . . thing on pontoons. But look how easy it is to clean! Just drive real fast and the dirt blows off!

I did enjoy my Shandy, though. Should have taken a selfie and sent it to Leinies with a caption “Join me out here. And don’t fall off.”

Unfortunately I managed to take the picture without showing the motor. But it’s a motor. You know. A boat motor. The most admirable thing about it is that it starts. Unlike its predecessor.

the sunflower pontoon

Every now and then there bursts upon you a terrific solution that should have been there all along — and probably had been. While I’ve been struggling away trying to strip the layers of paint from the aluminum pontoon “skin” — I discovered recently that that’s the official name for the stuff — I’ve also been searching for an innovative material with which to replace it. There HAS to be something better than aluminum that will require hundreds of dollars in stripper, at least that many hours of my time (picturing myself next November wearing blaze orange to prevent being shot by deer hunters while I’m still scrubbing away at layers of faded paint) and still end up looking like, well, repainted aluminum.

Then it happened.

I know pretty much every boat that goes by here. OK. Maybe not by heart, but the boat that came rocketing around the corner last Saturday was definitely not one I’d seen before. Sunflower yellow and occupied by a lone young blonde, she scooted on past. The color of the boat and the driver sans companions were notable. But the incredible thing about this boat was the skin. It was floating…. ok, billowing. It was made of something like parachute material. The wind caught it just so, which had it fluttering quietly up the lake like nothing I’d seen before. This was not a boat. This was a butterfly on pontoons driven by the Princess of Trego.

Kent and Brenda went on a canoe ride last week (long after my first sighting) and FOUND the sunflower pontoon. So we drove up there and took some pictures. That’s all fabric on the sides. Sunflowery, huh?

And suddenly my solution was upon me! I too, could use fabric for pontoon skin. I SPRUNG into action. Well, no. To tell the truth. I stood there for awhile because I’ve seen thousands of pontoons drive by my house and I have to say that not one of them ever fluttered. So I watched awhile as she met up with another boat and they did a sort of mating dance in the wide bay upstream before disappearing into the evening mist.

Then I trudged up Killer Hill and took stock of my fabric. Nothing worked except one piece of vinyl canvas. I scratched my head and measured and re-measured and determined that I didn’t have enough. Trouble was that the fabric had to show on both sides and I didn’t have enough of anything that was suitable. All my vinyl is backed with something either kind of fuzzy and white or printed with the manufacturer’s logo. Not what you want on the outside of your boat. I walked around for two days with a deep frown.

🙁

But then I measured again. In fact, I took the half-stripped skins and laid them out on the fabric.

They just barely fit, but I was able to do it. I cut them out 1/2 inch too big all around, then hemmed them on the sewing machine. I started out ironing the hems, but was terrified that I’d melt a hole through the vinyl-coated fabric. I have no idea what this fabric is, where I got it or where to get more. If I managed to melt it, there would have been no way to replace it. So I ended up just sewing the hems without ironing, which turned out easy enough.

I then RUSHED to the hardware store and, with the help of Al, bought sheet metal screws and fender washers with which to screw the hemmed fabric to the rails. Skin at last.

It was impossible to keep all wrinkles and faults out of the canvas as I stretched it to fit the old holes, but did my best.

In fact, Kent and Brenda were here for the weekend and helped a lot with getting the last of the canvas attached to the rail. Sun angle and other factors make it look imperfect, but once it was on the boat. . .

I thought it brought some nautical class to the project. Not your typical pontoon boat. . .

Here’s the finished rail a little closer. Also showing the first coat of something on that poor neglected deck. Finally!

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.

can-can canopy

So for the last five years, I’ve been putting up a 10×20 foot canopy on the deck at Libby’s. This is incredibly useful for things like watching Cubs games. Better than Wrigley because you have the lake and no problem with parking.

The first year, I just stuck it out there and it survived the summer without a hitch. I maneuvered a clever way to put it together myself and had a great summer. The next couple of years, with the wind as its partner, it took to dancing. Once, I found it lying on its head in the yard. Last week I watched it shuffle off in the direction of the lake taking several lawn chairs with it.

So, following the “keep doing the same thing expecting different results” rule, I

WENT TO THE HARDWARE STORE

As you know, the hardware store is one of my favorite places, but this trip was especially exciting after four weeks of pandemic isolation.

After drilling 3,465 holes

through the support pipes and adding the bolts and locknuts, I had the thing pretty sturdy. I used a corded drill from Ancient Sears because my cordless was too wimpy to take on this job. I also had to make another trip to the HS to get a new drill bit when the old one wore out. I discovered the amazingness of drill bits that don’t walk. In other words, when drilling into something round and slippery, it’s nice to have a bit that’s disciplined enough to stay in the spot where you want the hole throughout the drilling process.

I also made a contraption for the one leg of the canopy that had to be on the lower deck.

In past years, I’d used the milk can that happened to be exactly the right height. But the leg never wanted to stay on the milk can. Or, it’s possible the can didn’t want the leg standing on its head. Who knows what goes on in the night?

A bit of paint on this pegleg should spruce it up a bit. And it looks like painting the deck should be added to my list of summer projects, too.

Of course, after all the work of bolting this thing together methinks it will spend its winters outside. Without the actual canopy attached, there will be no snow load so it should survive just fine.