Buicks, pontoons and clumsy older models

Speed is second to finding the dock

05/12/2010 12:00 AM

05/11/2010 10:52 AM

My first car was a '77 Buick LeSabre, white with baby-blue plush interior. I remember the upholstery especially, because I had to use thumbtacks to keep the ceiling from flapping in my face as I drove -- not that it ever went that fast. There was around a two-second lapse between pressing the accelerator and feeling the engine's response, which made pulling into heavy traffic quite an adventure.

Maneuvering was also an adventure; I rarely made it out of a parking lot without running into something. The car was so wide that, to properly align it in the road, I had to aim the hood ornament for the white line.

It used a ridiculous amount of gas, getting something like 9 mpg, and it was big enough to hold all of my friends at once. I don't know if that was more a testament to the car's size or my popularity -- but it didn't matter. No one wanted to be seen in the thing, anyway.

So last Saturday, when my husband took us for a cruise in our new pontoon boat, I was instantly taken back to my teenage years. Just three years newer than the LeSabre, the boat's upholstery and gas mileage are strikingly similar to that of my first car.

Within a minute of starting the engine, we were bathed in a cloud of smoke. Our miniature dachshund got excited and tried to run across the bench seat to see what was going on, but she got caught in a crack in the fabric and stuck fast. Some fishermen up the cove tipped their hats and snickered, while I cowered, wishing I had some baby-blue upholstery to hide under.

Like that of the LeSabre, the boat's engine took several minutes of warming up before we were ready to pull out. When we did, we barely moved the needle on the speedometer. My 4-year-old son, who judges everything based on its speed, lamented that we were being passed by every navigable craft on the lake, plus a few ducks.

"Go faster!" he demanded. Oh, son. If only you could have experienced the LeSabre.

Once we were safely under the first bridge, the sky opened up above us, the breeze tickled our faces, and the engine quieted enough for us to hold a conversation. The dachshund dislodged herself from the seat and found a sunny spot on the deck. We took turns at the helm and pointed out familiar landmarks heretofore seen only from, well, land. It was a successful and enjoyable maiden voyage.

We've been saving for a boat since we moved here. For his first Father's Day, I gave my husband a bit of cash in an old can I had decorated with the words "Daddy's Boat Fund" and scrapbook cut-outs of various leisurely mementos such as lounge chairs and margaritas. Like my first car, Phil is quite a bit older than I am -- almost 10 years -- and he waited a long time for a family of his own and then a boat to cruise with them . He scoured Craig's List and finally found a decent deal.

There's no ramp where we're keeping the boat, so, earlier last week, Phil put it in the water at a public landing and then brought it around to the dock. I had the kids in the car when I dropped him off at the landing, and I was to drive around and pick him up in an hour or so, which would give him enough time to get to the dock and tie the boat off. It sounded like a good plan.

"Honey," Phil said as I turned to go. "Uh, I forgot to bring the chart with me. Call me when you get back to the house and you can talk me through the channel markers to our dock."

"You ... WHAT? I can ...WHAT? You want me to talk you through this route over the phone?" I'd never read a nautical map in my life, and I wasn't prepared to deal with Phil's senility in such a tangible way. Suddenly, I felt like I was pulling into traffic in the LeSabre.

To compound the problem, the wind was high that day, so once he was out on the water, Phil had to shout into the phone to be heard.

But we did fine, at least until we got to the spot where there were no more channel markers. After that, I was shouting things like, "Turn left at Smith Street" and "Go around the blue road." Very helpful.

Somehow, Phil made it to the dock. As I pulled up to meet him, I paused for a moment to consider this weathered vessel that I had guided to shore. It's an older model that doesn't run quite like it used to, with a bit of rust and some trouble maneuvering. In its heyday, I'm sure it was quite impressive. And he still is.

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