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My husband Mark and I were never meant to own a motor boat. Why not? Any couple who can't figure out how to open their car hood, should probably stick to something propelled by oars. And we surely would have done just that, had the prior owner of our weekend home not made it a package deal. If we wanted his irresistible house, we'd have to spring for his 120 horse power boat -- perfect for anyone whose idea of relaxation is charging across a rocky three mile lake at the speed of screams.

OUR FIRST TIME OUT: My husband -- a man who can build a wood stove fire in a flash, who whips up gourmet feasts in fifteen languages -- couldn't figure out how to unhook the boat's cover. Refusing my help, he struggled for an hour. Victorious at last he hurled the cover off, in the process spilling gallons of water all over the boat.

By then I was ready to bail out. But Mark handed me a pail, and we spent the next 45 minutes heaving water overboard. Once all the water was safely under the boat, it was time to begin boating. I optimistically climbed onto our 16 footer, while my husband worked the knots from ashore. A former boy scout, he did this rather well. So well, that the boat (free at last) started to drift without him. For while we had been fussing and bailing, the wind had picked up speed and was strong enough to thrust the boat several yards from the dock.

Mark rolled up his pant legs and waded up to the boat, scoffing at my suggestion that we call it a day. After climbing aboard, he asked what I had done with the boat keys -- the keys he had left on the dock while undoing the knots. Having felt a few raindrops, I diplomatically suggested that we pull the still drifting boat back to its dock. "It's not raining," my husband insisted, as he lowered himself into the lake and swam ashore to fetch the keys.

Back on board, my husband turned on the blower to get rid of the gas fumes. Being excessively neurotic, we waited five times as long as we were supposed to. This gave the boat plenty of time to pick up speed, as did my imaginary raindrops.

Mark finally declared us gas fume free and ceremoniously announced that we were on our way as he turned the ignition key. Nothing. He pulled it out and examined it, apparently hoping for some sort of revelation. He tried again. Still nothing. He looked around for help, but we were the only ones who hadn't run for shelter.

At this point it must have occurred to my husband that it wasn't an ideal time for our first outing. He climbed out of the boat and tried to pull us in. The boat barely moved -- this was a two person job. The comical sight of my drenched husband wiped away my annoyance. So I lowered myself into the lake and together we managed to maneuver the boat back to the dock.

Rejecting further assistance, my husband bravely fought rain, ropes, and cover. He tied compulsively tight knots, only to realize he should have affixed the cover first. The ropes were now soaked and nearly impossible to undo. I offered to work on the cover while he tackled the ropes. But my captain refused.

Finally finished his un-knotting, Mark undertook the cover challenge. First he put it on backwards, then sideways, always rebuffing my offers of help. I was about to explain that securing a boat cover was not unlike putting a fitted sheet on a mattress, until I remembered that he couldn't do that either.

OUR NEXT ATTEMPT: Mark spent the next month trying to persuade me to take out the boat again. I pointed out that we had never actually taken it out. Finally, in a moment of weakness, I agreed. But this time I brought along a book.

I had read only three chapters by the time Mark managed to deal with both cover and ropes in the right sequence. This might have had something to do with the fact that a handy neighbor (a fellow who actually knew how to open car hoods) was helping him. I, naturally, wasn't allowed to assist. This was men's work.

Our engine still wouldn't start, and our neighbor Bill pronounced the battery dead. While I made further progress on my book, he watched Mark try to undo the cables and remove the battery. He patiently spoke words of encouragement and made a few helpful suggestions. I kept reading.

Finally Bill couldn't take it any more. He shoved my husband aside, yanked the battery out and handed it to my husband. Then he gave him explicit instructions on where to buy a replacement only a few minutes away, what to purchase, and how to install it. That done, he jumped into his own boat, backed out of the dock, and sped away. When Bill returned three hours later, my husband was still trying to install the new battery. I'd gone back home to get another book.

OUR THIRD TRY: By the time our saintly neighbor had installed the battery, it was too dark out to dodge the rocks. So we didn't boat that weekend or, for that matter, any of the next four weekends. (I can be very creative in the excuse department.) When autumn arrived, we were still virgin boaters.

In a last ditch effort at persuasion, Mark pointed out that this was our last weekend to take the boat out (as in actually leave the dock area) before we spent $300 to pull it out of the lake for the winter. Equipped with reading matter and rain gear, I reluctantly joined him.

This time my husband did me proud. In only 30 minutes and with no help at all (our neighbors were hiding) he got us to engine count-down. "Everything will go just fine," he assured me. "We have a brand new battery, and the boat's in terrific shape." He ran the blower and with a flourish he turned the key. Click. He turned it again and again. Nothing but clicks. Plus the dirty look he gave me when I started to laugh.

BOATING SEASON TWO: That winter, I tried to talk my husband into selling the boat. But he was convinced that somehow we'd make it to the middle of the lake. "All it needs is a good tune-up," said he. What neither of us knew was finding a boat repair person -- any boat repair person -- is even harder than finding someone reliable to fix your car.

Boating season starts in late spring, but not for us. It took dozens of phone calls over a two month period to persuade someone to fix our boat. I'm convinced some people place service ads in the "Yellow Pages" as a practical joke: "Our boat repair ad brought 79 calls today. What fun!. These suckers actually think we fix boats."

WE TRY AGAIN: We finally found someone willing to take our business, and hundreds of dollars later it was time for our maiden voyage. Unfortunately we had company that day. Both sets of parents were visiting and, embarrassed to admit that this would be our first boat launch, we welcomed them aboard. Our mothers declined, but our fathers eagerly accepted. Mark would have to start, back out, pilot, and dock the boat all for the first time, in front of the world's toughest audience.

After the four of us climbed aboard Mark started the engine, and the newly repaired boat began to purr. He backed out through the narrow space, trying to look like he knew what he was doing. Our mothers shouted words of encouragement from ashore like "Don't hit anything," and "Why aren't you wearing your life jackets?"

Starting to get the hang of it, Mark grew cocky and began to show off. He gave the powerful engine so much fuel that the boat seemed to fly across the lake. Water skiers watched enviously as we sped past them. Other boaters and even some people on shore shouted words of admiration. Or at least that's what we thought they were shouting. What they were really saying was "Watch out for the rocks!". Thank god nobody was hurt -- except for the boat.

Last week, after over two years of motor boat ownership (uncharacterized by anything one could accurately call boating), I finally heard the words I'd longed to hear: "Honey, we should probably consider selling the motorboat." Grateful that my husband had finally come to his senses, I enthusiastically agreed. Until he added "We'll trade it in for a sailboat."

I think I'll join a book club.

© Madeleine Begun Kane. All Rights Reserved.
1st Published Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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