Anderson: For the love of boats — and why not?

Over the years I’ve owned various garages that housed various boats, but none of these structures was more sacred than the first, a dimly lit edifice that featured the usual remnants of workshop clutter: a broom in a corner, shovels and rakes scattered. -skelter in another, a bench full of unreturned tools borrowed from friends and a bad painting of a mallard hanging over a door.

Also, in addition to a vintage aluminum fishing boat on a trailer, the garage housed a Shell Lake hunting skiff, an unrestored craft built circa 1950 whose presence reminded me daily that the thrill of impulse buying often fades with the money spent.

I am addressing the issue of boathouses now, in April, because — bear with me — the current rage of people whose psychic balance is upset by the news of the day is to create meditation rooms in which moods pleasant, even spiritual awakenings, can be achieved. Savvy decorators suggest these rooms be outfitted with “bells, chimes, crystals and affirmation stones” and perhaps even “spearmint and eucalyptus meditation candles.” When combined with the recommended dozen buff pillows scattered on the floor, these trinkets are guaranteed to help achieve the desired serenity. Or not.

Anyway, sitting in a boat on its trailer in a garage in April, when ice still covers many Minnesota lakes, has long given me a similar state of elation. And not just for me, but for hundreds of thousands and maybe even millions of boat owners – a claim, I concede, that is unverifiable, but for present purposes we’ll let it go.

What is verifiable is that anticipation of positive future events can induce its own kind of euphoria, so much so, according to the researchers, that the process to anticipate an event to come is often remembered with more tenderness and clarity than the event itself.

In this case, the anticipation by boat owners of coming into open water and the imagined splashing of their boats, whether large or small, is an act, especially after a long dark winter, that provides its own kind of delirium, candles optional.

This attraction to water and to float a boat in it is common to almost everyone, especially those for whom the opportunity is seasonally restricted, as is the case in Minnesota.

When I was a kid in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, we had a Crestliner cartop that my dad would tip over trestles for the winter. It was outside, in the backyard, and our kitchen window offered a bird’s eye view of the craft and the snow that was accumulating there, from December to March.

In April, my father had watched the boat for so many months that he began to do so even during the meal prayer, perhaps hesitating between thanking the Lord for our daily bread and begging him, finally and once and for all , to free us from the bondage of winter.

From the start, I was captivated by my father’s love of boats and water, and when summer came, I would bike to our town’s little harbor on a bay in Lake Michigan. A local guy owned a Chris-Craft, maybe a 35-footer, a sleek cruiser with a mahogany transom that he polished daily with soft rags and elbow grease. Swinging my legs over the edge of the dock, I listened wide-eyed as he regaled me with stories of trips he’d made to Mackinac Island and Petoskey and Harbor Springs and Detroit, places I couldn’t otherwise imagine visiting only by moonlight.

Like my dad, my first boat was a 16 foot aluminum job that I bought second hand, fitted with a 10 horsepower Johnson, 1960 vintage. I also had a trailer in the case, and when I moved to Ely, tied the boat and motor up to a two-bit dock that stretched out to White Iron Lake in front of my rented two-bit cabin. If you were an eagle back then, circling overhead, high in midday thermals, none of this would have sounded like much. I wasn’t a big hit with a yacht, or even the owner of a glitzy fishing boat like those sported by the perpetually excited TV anglers. But when I left the dock, my elbow bent at the helm, fishing through the Silver Rapids to Farm and Garden lakes, a spinning rod ready to bounce, I knew the freedom of movement, of leaven, even, that all boat owners and passengers feel and know.

Over time, the desire to replicate such experiences only grows, as does the anticipation of being on the water between launches. Whether an engine provides the power, or oars or paddles, it doesn’t matter. The construction can be fiberglass, wood or plastic. Again, it doesn’t matter. In variations, each will sway gently in calm waters and pitch and yaw between foam-covered waves, hence their attraction.

Being carried by the water then becomes not only an act in itself worthy of being repeated from the ice to the freeze-up, and also worthy of anticipation in the months that follow, including now, in April, but a state of mind – its own kind of meditation room.

How else to explain the celebration over the centuries, literally and metaphorically, of water and water travel in American poetry and music?

Dating back to 1842, examples among many include Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “The Wreck of the Hesperus” and, more recently, Kenny Chesney and his song “Boats”.

When the sun is at her back and the winds in her face
It’s just him and the wheel
He wouldn’t take a million for the
The way it makes him feel
Liberty Ships
Listing ports

So it is, now in April, that hundreds of thousands of us, maybe even millions, retire to garages and sheds, and sit in our boats.


Earnest A. Martinez