There is nothing like messing around in boats!

That old saying is true. Especially for a real sea witch like me.

(my boat on its skid)

The boats go in quicker in the Spring than they come out in the Fall at South Milwaukee Yacht Club. My boat is tenth in line for launching. My son-in-law, Jeff, and I sit near her, waiting for the crane, lines hanging down from her cleats, ready for the crew of four club members who will place the two sling straps under the belly of her hull, right at the pieces of tape we have stuck on her to show the right positioning so she will lift level to the ground. They run the straps under her, and Jeff (a volunteer firefighter) comments that they are made of the same material as fire hoses. We watch and I hold my breath. Don't drop her!

(crane rented for the day)


(photo from a year ago of my boat in the sling - at 6:00 am)

Despite hating to see her swaying in the sling twenty feet off the ground, launch day is a happy occasion. Five net tons of baby gently placed into the water. We board her, turn on the batteries - three 12 volts the size of car batteries connected in a line under the riser I lift off of the first step down into the cabin. Jeff primes the starter, turns the key and the engine purrs to life. We motor over to her slip and the summer season has begun. We plug in the shore power cord and check all the lights. Then sitting in the cabin with root beers, we make a list of things to buy or bring back down to the boat: fishing poles, coffee, energy bars, cribbage board, child life jackets, engine oil, toothbrushes, charts, portable GPS unit. The boat moves gently beneath us as the lake sends waves into the mooring area. We could easily just fall asleep even though it is still cold outside and I have not brought the heater down yet. Add that to the list.

(interior of my boat looking forward)

(Interior of my boat looking aft)

Can't sleep. Have to do a shift helping the rest of the boats in. Sixty boats must go in today, because the yacht club rented the crane for only one day. I adjust my hard hat and leather gloves. There are four club members of our third shift crew walking along with the crane, holding lines to keep the boats from swaying too much in the sling. The crane creeps over to the put in spot and four different club members use two lines and two boat hooks to keep the boat off the wall as she is lowered in. The crane stops, lowering feet from its extensions onto pieces of press board placed on the concrete. Fascinated, I stand there with my boat hook watching the crane feet go down, then the extensions rise up.

This year I am assigned to a boat hook, pushing on the boat hulls, keeping them inches from the wall as they descend. When they are in the water, the owner jumps on board and we push them over to a pier. I duck down, pushing against a rub rail with my boat hook, a line handler raising a line attached to a bow cleat to step over and around me. Then I reposition my hook and stand up to follow, pushing on the bowsprit to start turning the boat ninety degrees - pushing it parallel to the pier. Others on the pier hold the lines while the owner tests his engine before backing out to go off to his slip. The crane has already lifted its feet to go after the next boat on its skid or jack stands.

After the first two boats, no words of instruction are needed. We are now a team in a coordinated dance. I push my boat hook against the hull, then step back behind a line handler, or duck under his line, moving the boat out from under the crane and turn it against the pier. The owner starts his engine and a couple of the boats take longer to start, engines sputtering after months of idleness. But most rumble to life with the unique voices of a single screw inboard or a twin screw inboard/outboard or twin screw inboard.

You can gauge the heaviness of each boat by its movement in the sling. And where most of the weight is in the hull - usually toward the stern. Sea Ray, Trojan, Bayliner, Carver, Four Winns. You get to know what they are, especially the chunky Carvers, before you see the name on the hull. I never could tell car models, that is a male skill. But boats I can. I guess it is all about what interests you, I think as I look around and realize I am the only female on these launch day crews. But I don't feel out of place. This is where I want to be. This is where I belong.

My crew, the third shift, works an extra hour, just to get the last boat in. Fourth crew will not have to move boats but will have to move skids and jack stands to the corner of the yacht club yard. I am tired as I walk to the club house for a hot meal, removing my hard hat and stuffing the stiff leather gloves into the pockets of my jacket. This was a satisfying shift. All the boats are in the water. This is as good as life gets.

(my boat in her slip)

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Comment by Kim on January 24, 2009 at 2:36pm
I think you and my mom would get along swimmingly. She loves boats, and anything that has water in it. Me, I'm the girl hanging over the side sea sick the whole time. LOL


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