Boat Lift Blues I

There is a musty old adage among boaters: “A boat is a hole in the water into which you throw money.” And time, I hasten to add.

It’s not only boats. It’s everything that has to do with boats. Boat lifts, for example.

“Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.” ~ Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows

I heartily agree with the Water Rat, but if ever I stop messing about with boats long enough to formulate a spreadsheet and fill it with calculations of the time and money I’ve poured into nautical endeavors, I’ll be forced to immediately stop boating. For I’ll certainly discover that each hour, no, each minute spent actually sailing or paddling or waterskiing has cost me a king’s ransom in time and treasure. For this reason, I’ll never attempt the calculations because – truth be told – no sensible person can justify recreational boating.

It’s not the boating itself, you see. It’s everything else. It’s maintaining and preparing the boat and tidying up after boating. It’s making sure the boat consistently, reliably works, and fixing the boat when it doesn’t. And it’s all of the peripheral tasks like installing and removing the dock and the boat lift each spring and fall. And fixing them when they break… No, that sounds far too easy.

Time to Sing the Boat Lift Blues

Until yesterday, a broken boat lift was the most recent foible co-conspiring with six straight weeks of rain to dramatically dampen our 2013 boating season. But this morning, when the luxurious responsibility of returning the lift to deeper water and transporting the Ski Nautique from the Essex Shipyard back to Rosslyn’s waterfront, I am at last willing to summarize the boat lift blues.

I will refrain from sharing the boat lift manufacturer’s name, because I do not wish the company ill, nor do I hold them totally accountable for the parade of mishaps which have stunted our boating season significantly. And I genuinely believe that the manufacturer has made an effort to help us resolve this mess. An imperfect effort, but an effort. So I’ll spare them embarrassment and you the sort of grumbling that grates at our emotions like nails on a chalkboard.

Rather than chronicling Rosslyn’s 2013 boat lift blues in the nail biting detail that my bride would readily offer, I’ll recap a few highlights and get on with it. Why? Because the only greater truism about boating than its uneconomical folly is that boaters enjoy, no, love laughing at the boating misfortunes of other boaters. Sophomoric you say? Perhaps. But nautical nuts seek sweet recompense where it swims. So today, I offer my misadventures for your psychological succor. Enjoy.

The photo gallery above captures the trajectory of our boat lift blues and quickest and tiniest terms. The slightly more dilated story begins back in March or April. Normally we take advantage of Lake Champlain’s boating “pre-season”, launching in early May when the water temperature is still in the 30s.  But our Santa Fe sojourn and cross-country walkabout this spring resulted in a later launch, timed to follow our late may return to Essex. We padded launch day with enough time to install the dock and boat lift, and by the beginning of June we were ready to make up for lost time.

We were ready, but the meteorologists had other plans for us. Rain.

Despite the unseasonably low Lake Champlain water levels when we returned from the Southwest — so low in fact that North Country pundits were already lathered up about the causes and impact of shallow water — meteorologists began to dish up rain. And then more rain. And then still more rain.

So the boat was in the water. But the miserable weather prevented us from using it. And worse? We had to raise the boat lift every day or two just to ensure that the rising lake Champlain water levels wouldn’t sweep our craft away. Day after day, week after week lake levels rose and we elevated the ski boat up, up, up.

Until the fateful day. My bride was abroad. And I had just boarded the ferry to Vermont. I was scheduled to be de-pretzel-ized by my chiropractor in Shelburne, and noticing how high the waves were coming to the boat, I called Doug (our handy man / caretaker) on my mobile phone with a request to stop at the waterfront on his way to lunch and raise the boat lift once again.

And then suddenly my phone was ringing. In a rushed jumble of panicky language he explained to me that the lift broke and the boat was bobbing in the waves. No, worse. the boat was in danger of cracking up in the rough water, either smashing against the stone retaining wall, or against the dock, or against the boathouse. He was worried about all three options. I was worried about a fourth, I was worried that the boat might crush him. It’s worth noting that he doesn’t swim. In fact, is not at all fond of water. Nor is he a boater. He’s never been in a boat so far as I know, and he’s often told me that he doesn’t know how to operate a boat. And yet somehow he was clinging to the broken boatlift, a wave-rocked dock, a bobbing boat weighing is much as his pickup truck, and carrying on it panicky dialogue with me on his mobile phone.

A Messy Situation

Within minutes Doug had managed to open up the boat cover, turn on the batteries, started the boat, learned how to use the throttle, and pulled away from Scylla and Charybdis  into Lake Champlain’s rougher but presently safer waters.

We remained in telephone contact as he learned how to operate the boat, and I arrived in Charlotte, Vermont long enough to reboard the Essex-bound ferry. As I chugged back across the lake with a half dozen other commuters, I looked out for our boat.  The image of a shoreline above with a tiny runabout was my first view of man and boat intact, waiting for me to arrive and help him dock at the Essex Shipyard. In short order I received permission from the marina’s operator to store our boat for the foreseeable future while we repaired our boatlift.

In the weeks since then we have tried and tried and tried to repair the boat lift. At first it appeared that the cable had sheared and snapped. So the manufacturer sent as a replacement. Although it took a week to arrive, I was elated to have it in my hands, and I immediately hauled tools to the waterfront. Unfortunately I discovered that one of the three chains, akin to oversized motorcycle chains, which connect the gears inside the lift was broken. Snapped. Another conversation with the manufacturer, and this time the shipping was prompt and gratis. Again, my spirits soared. Unfortunately while attempting to install the replacement chain discovered another setback. The replacement chain was about 56 inches shorter than the one it was intended to replace. Another conversation with the manufacturer, more frustrated now, and curt but told me he’d figured out. A few days later the correct chain arrived. My bride backed me up with a bucket beneath the lift to ensure that any falling parts wouldn’t sink to the bottom of the lake, and after an hour or so of mechanical microsurgery the chain was installed and working. Yesterday the caretaker and I managed to thread the new cable through the lift and perform a successful test. Today I’ll retrieve the boat from the marina to whom I owe a gargantuan debt of gratitude. Will pull the lift back out to the end of the dock, and — just in time for latest round of houseguests — we will once again be able to use the boat conveniently from Rosslyn’s waterfront.

That’s the boat lift blues. Sing them with me, and hope with me that the lift work properly, unfailingly  for the balance of the boating season. All aboard!

About virtualDavis

A writer, storyteller and unabashed flâneur, George Davis (aka virtualDavis or G.G. Davis, Jr.) is the author of Rosslyn Redux: Reawakening a home, a dream and ourselves, a transmedia chronicle about rehabilitating an historic property in the Adirondacks with his bride. He blogs about storytelling, poetry, doodling, marginalia, flânerie, publishing, and other creativity-inspired esoterica at; posts sometimes exhilarating, often unnerving, occasionally euphoric, and always pollyanna "midlife mashups" at; chronicles his sailing adventures (and misadventures) at Sailing Errant; and delves into matters of parenting, babylandia, and childfreedom at Why No Kids? George formerly taught and coached at Santa Fe Preparatory School and The American School of Paris, and he co-founded and launched Maison Margaux: "Paris à la parisienne" in Faubourg Saint-Germain. He currently owns and operates Adobe Oasis in Santa Fe, New Mexico with his bride. George meanders on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Pinterest, YouTube and Flickr.
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4 Responses to Boat Lift Blues I

  1. Jim says:

    I expect a song with a strong backbeat to accompany this story.

  2. Suzanne says:

    Boats aren’t the problem, the mechanics are. Abandon all the motors and machines and enjoy some peaceful paddling, Geo!

    • virtualDavis says:

      Sound advice, Suzanne! Time to convince my bride, family and friends… And if the wind would increase for a day, I’d be thrilled to go windsurfing sans mechanics. :-)

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