“Adventure” Boating

It could be said that all of my boating in the Okanagan should be called “adventure” boating. This was a term Wade and I started using to describe just some of our boating experiences, but it could also describe my record with boats in general.

When I first moved to the Okanagan I believed in the adage that it was a crime to live on the lake and not have a boat. One of the very first things I did when I arrived in the spring of 1993 was to buy a boat from Dockside Marine, which was to set a theme for the next fourteen years. I put a deposit on it because we were heading back to Ontario in the van to sell off everything in the house on Mara Crescent and would be back in about three weeks or so. I was to bring them a certified cheque for $5,600 after we had water tested the boat. My brother and I met the sales guy from the dealership at the Kelowna marina and he took us out for a spin. The boat seemed perfect, so I handed over the cheque to the sales guy and my brother drove the boat back to our marina in Westbank. I was to pick-up the trailer later in the week.

When my mother and I returned from garage saleing Saturday morning, where I bought a tow rope and a spare gas can, my Dad greeted us at the door and, from the look on his face, my first questions was going to be “who died”? He told me he had watched a story on the news about a boat on fire over in Green Bay and he had run down to make sure my boat was still in the marina. It wasn’t. We immediately phoned the RCMP to report my boat stolen and see if we could match up the information, but they had little to share. A local resident had gone out to the burning boat to make sure no one was on board, then he had phoned it in. Although the RCMP attended to where it sank, they had no information what-so-ever as to its location. They said it was way too deep and I would never find it. They were useless and proved even more useless as far as catching who stole my boat. I managed to find the witness and he was very helpful. I asked if the engine was in the “up” position or down, but he could not remember. Because the boat was in the marina I left the engine down and this would mean it might not have been destroyed in the fire. I hired a recovery crew and we met the witness out on the bay. Amazingly he was within twenty-five feet of where it went down. They towed it to the beach but as soon as it started coming out of the water I saw that the engine was in the “up” position and it was just a mass of molten metal. The leg was fine but everything else was toast.

Oh well, I thought, I never even got to drive my first boat, but the dealer’s insurance would cover it so I just needed to find another boat. I called the dealer, who informed me that it was not covered by their insurance because it was a consignment boat. I said no one disclosed this to me, and they still had my trailer, so the deal was not finalized and they were obligated to still be insuring it. To my amazement they said insurance was up to the owners of the boat. When I called them they said that they had let the insurance lapse back in May when they took it to Dockside, who they understood were insuring it as part of their inventory. They were as amazed as I was that there was no insurance on the boat.

Before I just accepted that my welcome to the Okanagan had been losing $5,600, something I could ill afford, I contacted a lawyer who agreed that the deal was not finalized because I had not taken delivery of the trailer and had not signed off. Obviously I needed the trailer and the papers to transfer the insurance and get new plates for the trailer. He made it all sound pretty simple and said we could sue them in small claims court because it was less than ten thousand dollars.

When we first got to court I learned exactly what kind of closed-knit community Kelowna was. The principle from the dealer was an ex-mayor and he was greeted warmly by the judge. After hearing his argument that the boat had been paid for in full by certified cheque, the judge ruled that was sufficient to consider the deal done and we never even got a chance to speak. So much for fairness. Welcome to Kelowna!

Much as it pained me not to have a boat, it was a couple of years before I thought of owning a boat again. I don’t even remember the exact circumstances of how I found my next boat. I seem to remember it was parked outside a door and window salvage place, which should have been my first clue. It was a strange little boat because it was a tri-hull, something I didn’t even know existed. The guy from the store came out and said it was a consignment boat, but he knew a little about it. He said the tri-hull design made it very stable, especially in choppy water, which there was no shortage of on Lake Okanagan. We took it out on a relatively calm day and it ran great. He was right – it was incredibly stable. I bought it.

Although I don’t remember exactly how many years I had my little 14 foot “cork” we sure had some interesting times. Every decent weather weekend was spent on the lake, most of time just trying to find some calm water to ski. A bunch of us boat owners would find each other somewhere around Kelowna and tie all the boats together, kick back, enjoy the sunshine and some “pops”. It was heaven. At the end of the day someone would volunteer their place and we would buy some steaks and have a BBQ, then pull our boats and meet at the Corral for the night. It was the best times of my life with the best people. Thanks to boating I soon had about twenty really great friends.

Two of the more “adventurous” (read life threatening) experiences with this boat were the hydroplane races and our weekend across from Summerland. Pretty sure it was the first year of the races and, of course, the best place to watch them from is on the water. The wind was pretty strong and the water was choppy, conditions my boat didn’t like much. As the water got too rough the races were cancelled and everyone started for home. We had been on the north side of the bridge. Often the conditions on either side of the bridge were night and day. This was one of those times. As we came under the bridge, heading for the Eldorado just down the shore from the bridge, where the trailer was, we encountered the biggest waves I had ever seen on the lake. Thankfully Wade, who has a lot more experience than I did, was driving. We had two very drunk girls in the back and he looked at me and said it was good they were drunk because they didn’t know how much trouble we were in. That didn’t make me feel much better.

He started basically “tacking” like a sailboat, because if we headed straight down the shoreline, the boat would have been swamped. Every once in a while Wade would shout that we had “incoming” and a wave would crash over the bow and flood the boat. I had the sump pump running full blast, but the boat was lurching so badly there was no way I could manage to also bail with a bucket. At one point, when Wade yelled, I was on the cell phone, so I calmly told them to hang on and held my phone up high so the water crashing over the windshield wouldn’t soak it and then went back to talking. Wade told this story many times. Admittedly it must have looked pretty funny. At full speed, the ride to the El might have taken ten minutes, max. This day, with all the tacking, we didn’t get close until forty-five minutes after coming under the bridge. The swells were so huge I had no idea how I was going to get off to get the trailer and even less idea how Wade was going to get the boat on the trailer. As we approached the dock he said I had one shot at it and I would have to leap because he couldn’t come in too close or he would crash into the dock. I literally took a “leap of faith”, praying to make the dock, and not smash my body into the end of it, or worse, hit the water and drown, but I made it.

I backed into the boat launch area as best I could but the waves were just huge. I didn’t know whether to stay to help Wade or stay away to avoid being killed when the boat came launched in mid air somewhere around the trailer. So true to Wade, he hit the crest of a wave, surfing the boat up towards the trailer. As the wave broke the boat landed perfectly on the trailer, literally a few inches from the winch. Wade just bowed. I hooked it on and pulled out and we tied it down properly. I had never seen anything like that, before or since. There were so many things that could have gone so wrong!

One of the joys of having a boat was to pack up and head to the other side of the lake, to Okanagan Mountain Park, find a deserted cove and camp for the night. One warm summer night Jackie and I loaded up some firewood and headed across to a favorite cove. It was getting a little dark by the time we got there but I managed to tie the boat off with the anchor and a nearby tree. We slept in the raw, of course, and when we woke to a glorious sunny, warm day, well, nature took its course. The next thing we hear is the giant CAT machine start-up at the top of the cliff, where someone was building a house! We made some guy’s morning. You never saw two people get dressed faster!

Wade and I thought we would see if we could get a bunch of our friends together and camp across the lake for a weekend. Early Friday morning we started looking for places but they were all taken, all the way down the lake. We finally found a perfect sheltered cove with no one there, so we decided to head off early the following weekend and claim it. The following Friday was an awesome day. We loaded all our stuff into my boat and Wade’s, Summer Thunder, and made our way down to our cove, just across the lake from Summerland. We spent the day and much of the next ferrying people across from Shaughnessy’s Cove. In between we ate, drank, water skied, hiked and, in general, had a blast. I think over the weekend we had some twenty-one people spend some of the weekend there.

The number one “adventure” ever? Well, we decided to boat down to a pub in Penticton Saturday night, so we loaded up both boats. I remember having at least four good looking babes in my boat for the trip down. We had tied our boats off at the docks in front of the Lakeside and gone into the bar. Around ten-thirty someone came into the bar hollering that whoever owned the boats outside should get out there right away before they smashed to smithereens. When we rushed down to the dock the first thing I saw was that my bumpers were completely smashed to bits and my boat was crashing up against the dock. In minutes it would also be in pieces. Wade hollered instructions to me that I had only one shot at cresting the wave out of the marina or I would be smashed on the rocks behind us. Where were the girls who had traveled sown with me? Safely on Wade’s big boat. I had a moment of panic at going it alone, but at the last minute, my buddy Greg volunteered to risk his life with me.

We no sooner managed to leap over the first giant wave out of danger from the docks, than the bow nose-dived into a huge wave and we were swamped by tons of water. In the darkness I heard Wade hollering at me to speed up so that we would cut the wave and not drown. I gently moved the throttle up but we were being thrown around like the cork my boat was. I honestly didn’t think we were going to make it, especially not in the pitch black of night with no idea where we were or how not to crash on shore. Wade saved my life that night. He kept checking ahead and coming back, circling my boat and making sure we were okay. It took us hours to navigate to below the single light we remembered up on the hill and get into our little protected cove. No idea what we would have done if we had not had our sheltered cove or anywhere to go. It was a brutal storm. I wanted to kiss the sand when we finally made it back.

When we packed up the next day and bagged all our garbage, as we always did, everyone started piling the bags in my boat, not Wade’s. I asked if they thought I was a garbage barge, which was a huge mistake, as the name stuck. I came down the lakes with babes and went back with bags of garbage. Not a happy ending.

Near the end of one summer we went up to boat and camp at a campground in the Shuswap, I think it was called Scottie’s Cove. We ventured down the south leg of the Shuswap and ended up in a little marina, called Little River Boatworld, to get gas. While I filled up, Wade had wandered up to the lot to look at the boats for sale. He called me to come and have a look at one. It was what’s called a “deep V” for the hull design. It had a very wide berth; a ski locker and an Evinrude 135 outboard. It was also very clean with hardly a mark on it. This boat had obviously been cared for. Wade urged me to speak to the dealer about it and I did. He said it was a 1984, one owner boat that they had always taken care of from the day it was new. They had just done a complete engine rebuild and he showed me the file, which showed $3400 for the rebuild alone, plus regular maintenance since 1984. They were asking something like $9900, but I told the guy I would only pay $8400, which was nothing to do with the boat value; it was all the money I could manage until I sold my current boat. He phoned the owner and to my considerable surprise and delight, he agreed. They would give it the once over and deliver it down to me in Westbank the next week.

So, here I was owning two boats all of a sudden. I was working at Central Valley Trucks at the time, who were located right at the very busy corner of Highway 97 and Sexsmith Road, so I asked if I could put the boat in the yard with a For Sale sign and they said no problem. A few days later I got a call from the RCMP telling me they had found what was left of my boat just outside of town on Glenmore Road. Although we had a security video showing them hooking up to the trailer, the black and white quality was too poor to read a plate number. I went to see the boat which had been ditched off the side of the road. There was nothing left but a shell. They had even stolen the sump pump. I managed to get a decent insurance settlement, plus they never asked me about the trailer, which was still fine and I sold it for over a thousand dollars on top of the insurance settlement, which was about six grand, so I made out okay.

There’s a whole sidebar story here as to why it took forever to get my money from the insurance company, involving a boat that Greg wanted sold and he had transferred it into a friend’s name, Don, in Vancouver. It had been stolen the very same weekend as mine and when the police called Don, like an idiot, he said he knew nothing about it, so the police thought there was some sort of ring stealing boats and they thought I was part of it. I wasn’t.

The funny part of the new boat was that I had to put ten hours on the engine before I could take it over a thousand revs, so I spent the better part of a week puttering along the shoreline in Westbank. Finally on Saturday morning I knew if I went down to get gas in Peachland that would come close to the ten hours, so off I went. I was disappointed to be all alone on such a momentous occasion, but no one was available. It took forever to get to Peachland, of course, cruising at about trolling speed, but eventually I filled up. As I looked out to the lake that had been so calm coming down, now I could see the whitecaps. Just my luck, I thought! All this time puttering around to log hours on the engine and now this!

I eased out of the marina and started heading back to Westbank. The boat was pitching and rolling in the swells, so I gave it a little more throttle. It felt like it was cutting the crest of the waves a little better, so I gave it some more. Before long I was at full speed, knifing through the crests of waves with ease. I could have had a drink, the ride was so clean and stable. I was thrilled and let out a yippee, but no one was with me to hear me. I was so excited to tell Mum and Dad how great the boat was when I got back. It was the start of many hours of wonderful boating in my favorite boat. It was everything I could have wanted. The deep ski locker was perfect. The wide beam was perfect for having lots of people on board. The engine just purred and you could have a normal conversation at full speed. The deep V design is perfect for conditions on the Okanagan.

Had I not run into money problems I would never have had to sell that boat. I don’t remember the exact circumstances but I had a period where I didn’t work and money was getting tight. It was nearing the end of summer, the worst possible time to sell a boat, but I had no choice. I parked it on the side of 97 at Ethel and prepared to sit there until I sold it. I got asked to move it twice, and I said I would, but I stayed put. Eventually a nice young couple stopped to have a look and they ended up buying it. Although I had installed a smoking stereo system in it for a few hundred bucks, I basically got back what I paid for it. This was my last boat and will probably stay that way.

Although not specifically my boat, Dad’s boat sort of ended up being mine and it was even more of a disaster. It involved a crooked dealer, a crooked seller, and a horrible bank, but it’s one for another day. I’m missing boating on the Okanagan a lot right now and don’t feel like another story at the moment. More later.