This weekend we borrowed my parents boat to go out on Dworshak Reservoir (pictures here). The air was filled with smoke from the wildfires to the west but we hadn’t been boating in a couple years and it was originally planned to take all our kids out and do some water skiing as well as check on a geocache that was reported to be missing. Kim and James ended up not going so it was just Barb, Xenia, and I.
We arrived at my parents house and the boat battery had a charger and my brother’s van jumpered to it. My brother showed up and said he had cleaned the points and other minor maintenance that had caused problems with boat before. It wouldn’t start until he jumped the battery but it ran fine once he did that. We disconnected the charger and the jumper cables and tried starting it again. It started just fine. Great! We hooked up the pickup to the boat, transferred our gear and took off for the lake.
While Xenia and I put the boat in the lake Barb used the restroom. We were blocking someone about to pull their boat out of the lake so I pushed us off and hopped in the boat expecting to start the boat, hover just off shore until Barb came back, pick her up on the dock then take off. The boat was quickly drifting away from the dock with the help of a breeze when I turned the key and instead of being awarded with the roar of the 140 HP Chevy II engine I heard just “click, click, click” as the solenoid alternately engaged and disengaged without the engine even turning over.
Xenia and I extracted the paddle from underneath the life-jackets and ropes in the side of the boat and I managed to paddled to the tip of a point before we drifted far away from the shore. With Xenia pushing the boat away from the shore every time it came close I pulled it back to dock with the rope tied to the bow. Barb arrived about then and I ran back to the pickup and found jumper cables behind the seat (I had planned to transfer our jumper cables to the pickup with our other gear but had forgotten). We got a jump from the good Samaritan next to us and took off.
I made a big loop out in the open water with the boat at cruising speed while watching the ammeter. The battery was charging at the rate of about 7 amps. Everything appeared normal but I wasn’t comfortable yet. I went back to dock, turned the engine off and then restarted the engine. It instantly roared to life. Great! We are set to go. I turned around and we took off upstream to the nearest campsite to have our picnic lunch before going further on upstream to the missing geocache. We had a pleasant lunch and took lots of picture and then I tried to start the engine again. “Click, click, click.” Barb asked, “Now what?” “We’re dead”, I replied. It was a gross exaggeration of course. We were only about three miles from dock and there was a trail alongside the lake if we wanted to walk back and get help. I decided we probably could paddle the boat back if we didn’t mind spending the time and there was a good chance we could get a jump from one of the other boaters. I started paddling, first from one side then the other. Then Barb came back and sat on one side and we traded the paddle back and forth. I estimated we were moving at about 1/2 mile per hour. Arrival at dock, even without getting help, would be before dark. Good. I could pull out the GPS and get an accurate number if I wanted and do a better estimate of our ETA but I wanted to wait until we got our rhythm going. Barb suggested we use my Boomershoot cell phone (my usual cell phone has zero service in that area) and see if the sheriff had a boat on the lake and could help us if needed. Inland Cellular (the Boomershoot cell phone provider) claims coverage but it was on the extreme fringe of usability. It took something like five calls to call my brother’s wife, tell her the problem, and get her our GPS coordinates. We continued paddling and when a boat went by we stood up and waved the paddle and shouted. The boat went on by without anyone acknowledging us. We padded some more and another boat went by. This one stopped in response to our waving and gave us a jump.
As we were waiting for the battery to get charged enough to start we talked with our benefactors. It was a man, his wife, and a another couple which we surmised were one of their adult kids and their spouse. It turns out the older woman mother was a good friends of Barb’s mom and her dad was Barbs biology teacher. The man was a retired soil conservation officer and had spent a lot of time on the farm helping lay out grass waterways and gully plugs. He had even had dinner with my parents at least once. I recognized his name from my parents and brother talking about him.
The engine started, we zoomed back to the dock where the first thing I did was to use the two-way radio (the cellphone signal was still barely registering) in the pickup to contact my sister-in-law and tell her we didn’t need the assistence from the sheriff. As we were about to put the boat on the trailer Barb noticed a sheriff’s vehicle pulling up to the launch area. Xenia and could handle getting the boat chores she went to see if he was about to go looking for us. It turns out he was and he told Barb that he was disappointed that he didn’t get to go out on the lake. He was looking forward to doing a little boating. Apparently his office hadn’t gotten the word yet via my sister-in-law.
We went back to the farm, put the boat back in the garage, I gave my sister-in-law and my niece the complete story and then gave her $60.00 and asked her to have my brother get a new battery for the boat. This wasn’t the first time we had been stranded on the lake with this boat with battery problems (it was a different battery that time) but I wanted it to be the last. Because the boat is used so infrequently they share the battery with the combine (a grain harvester) which “worked fine all fall”.
It wasn’t a disaster, just an adventure–another one of those stories you tell when people are telling stories of things gone wrong.