Born and raised in Winona (but still somewhat an outsider, being that my father settled here as recently as the 1930s) and having spent as much of that time on the Mississippi as possible, I am amazed that so many people who live here have no desire to boat, fish, hunt, or spend time on the water. Then again, there are reasons, as I rediscovered this last month.
The trouble really begins when you try to float something permanently in the river, say, a dock or boathouse. My first experience of it was years ago when I bought a boathouse moored up at Bass Camp from Swede Keelan, an old high school classmate. It floated on steel barrels and was moored by long spud poles running through rings fixed to the corners of the house, top and bottom. The idea was that the boathouse could ride up and down on the poles as the water level rose and fell.
This worked fine until spring, when the water came up so high that the boathouse would ride up and over the roof rings. (Naturally, we experienced exceptionally high water every spring that I owned it.) Then, when the river settled back down, the spud poles would go awry and the boathouse kattywampus. Attempts to reengineer the poles through the upper rings were always frustrating, rarely successful, and once or twice resultant of horrifying accidents. I sold that boathouse to someone who must have been a better engineer than I, since there was never any report that he was killed wrestling with it.
Forgetting the lesson of the boathouse, my brother and I moored a dock in front of our place on Pollywog Slough, tying it by steel cable to shoreline trees and standing it off from shore with a gangway. This, too, is a dicey arrangement come spring flood. On St. Patrick’s Day we got a call from our neighbor warning us that the dock had broken loose and was hung up, barely, on a tree hanging out over the water. We got there just in time to watch it whirl away down the slough in the direction of the bridges between Latsch Island and Wisconsin. “Wave goodbye,” I said, but then we decided it would be cowardly to just give up, and went to watch for it from the highway bridge.
Sure enough, it emerged from the slough, bumped down the shoreline towards the old Mertes boat harbor, and hung up on another overhanging tree. Wearing chest waders, we were able to slog up to it through the woods, and managed to tie it off to the tree. “It only remains,” I said, confidently, “for the water to come down, and we can come get it by boat and tow it back upstream to our place.”
Overconfidently, it turned out. Sherm Smith and I took the runabout up through the bridges last Saturday and looked for it. There was the overhanging tree, but no dock. All that remained was one blue plastic barrel, and a now punctured and deflated plastic shark that we had corralled from the slough last summer and tied to the dock in hopes that the owner would spot and retrieve it.
After work today, (Friday), Sherm and I are going to take the boat back into Sam Gordies, up Swift Creek, and into Blacksmith Slough. We’ll find the dock, or not, but it will surely be fine just to be on the water.