For our 50th anniversary, (yes I am told that I have the patience of Job), my wife and I decided that we would rent a houseboat on the boundary waters between Minnesota and Canada. We invited our three children, their spouses and all the grandchildren. We got 16 of the 18 possible.
The boat was a double-decker, 55 feet long with all the amenities of a motel. It was grossly underpowered by a couple of 70-horsepower outboards that had a governor to preclude ramming the beach at warp speed when setting up camp. Top end was about 5 knots. However, it would motor along and provide steerage speed when maneuvering through some narrow passages.
Driving the boat was like flying a giant airplane; you would put in a control movement and get a reaction five minutes later. The combination of low power, slow response, narrow coves and high winds made beaching for a campsite very comical.
I was the skipper and we would send out a small motorboat to recon the prospective campsite. The little boat would have a couple of kids and one adult aboard. They would wade along the proposed landing for large rocks or otherwise dangerous hazards, then either wave us in or off. As I would try to get a straight-in alignment with the wind pushing the stern sideways, I would receive lots of advice from the observers.
This advice inevitably came in the form of screaming punctuated with short gasps or noisy intakes of breath between clenched teeth. Eventually all the women were banished to a lower deck and all the men were told to handle the huge, two-inch-thick tether ropes.
Having four alpha males, all senior military officers, attempt to establish dominance and control of the situation is extremely challenging. Distracting them proved the key to my ascendance.
After ensuring that we were secure, the gangplank would be lowered from the bow of the boat and lots of kids were dispatched for firewood, as each site usually had a fire ring and picnic table. Some of the sites also had bear boxes that were to be used for food storage to preclude foraging by unwanted guests. This tended to remind us that wilderness does not belong exclusively to two-legged creatures.
Every night had a large campfire with s’mores and songs. Some of the older folks had adult beverages, but not so many as to make us incapable of walking the gangplank back onto the boat. Besides, once aboard the comfortable boat you could always have a nightcap.
Perhaps the greatest perk of the entire trip was that we were completely out of range of any cellphone towers or Internet connections, or texting and twittering transmitters. I actually got to see people’s eyes rather than the tops of their heads when they assumed the bowed-neck, flying fingers and thumbs poses so prevalent among our teens. We had actually conversations without # or :).
The stars were beautiful and bountiful. The scenery was spectacular with lots of wildlife sightings. The fishing was good; we got Northerns, walleyes and large- and smallmouth bass. The water was excruciatingly refreshing and going down the slide made oozing into the lake impossible. The boat even had a hot tub on top filled with iron water from the lake.
In short, it was awesome and a fantastic way to celebrate our anniversary.