Impatient boaters headed for a rocky start to the season

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  • If you have ever used a public boat ramp, then you have had the misfortune of knowing about “that guy.” You don’t ever want to be “that guy.”

    Boaters understand exactly who we are referencing here — the wayward skipper who, in his haste to get in the water during those first tempting days of 70-degree weather in the spring, fails to properly prep his craft or outfit it for the season.

    Maybe the trailer lights are not all working properly, or the winch cable is frayed or loose. Maybe he thought that old gas left in the tanks over the winter would work just fine. It is possible he believed that just pulling off the cover was akin to readying his boat for four months of hard use.

    But when he gets to the boat ramp, right in front of you, he’s the guy who can’t find his bilge plug, or his bow line. So you wait. And everyone else waits. Ramp rage soon follows.

    There are no hard statistics to back this up, but some nautically minded individuals contend that more divorces get started on the boat ramp than in the bar or at the high school reunion. The failure to properly prepare one’s boat for the season, resulting in embarrassment, abandonment, or being marooned at sea, qualifies as both gross neglect and an irreconcilable difference.

    A couple case studies: On the marina boat ramp at Mary Jane Thurston State Park, along the Maumee River near Grand Rapids, I watched a guy back down his 18-foot pleasure craft, then yell to his wife that he had forgotten to release the hook that was holding the bow of the boat tight to the winch.

    She tugged, he screamed, but the hook that had all winter to rust and corrode would not budge. When she gave up, he slammed the truck into gear in disgust, and stepped on the gas to yank the whole rig back up out of the water, forgetting that he had already partially lowered the outboard motor. It made an awful sound as it scraped its way across the pavement, and sparks flew, literally and figuratively.

    Case 2: After crappie fishing on Sandusky Bay from about 6 a.m. until 10 a.m. one late spring day, it was time for the anglers to turn the waterway over to the recreational boaters. But you can’t pull your bass boat out while the pleasure boaters are launching theirs on the same ramp, so my fishing partner and I idled in the basin while we waited for an opening.

    A guy with an expensive 24-footer lowered it into the water while his wife held the bow line, and then he jumped in the boat and pushed off from the dock, telling her to pull the trailer into the lot while he started the boat. She pulled the trailer into the lot without incident.

    Tom Vatalaro of Vic's Sports Center in Kent, Ohio, installs batteries in the boat of Toledo professional angler Ross Roberston as the craft is prepped for the 2014 season.
    Tom Vatalaro of Vic's Sports Center in Kent, Ohio, installs batteries in the boat of Toledo professional angler Ross Roberston as the craft is prepped for the 2014 season.

    Meanwhile, our impatient ship’s captain cranked and cranked and cranked, but that engine gave no indication it was going to turn over. By the time the Mrs. came back to the ramp area, the wind had pushed his powerless fiberglass gem into the rocks before anyone else could move in to rescue him. With each wave came that awful scraping, crunching sound that no boat owner ever wants to hear.

    So the book on proper spring boat preparation should be the bible for all seafarers — sailors, anglers, and powerboaters. As soon as that shrinkwrap or canvas comes off, and before that hull touches the water for the first time this season, the wise boater is running through the checklist and cleaning, testing, repairing, replacing, and polishing.

    It was interesting to note that this past week, while checking in with a couple of Lake Erie’s best fishermen — individuals who by nature of their business need to have a reliable and dependable watercraft both for safety and solvency — I found both of them “working on the boat.”

    Both Captain Paul Pacholski, who makes his living as a charter boat operator on the lake, and Captain Ross Robertson, a Toledoan and a professional angler whose boat is essentially his office anytime ice does not cover the boat ramps, cannot afford any on-the-water surprises.

    “Something that came to mind when I was rigging my boat over the weekend is to label everything in your boat, particularly the wiring,” Robertson said. “This is very important, even if a guy has a very old boat, since labeling fuses and transducer wires or anything else so that you or a dealer can quickly identify a problem, will make it easier, and ultimately cheaper to fix.”

    Robertson takes the same approach with his fishing gear: prep time in the early spring will pay huge dividends when the fish are biting this summer.

    "I prep all of my gear and take care of whatever I can before the season is under way," he said. " I want everything that I can do, to be done in advance. Preparation and being organized truly is the key to success for me. Now is the time to tie rigs and stingers, leaders, re-spool reels, change hooks, and organize tackle."

    Robertson was as eager as anyone to get the season started, but he values the time spent preparing his gear and giving his boat a thorough inspection too much to jump the gun.

    “Check everything out on the boat and do a dry run,” he said. “I see a lot of guys each year, down at the ramp blocking everyone because they either can't find their drain plug or they have a dead battery.”

    He is talking about “that guy.” Don’t be “that guy.”

    Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at: mmarkey@theblade.com or 419-724-6068.