Tales from the Cabin
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Ever Drive a Pontoon?

This is one of those moments when you should just tell the truth
By Sean Michael Bradley
Published: April 1, 2005
Photo by ShoreMaster
I know my way around things. I can figure stuff out. I have taken off and landed an airplane, operated a skid-steer and a fork lift, had a chauffeur license and driven in a mini grand prix. I’ve spent a fair share of time around equipment and it doesn’t faze me. I can handle myself.
“Dad, can you take us on the pontoon?”
I glance over my shoulder to confirm my son’s intent. He is staring at the rental boats at the lodge next door to our cabin.
“Sure son, we’ll try that sometime.”
“Tomorrow?” A quick glance toward my wife is met with a suspicious grin. I’ve been set up.
I didn’t sleep well that night and I don’t know why. I’ve watched countless city dads load the entire family into pontoon boats and sail effortlessly into the summer swells. They always come back and they look like they’ve had a great time. It’s a pontoon boat, for crying out loud! It is the nautical equivalent of a large U-Haul. Anyone can drive a U-Haul!
“The Big One is rested.” Doug says this like the boat is a fresh bronc at a rodeo. Doug is the lodge owner. He is also the neighbor who watches our cabin while we’re away.
“Ever driven one?” Doug asks as he dangles the key with the floatation device above my palm.
This is one of those moments when you should just tell the truth because he already knows the answer. Kind of like when the dentist asks if you floss every day as he is staring at your gums, the ones you bloodied the night before trying to remove six months of neglect.
“Sure,” I answer, wondering if a canoe qualifies as half a pontoon.
Doug drops the boat from the lift and herds us onto the deck. My wife suits the boys into their lifejackets and I park myself in the captain’s seat. I insert the key and begin adjusting dials.
“That’s a fish locator,” Doug says as he helps my wife snap our infant into his tiny jacket.
I let my fingers linger just a little longer hoping my wife thinks I’m tuning it in. “It’s nice” is the best I can come up with.
“It’s a little windy out there so don’t get too close to the island; lots of rocks. Have fun!”
I hadn’t even noticed the wind until Doug put his foot on the bow and pushed us back and away from the dock. I pull my hat down tight to my head and watch as Doug ambles back up to the lodge, the flag snapping crisply above his office. What was I thinking?
 “This should be fun,” my wife shouts above the wind. I’m half expecting some hurling piece of sheet metal roofing to wrap around her head.
“Yeah,” I answer, keeping the boat close to the shoreline. I’m wondering if I should strap my children to the rail as another boat passes us. They seem fine so I relax a bit. I even see a few fish on the locator.
Our trip “uplake” goes without incident. Some neighbors wave to us and I’ve nearly convinced myself that I look natural behind the wheel. After about four miles of perfecting my “Hey neighbor, how’s it goin’?” wave, I realize that the boat has RENTAL painted on the side in huge red letters. It dawns on me that I probably look more like a desperate clown on a parade float than a seasoned pontoon jockey. I turn the boat home.
The return trip is with the wind and almost seems peaceful. “We’re almost home; see the dock?”
The dock. The lift. The landing.  The wind. I forgot about the wind – the crosswind.
Several times I bounce the pontoons off the side of the dock with enough force to announce our arrival to the diners up at the lodge restaurant. They all have great window seats.
After about my fifth attempt, my wife, clutching our infant child, looks appealingly to me. “Just dock it sweetheart – PLEASE!”
“Dad! Go get Doug!” This is the helpful advice of my 4-year-old. He’s gripping the post of the swivel seat.
Eventually, one of the pontoons catches the inside corner of the dock and I’m able to swing her around and onto the lift.
I unload my family and we head home for dinner, physically and emotionally exhausted.
Up in his office I know Doug is watching, chuckling and shaking his head with dentist-like insight.

Sean Michael Bradley has yet to find a pontoon that is self-docking, but when he does he will christen her “RENTAL.
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