Save the whales -- even the two-legged ones!

Thursday, August 14, 2003

It was a pitiful, heart-wrenching sight.

The large, off-white body lying there, gasping for air. Volunteers trying to help, tugging and pulling and shouting encouragement, all to no avail. The creature was flat-out stranded. Much like a whale, or a Florida Manatee, mired on a beach or sand bar. The difference was that this creature wasn't stuck on land, struggling to get back into the open water. This pitiful thing was stuck in the water.

We had taken the pontoon out on Big Elbow Lake early that Wednesday morning, seeking a quiet cove where the kids could swim and enjoy this sunny day in the middle of vacation week. The women of the party thought it would be a good chance to get a little extra sun, and I was planning to do a little fishing off the back-end of the floating platform.

We found, at the southern end of the seven-mile-long glacier lake, a flat, circular area where the wind was relatively calm and there weren't many boats around. At the edge of the "lagoon" was a natural outlet where Big Elbow Lake poured slowly into Little Bimidji Lake. This would be a fine place to drop anchor and just enjoy the morning -- or so I thought.

With anchors dropped both fore and aft, I began trying to encourage the youngsters to dive in and enjoy the pristine waters (which boasted a temperature somewhere between "BRRR!" and "OUCH!"). After several moments, I decided to dispense with the subtleties. I stepped up to the transom, gave a quick shout, and dove bravely into the bay. Jordan followed with a splash shortly thereafter. What a joy it was. Father and son swimming about in the crystal clear waters, shivering and turning blue, almost in unison, and telling the others about how wonderful it was.

Then we noticed that the anchors hadn't grabbed hold when they were lowered. The craft was drifting toward the small opening that led through a shallow channel. We quickly decided to get back on the boat and move to another spot. That's when the aforementioned problem arose.

We realized the pontoon boat was outfitted for fishing excursions and not for family outings. Trying to regain the deck, we found, was not going to be easy because there was no ladder to climb. For Jordan it was easy enough. He simply grabbed hold of the lower rail at the front of the deck and pulled himself aboard.

For me, having considerably greater mass than he and not being as strong as I used to be in the upper body, it became quite a chore. It took my wife's ingenuity ("Use the rope and make a sling to boost yourself up!") and the combined strength of everyone on board to haul me in. I regained the bridge just in time to start the engine and avoid running through the shallow outlet.

Who said families don't create fond memories anymore?