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Kitzmann column: Not so speedy speedboat quickly becomes lawn ornament rather than entertainment

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wave Detroit Lakes, 56501
Detroit Lakes Minnesota 511 Washington Avenue 56501

One fine day last week, after arriving home from a week at my grandparents' house, I, after looking out at the lake to enjoy the scenery, noticed that our boat had been put on the boatlift.

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Funny thing is, our boat, a 70 horsepower red speedboat, hadn't been working properly for quite some time. In fact, for the past two years, it had served no more purpose than being something kind of nice to look at, a way to show those ostentatious Jones' next door that we've got horsepower, even if we don't exactly have a way in which to harness that horsepower and move the boat forward.

I asked my dad whether the craft was actually working or would spend this summer, like last summer and the summer before that, as an expensive lawn ornament. Much to my surprise, he replied by excitedly giving me the news that the boat, after all this time, was finally ready to serve. So ended an epic comedy of errors that had begun two summers ago.

It all began when our entire family drove to our lake's public access in hopes of lowering our boat into the water and driving it home to be placed on our boatlift. If only it had been that simple.

The first part of the operation, backing the trailer into the water and releasing the boat, went off very well. After my dad hopped in, the remaining family hung onto the craft until we knew it had started, and then pushed it off into the bay.

My dad settled down, opened the throttle, and drove away. From the shoreline, our excitement turned to puzzlement and mild concern as we watched the boat move in a huge, arcing circle across the bay, not traveling in even the general direction of our house.

The boat eventually circled back to within shouting distance of us, and we asked what was going on. He explained that, although the acceleration was working just fine, turning the steering wheel did nothing to turn the boat, and thus, the boat could only move in that arcing circular motion that had had us scratching our heads. He appeared to be mildly perturbed by the way things were turning out, but who could blame him?

With repeated backing up and moving forward at varying speeds, my dad skillfully managed to maneuver the boat to the access. The drive home that night was very quiet, the jostling trailer with the boat still perched upon it and the humming car-motor being the only noises willing to break the tense silence.

Shortly after this incident, my dad gave our mechanic a call and asked him what could be done to remedy the steering problem. He told us to buy a new steering cable, and assured us that even someone as mechanically challenged as my father would be able to install it himself. My dad bought the part, and, I am proud to say, attached it with minimal difficulty.

Excited to finally use our boat, our family piled into our Suburban and rode it to the access for round two. We backed the vessel into the water, and, sure that nothing could possibly go wrong with our boat now that the steering was fixed, we started to drive home, leaving my father to his own devices.

He settled into the boat, turned it on and applied pressure on the throttle. Somehow, between rounds 1 and 2, the acceleration had jammed. Thus, our speedboat could now travel no faster than 'idle,' which is about the speed of a canoe.

Unfortunately, by the time my dad noticed this, our suburban was out of sight and well on its way down the rocky public-access driveway. He called for us to rescue him, but it was to no avail; he was alone.

Despite the advantage of having the wind at his back, it took my dad a very long to time to drive the barely-crawling watercraft to our boatlift.

This time, as it turns out, the boat's problems were a bit too extensive to be fixed by my dad. So the boat sat, physically non-functional but a source of much fun for my younger brothers, who found that, with a little imagination, it made an excellent pirate-ship.

One sunny day last July, we thought that our boat troubles would end, once and for all. We had recently sold our other vessel, a rather hideous and small fishing boat, and the man who had purchased it came to our house with the intention of bringing the craft to his. With him was his grown nephew.

My dad off-handedly mentioned our speedboat, and the nephew said that he was good at mechanical work and would take a look at it. He sat in our disabled boat and began taking the gearbox apart, removing pieces by the handful and laying them on the vessel's bucket seats and floor.

After an hour or so, he told us that he was leaving as the heat was simply too much to bear, but assured our family that he would be back later in the afternoon. We could hardly blame him.

Well, he never came back. The sudden disappearance of our savior taught us all, and hopefully you, kind reader, a vital lesson: never trust a free mechanic. Meanwhile, our gearbox and its variously located pieces were exposed to the elements. Quite appropriately, it rained that night.

Next day, my dad went to the dismembered speedboat and, using whatever limited knowledge of mechanics he possesses, tried to piece the gearbox together. He worked on it for quite a while, and came back to the house a few hours later with a somewhat dismal look on his face.

He held in his hand several extra screws and springs that he could find no place for in the gearbox. I took this to be a bad sign.

We summoned our car mechanic to our house to assess the gearbox situation. After all, there was no way to get it to his shop. He took it completely apart, and pieced it back together, and used, unlike my dad, all of the available pieces.

Finally, everything on the boat was working. This was very late last season, though, so we didn't have a chance to use it very much before the cold months.

My oldest brother and dad decided to use it once before the season ended. They lowered it from the lift, turned the motor on, pushed off and realized that something very crucial was missing: the plug. They searched everywhere, and finally found a plug, only to discover that it didn't tighten in the plug hole. My dad held his finger in the plug hole, much like the unknown boy who supposedly saved Holland by sticking his finger in a leaking dike.

After much frantic searching, my brother found a working boat plug, so the boat didn't sink -- but it still proved something that is commonly known as Murphy's Law: if something can go wrong, it will.

It has been said that: "the two best days of owning a boat are the day you buy it and the day you sell it." I guess that any good days on the water in between are a bonus.

Nathan Kitzmann will be a sophomore at Detroit Lakes High School this fall.

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