Prepare to be surprised

Published 4:05 pm Tuesday, March 15, 2011

“Expect the best, plan for the worst, and prepare to be surprised.”

The older I get the more I realize that this favorite quote is not only good advice, it is a warning.

This was especially true this past week as my brother and I planned to meet up at Compass Lake for our annual ritual of opening up the cabin prior to Spring Break.

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We started meeting like this several years ago, the two of us at the lake, having a steak and some down time. The next day we planned to take the boat out of the lake and just do any maintenance necessary. By midmorning we should be headed home.

I headed down last Wednesday afternoon pulling the boat trailer in one of the worst storms of the year. He was headed back from Destin, also pulling a trailer. My wipers were moving furiously back and forth. Lightning was streaking across the sky. The ditches were filling up fast.

We had to cook the steaks under the porch because of the pounding rain, three and a half inches in all. It was so dark that when the lightning struck, it illuminated the entire lake, giving it some eerie, ghostly feeling. It didn’t matter; the steaks were great.

As usual, the battery was dead. Someone had stolen our battery charger from the boat house, so Ernest headed to Marianna at six in the morning. He was back by eight and I got some extra sleep.

The battery was larger than the previous one, but we got it into place thanks to some bungee cords, the second best invention of all time behind duct tape. He turned the switch and the engine fired up beautifully. A big grin broke out on both our faces as the major task for the day was done.

Little did we know it would be the last time the boat would crank. In a few minutes, we tried again and were met with the sound of silence except for the aggravating bilge pump that seems to run all the time. The engine would not turn over or give any sign of life. The new battery seemed intent on only powering the horn.

After some deliberation, we decided to use the jet ski to pull the boat to the landing where we would load it up, take it to Albany and have it serviced. We let the jet ski down on the lift low enough for me to climb aboard. Ernest was going to lower it on down into the water when the cable broke dumping me and the jet ski into the lake.

Some of you might comment that the few extra pounds since last summer were the cause of the cable breaking, but I would prefer to point to the rusty area where it was attached to the lift. I was at least consoled that the jet ski cranked right up.

We manually pulled the boat out of the boat house into the very stiff wind. Whitecaps dotted the lake and the moss was blowing back and forth in the cypress trees.

Maneuvering the jet ski to the front of the boat, Ernest was hooking the two together when the jet ski sucked up the rope without warning. The motor instantly stopped and there we sat in the trees with neither vehicle running. I won’t mention what we said at this point.

At this point I had to get into the water to try to get the rope from the intake of the jet ski. I am way too old to be getting into a spring fed lake in March. My feet and legs felt numb as I got in. When I got wet above that; well, let’s just say that it was beyond description.

We paddled the jet ski down to the landing backwards because it handled better in the wind. As we paddled together, we proved once again that you can not row a boat in two directions.

From there, I took it down to Panama City to get it fixed. After being promised it would be ready in two hours I went back to the lake and took a nap. Some six hours later they finally called and I made my second trip to PC to pick it up.

By now it was approaching darkness on the second day. Ernest had gone home and I spent the second night in the cabin, aching in some new places from the day’s activities.

The next morning, Ernest and I, along with Mike from our office tried again. The jet ski pulled the boat into the wind all the way to the landing. We got it on the trailer and felt that finally we were done.

I climbed back on the jet ski to take it back to the cabin only to find that now it would not crank. As the wind blew me out from shore, I realized I would have to get into the lake a second time.

We loaded the jet ski on its trailer and I headed to Panama City for the third time in two days, thinking that this fine piece of machinery wasn’t even nine months old. Ernest headed off with the boat with an equal amount of frustration.

Nearly 48 hours after our simple trip began, I finally arrived back home. Nothing had gone as planned.

Dave Barry once said that putting your boat in the water was asking for trouble. I would have never imagined that getting them out would be the hard part.

Dan Ponder can be reached at