Wanna step outside? Sit right back and you’ll hear a tale…
Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 13, 2022
By Dan Kibler
The S.S. Minnow has finally made its maiden voyage.
With apologies to the old 30-minute sitcom about a bunch of shipwrecked vacationers that ran for 98 episodes between 1964 and 1967, the S.S. Minnow is now parked on a concrete slab behind my house, just off the garage door. I haven’t actually named my boat yet, but so far, it’s ranking right along with the old Gilligan’s Island boat as far as things going wrong.
Retired on Nov. 30, I bought the boat in mid-January, looking for something I could use to fish and hunt ducks with my son, Andrew, and not wanting to spend an arm and a leg. After months of looking at various spots online, we found it resting in an outbuilding behind a house in Lumberton. A little negotiating, some signatures on paper, and it was hooked to the back of the pickup truck, on the way home.
But for seven months, it was pretty much a shipwreck. First off, Salem Lake in Winston-Salem, its primary intended fishing destination, was under construction and closed to boat traffic. So, Andrew undertook a long upgrade, which included stripping the 16-foot, aluminum Lowe’s Sportsman of all its wiring and replacing it with a better grade of marine wire. Then, the single depth finder on the side console came off, to be replaced by a new depthfinder, with a second one scheduled for the trolling motor on the bow.
Next, the battery compartment was stripped, three new batteries purchased (my checkbook hasn’t recovered yet) and installed, along with new wiring and a bunch of circuit breakers. The 12-volt trolling motor came off next, replaced by a fancy, expensive version with a feature commonly referred to as “spot lock” or “iPilot.”
By Memorial Day, it was finished, and Andrew — he’s on the title as a “secondary owner” because he financed the upgrades — towed it to Ocean Isle for a vacation with his in-laws. He christened it one day with his future brother-in-law, then the next day, the new trolling motor blew up. It was quickly returned to the brick-and-mortar catalog store from which he had ordered it for a full refund, with the knowledge that there was a 5-month wait for a replacement.
Fine, I thought. Salem Lake isn’t open yet, and it’s way too early to be thinking about duck season. About the time Salem Lake’s boat ramp reopened in late August, Andrew put the old trolling motor back in its spot on the bow.
I hauled it out one morning, dropped it in the water, cranked the 60HP Mercury outboard and headed off — at least until I tried to turn the steering wheel.
Stuck. Solid. Broken steering cable.
Towed it to the shop, got it fixed and got it back just in time to tow it to the Outer Banks for vacation. The third day of vacation, Andrew backed the truck down the ramp at Teach’s Lair Marina in Hatteras, the boat floated free, and I cranked the outboard and turned it in the direction of the open Pamlico Sound — and it turned the wrong way. Tried to correct, and it turned the wrong way again, and again. Finally, I looked to the stern as I turned the steering wheel, and the outboard pivoted in the wrong direction. The steering cable had been replaced, but it was put on backwards, so when I turned left, it went right, and vice versa. So much for fishing on vacation. Don’t want to be dodging the Hatteras-Ocracoke ferry when the boat turns the wrong way every time you turn the wheel.
Fixed a week later, ready for another Salem Lake trip, but this time, Andrew was in the process of rewiring the trolling motor connection, so it was strictly a shakedown trip to make sure the steering was working, and to put in some waypoints of good-looking spots I’d found last year while Salem Lake was 8 feet below full pool for construction.
Finally, a week later, with the old trolling motor wired with a new connector, I backed the boat in and headed to a spot up the lake, one of those places I’d found when the water was down. I found it in good order, and after realizing I’d left the plug out — wonder why the boat was filling with water — and leaning over the transom to screw it in place, I got to casting a junebug-colored Zoom Ol’ Monster worm on a Carolina rig. The sinker immediately got hung up on some rocks, so I knew I had the right place and punched a waypoint into the bow depthfinder.
The next cast, the sinker bounced along through the rocks, then stopped. I started to pop it loose with the rod tip, when I noticed the line moving, so I set the hook. In short order, I was lipping a chunky bass and bringing aboard — my first official passenger. I put it in the livewell and checked to make sure the aerator was working (It was, hallelujah!), worked a complete circle around the target to see if a different casting angle might produce another fish. When it didn’t, I released the first one and headed to several other destinations.
Now, if I can just get used to having a foot-control trolling motor (a boat 35 years ago had a hand-control), and figure out the space-age electronics (I would have been thrilled with a simple flasher unit), I might just have something that can bring me hours of great joy in retirement — as long as the fish bite and the ducks fly.