The Longest Day On The Lake

By Peter Manhard

No gas, no shirt, no shoes, no cash, and no cell phone, turned what promised to be a pleasant morning waterskiing into a miserable adventure for this boater and his father.

A gorgeous summer morning dawned on Lake Conroe outside Houston, Texas. My dad and I were lucky. We both had Sundays and Mondays off from work, and were enjoying the time together — boating, fishing, skiing, tinkering. I'd inherited my love of boats from my German dad, who'd worked hard as a chef, and realized his childhood dream, to live in America, have a family, and own a boat. He inspired me. From him, I'd learned how to work on the engine of my 20-foot runabout, Viper. From him, I'd learned to do my own repairs and take good care of my boat. It had never let me down and never failed to start.

Photo of 20-foot Viper

I suggested to my dad that we waterski before breakfast. The lake was glass, and there wasn't another boat to be seen. The two of us puttered off on Viper, marveling at the beauty of life on such a perfect summer morning. We decided to get gas on the other side of the lake, but halfway there realized we'd brought no money, so we turned around. That's when we heard a boom, felt a jolt, and Viper came to a sudden halt. Over the next 30 minutes, we tried everything to restart the engine, to no avail. It was about then we realized that neither of us had had the sense to bring our cell phones. We were stuck in the middle of the lake in just our bathing suits!

As the sun beat down, we waited, feeling like absolute idiots.

After an hour, I waved down a passing PWC rider who agreed to give me a lift to the nearest marina. My father stayed with the boat. After five minutes clutching onto the back of the PWC, we turned into a cove and I lost sight of Viper. Another 10 minutes later, we were at the marina. I thanked my new friend, and he sped off.

I started hopping along the scalding hot deck to the marina store — with no shoes, my feet burned with every step — only to find a sign saying the marina was closed on Mondays. That surprised me. There were all kinds of boats, but no people. I searched around and found a security guard, explained myself to his amusement, and he said there happened to be a patrol boat docked on the other end of the marina. Off I went, jumping up and down across the even hotter asphalt to a different building, and located the officer. He called the local boat-repair outfit, and got an answering machine. They, too, were closed on Mondays. He took pity after seeing my pleading face, and offered to drive me to my boat after finishing some business.

Photo of home on Lake Conroe

I sat on the dock waiting for the officer, berating myself. Next time, I'd do everything differently. I'd always take clothes, for one thing. Not to mention shoes. And I'd never go boating without money and a cell phone, to say the least. Suddenly — no, this couldn't be — dark clouds appeared in the distance. My father! I'd been gone for more than three hours. The officer finally arrived and we sped off to the rescue. The calm lake was replaced with howling winds and waves. We arrived at the marooned spot. No Viper.

While we drove around searching, the lake I thought I knew so well became huge, and the officer started questioning my story. Had I been drinking, he wanted to know? And where was my life jacket? Was I serious that I'd left my dad on the boat? Disgusted with me, he suggested that my father probably got the boat started and drove home. So we set off to the other end of the lake. When we arrived there was no one home. The officer dropped me off and promised to continue looking. Watching the officer drive away, I morosely pondered my next move. I decided to put some clothes on, grab some tools, rope, the phone, a couple of life jackets, and binoculars, and crank up my dad's old boat. It started right up — surprising, as we hadn't used it in awhile, and off I went.

I could not find my father. Did the storm sink the boat? I searched that lake for two hours, my mind racing, until the engine started sputtering and shut off. What the … good Lord, I'd actually run out of gas! I poured the remainder of the gas from both gas tanks into one tank, positioned it at an angle, extended the siphon tube to get the engine to start again, and drove straight home. Out of more brilliant ideas, I called my family in Houston, told them the whole hideous story, and they started calling marinas around the lake, while I sat by the water's edge scanning the horizon.

Shortly after I'd left him to go find help, my father had flagged down another boater, who'd towed him to shore — unfortunately in the opposite direction to where I'd headed. After 20 minutes of towing, there was the squall. The driver of the other boat freaked, threw off the towrope, and sped away. My father is a determined guy. He dove in, swam the rest of the way to shore, pulling the boat behind him, reached an empty boat dock, secured Viper, then started walking from house to house looking for help. Either no one was home anywhere on that street, or they saw a wet half-naked man in a Speedo knocking at their door, and were afraid to open it. Finally a deliveryman watching this performance took pity, and drove him home. Just then, my dad saw another boat on the lake owned by some friends, flagged them down, and they all quickly set off to find me.

As I sat on the shore, scanning the horizon, and looking into the setting sun, my heart started pounding as I saw two boats — one towing the other — heading towards me. On one was a man in a Speedo. My longest, most humiliating day on the lake, indeed in my entire boating life, had finally, mercifully, come to an end. 

A chagrined Peter Manhard of Katy, Texas, works for Texas Instruments. Since this story was written, Peter got stuck again, but this time he called TowBoatUS and they towed him to safety. This story first appeared in BoatUS Magazine, in September 2009.

— Published: October/November 2011

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