If there is a category of boaters who are more patriotic than ‘tooners, I have yet to meet them.
At least “patriotic’ based on their displays of Old Glory and related red, white and blue hues.
I learned that the hard way, when my bride and I bought our first pontoon boat. The mid-winter purchase included the balance of the coming season’s membership in the local pontoon-only boat owners’ club where we found the FloteBote for sale. At that time, it was apparent that my wife and I were the youngest members of the modest, senior-dominated club, and the only couple with a toddler in tow, so we weren’t sure how we’d fit in. But we needed a place to dock the boat, since it didn’t have a trailer, and we decided to join – at least for the short term.
After spending the spring rebuilding the ‘toon from the deck up, we learned that the club’s summer social season kicked off each year with a gala July Fourth celebration on the club’s lakefront grounds. The festivities started with a parade of members’ boats, which were decorated and judged in several categories. As new members, we decide the best way to endear ourselves with our new friends, and show off our DIY rehab of the old Harris, was to enter the boat decorating contest.
We had recently organized a Hawaiian-themed party at home, and had lots of tacky Tiki decorations on hand, including bamboo torches, strings of colorful plastic leis, fake palm trees, grass table skirting, and grass skirt skirts. We figured our “Tiki ‘Toon” would steal the “most original” category – if not accolades for best decorated pontoon overall, and got to the docks early that July fourth to get the boat rigged for the occasion.
Other than the questionable decision to mount open-flamed Tiki torches at each corner of a boat surrounded with dry grass skirting and plastic hibiscus flowers enveloping the Bimini top, the craft looked dandy and definitely South Pacific. In fact, we had a cassette of that musical’s tunes set to play as we paraded our boat past the judge’s dock. We were so busy with the preparations that we didn’t notice the themes fellow competitors in nearby slips were adopting for decorating their craft – nor the quizzical glances we were receiving from same.
We motored out and took our place in the formation line of two dozen pontoon boats and noticed that more than one had decided to adopt the patriotic theme of the day. Ahead and behind us were pontoons festooned in all many of red, white and blue, including one that looked like a giant Old Glory, another sprouting more than a hundred little stars & stripes in full flutter, and yet another flying patriotic banners streaming in the morning breeze. But we saw nothing that led us to believe we would win anything but ‘most original’ honors for our dandily decorated craft. We fired up the torches and cued the “Happy, Happy, Happy, Happy Talk” tune on the speakers and had little Ethan do a little belly dance on the bow, wearing a grass diaper with ukulele in hand. We figured the blank looks from the elderly judges was sheer awe of our unique Kon-tiki display, and as we returned to the dock we were sure we had the competition wrapped up and had won entry into the club’s inner circle of senior members.
As we walked to the clubhouse where members and their families and friends were gathering to hear the announcements of the parade winners and get the day’s festivities underway, one of the judges met us with a bewildered look on his face.
“What was THAT all about!?,” he asked. “You guys looked like a flaming duck blind out there! Where are the flags? The banners? There wasn’t one patriotic thing about your boat, not one bit of red, white or blue. Didn’t you read the rules!?”
No we had not. Otherwise, we would have noted that the club’s annual theme – the ONLY acceptable theme – for decorating the boats for the Fourth of July Parade was a patriotic one. There were prize categories for Most Flags, Biggest Flag, Most Use of Red, White and Blue and Most Patriotic boat of all. No “Most Original” and certainly no accolades for anyone who would dare decorate their craft for the day in anything but red, white and blue.
We received a token “Honorable Mention” award some sympathetic soul created at the last minute and were given after the major awards were doled out, which we humbly accepted before slinking back to our boat.
Those events took place more than a decade ago, and despite the initial social setback we endured, we have re-upped our membership annually ever since. In that time, we have learned that many of our more senior fellow club members served in World War II and the Korean War and are proud members of the Greatest Generation. We are equally proud to join them and respect the patriotic theme of “our” boat club’s annual celebration.