When I was a sophomore in high school back in 1965, I built a hydroplane out of plywood and lumber, and covered it in fiberglass. We lived in Evansville, Indiana, on the Ohio River, and while my parents did not appear concerned about 16-year-old boys taking a small boat out on the Ohio River, my father did bring home some expandable foam and helped me fill the bow and side cavities with it. This enhancement would later save my bacon. I added an old outboard and trailer gifted from my uncle and was all set.
One day a friend and I decided to go fishing. We launched the boat above the Newburgh Lock and Dam, about 15 miles upriver from Evansville. We had made an anchor out of two bricks and a coat hanger. The river was high and flowing pretty fast. We dropped the anchor and tied it off the bow. However, when we tried to pull up the anchor, we discovered it was stuck to the bottom. I did not want to cut the anchor rope, so I decided to try to start the engine and head upstream, and then tie the rope off the stern. With the anchor stuck, the boat did not actually move upstream. In the blink of an eye, the current carried the boat downstream until the anchor stopped it. Then the current pulled the stern underwater, swamping us. Fortunately, the extra stress on the anchor line dislodged the anchor. Due to the foam my father had helped me install, the boat returned to the surface and then started floating downstream.
Did I mention we were about a mile above the Newburgh Dam? So, we started to paddle like crazy for the shore while floating downstream. We did not have a paddle, so we used the two flotation cushions. We did not have life jackets either.
There was a good chance we would have made it to the shore before cascading over the dam. But, out of nowhere, a houseboat came along and tossed us a line. As the houseboat pulled us upstream, the boat surfaced enough that I could pull the plug and drain the water out. Once the water was drained, I started the engine, thanked the houseboat captain, and took off for home.
The things I would have done differently are numerous. At the top of the list: Wear a life jacket or, at the very least, have one on board. I would also not anchor from the stern and be sure to carry a paddle.
That hydroplane was the beginning of a lifetime of boating for me, and I learned numerous lessons from my boyhood misadventures. However, I will save those stories for another day.
Overland Park, Kansas
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