I Learned About Boating From This: Should We Stay or Should We Go?

There are always risks when encountering inclement weather while boating. Proper preparation can help mitigate them.
Boaters encountering inclement weather
Rose-colored glasses nearly cost these boaters dearly. Tim Bower

Three days into our annual trip down the Upper Mississippi River, my wife and I were preparing our 30-foot cabin cruiser, Weekend Therapy, for the 30-mile stretch from Red Wing to Winona, Minnesota, requiring a crossing of Lake Pepin, the largest lake on the river.

Monitoring weather reports as we did our daily system checks, we saw that a storm was moving in. We could stay and ride it out in Red Wing, risk being delayed and lose our slip and dinner reservations in Winona, or shove off pronto, maintain schedule, and hope that we stayed ahead of it. 

This being our fifth summer on the river, we’d experienced heavy weather, and found it easier to navigate storms than rearrange reservations during high-tourist season, so we double-checked that our gear was secured, and we set off for Winona.

Slowly motoring out of the marina, river bluffs framed an azure sky, but thunder rumbled in the distance. I put the throttle down on the 360 hp MerCruiser to put some distance between us and the approaching tempest. 

Weaving between buoys marking the navigable channel, the river bluffs widened out into the lake proper. We throttled down to assess the situation. The wind picked up, pushing 6-foot rollers across the wide expanse of open water. A stark line of black clouds severed the sky. The storm hadn’t tracked like the app had projected. We donned life jackets and prepared for a rough ride.

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Spray crashing over the gunwales, keeling over precariously, the hull shuddered with every pounding wave. Then it rained—a spatter culminating in a deluge. The windshield wipers couldn’t keep up and I couldn’t see, but my wife could watch for buoys through the porthole and wave me in the proper direction, just like we’d practiced. 

When it blew over and a triple rainbow materialized, we were soaked and a little shaky at the knees, second-guessing our decision to push on that morning, but the Red Wing marina had sustained damage, and chances are Weekend Therapy would have been damaged too if we’d stayed. 

Stay or go, there are always risks, and it pays to be prepared.

Jeff Schwarz
Hudson, Wisconsin

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