Off My Dock: Be A Better Boating Scavenger

A lifetime of scavenging pays off.

January 21, 2021
Scavenging for boat parts
Who would have imagined that the COVID-19-fueled boom in boat sales, combined with the COVID-19-caused disruption in manufacturing, would have wiped out the inventory of boat cushions in the entire Midwest? Tim Bower

My good friend Chuck Larson is not a thief. But he does subscribe to the “finders keepers, losers weepers” rule if the obvious owner of abandoned property is not immediately identifiable. Chuck is partial to caps he’s found on the side of the road, for example, and in his truck he keeps a hefty Maglite that someone left on the island of a gas station. If the owner really valued that flashlight, Chuck reasons, there would be a name or number engraved on it. His mother used to write his name on his underwear, so that’s the example that Chuck grew up with.

It was Wednesday evening when Chuck and I met over the worn blue bar top at the Lake View Inn for our -weekly “Formica Forum” problem-solving session. My problem involved my new boat. I should say my “new” boat because this particular Dunphy was built in 1951. She’s a pretty mahogany plywood runabout, powered by a 1956 Evinrude Lark. The outboard has a little pressed-tin door that covers the high- and low-speed jet knobs, a desirable decorative detail that is often missing, perhaps blown off during highway transit only to be discovered in the ditch by a guy like Chuck and hung as a shop-wall decoration. Finders keepers, after all.

My vintage Evinrude was complete, but this old boat needed a lot of other stuff before it was ready to hit the water. A new battery, a fire extinguisher, a bilge pump (particularly important because the Dunphy has no drain plug), dock lines and an anchor. I had collected it all except for a final piece of gear—a Coast Guard-approved throwable PFD (aka throw cushion)—required by the Wisconsin DNR. Who would have imagined that the COVID-19-fueled boom in boat sales, combined with the COVID-19–caused disruption in manufacturing, would have wiped out the inventory of throw cushions in the entire Midwest? I tried three marine dealers. Sold out. I tried Fleet Farm and Walmart. Sold out. I even turned to the website of a well-known marine superstore, which had two seat cushions ready to ship—in three weeks.


“I probably have a spare cushion,” Chuck said. “Come over to the house tomorrow.”

That is how I ended up in the -Locker of Lost Stuff, a small closet in Chuck’s basement. In one corner was a stack of boat cushions. In another, a pile of life jackets. Some wetsuits on hangers dangled from a rod overhead, and three fishing seats lay on the floor. Dozens of tarp straps hung from one hook on the wall, bungee cords from another. The room reeked of old neoprene.

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“Where did all this stuff come from?” I asked.

“Most of this has blown out of someone’s boat, and I found it on the road,” Chuck replied. “Here’s a nice one.”

Chuck handed me a red cushion. On its white edge, “Troop 67” was written in marker. I picked up a blue cushion from the pile marked “SJEL.”


“St. John Evangelical Lutheran, perhaps,” Chuck said, “on the way to church camp.”

Fearing an unreturned cushion from a church might bring bad boating luck, I dug through the pile until I found a blue cushion with no markings and no road rash.

Heads-up to parishioners: Chuck might have your lost cushions. Finders keepers, after all.


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