Red Sky at Night with JB Cornwell | The Worst Boater I Remember

I think it was July 3, 2003. My son, John, and I were at the Angle Outpost Resort on the northwest angle of Lake Of The Woods. The northwest angle is a detached part of Minnesota but only a few miles from Ontario, where we did most of our musky hunting. We have spent a week in late June or early July there for all but a few of the last 15 years.

We were sitting on the porch of our cabin, enjoying a good Cuban cigar and a dram of John’s favorite single malt Scotch. We had finished a wonderful dinner of butter-fried fresh walleye filets, wild rice and corn and had settled down to relive a good day on the water and enjoy a spectacular sunset over the lake. That was an hour or so away, but the lake was like glass. Loons announced their presence and an eagle glided above, screaming in a way that denied his regal image. Sunshine III, my Boston Whaler Montauk, rode easily in the marina, anticipating another day meandering about in the peaceful wilderness among Lake Of The Wood’s thousands of islands.

“What is going on down there, Dad?”, John said, indicating the launch ramp. There were a half dozen or so guests gathered around a 19′ deckboat that was halfway down the ramp on its trailer behind a shiny new Cadillac Escalade. “Let’s go see what’s up.” I said, and we ambled down the hundred or so yards to the gathering. The voices from the group were getting louder and less conversational.

The trailer had gone off the side of the concrete ramp and dropped onto its axle. It was hung up there and the 2WD Caddy couldn’t budge it. The other guests, elderly like myself, were debating trying to lift the trailer back onto the ramp. A young man and a young woman wandered about looking dazed and helpless. Well, no. They actually looked stoned out of their gourds.

The boat was heaped with camping and partying gear… all new and mostly still in packages. There were several packages of fireworks, which are illegal in Canada. You must pass through Canada to get to the northwest angle. I wondered how they had managed that. I saw no PFDs. There were no nav-aids and no radio on the console.

One of the other guests, a man we saw there many years, came up to me and explained that this young fellow had just purchased an island on the lake and was taking his “bride” to the island for an Independence Day campout and celebration.

I went to the young fellow and offered to hook my ML to his Caddy and try to haul the works back into alignment. He said he would give me $50 to do that. I told him to keep his money.

One of the guests persuaded the boy to let him drive the Caddy while I tried a tow. I put the ML in low range and we dragged the works, scraping and grinding, back onto the approach to the ramp.

The guest approached me again. “He can’t launch that boat. He has no lines on it.” I went to Sunshine and got one of my lines. I tied it to his bow eye. I told the young fellow, “You need a bowline. You can’t tie your boat up without one.” “I will buy that one from you.” he said, “What do I owe you?” I told him the line was not for sale, he needed to buy one from the resort. He persisted, rubbing me the wrong way in a big way.

The other guests launched his boat for him and beached it beside the marina. I went and retrieved my line. “You can’t let him go with no bow line! You are a mean old son of a bitch.” said one of the guests. “If it was up to me, I wouldn’t let him go at all. He is not equipped to be on this lake and he is in no condition to try. I need my line. For crying out loud, he hasn’t even got a map!” I said, my temper rising. John grabbed my arm. “Come on, Dad. It isn’t our business. We helped as much as we could.” I conceded and we went back to our cigars and Scotch.

Shortly the boat motored out of the marina and jumped on plane, headed northeast. The sun was just setting.

I worried all night about those young people. No PFDs, no map, no GPS on a lake that is strewn with boulders just below the surface and so populated with islands that one can get lost using a GPS that has no map or backtrack feature. . .and in the dark.

The next morning we were stopped by Canadian authorities to examine our Remote Area Border Crossing Permits. I asked the gentleman if he knew anything of the young couple. “Oh, yes.” He laughed. They had gotten lost, hit a rock that took their outdrive off and were found adrift, both asleep but uninjured. They had been cited for no PFDs and for the illegal fireworks and towed to the nearest Canadian Customs office.

When we left the resort to come back to Texas the Caddy was still parked at the marina.

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