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Houseboat horrors

October 03, 2008|By MIKE CRANCE, 59, Southeast of Hagerstown

Usually, my wife selects our family vacations. However, several years ago she allowed me to choose and I selected a houseboat weekend on Smith Mountain Lake near Roanoke, Va.

Upon arrival at the lake, I signed all the paperwork and was given the keys to a 40-foot-long, double-deck, twin-engine houseboat complete with roof Jacuzzi and stern slide. My nautical experience until then had been limited to the 12-foot jon boat I intended to tow behind the houseboat for fishing.

Everyone got onboard and I started the engine. Um, yes, engine singular, Only one of the two engines was operable. At this time, I should have handed the keys back and left. Instead, I accepted the marina manager's assurances that all would be fine and we headed out onto the lake and into a strong wind.

The height of the houseboat created a sail effect and made maneuvering extremely difficult with the single engine and I began to look for a place to tie up.

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About this time, I realized that my wife and two small children knew nothing about knot tying and I would have to leave the controls in the bow and sprint through the houseboat to the stern, where I would tie lines to trees on the shore. But the lines were not strong enough, and the weight of the houseboat coupled with the wind kept breaking the lines and I was awake most of the night checking the lines for fear we would break loose and drift into the lake and over the dam.

The next morning, I discovered that the houseboat had rocked so much in the wind during the night that all the water had sloshed out of the Jacuzzi. The wind continued to blow that day making travel on the lake impossible. At one point, I sideswiped a private dock, causing little damage to the dock but it dinged up my jon boat. This was reported to the marina by an interested bystander.

Later, I found what appeared to be a good, sheltered spot to tie up for the evening only to discover that it was private property. In my effort to exit the area, I ran aground and broke the engine prop. While checking the prop, I found that the inoperable engine had no prop at all! I radioed the marina for help and was told that they would be out the next morning. The marina folks arrived and replaced the prop to the tune of $200.

The afternoon of our final day, we decided we were having too much fun and decided to return to the marina to clean up before the trip home. I was to pay for the fuel used so a marina employee came to the dock and began refueling.

During this time, the family was preparing to take showers on the houseboat before leaving. I ran a glass of water and immediately detected a strong gas odor throughout the houseboat. I hurried the family off and away from the houseboat and asked the marina employee if they were fueling into the proper inlet.

Much to the employee's surprise, she saw she had run 50 gallons of gasoline into the water storage inlet, which was located right beside the fuel inlet. I handed the keys to the employee, told her I wouldn't be paying for the gas and our houseboat vacation was over.

Needless to say, that was the last time I was permitted to select a family vacation.

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