Mooring Points

Our kind of boating does not involve flying as fast as we can from one end of the lake to the other. For us, pleasurable boating means heading out into open water, then stopping to swim. Going a little further, then stopping for lunch. Going further, then stopping for no reason at all – perhaps to tie up and catch a sunset, or swim again, or watch other boats whiz by, in such a hurry to go nowhere fast.

The more fuel costs increase, the more I enjoy the stopping part (especially for the lunch part). When it comes to enjoyable boating, we’ve chosen chicken breasts over rooster tails. Maybe it’s because we’re getting older, do you suppose?

We’ve been house boaters for eight or nine years, and there’s a problem that is getting worse with each passing year – a shortage of mooring points for houseboats and pontoon boats. Our houseboat, The Phoenix, is on Table Rock in Missouri, a beautiful Corp of Engineers lake in the heart of the Ozarks. The lake was created with the construction of a dam on the White River in 1958, 50 years ago. I can still do that kind of math in my head.

In the past we could tie up to almost any of the old trees near the shore. The remains of these once-living forests stand like skeletal sentries around the edge of our lake, rising from hillsides that can no longer be seen, promising secure mooring points for a day, a night, or even a long holiday weekend. Now these promises are decomposing.

When they were at their greatest strength, these same trees were perfect for tying up boats of almost any size. Good moorings abounded.  However, in those days there were just not that many boats cruising the wooded hillsides of the Ozarks. Then the dam was completed and the entire area flooded. After many years underwater, these trees can no longer withstand the pressures of a twenty thousand pound houseboat roped against a twenty mile per hour wind.  More often than I like to remember, I’ve found out the hard way.

I can trust my ropes; they are strong and good. I can usually trust my deckhands, for they are also strong (if not necessarily what anyone would call good).  Most of my family and friends can tie a knot that will hold in any wind (although some of these knots have to be “loosened” with a sharp knife – my ropes get shorter all the time).

The problem is the decaying of the trees. Fifty years of sedentary existence with the mass of their dead trunks and root systems submerged has taken its natural toll on these formerly stout oaks, hickories and maples. These days, branches break. Trunks sheer. Roots pull out. And then under the cheerful encouragement of a treacherous summer breeze, boats go sailing inexorably toward the shore. Panic time.

That’s not true, of course – a good skipper doesn’t panic under any circumstances. I discovered that when a tree trunk snaps and the boat breaks free, it doesn’t actually improve the situation to squeeze my eyes tightly shut, wave my arms wildly about, and wail uncontrollably, even if it does help to comfort and reassure the other people on the boat. On the contrary, the skipper must get a quick and masterful grip on the situation and save the boat at all costs, even if it means the barbecued ribs get cold. Misadventure never waits for lunch to be finished. Emergency loves a barbecue.

Through quick thinking, fast action, and mostly pure blind luck, on several occasions I have saved our boat from wind-driven calamity.  I finally realized we can no longer trust the old trees for mooring. They are now stick figure caricatures of their former glorious selves – sad, anorexic silhouettes with no particular usefulness above the waterline except, perhaps, as fishing lure collectors.

In a perfect world, lakes such as ours would be equipped by the Corp of Engineers with permanent mooring points for boats, especially houseboats and pontoon boats. Actually, that’s not the whole truth – in a truly perfect world, these moorings would also provide ice cold beer on tap. In the absence of perfection sublime, however, we have found a solution of compromise.

In a discrete cove that few other boaters bother to investigate, we discovered that by mooring diagonally, we are able to secure the bow of The Phoenix to a strong, living tree rooted firmly on the bank, and the stern to another on the adjacent shore. So far this system has held us securely through calm and storm. It’s almost perfect.

Note, I said “almost.” We still have to bring our own beer.