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Summers at Nolin Lake: Pontoon voyage and quicksand!

When I was in high school my dad and his sister Jean and brother-in-law Roy went in halves and purchased a pontoon boat. The pontoon was a homemade job constructed out of 1/8th inch steel, and was 28-feet long; it was tough-as-nails and as heavy as a tank! It was not a fast boat, but it got us to where we wanted to go okay.

They purchased the boat in late winter, and took it to my grandparents’ home in Harned where we refurbished it; we added new flooring, carpet, lighting and new paint. When we finished fixing up the pontoon we took it to Nolin Lake, and I will never forget taking the boat to the lake that spring.

We arrived at the marina in Wax, KY late at night, and my uncle Roy decided he wanted to go ahead and take the boat to our campsite on Dog Creek. It was a cold, crisp, clear spring night; the stars shone so big and so bright that particular night. At the time Nolin Lake was being brought up to its summer pool stage and was probably at 80-percent of its summer level, which meant traveling the lake and its adjoining tributaries, such as Dog Creek, was fraught with some danger.

The trip from the Wax Marina to Dog Creek was several miles at least, and took about a half an hour when the water was at its peak summer pool stage; with the water quite a bit lower, the trip took longer. Let me set the stage a bit before I tell about the trip.

The crew for the voyage consisted of myself, my uncle Roy and my cousin Jay. Cousin Jay actually piloted the pontoon, and I stood on the very front of the pontoon with a small flashlight shining down into the water to spot any potential obstacles we might hit. As I mentioned, it was a crisp, cold night; I was not wearing gloves, so I had to continually switch hands holding the flashlight due to my hands starting to freeze.

Now as to the voyage itself, my uncle Roy was not completely forthright about what he was going to do; he told Jay and myself that he planned to dock the boat at one of the slips at the marina, and come back the next day to pay for a summer mooring spot and to take the boat to the campsite. Jay and I were all in to be the first to ride the maiden voyage of the pontoon, even if it was just going to be a few feet.

We put the pontoon into the water and Jay, myself and Roy hopped onto the boat and Jay started it up and pulled the pontoon away from the dock. At that point Roy told Jay to take the boat out to the mooring stations so he could see which one he wanted to purchase for the summer. Unaware of his true intentions, Jay headed out to the mooring spots located approximately 100 yards or more away from the marina. When we got to the spots, Roy said he did not see one he wanted, so he turned to Jay and said, “let’s just take the boat to the campsite!” He then turned to me and told me to stand on the front of the pontoon with the flashlight because “your eyes are better than mine and watch for obstacles.”

We then headed away from the Wax marina, onto the lake proper and to Dog Creek. Now the batteries in the flashlight I was using, which belonged to my dad, were not at full strength and the flashlight was not all that powerful to begin with, so it did not put out a lot of light. I stood on the front of the pontoon and aimed the light down into the water. A short distance into our trip I could suddenly see the floor of the lake rise up toward us and I frantically motioned for my cousin to cut hard left to avoid running aground. We clipped the side of the rise, got stuck for about 10-minutes, then were on our way again. The rest of the trip was uneventful until we neared the campsite.

An island existed in the middle of Dog Creek where the campsite was. When Jay rounded the island, we could see a huge bonfire my dad had started to help us find the campsite, and to provide us light. When Jay saw the fire he pushed the throttle to wide open. When we neared the campsite Jay reversed throttle to slow the boat, but nothing happened. We were hurtling toward the shore at full-speed. Knowing we were going to slam into the bank, I yelled to my dad to point out a landing spot for me. He did, and when I felt the boat start to contact the bank I took off running and jumped toward the spot. I hit it dead center, but that clear spot turned out to be a hole filled with thick clay type mud and muck and I sank all the way to my waist!

Just before the pontoon hit bank, Roy had handed me the tie-of rope and told me to tie off the boat since I was on the front of the pontoon. Stuck waist deep in the muck, I told my dad to tie off the boat while I extricated myself from the mud. Try as I might, I could not get out of the mud. I asked my dad to come pull me out, and he could not budge me. It took my dad, Jay and Roy all pulling as hard as they could to pry me out of the muck. The suction from the mud was so strong it sucked off my left shoe. I imagine the shoe is still buried down in that hole!

By Ralph Dickerson

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