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Dec. 5, 2020
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Vinnie Mendes On the Water

Be careful what you wish for

I love old wooden boats. I’ve owned and maintained many of them over the years and never cease to be impressed by the craftsmanship that went into building them. Anyone can point a chopper gun at a mold and make a fiberglass boat. It takes a real carpenter to build a wooden one. 
 
Unfortunately, they take a lot of maintenance to keep them seaworthy. Constant paint and varnishing are required to stave off dry rot. On salt water you have electrolysis of the fastenings as well as many other problems not found on freshwater lakes like Lanier. Every year at the family marina up on the Jersey coast we had one or two  old wooden boats that are 97 percent good, but the other three percent would cost more than the boat is worth to repair. Consequently, they are simply abandoned by the owners, and we have the problem of getting rid of them. Normally they would be cut up, put into a dumpster and hauled off to the county landfill. 
 
Now I had a marvelous fireplace that I used to supplement heating the house during the winter months. It had a “Heatalator,” i.e. a metal shell surrounding the fire box with ducts running into other rooms. It put out a tremendous amount of heat and you had a cheery fire to look at. The downside is that it used lots of firewood. 
 
Old boats make excellent fuel, being all dried hardwood such as teak, oak, or mahogany, and the bronze and copper fastenings and bottom paint make beautiful colors as they burn. Solving two problems at once, every fall, I would take my woodchoppers maul and bust up the boats that had been abandoned the previous year. This would also inspire the boat owners to get their winter storage fees in on time. Sometimes if I found an interesting piece like a bow with the registration numbers or a stern with the boat’s name I would keep it whole to burn on special occasions like when I’m having friends over for dinner. It’s quite impressive to see the bow of a boat sticking out of the fireplace. I would simply kick it in another six inches every fifteen minutes or so. 
 
One year while I was hard at work breaking up a boat, a couple of guys came by and offered to cut it up if they could have the brass fittings. I told them sure if they cut it into fireplace lengths. They said “Great, where do you want it delivered?” I thought I’d died and gone to heaven! Not only free firewood, but free delivery and all I had to do was stack it!
 
This worked great for several seasons, then one year after they had delivered all the wood from our marina, they asked if I could use any more. I told them “Sure, I’ll take all you’ve got” (Silly me!)
Next week I came home from work to find my front yard covered with wood! I figured great, now I have enough to last this winter and into next. My sons and I stacked it behind the house and forgot about it, until the next week. I came home from work and the front yard was covered with wood! I was getting a funny feeling as I stacked it behind the house and, sure enough, one day the following week I came home from work and the front yard was covered with wood!
 
The problem was I did not know who these guys were or how to get ahold of them. Asking around neighboring marinas one of the employees said there was a marina in south Jersey that was being converted into condos and it had several eighty-five-foot fishing boats that they were cutting up. 
 
By now I was getting desperate because it was getting close to Christmas and I had a dozen people coming to dinner. Feeling like the “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” not being able to stop what I had started, I got a piece of four by eight plywood and a can of spray paint and made a sign saying “NO MORE WOOD” in big letters. I put it on the front lawn and it did the trick. The wood stopped appearing. I left the sign there for another week or so, then four days before Christmas I figured it was safe and took it down. Yup, you guessed it. Next day the front lawn was covered with wood! 
 
Now I was on a mission! After stacking the wood in the back yard, I drove all along the south Jersey shore until I discovered the source of the wood, found the two guys and over several rounds of drinks, explained that although I was grateful for the free wood, I had  no more room to store it. They told me that they understood and wishing me a Merry Christmas, said they’d get in touch next year.
 
 
 
 
Mendes has been sailing all his life and on Lake Lanier for the past 25 years. His family owns a marina/bar/restaurant so he has plenty of real life experiences to draw from. His favorite line: “You can’t make this stuff up.”





November 2020 column

A Thanksgiving to remember

One of the many things I love about Lake Lanier is year round sailing. Up north boating takes a long winter break. By mid-November the Jersey Shore has become a desolate place. The tourists have all gone home and the wind is howling down the boardwalk, as the surf pounds against the sea wall. At the marina, all the boats have been hauled out of the water and their engines winterized. The masts have been pulled out of the sailboats and properly stored and there is not much to do. The weather is cold and miserable with not a hint of snow and only the anticipation of Thanksgiving and Christmas to relieve the boredom.
 
One of our marina patrons provided a solution. He was going to Florida for Thanksgiving week, so he offered his ski cabin in central Vermont to the crew in appreciation for taking good care of his boat during the summer. This was the perfect cure for the ennui that had set in, so we accepted. We assembled an eclectic group of sailors, houseboaters and other good friends and headed north. The cabin was centrally located between several ski areas so there would be plenty of outdoor activity besides partying.
 
Not everyone was a downhill skier so the first day we decided to go cross country skiing at Mountain Meadows, a popular area with miles of well-groomed trails and a good ski school and lodge. The trails ran through sugar maple forest, where occasionally you would come across tracks of rabbits, foxes, and deer. Every once in a while, you would come out into a clearing with incredible vistas of snow-covered farmlands and mountains in the distance. As my girlfriend and I skied along, every few hundred yards we would come upon a blue stain in the snow. I figured some Snow-Cat or Ski-Doo had an antifreeze leak and thought no more about it.
 
 At the end of the day we all gathered in front of the enormous fireplace at the ski lodge for hot mulled cider. My brother’s girlfriend was standing right in front of the fire and she was wearing a new pair of blue corduroy trousers. As she stood before the heat, we could actually see steam coming from them. Thus, was solved the mystery of the blue stains in the snow! When she got back to our cabin, she found that not only her long underwear, but also her legs were dyed blue. (Note: never wear new bright colored pants in the snow if you fall down a lot.) 
 
Next day we all decided to take some lessons. While the rest of the crew opted for a basic or intermediate lesson, I decided to take a lesson to improve my Telemark turns. (Note: Nordic skiing is basically cross country, similar to jogging or skating, Telemark turns allow you to take the cross-country skis downhill but require a bit of practice to master. Alpine skiing is all downhill, more like a very energetic sleigh ride.) I was the only one in the class and the instructor was a fellow named Mike Gallagher. The name was familiar, but I wasn’t sure where I had heard it. He was a great instructor and I learned a lot from him.

I bought him a hot rum and cider in the bar afterward and asked how he had gotten into Nordic skiing. He told me his father was in the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division in Colorado and he basically grew up on skis. He excelled in high school and was considered an Olympic hopeful. In his senior year he got into a terrible car wreck and all the doctors told him he might not walk again, much less ski! He decided “Screw you doctors, I’m not only going to walk but I will ski.” He was never good enough to be an Olympic competitor in Alpine skiing but excelled in Nordic, not only in the five, 15 and 30 kilometer races but also in the biathlon, where you ski several kilometers with a rifle on your shoulder then flop down in the snow, shoot at a number of targets, get back up and do it all over again! He was on the US Olympic team competing in three Olympics, 1964, 1968, and 1972. He was currently the head coach of the US Nordic Olympic Ski team! That’s when I realized why the name sounded familiar! 
 
Meanwhile back at the cabin, it was a weeklong party with a number of funny situations happening. One evening while cleaning up from dinner, Bill, one of our houseboat buddies, was loading the dishwasher. He had just finished filling the soap dispenser with liquid hand dishwashing detergent. My girlfriend saw what he was doing and told him he had to use the powdered automatic dish washer detergent, so he put that in as well. She told him he had to get the liquid out of there or it would foam all over the place. He assured her that he knew what he was doing and hit the start button. We all began playing Scrabble in the dining room as the dishwasher was humming away in the kitchen. I was facing the kitchen door and pretty soon this wall of soap suds started oozing out of the dishwasher and creeping across the floor toward us. It was about a foot and a half high and looked like something out of a 1950s science fiction movie! I kept quiet waiting for a reaction from someone and pretty soon one of the girls screamed. We all suspended the game to watch Bill clean up the mess and bail out the dishwasher. This was much more fun than Scrabble. 
 
The funniest incident happened on Thanksgiving Day. Our friend Paula volunteered to roast the turkey. Now Paula is a dear sweet person whom I think took too many drugs back in the 1960s. However, we knew she was a good cook, so we were happy to let her do it. We all retired to the living room expecting delicious aromas to eventually emanate from the kitchen. Instead we hear this Crash! Bam! Screech! Bam! Crash! Upon investigating we saw Paula attacking the oven with a tire iron! We got the weapon away from her and she tearfully explained that she was unfamiliar with this stove, so after setting the temperature at 350 degrees and the oven timer at four hours she mistakenly hit “Self-Clean” instead of “Start.” The oven door automatically locked and would stay locked for the next five hours while the temperature went up to 1,200 degrees and turned every bit of organic matter inside the oven, including our turkey, into a fine gray powder which you could easily vacuum up. She was desperately trying to get the oven door open without alerting us that there was a problem and thought the tire iron was the solution. 
 
Now my brother Haik had run a successful marina with bar and restaurant for years, so he had seen almost every problem imaginable. He simply went over to the breaker box on the wall in the utility room, pulled the master switch turning off all the power in the house, waited 30 seconds and turned it on again. Every clock, TV, VCR, and timer in the house began flashing zeros, including the oven timer. He went over to the oven and opened the door!  
 
Thanksgiving makes us think of things we are thankful for and that one really made me happy that I had a bunch of good friends and a talented resourceful brother!
 
In memoriam: 
Capt. Haik Mendes, 1955-2015
Mike Gallagher, 1942-2013


October 2020

It's all in your perspective

When I was in college, I was dating a girl. Don’t call the PC Police, this was the 1960s, when boys dated girls. I was her boyfriend and she was my girlfriend. Get over it! 
 
Anyway, she came from “old money.” One of her cousins up on Cape Cod was having a party and she wanted to go. Her father had “absolutely forbidden” her to ride on a motorcycle so naturally she hopped on the back of my motorcycle and we headed north from New Jersey. 
 
The party was at a beautiful old, cedar shingled mansion on the beach. There must have been 100 people there with a live band and open bar. I didn’t quite fit in with most of the guys since I was wearing Levis and a motorcycle jacket. These guys looked like they had just stepped out of a cognac ad in some posh magazine. There they were: from their perfect haircuts down to their Bass Weejun loafers, with or without socks, their perfectly creased H.I.S. trousers and their Arrow shirts with fraternity ties. And of course, either a blue blazer or a madras blazer, or best of all, a blue blazer with madras lining! 
 
There was one other guy dressed like me there, so we naturally gravitated together. His name was Bob and he was a folk singer. He and his girlfriend had ridden his bike up from New York. We exchanged some bike stories and then I “borrowed” a bottle of rum off the bar and he and I went out to the beach to continue the conversation. 
 
Now this was one of those pitch-black New England nights with a bazillion stars lighting up the heavens. It reminded me of a Van Gogh painting! We sat on the beach then wound up laying in the sand. Bob was on his belly sifting sand thru his fingers. I was on my back a few feet away looking up at the stars. As we passed the bottle of rum between us, he told me he wrote songs about the poor and the downtrodden and how useless life was and how the world sucked in general.

I said, “Man, you got the wrong perspective! Look up at the sky!” Then I stood and gave him a hand up and we spun around and around gazing at the amazing sky, one hand waving in the air and the other still passing the bottle back and forth. By now the bottle was empty, spirits were lifted, and it was time to go back and rescue our dates at the party. 
 
The following year, Bob Dylan came out with “Mr. Tambourine Man.” If you listen closely to his long version, (not the Byrd’s cover), the fourth verse contains references to a windy beach and dancing beneath a diamond sky as well as other descriptions that seem very familiar to that night long ago.  I have no idea if I had anything to do with it, but I’ll always remember that starry, starry night on a Cape Cod beach.
 
 

September 2020 column

 

Mr. Zip's wild ride (or look before you leap)

Over the years we have had a bunch of characters working at my brother’s marina. One I remember we called “Zip,” short for “Zipper” because he was so skinny, he could stand sideways and stick out his tongue and he’d look like a zipper! I thought he was a waste of space, but he was really handy if you had to loosen a hose clamp underneath a boat engine or if you dropped a tool into the bilge. He was one of these guys who was always looking for a shortcut to do things and rarely got anything done. 
 
One thing he did accomplish which I thought pretty cool was to buy a Cadillac which had been rear-ended. He got it for next to nothing and except for the damage to the rear, it was a beautiful car. This was back when cars were bolted together, and he went to a junkyard and bought the rear fenders, bumper and trunk lid off the same year car that had gotten hit in the front. He put them together and took it to “Earl Scheib,” a national chain of auto body shops that advertised they would “paint any car for $29.95.” He got the cheap black paint job and I must admit it looked spectacular! The only way you could tell there was anything fishy was it said “Fleetwood” on the front and “El Dorado” on the back. He rode around in that thing like he was a Mafia kingpin or some kind of rock star!
 
The best story I remember about him and the Caddy was when he somehow got invited to a POSH party up in Manhattan. For two weeks before the party, all we heard about were the famous movie stars and entertainers who “might” be there. Finally, the big day came, and he was a bit short of cash. He decided he could economize by not paying the tolls on the Garden State Parkway, so he just blew thru all the toll booths. This worked so well he did the same thing on the NJ Turnpike and the Lincoln Tunnel! When he got into Manhattan he went through a red light and a cop car took off after him. He thought it was the state police who had followed him all the way across the river from New Jersey! He led them a wild chase going through stop signs and up on sidewalks, the wrong way down one-way streets, and doing all sorts of other crazy things to escape.

By this time the police had about a dozen cars involved thinking this was some kind of big drug bust or escaped convict in the Cadillac. Finally, he went down a dead-end street and when he couldn’t go any farther, he took off on foot, ran to the end, and vaulted over a four-foot wall. He said when he passed a streetlamp on the way down, he knew he was in trouble! He had jumped down onto the entrance ramp of the Lincoln Tunnel! When he hit, he broke both his ankles. He managed to crawl under a parked car and laid low while dozens of cops searched the area with flashlights. 
 
Just when he thought he was home free he heard the car door above him open. Then the engine started, and the car drove away leaving him lying on the pavement! The police took him into custody, got him to a hospital where they patched him up and then off to jail in a wheelchair. The height of ignominy was the next day when his mother had to take the bus to New York City and not only bail him out but get the Cadillac out of the impound yard. Then, there was the ride home with him sitting across the back seat, his legs up and his mother reviewing his sinful ways the whole way, meticulously stopping at all the toll plazas. 
 
His ankles healed up quickly and pretty soon he was hobbling around in two walking casts with the help of a cane. This was midsummer on the Jersey Shore and we all rode motorcycles. All the other guys had British bikes like BSAs and Triumphs, but I had a big Harley”74.” 
 
With the casts, he couldn’t ride his BSA and the footrests of all the other bikes were too small for him to put his feet on. Consequently, I was stuck with him on the back of my Harley. We made quite a pair riding down the road on the with him hanging on behind me, both ankles in casts and his cane tucked underneath his arm ­ – in case he had to run from the cops!

August 2020 column
 

Thoughts on lotteries in general and my luck in particular

If you saw the movie “Weekend at Bernie’s,” you’ll remember the beautiful island and especially the lighthouse where most of the action takes place. The movie was filmed on Bald Head Island off the coast of North Carolina. My cousin has a house on the island, where we’ve spent many restful days hanging out. From when you first arrive you can imagine you are on the set of the movie. You must take a passenger ferry across the strait to be met by a golf cart (there are no private cars on the island) and then drive along the sandy paths that honeycomb the entire place. Looming over everything is “Old Baldy,” the 200-plus year old lighthouse that dominates everything. I’ve always had a fascination with lighthouses and this one is a real winner. She was built in 1817 and has warned ships safely off “Frying Pan Shoal” ever since. 
 
My cousin and I were on our way to pick up groceries in her golf cart when we spied her friend with a table set up next to an “EZ GO” golf cart that looked exactly like a Rolls Royce! We stopped to chat and found that she was selling raffle tickets for the benefit of the Lighthouse Fund. My cousin said she’d take one and of course I chimed in that I’d take one, too. As I reached for my wallet, the friend said “Great! That will be $350. You have a good chance of winning because we are only selling 100 tickets.” I gulped as I put my wallet away and reached for my checkbook!
 
I live adjacent to a very posh neighborhood where a lot of people ride around in golf carts. As we drove home from our vacation in Bald Head, all I could think about was how cool it would be to ride around the neighborhood in a Rolls Royce golf cart. After all, they were only selling 100 tickets.
 
Thinking of buying lottery tickets, I’m reminded of my friend Donnie. He is a retired cop who now lives on Florida’s Emerald Coast east of Pensacola. He has a great sense of humor and too much time on his hands. Winters are nice down there but in midsummer he visits all his friends up north. He and his wife came by one weekend when it was my wife’s birthday. They were nice enough to bring a birthday card which contained 10 scratch-off lottery tickets, where if you scratch off three numbers that match, you win something, either money or more tickets and so forth.

We were all excited as my wife scratched off the numbers. On the fourth one, she won five dollars! When she got to the seventh ticket the number she scratched off was $10,000. We all laughed. The next number was $10,000! Now things were getting serious. She slowly scratched off the last one. Yup, it read $10,000! Knowing Donnie, I smelled a rat. When we looked closely at the instructions on how to claim the winnings, we needed a magnifying glass. They said that the ticket must be presented along with photo ID within the next 10 minutes to “Yo Momma” and went on like that. We all had a good laugh and appreciated the five dollars that she had won on the legitimate ticket.
 
Then he told the story of what he had done while visiting some friends in California. The husband was laid back, but the wife was a mini tornado, always whirling around at 100 miles per hour. She was excited about the state lottery which at that time was $10 million. Saturday afternoon they stopped off at the liquor store to pick up supplies and when they came out, she asked him if he bought his lottery tickets. When he replied “No, I never win anything,” she said, “You gotta buy some tickets, it’s ten million dollars!” He went back into the store and when he came out, she asked “How many did you buy?” he said “One.” She said “No! No! You gotta buy a whole bunch or you won’t win.” He told her if you bought more than one you were betting against yourself, besides, he had never won anything in his life.
 
The next morning, Donnie got up early and walked down to the corner convenience store for a cup of coffee and the newspaper. He checked the winning lottery number in the paper and bought a ticket for that number, put it in his wallet, and walked back. When the household arose, he was drinking his coffee and reading the paper. His host was all excited and began checking her numbers calling out “Yes, YES, no”, “Yes, YES, YES, no” and so on for all 20 tickets without winning anything. Then she asked if he had checked his ticket. He told her no, and said he never won anything in his life.

He pulled out the ticket he had bought that morning and asked her to check it. She grabbed the ticket and the newspaper and began reading. “Yes, yes, YES, YES! YES!!” and so on for all the numbers until finally, she yelled out “You’re rich! YOU’RE RICH!” He said no, there must be some mistake. He’d never won anything in his life, and to check the date. She said “Look, it’s today’s date, you’re rich! YOU’RE RICH! “He replied “Hey, you are acting like an idiot. If it means that much to you, give me a dollar and the ticket is yours.” She quickly handed him a dollar and started running around the house screaming “I’M RICH, I’M RICH” at the top of her lungs and tearing down drapes, pulling pictures off the walls, capsizing furniture, and so on. 
 
Donnie was afraid it had gotten out of hand so he told her husband what he had done and asked if he should put her wise. The husband sat back drinking his coffee and said “No, let’s wait ‘til she runs down a bit.”
 
Meanwhile, back in Flowery Branch, do you have any idea how cool it is riding around the neighborhood in a Rolls Royce golf cart? Well, neither do I because I certainly didn’t win the thing. The odds were 100 to one against me! What was I thinking?
 

July 2020 column

An example or two of poetic justice

Several years ago, I had a sofa. It was Danish Modern, all teak and black vinyl and extremely comfortable, both for sitting and sleeping, until the cat tinkled on it! I tried everything I could think of to get rid of the odor to no avail. Finally, I bought a new sofa and put the old one out on the front lawn with a sign saying “FREE” in big letters. It sat there for two weeks and no one touched it. Then I had a brainstorm. I put a sign on it reading “$50.” It was gone the next morning! I hope whoever got it had a better sense of taste than of smell. I was simply happy to get rid of it.
 
More recently one of my neighbors had a Honda Shadow motorcycle dating from the late 1970s. He had owned it since it was new, and it was a thing of beauty, painted metal flake purple and in pristine condition, almost museum quality. The only problem was the motor would crank but would not run properly. 
 
He asked to borrow my motorcycle trailer to take the bike down to the repair shop. I helped him load it onto the trailer and off he went. The shop said they couldn’t get on it for several months, but if he would take the engine out and bring it to them, they could start to work on it right away. He went back home pulled the engine, which he put in the trunk of his car and left the bike sitting on the trailer in his driveway. 
 
Next morning, he received a call from a woman identifying herself as the dispatcher of the Suwanee Police Department. She asked if he knew where his motorcycle was. He said “Sure,” as he glanced out the window then said “Oops! I guess I don’t, but I bet you’re going to tell me.” She said it had been found abandoned on a trailer in a motel parking lot and was currently in the police impound yard.

The license plate had been removed from the trailer, but the thieves had neglected to remove the plate from the bike. Then there was the hassle for both of us having to go down to the police station with the paperwork to prove who we were and that we were the legitimate owners of the vehicles, then to the impound yard to get them. After that I got to go up the DMV in Gainesville and get a new license plate. However, it does make and entertaining story and gives me great pleasure thinking of the elation of the thieves as they drove away with the loot only to find out they had an unusable motorcycle and a trailer of limited marketability, since most people with motorcycles want to ride them, not tow them!
 
While I’m thinking of inept thieves, I am reminded of an incident several years ago when I was serving on a grand jury. We had a case come up where several guys broke into a medical office wearing ski masks. They were well organized, breaking down the front door with a sledgehammer and bringing along plastic garbage cans to carry off the loot. They took all the drugs, all the computers and finally all the security cameras.

As soon as they got inside, they had removed their ski masks, since they knew they were going to take the cameras! They did not realize that the videos were stored in a remote location! When the staff came in the next day, they called the police and turned over the camera footage. They also shared it with the local newspaper who posted it on their website! Within two hours a dozen people had ratted out the crooks, including the sister of one of them! As John Wayne said, “You can’t cure stupid!”
 
On the lake itself there is very little crime if you don’t count “boating under the influence.” Occasionally, you hear someone got their kayak stolen and we did have some fishing poles stolen in our cove but that’s the only thing that comes to mind.
 
However, several years ago, I had a friend who owned a little skiff with an outboard motor. One day he went down to take her out and found that someone had stolen his gas tank! He was mildly annoyed but was not going to let it spoil his day. He went down to the marine supply store, purchased a new gas tank, filled it up, and was out on the lake with only about an hour and a half lost. The following week he went down to the boat and found that someone had stolen the new gas tank! Now he was really annoyed! Since the price of gas was over $5 per gallon at the time, he figured the thieves were just after the gas! 
 
An old gas tank had been knocking around his shed for years that would not fit the current motor. He filled it half full of gas and added a bottle of Karo Syrup. (WARNING! Do not try this at home! Any sugar in the fuel is devastating to an internal combustion engine!) He left the gas tank on the boat and when he went down to check the next week, yup, the tank was gone. The greatest thing about this type of thief is that he pulls this kind of stuff so often that when retribution comes, he does not know where it came from! In other words, “Time wounds all heels!”
 


June 2020 column


Following in the wake of Mark Twain

Living on and around Lake Lanier we are all spoiled by the number of different things to enjoy out on the open water. We forget that the Chattahoochee River flows right through it, although about 150 feet below the surface, entering just north of Gainesville and exiting at Buford Dam. The “Hooch” meanders all the way from Helen down to Florida and it forms the boundary between Georgia and Alabama for the southern half of the state and part of the border with Florida. The Chattahoochee is a uniquely “Georgian” thing because once it crosses the border into Florida the name changes to Apalachicola.
 
A good excuse for a party in the fall is a “Fall Foliage Tour.” Once the leaves begin to turn, get a bunch of friends and a boat and just head north on the lake until you go under Clarks Bridge past the Olympic Venue and keep going. Pretty soon the shoreline will close in on you and the water will get shallower. When you start to notice a current, you’re in the actual river. Prepare to have your senses bombarded by fall colors like you’ve never seen driving a car or biking or hiking.
 
You don’t even need a power boat to enjoy the river. One of my favorite things to do on those hot, windless days of summer is get everyone I know with a canoe, kayak, dingy, stand up paddle board or even an inner tube and simply drift down the river. You’ll need a number of vehicles, at least one a pickup truck or car with a trailer. You drop the boats and people off at the launching ramp at one of the recreation areas below the dam. Then drive south to another launching ramp five or six miles downstream and park the truck and cars. Pile into one car, shuttle back to the boats and launch them.

Once you reach your destination simply pull the boats out of the water, toss them into the truck and head for home, stopping along the way to pick up the shuttle vehicle. I know this sounds a little involved but it’s definitely worth it. 
 
Don’t forget life preservers for everyone including the stand-up paddle boards. The river is still icy cold even in mid-summer which is really refreshing unless you wind up in it by surprise! (To check the water release schedule, call the Corps at 770-945-1466 to make sure they are not going to release a wall of water from the dam and capsize you. Of course that’s below Buford Dam.)
 
There are river maps available on line at www.nps.gov/chat/planyourvisit/maps.htm or at most of the recreation areas showing the mile markers and locations of all the ramps so you can’t get lost. (The mile markers are posted along the riverbank). 
 
It takes about four hours to drift five or six miles down the river. We usually bring sandwiches and beverages for the trip. (Don’t forget a garbage bag, keeping in mind, “Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints.”)
 
I can’t help feeling like Tom Sawyer 150 years ago drifting down the river. Since you’re going more or less silently you get a chance to see a lot of wildlife that otherwise would be frightened away by the sound of a motor. We’ve seen red headed hawks, egrets, great blue herons, and even a bald eagle! Not to mention all kinds of fish, snapping turtles, deer and racoons. 
 
You’ll also sneak a peek at the back yards of some of the “rich and famous” who are fortunate enough to live on the river. It’s hard to imagine that you’re in the middle of an urban, or at least semi urban area. This is an experience you won’t forget!

Following in the wake of Mark Twain

Living on and around Lake Lanier we are all spoiled by the number of different things to enjoy out on the open water. We forget that the Chattahoochee River flows right through it, although about 150 feet below the surface, entering just north of Gainesville and exiting at Buford Dam. The “Hooch” meanders all the way from Helen down to Florida and it forms the boundary between Georgia and Alabama for the southern half of the state and part of the border with Florida. The Chattahoochee is a uniquely “Georgian” thing because once it crosses the border into Florida the name changes to Apalachicola.
 
A good excuse for a party in the fall is a “Fall Foliage Tour.” Once the leaves begin to turn, get a bunch of friends and a boat and just head north on the lake until you go under Clarks Bridge past the Olympic Venue and keep going. Pretty soon the shoreline will close in on you and the water will get shallower. When you start to notice a current, you’re in the actual river. Prepare to have your senses bombarded by fall colors like you’ve never seen driving a car or biking or hiking.
 
You don’t even need a power boat to enjoy the river. One of my favorite things to do on those hot, windless days of summer is get everyone I know with a canoe, kayak, dingy, stand up paddle board or even an inner tube and simply drift down the river. You’ll need a number of vehicles, at least one a pickup truck or car with a trailer. You drop the boats and people off at the launching ramp at one of the recreation areas below the dam. Then drive south to another launching ramp five or six miles downstream and park the truck and cars. Pile into one car, shuttle back to the boats and launch them.

Once you reach your destination simply pull the boats out of the water, toss them into the truck and head for home, stopping along the way to pick up the shuttle vehicle. I know this sounds a little involved but it’s definitely worth it. 
 
Don’t forget life preservers for everyone including the stand-up paddle boards. The river is still icy cold even in mid-summer which is really refreshing unless you wind up in it by surprise! (To check the water release schedule, call the Corps at 770-945-1466 to make sure they are not going to release a wall of water from the dam and capsize you. Of course that’s below Buford Dam.)
 
There are river maps available on line at www.nps.gov/chat/planyourvisit/maps.htm or at most of the recreation areas showing the mile markers and locations of all the ramps so you can’t get lost. (The mile markers are posted along the riverbank). 
 
It takes about four hours to drift five or six miles down the river. We usually bring sandwiches and beverages for the trip. (Don’t forget a garbage bag, keeping in mind, “Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints.”)
 
I can’t help feeling like Tom Sawyer 150 years ago drifting down the river. Since you’re going more or less silently you get a chance to see a lot of wildlife that otherwise would be frightened away by the sound of a motor. We’ve seen red headed hawks, egrets, great blue herons, and even a bald eagle! Not to mention all kinds of fish, snapping turtles, deer and racoons. 
 
You’ll also sneak a peek at the back yards of some of the “rich and famous” who are fortunate enough to live on the river. It’s hard to imagine that you’re in the middle of an urban, or at least semi urban area. This is an experience you won’t forget!
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