Today's lake level: 1072.33
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Aug. 15, 2018
6:16 pm


Vinnie Mendes On the Water

The wandering dock

One of my best friends is Harry. The two of us are really the “Odd Couple.” He came from a northwestern state where you are almost born in the saddle and he knows everything there is to know about riding in rodeos and punching cows. I came from the Jersey shore, where my family owns a marina so I know an awful lot about boats and docks. We share the common bond of having escaped from the north, where in the middle of February, we’d be lying on our bellies in a crawl space, trying to thaw out frozen pipes with a propane torch.  Needless to say, we never looked back! When I am asked “If you were in jail at 3 o’clock in the morning and you had to call a friend to bail you out, who would it be?” it wouldn’t be him. He’d be there right beside me saying “Man, wasn’t that hot s##t!”
A few years ago he acquired a nice fishing boat, complete with 100 hp outboard, rod holders, trolling motor, stereo system, beer cooler, etc. (i.e. everything you need to catch fish on Lake Lanier.) Now the lake level has been down for the past few years, so Harry just let his dock sit on the bottom and did not think much about it. Evidently he didn’t know that you have to leave the cables that raise and lower the spuds (the iron pipes that hold the dock in place) loose when the lake comes up. Otherwise the spuds come up with the dock, and the dock is no longer attached to the bottom of the lake. It is now at the mercy of whichever way the wind blows.
Evidently this is what happened. I got a call one morning asking to help tow it back from where it wound up at the state park across the lake.  His boat was tied up on the dock, but the battery was out of it and the motor had been winterized, so we got into my old Tartan 36 sailboat and headed across the lake. Now the Tartan is a racing boat and she draws seven feet of water. When we got within about 30 feet of the dock, THUMP, we ran aground! After backing off, I got out a grappling hook and we managed to throw it across to the dock and pull it out to where we could secure it to the boat and tow it back where it belonged.
After that, each morning I’d look out the kitchen window as lake level rose. I would see his dock across the cove. One morning I looked out and something was missing … the dock. I called him up and when his wife answered I said  ”Do you know something I don’t know or has your dock gone on walkabout again?” She looked out the window, muttered the words that go with SOB, and then then with the phone muffled, ”HARRY”!
We spent the next several days motoring around the lake looking for the runaway dock with binoculars to no avail. I mentioned that it must have wound up on a park or an island because if it was in someone’s back yard they would take the number off the dock permit and call the Corps of Engineers to find out who owned it. He said there was a slight problem there because he thought his wife had renewed the permit and she thought he had. Then I said they would take the number off the bow of the boat and call the DNR and get his name. He said that was also a problem because when he bought the boat there was still two years left on the registration sticker, so he hadn’t bothered to change the title. After that I kept my ideas to myself.
We spent several days looking everywhere with my Tartan, but were constrained by the seven foot draft and the 50 foot mast so we couldn’t get into shallow areas or under electrical wires or bridges. Finally, he borrowed a power boat from another neighbor and did some more looking to no avail. Then one morning I woke up and there was the dock, back in our cove, within 100 yards of where it was supposed to be. I ran down and secured it so it couldn’t escape again and later that day we pulled it back where it belonged. This time I secured it with a steel cable to an iron spike in the shore as well as the spuds. 
All we could think of was that it had drifted just around the point into another cove, and we had missed it on all of our searched because it was right under our noses. But like Little Bo Peep’s lost sheep, it came back on its own, wagging its tail behind it!
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.”

July 2018 column

Happy Birthday, USA!

We live in the best country in the world, and I invite anyone who doubts that to spend some time anywhere else. I don’t mean a week in Cancun or Venice. Get off the beaten path for six months or so and meet some of the real people. I lived in Spain for two years while in the Navy, and got to know the country and people very well. It will make you really appreciate what we have here in the USA. Fourth of July, our nation’s birthday, is one of my favorite holidays and Lake Lanier is a great place to celebrate it with its many parks, beaches, warm water and competing fireworks displays everywhere you look.
However the Fourth of July I remember best was in 1986 when it coincided with the rededication of the Statue of Liberty. (She had been falling into disrepair over the past 100 years and had been completely refurbished). This was also the weekend of Operation Sail (OPSAIL), a gathering of Tall Ships from all around the world, some of which were over 370 feet long and 100 years old. We were represented by the US Coast Guard’s bark “Eagle” among others. 
I lived up north at the time and my brother owned a marina with a bar and restaurant which was THE happening place on the Jersey Shore. At the time we had the use of an 85-foot tugboat (that’s another story) and we decided to get a crew together and take the tug up to NY harbor to view the festivities. In preparation, we took the entire sound system from the restaurant and mounted it on the top deck of the tug with the big speakers facing outward. This was when Springsteen had just come out with his “Born in the USA” CD so we had that as well as a bunch of John Phillip Sousa, Tchaikovsky’s 1812 and other patriotic music. I had acquired a gigantic American flag, like you usually see flying above the car dealerships. It was too big for the tug’s mast so I lashed a windsurfer mast on top. We loaded food, refreshments and about 55 friends on board and headed north.
Approaching the harbor was a surreal experience, with the Tall Ships in the distance, appearing out of the morning mist. As we got closer, we were able to make out the aircraft carrier USS John F Kennedy, where we actually saw President Reagan coming aboard.  A series of six helicopters landed and took off in quick succession, then the band struck up “Hail to the Chief.” We knew who had arrived! We also saw Malcolm Forbes aboard his yacht “The Highlander,” complete with its helicopter pad.
Then we approached South Street Seaport, which is a tourist area of restaurants and shops  restored to the way the harbor looked 100 years ago. It also has many old steam ships and sailing ships and a pedestrian boardwalk running for a mile or so along the waterfront. As we cruised past with Springsteen blasting through the enormous speakers, the throngs of people on the boardwalk were all dancing to our music! (We were later told that we made it onto the six o’clock news). 
Finally came the fireworks display which was truly the best I have ever seen. It was simulcast with patriotic music by a local radio station. (Google: Statue of Liberty Centennial Fireworks.) Once the festivities were over there was the usual mad melee of boats rushing to get home to New Jersey, Connecticut, Long Island and Atlantic City. Most were piloted by idiots who had a bit too much to drink. Remember, this is New York Harbor, with strong currents, ships, barges and ferry boats going in all directions. 
Add several thousand pleasure boats under the cover of darkness and you have a recipe for disaster! We chose to stay at anchor for awhile until the crowd thinned out. By the time we finally got under way the fog had closed in. We didn’t have radar (GPS wasn’t a thing yet) so we got a chance to navigate back using the chart, compass and aids to navigation such as fog horns and bell buoys just like 100 years ago. 
Our father (“The Old Man”) was back at the marina and was worried that we hadn’t returned yet. He drove to the bridge and was peering out into the fog trying to get a glimpse of us. As we approached, we cranked up the music not only to let the bridge tender know we were coming, but to wake up our sleeping passengers. He said that although he couldn’t see us, as soon as “Stars and Stripes Forever” started blasting out, the drawbridge bells began ringing and red lights flashing to stop traffic as the bridge opened for us. Finally he saw our running lights coming eerily out of the fog.
It’s hard to top a celebration like that, but as each year passes and we once again honor our nation’s birthday all I can think to say is “God Bless America” ... and if I have offended anyone by saying that, I’m glad!

June 2018 column

Rule No. 1: Stay on the boat

In my 60 plus years of sailing, I have had people go overboard three times. Each time they have only been separated from the boat for a minute of two, but the experiences have been harrowing enough that I don’t want to repeat them.  So each time we have new passengers aboard I explain that Rule No. 1 is STAY ON THE BOAT! Following that rule, I go over “One hand for the ship, one hand for yourself,” lifelines, hand rails, life preservers etc. Then I review what to do if someone does go overboard. (I do this keeping in mind that I might be that someone). Some people feel intimidated by this but I’d rather have a funny story than a disaster. 
I remember one time when we had a party cruise on my old 35 foot S&S Weekender. We were coming into the harbor sailing thru the mooring field, when one of the passengers up forward got up and started unsteadily walking aft. I called “Hang onto something, Wally” about two seconds before he tumbled over the leeward side. 
I yelled “Man Overboard” and before I could reach for the life ring, he was just abeam of me. I let go of the tiller and grabbed for him, getting him by the collar. Immediately there were several other people with hands on him, and I got back to the tiller because we were in close quarters in the middle of all the moored boats. We secured a line around him and got the rope ladder overboard. All the time he was yelling “Hurry up, you guys, I gotta go to the head.” He was so drunk he couldn’t fall overboard and tinkle at the same time!
The most memorable one happened up north on one of those rare days in February, when the temperature soars to about 60 degrees even though there are still some ice floes on the river. The sun was shining through the few high clouds and it was a great day to be alive! We were all sitting out on the deck that extends out over the water in front of the bar, and someone mentioned it would be a nice day to go for a sail. Since my Dufour 24 was the only boat still in the water, six of us piled on. 
The outboard motor had been taken off to be stored in the garage for the winter. But the wind and tide were in opposite directions, so I wasn’t worried about getting in and out of the slip without power. One of the passengers was our old friend Paula, who was a dear person, but the “last of the flower children.” (I think she had taken too many drugs back in the ’60s). She had a new boyfriend and was trying to impress him, and he was doing the same, even though neither of them knew a thing about sailboats. We had a beautiful sail until on one tack I said “ready about,” and getting “ready” replies from everyone, cut the helm.

Now Paula had been lying on the cabin top on the windward side of the boat looking up at the clouds. As the boat heeled over the other tack, she rolled right across the cabin top and under the lifelines. Immediately the cry ”Man Overboard” went out! Someone threw her a cushion and we went off on a broad reach, quickly tacked and were back to her in no time at all. Now Paula was a BIG girl, and didn’t really need the life preserver as she had enough buoyancy to float at about waist level. But the water was cold and we wanted to get her out ASAP. We got the rope ladder over the side but she didn’t have the upper body strength to pull herself up, and we couldn’t haul on her arms without hurting her. As I was figuring how to rig a sling to the main halyard, we ran aground on a sandbar. 
Now she really freaked out, but since the boat only drew three feet of water, I yelled “Paula, put down your feet and stand up,” which she did to laughter all around. Two of us hopped over the side and boosted her back aboard to warm up in the cabin. Then we pushed to boat off the sandbar and sailed back to the marina for Irish coffees all around.
Author’s note: All the occurrences and characters in this story are true. Only the names have been changed to protect the guilty. Any similarity between these characters and any persons living or dead is a dirty shame!

May 2018 column

Captain Vinnie and the wet bridesmaids

I work as a sailing charter captain on Lake Lanier and it’s always fun to get out on the water to meet new people and enjoy new experiences. Usually it’s just the same sunset cruises or corporate team building events but one charter that sticks out in my memory occurred several years ago. 
I was hired to help a bride and groom escape from their wedding reception and sail off into the sunset. I went by earlier in the day to check out the wedding venue, a posh estate across from University Yacht Club. The beautifully landscaped grounds had signs painted on antique wood with arrows directing guests to “Chapel,” “Reception,” “Rest Rooms,” etc. There was also one on the dock saying “Just Married.”

I was mainly interested in the water depth (we draw 7 feet), channel entrance and navigational issues. A still photographer and videographer planned to be on my sailboat, plus a chase boat circling us, so the whole event would be well documented. I sailed up an hour early to be ready to handle any last minute crises, and while I was waiting, I took the “Just Married” sign off the dock and secured it across the stern of the sailboat. After the bride and groom said their vows they headed down to the dock followed by the entire wedding party. I was seated on the stern of the boat as they started walking out on the dock ramp. 
They were lining up single file on the ramp for a photo shoot when I heard a screech of metal, and saw the ramp start to tilt. I yelled “Oh S#it!” and ran for the bow where I had two life preserver cushions on deck. I grabbed them just as the weld holding one side of the ramp let loose and dumped most of the wedding party into the lake. I threw them the two cushions and ran down below to get more. As I jumped from the boat to the dock with arms full of cushions, I snagged a foot on a line and did a face plant! Undaunted, I tossed the cushions and assisted getting people out of the water. We did a head count and confirmed that all 17 were safe and sound, although totally soaked. 
The bride, groom, maid of honor and best man had managed to get on the dock with only the lower half of them soaked. They all seemed to think that it was an adventure, and since everyone was OK so did I. I got them to pose in orange life vests, then set sail off into the sunset with the bride and groom on deck and the two cameramen down below. Now these photographers didn’t have a clue about shooting pictures on a sailboat. They’re used to “bride and groom on the altar, guys on the right girls in the left,” so I had them set up with the bride and groom at the helm while we all hid down below so the chase boat could get some good shots, then I put them up on the bowsprit doing “King of the World” from Titanic.
The bride also had a beautiful veil about 15 feet long. I had her to stand alone on the bowsprit with the veil draped over her arms waving them very slowly up and down to look like a butterfly. All in all it was a successful evening and everyone was happy with the unexpected adventure.
Fast forward two weeks: One of the guests had recorded the whole episode on her phone and it went viral on YouTube. The couple returned home from their honeymoon in Chili and found they were famous and Good Morning America showed the video and interviewed them about the adventure. One of my friends caught it and recognized the big wooden sailboat in the background, so she passed the word to the gang. You can still find it under “wedding disasters” or “wet wedding Georgia lake.”

The bridesmaids are all in pale green, with the wooden boat behind them. In the 30 second clip you see about 2.5 seconds of me running forward to get the cushions and then about three more seconds posing with the bride and groom. This was my 5.5 seconds of fame and all I can think of is next time I’m going to be on Good Morning America, I have to suck in my gut. They say the camera adds 10 pounds, but I’m worried about the extra 50!

April 2018 column

You never know who you'll meet 

In 1996 my wife and I were Olympic volunteers working the Mistral (Windsurfer) sailing course in Savannah. Our task was to run the gear boat, where we enjoyed advantages that just about outweighed the disadvantages. 
For instance, a disadvantage was that we were the last to leave the venue each day after compiling a list of the equipment we would need to replace (lost anchors, turning marks, binoculars, batteries for the GPSs etc.) as well as lunch and drinks for the 80 or so other volunteers on our course. Then we were at the warehouse first thing in the morning to pick it all up and transport it to the venue.
However, an advantage was that we were among the few who had a pass to bring our car onto the venue, while everyone else had to park at a remote location, go through security, and then take a school bus over. We also had the IYRU (International Yacht Racing Union) rep and the Mistral rep on our boat and had the freedom to go wherever we wanted on the course, as opposed to monitoring one spot such as a turning mark or start line. In addition, all the athletes dropped their knap sacks off on our boat before each race and picked them up afterward, so we were up close and personal with all of them. 
Now Olympic volunteers were allowed absolutely NO alcohol on the venue, which was annoying, especially since both reps on our boat brought coolers on board each day and offered us beers. (You have no idea how much it hurt to decline).
On the last day of the event, the IYRU rep said, “Hey, the Lithuanian rep brought over half a container of beer and we have to help him drink it.” Now the Olympics were over, the medals had been awarded, and we were just checking in equipment. I figured, “What can they do, fire us” so I put my henchman in charge of checking stuff in and we went over to the IYRU office.
Now imagine a room with about a dozen desks and a gigantic Igloo cooler filled with ice and beer, and the whole far wall lined with cases of Lithuanian beer. The fellow had brought in HALF of a 40 FOOT SHIPPING container of beer!
While doing our best to help out, we noticed a group of volunteers talking with the officials on the other side of the room. They were two distinguished older gentlemen and two much younger women. The women seemed very fit and carried large purses. I could tell from the jewelry and the accents that they were European. They were dressed exactly like us in shorts and volunteer shirts.
After they had left, our host asked if we know who they were, and we said no. They were the King of Spain and the former King of Greece, who both had competed in previous Olympics and had come to award medals to their athletes! (They were traveling around the venue incognito, and the women were their security detail … . You can imagine what they carried in those big purses.)
It’s not every day you get to have a beer with a pair of Kings!

March 2018 column

The 'Bird's' last voyage 

Several years ago my younger brother, Hank, who owned a marina with a bar and restaurant attached was making more money than he knew what to do with. As a lark he purchased a 21-foot racing skiff with a 500 plus HP engine. The boat was named “How’s Ya’ Bird?” It was canary yellow with the name and a six foot picture of Big Bird painted on the foredeck. The thing was purported to do 100 MPH and all I could think of was there was no way I was going to go that fast on the water no matter how much of a lark it was. 
The first day it showed up at the marina, my other brother, Tim, was backing it under the crane to launch it and had neglected to secure the trailer hitch properly. Since he was only taking it across the boat yard, he didn’t need the safety chains, right?
With everyone standing around watching, he did a fine job of positioning the trailer precisely in the correct place under the crane to be lifted into the water. He stopped the truck, set the brake and jumped out. He didn’t notice that when the truck stopped, the trailer bounced up and the hitch popped off the ball so that the trailer continued moving slowly toward the water. It stopped when it hit the bulkhead, but the boat kept moving and launched herself, stern first into the river. The large open cockpit immediately filled with water and the boat sank within seconds. Then it started to float away with the tide, with just the bow showing above the water and Big Bird’s feet gently bobbing up and down beneath the words “Ya’ Bird.”
We hopped in the workboat, chased her down the river, towed her back, hauled her out, removed the starter, alternator, etc. and pickled them in fresh water before drying them out in a 200 degree oven, changed the oil and did the regular routine for engines that had been submerged in salt water. Fast forward several weeks to the second attempt. We got her successfully into the water, engine started and my father (the Ole Man) and Hank took her for the maiden voyage up the river and back.

Sure enough the thing was incredibly fast and was out of sight within seconds. They turned around and came back, streaking past us and on down the river to make a long sweeping turn and come back in triumph and shutting her down right in front of the marina. However, they had not figured on the stern wave, which quickly overtook them swamping the boat. (It’s amazing how fast that thing fills with water).
Now this was in the middle of November, and the water was pretty cold. All the life preservers were up under the bow where they couldn’t get to them. The final irony was that the Ole Man had been collecting the cover charge at the door to the bar the night before, and had all the dollar bills in the pocket of his baggy wool pants. The money promptly floated up the surface, and they all drifted down the river, both them, the money and the bow of the boat featuring Big Bird’s feet and the words “Ya’ Bird” gently bobbing up and down.  At this point the Ole Man said, “You know, this is poetic justice. We go out for a nice cruise on the river in a $60,000 boat and finish up to our ass in ice water surrounded by dollar bills.”
One of our neighbors who had been out in his boat quickly plucked them out of the water, leaving us to tow the boat in and go thru the litany of pickling the engine etc. 
Next week the boat was out on the front lawn of the marina with a big “For Sale” sign. Thus ends the saga of “How’s Ya’ Bird.” 

Run once, sunk twice!

February 2018 column

The replacement parrot 

A new columnist has joined Lakeside. Vinnie Mendes has spent his life on the water with the last 25 years on Lake Lanier. Here is his first submission:
Years ago, I used to keep my Tartan 36 One Ton Racer in a marina up north where they had a really neat bar, similar to the old “Cheers” where “Everybody knew your name.” It had a deck going out over the river where on Sunday afternoons they would have a steel band, and it was the place to be in the summer. After 2 a.m. when the doors were locked and the cash register closed, a select group of regulars would continue to party inside until the wee hours, and either take a sunrise cruise on the river, or simply sit out on the deck and watch the sun come up. 
Although this marina catered mostly to sailors, they had a few power boats and one old 50 foot aluminum houseboat which was owned by two architects named  Harry and Jake who had lived aboard it for years and were a little weird … actually, they were a lot weird! We just liked to keep them around as “mascots” because they were so screwed up they made us look good!
Harry always looked as if he had just stepped out of a Brook’s Brothers ad, with trousers perfectly creased and power tie on straight. He even polished his Topsiders! Jake was what we called a “Guido,” i.e. if one gold chain is good, 10 of them are 10 times as good! He always left his shirt half unbuttoned so everyone could count his chains!
The houseboat had a narrow gangway running fore and aft on both sides with a rail about waist high. It was so narrow that most people had to suck in their guts and sidle crabwise when traversing the length of the boat, or alternatively go inside through the living room, kitchen, both bed rooms and the bathroom to get to the other end.
Therefore, Harry and Jake decided to build a proper gangway that you could comfortably walk on. Both being architects, they designed something that would have passed the building code in any major city. They hauled the boat out of the water and did a beautiful job on the starboard side and were just starting on the port when someone pointed out that if they completed the project, they wouldn’t be able to fit the boat into the slip. They quickly confirmed that not only wouldn’t they fit into their slip, there was no slip in the marina that could handle it. 
So on to “Plan B.” They just left the gangway as it was and ignored the other side. When the boat was launched she had a list of about 20 degrees to starboard due to the extra weight. This was solved by simply piling cinder blocks on the port side gangway, which wouldn’t be used anyway. The outcome was a rather ungainly, asymmetrical vessel, somewhat resembling one of the old Jeep Carriers of World War II.

About this time their parrot, Sidney (after Sidney Greenstreet in Casablanca) passed away. We gave him a Viking’s funeral and buried him at sea.
Enter Paula, another of the characters who hung around with us. She was the last of the “Flower Children,” a dear sweet soul and we all loved her, but she had taken too many drugs back in the 1960s. She happened to be going to a gigantic auction/flea market the next day where you could buy anything from harpoons to balloons. Harry gave her $300 and told her to get him a parrot.
Next day, Paula takes off for the flea market and Harry and Jake take off for Atlantic City to make their monthly contribution to the casinos. There were no parrots at the flea market but Paula managed to find a beautiful green and red rooster! (He looked sort of like a parrot.) So she puts the rooster into the parrot cage on the house boat and goes home, mission accomplished.
All was quiet at 3 a.m. when Harry and Jake rolled in and went out to the boat. A little before 5 a.m., we’re all sitting out on the deck as the first glow of the false dawn starts to brighten the eastern horizon. Suddenly the silence is shattered by “COCK A DOODLE DOO!” You can imagine the volume that reverberated out of the houseboat when you consider the acoustics of being surrounded by all that aluminum. Both guys come running out of opposite ends of the boat in their skivvies, looking frantically around. Then there’s another “COCK A DOODLE DOO” just as loud as the first! They both headed for the opposite end of the boat on the outside gangway and collided amidships. Once they untangled themselves, each ran to the other end of the boat still trying to figure where the sound was coming from. Upon the third “COCK A DOODLE DOO,” one of them produced a revolver and fired off six rounds into the air! Then all was silent except for the peals of uncontrollable laughter that were coming from the deck.
That afternoon, Paula got to drive out to the flea market and return the rooster.

Author’s Note: All the occurrences and characters in this story are true. Only the names have been changed to protect the guilty. Any similarity between these characters and any persons living or dead is a dirty shame!
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