Part of the reason I’m selling the cottage is that, since our kids live out of state, except for Sara, and she may not be in Michigan long, I don’t have family (translate: young strong boys) to help me do things like put in and take out the dock. So I’m forced to bribe friends with the promise of a sandwich and a beer at Bell’s Eccentric Cafe, and ask them to help. Bill Bradley and Paul Moore have, on numerous occasions, gotten surprised and couldn’t come up with a reason why they couldn’t, so they have helped, and they did this time too.
We set the date for Friday after 1 PM. Thursday was a great day, and I was out at the cottage anyway, so I decided to set the first posts and crosspiece. Once that one is set, each section is added and, since the sections are bolted in, they line up perfectly, almost. To back up just a bit, I noticed this spring when the ice went out, that the high water and the ice flows must have done something to the steps from the yard to the dock. The steps were pushed away from the seawall and were six inches, at least, above the sidewalk height. Keep that in mind. So when I set the first two posts, I measured exactly six feet from the back of the bottom step.
Fast forward to Friday. Bill and Paul came to the condo and we all rode out to the lake together. I had a pair of waders I had worn in the past and offered them to Bill or Paul. Paul decided to use them, but put on his wetsuit too. Bill put on his wetsuit and walked around the condo for ten minutes gasping for air. Apparently the wetsuit had shrunk over the winter and he couldn’t breathe. I wore my old wetsuit and, having gained twenty five pounds over the course of this knee thing, I knew I couldn’t zip mine, so I wore a t-shirt and shorts underneath, and still had trouble breathing. As an aside, we plan to start our morning swims Monday out at Diane’s. I’m petrified to go out there ‘cuz I know I’m going to have trouble zipping up my wetsuit and, if I can’t, I won’t be able to swim. I feel just like I did in early junior high (no…not middle school…junior high!) when I hadn’t matured as fast as some of my classmates. They had pubic hair and I didn’t, and I didn’t want to undress for gym class with them looking. I don’t want to try and fail to zip my wetsuit with Bill, Diane, Jen, Eric, (who else) watching. But I digress!
So we got all the tools ready and went down to the lake. I looked at us, and laughed to myself. We looked like Larry, Daryl and his other brother Daryl from the Newhart show some years back. We were definitely the “anything for a buck” crew. I had decided that we would let Mother Nature help us out, so we brought down the inner tube that we use to float around on and used a couple of planks to protect the top of the tube so the dock wouldn’t puncture the rubber. As Mike Rowe (Dirty Jobs, Ford Commercials, narrator of Deadliest Catch, etc.) would say, what could possibly go wrong?
We loaded the first section of dock onto the tube and boards and floated it into position. It rode quite high, but it was better than lifting and holding. Since I planned to add a short section from the steps to the dock, we wanted to reposition the first section on the crosspiece and drill new holes. I used a cordless drill that I had charged before winter, then put on the charger in the morning when I came out to check the weather. The drill made it through the South side of the dock, but had no juice to make it through the North side. Consequently, we couldn’t bolt the first section in place and, we found out later, it moved.
We got the first section set and went to pull out the tube and boards. About halfway out, we caught the spot where you fill the tube with air on the underside of the dock. Of course the plug came out and air started escaping. Bill kept saying “it’s losing air, it’s losing air”, like he expected Paul or I to do a handspring over the dock ‘cuz the leak was on his side. He got it plugged and we didn’t lose too much air. In fact, it made the next section ride more level and it was easier to set. On the next section, we pulled the tube and planks out, only to catch the plug again (slow learners) and, again, we managed to cap it off before all the air was gone. Again, it was a good thing because it made the last section ride more level than the second. As we finished screwing in the posts for the second section, I looked up, and the tube and planks had floated away and were going past the neighbor’s dock.
I couldn’t swim because my wetsuit wasn’t zipped up and Paul couldn’t go after it because he had the waders on, so Bill was elected. By then the tube had gone into deep water and Bill was going to have to swim for it. I haven’t mentioned the water temperature until now. It was 68 degrees near the shore the day before. Friday was colder and cloudy, so I’m guessing the temp dropped a couple of degrees in the night. Bill stood there trying to muster up the courage to dive into the chilly water. I was no help ‘cuz I yelled to Bill, “You know the longer you wait, the farther out it’s going to be”. Bill, the trouper he is, swam to the tube and dragged it back. Crisis averted.
We were down to the last section and it was going quite smoothly. Here’s where things got a little dicey. With my knee problems, I really couldn’t lift much, so Bill had to hold up the deep end of the dock section until we could get the screw anchors all the way down. For those of you who don’t know Bill, he’s slightly vertically challenged, so there he was, up to his chin in lake water holding up the dock. Paul, as you will remember, was wearing the waders. Did I mention the water was up four inches from last year’s spring lake level? I stood there and it was like watching a slow motion train wreck. The water went over the top of the waders and filled them almost instantly. He squealed like a little girl for a couple of minutes (actually he didn’t, but it makes for a good story). We kept on going and got the last section pegged in and solid, and then I went around and tightened all the nuts and bolts.
We started to get out and Bill and I were looking at Paul trying to get up the steps. I mentioned before that the steps had shifted and, if you stood on the bottom step for more than a millisecond, they would come over on top of you. Paul looked like he had elephantitis in both legs, and the water weighed a ton, so he had a little difficulty getting to the lawn. He stood on the lawn and water was spewing out from every opening. Bill and I almost fell over laughing so hard at Paul (not At Paul, With Paul). We continued to clean up and, as we looked back at the dock, it appeared to be slightly crooked. I won’t explain the science of it all, but if the dock moved one inch at the first section, it would throw the dock off a couple of feet at the other end. It really didn’t look that bad, so we decided to have a Tripel Karmeliet (Belgian Beer that Bill and I had made) and call it good. If you talk to Bill and Paul, that’s the end of the story. Au contraire!
I went back out today and decided to straighten up the steps. I had always thought they were made of treated lumber, but they had only been treated with rain and snow water, ‘cuz the wood is soft and a little punky. So back to the straightening. I thought I could grab one side, pull it toward me, and it would end up on it’s side. It did, but as it went, it collapsed on itself. The top step came off entirely breaking off the triangle part of the stringers (look it up) on both sides. The next two steps did the same on the North side, but the South side just pulled the nails and screws sideways. I dug out the sand and rocks near the seawall and set a flat spot for the steps to sit. After a half hour or so I was ready and I spent the next hour and a half rebuilding steps that were hardly worth the trouble. The problem was, I had no way to get out of the lake, so I had to.
Now I have them rebuilt, only to find that the blocks I had set to put the steps on had shifted, and the North side is two inches higher than the South side. I’ll have to wait until some hapless soul wanders by so I can get him to lift the South side while I slide a two inch patio stone in to level it up. As the steps are right now, I walked up them, but they are definitely unsafe. After I get them leveled, I need to screw in an angle bracket, attaching each step to the stringer, to keep the steps from tipping over sideways.
So I got up, took care of all the tools, and marveled at my handiwork. It was then that I noticed that the dock wasn’t just a little crooked…it was a lot crooked. The boat comes Monday so maybe that will disguise the engineering disaster. The problem is (as I mentioned before) that I need to build a short section to hook the steps to the dock. Remember, it’s six feet away. Well, it’s six feet away somewhere along the line, but it’s five and a half feet away at the North end and six feet, three inches away at the South end. How do I build that section?
Just (I Hope You Don’t Read About An Accident On Steps At Crooked Lake) Jack