Issue: September 2011
BYPOINTS: Up a (Deep) Creek with a Pontoon Boat

Funny, I've always just assumed that Deep Creek Lake, being in Maryland, was in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, however remotely. But it is not. It's just on the other side of the Eastern Continental Divide, so it ultimately flows into the Ohio River and then of course finally into the Missisippi, which, as we all know, ends up somewhere in Argentina. So my very first pontoon-boat experience, not counting paddleboats, was in fact an out-of-watershed experience.

In late July, when pretty much everyone else on the East Coast was in the grip of a vicious heat wave, my extended family and I were fortunate enough to be, however briefly, in the much cooler hills of Western Maryland. To be exact, we were at Deep Creek State Park, occupying four campsites and a cabin. It was a quickie family reunion, scheduled to coincide with a stateside visit by my son Andy and new daughter-in-law Lisa, who live in Ecuador. There were 28 of us--five Sayleses, five Underhills, four Ayerses, four Morrills, three O'Neills, three Phaengkloms, two Stufflebeems, one Ballew . . . and a Crow in a pear tree. Okay, I made that last bit up. The Crow (my sister Judi) wasn't in a pear tree; she and I shared the cabin. None of that sleeping-on-the-ground nonsense for us.

When I arrived Saturday morning, my sisters Nan and Jennie had already worked out the details of Operation Pontoon. Around noon a couple of us would drive to Bill's Marine Service across the lake and pick up two 24-foot pontoon boats for a half-day rental. Then we'd explore the lake together, one big happy two-pontoon-boat family. It was a good plan, except the part where they only had one boat available. No problem, we improvised, we'll take it. We'll just do it in shifts--half the group for two hours, then the other half for the next two hours. That worked out beautifully, especially the part where I got to be the skipper for the first shift.

This is a casual affair, this lake-boating thing. No markers, no speed limits, no depthsounder, no GPS. When I asked the rental guy if the boat had a depthsounder, he just snorted a little. Then, when he realized I wasn't kidding, he said, "Uh, no. Just, uh, if you can see the bottom, you know . . . slow down." Are there, I asked, any other, you know, rules I should know about? "Nah, not really," he said. "Just stay to the right under the bridges, and maybe slow down a little." Okay then. I got the gist of it: Stay right at the bridges. Stay alert. Keep one hand on the wheel and one on the seat of your pants. I can do that, and indeed I did.

We had a terrific time, the 12 of us on the first shift. We explored all the way to the dam at the west end, then stopped for a leisurely group swim before heading back. And the second shift, according to eyewitnesses, was equally successful. They explored the lake's southeast end, I'm told. That direction, I explained that evening, impressing one and all with my command of local geography, would eventually lead them to the Bay . . . if it weren't for that pesky continental divide.


Tim Sayles, Editor