Le Bateau Dammit

God knows how many holes the serene Aucilla punched into Eddie’s pontoon boat. It was a miracle we did not sink; I think we remained afloat only because of Eddie’s hard headed insistence on doing so.

The pontoons of the aforementioned pontoon boat were steel veterans of the Second World War, though, if Eddie had told me they were from the first, I would have believed him. Long ago they rusted through on the inside, and were now only held together by a thin layer of marine anti-fouling paint. Even that had begun to flake in places.

Eddie and I winding our way up the troublesome river on Le Bateau Dammit. - 2011 © Douglas Inglis

And, well… we hit a lot of rocks. I insist that it was rarely our fault, though there were numerous critical parties that insisted we motored too fast. The Aucilla is tricky. Although the sinks plunge twenty or thirty feet in places, the river is primarily shallow and full of limestone shoals. It is also full of submerged trees that took it upon themselves to fall over in the narrowest parts of the channel. I spent most of my time standing on the bow with a punting pole.

There was no question that Eddie knew the river. The problem is that the Aucilla is a tidal river, with a radical four foot tide swing. When you get to the bottom of that low tide, you just run out of river in places. There were times we were forced to grind our way over shallow rocks to make it through a shoal. There were also few surprises. For instance, we were always surprised at how wide our boat actually was. The channel was navigable for boats about a foot-and-a-half narrower than our barge.

Working on the bottom of Le Bateau Dammit - 2011 © Douglas Inglis

Either way, I spent a great deal of time under the pontoons patching them with 5-minute epoxy putty. It was a bit disheartening to plug one hole with the goo just to see bubbles start creeping out another. It became a daily task until we finally really creamed some rocks in front of Doc Horn’s cabin and had to pull the boat out of the water.

We made no small hole. I had to grind the front of the pontoon down and chip away the rusted patches, leaving punctures as large as a quarter. I jammed marine putty everywhere, covered it with JB Weld and then fiber-glassed the whole front end.

This was a mistake, or, possibly, a series of mistakes. I was afraid of grinding the rusted steel clean away, so I did not abrade the surface as much as I should; the fiberglass didn’t adhere well. Moreover, I was applying the fiberglass upside down, on the bottom side of the pontoon, thus I had to hold the fabric in place while it cured. A note: fiberglass is essentially a soft fabric soaked in resin that hardens; when it cures, it gets very, very hot.

Prepping the pontoon for fiberglass. - 2011 © Douglas Inglis

So, I lay beneath the pontoon, squirming as burning resin dripped down my arms, determined to tough it out. That was before I regrettably discovered that excess resin had dribbled onto the ground cloth, and I was lying in it. It soaked through my shirt and pants and was rapidly gluing them to my skin. It succeeded in places. At some point, there were fire ants. I don’t remember when.

The patch lasted a week before we scraped it off on a familiar rock and air started belching out the hole.

Eddie did the next patch. I skived off.

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Categories: Aucilla River

Author:Doug Inglis: divingarchaeology.com

I study the archaeology of seaborne exploration and contact. I am passionate about public history and outreach, and write about nautical archaeology at http://divingarchaeology.com

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