On the Missouri River near my hometown of Chamberlain these days, I’m seeing some of the biggest boats this side of an episode of “CSI: Miami.’’
If you’re unfamiliar with “CSI: Miami,’’ it’s a television crime show with a red-headed detective played by David Caruso. The detective frequently finds himself on huge yachts as he seeks clues and tracks down killers.
Since I moved back to Chamberlain two summers ago, I’ve spent a lot of quality time on my patio appreciating the river. I’ve been surprised by the number of boats, and the number of big boats, on the water. Most aren’t quite like the yachts on “CSI: Miami,’’ but a fair number of them are as big as you’ll see most places not on an ocean.
It wasn’t so when I grew up here, a block from the river, in the 1950s. We moved off the farm for school years when I started third grade. Neither Big Bend nor Oahe dams had been built. Fort Randall Dam downstream near Pickstown was in some stage of completion. I suppose the water was beginning to back up to create what we now know as Lake Francis Case. Still, when we moved from the farm the Missouri was pretty much a river, with a defined channel and everything. In a matter of years, it transformed into a reservoir, wide and deep and usually controlled in its flow.
In my early days a boat on the river was unusual, the way I remember things. There were some small fishing boats – 12- and 14-footers with small outboard motors. Boston Red Sox slugger Ted Williams once did an advertising spot in which he tore around in a small Jon boat with a 7.5-horsepower outboard. That’s the sort of thing I recall from my early days here. For perspective, our first boat back in 1974 was a 15-foot runabout with a 60-horse outboard. We thought we had the world by the tail on a downhill pull.
Nancy’s brother-in-law and his spouse visited the other day. He’s six years younger than I am, and he remembers a fair number of modest-sized boats. One boat owner had two 35-horse outboards on his craft, and my brother-in-law recalls that as being a remarkable thing for its time. I remember one couple owning a small cabin cruiser. I thought it was massive, but it really wasn’t, not in the context of today’s river.
These days, a lot of people own boats, and they run them on the waters of Francis Case. The slips in the marina at American Creek host a bunch of boats. Many are pontoons or deck boats that hold a dozen or more people and that find their way out onto the lake pretty regularly. My informal study from the riverbank tells me a whole bunch of people like an early evening cruise. I must say it does look terribly inviting some nights.
The slips at Cedar Shore across the river hold many boats, too, some of them quite large. I’m told some are owned by people from other towns who show up on weekends to relax on the river. Well, that makes sense. If you don’t live on a lake and you love the water, you’ll try to find a place to run your boat. I sometimes see some of the big boats heading downstream late on a Friday. I imagine the owners finish work and make a bee line to the water, trying to make sure they spend as much weekend time as possible in their boats. Can’t fault them for that.
Always, it seems, the fishing boats are out. We never used to see many of those. They range in size from small aluminum boats with one person sitting in the back handling the tiller to long, wide boats in gleaming, bright colors with outboards bigger than the Incredible Hulk. What they have in common is a desire to catch fish, and I’m told that happens regularly.
Many people discovered the river in the years after the dams came. My family sure did. And why not? If you have a river, you might as well use it.