Dennis Anderson
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The thousands of gawkers, dreamers and, yes, buyers who will fantasize their way through the Minneapolis Boat Show this weekend will put the lie to the adage that the happiest day of a boat owner's life is the day he sells his beloved watercraft.

A boat owner's happiest day is instead any day he, or she, casts off from a dock and revels in the freedom that attends bobbing atop water in any vessel that floats.

I've owned 10 boats, give or take, some bought for as little as $200, and have been enchanted — beguiled is a better word — by each.

As a kid growing up in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, I'd ride my bike to the harbor of our small town in summer to watch the comings and goings of boats large and small, paying particular attention to the cruisers whose mahogany transoms were emblazoned with names like Enchanted and Waterborne.

My hometown also was where I learned to sail, and where my dad showed up one day with a 14-foot Crestliner he bought from a guy who had been bitten by the bigger-is-better boat bug.

The father of a friend of mine owned a Boston Whaler, and the Crestliner wasn't that, and another friend's dad had a 16-foot Thompson with a 40-horse Evinrude, and the Crestliner wasn't that, either.

But our 14-footer got us onto the water, where equanimity arrived in waves, and still does.

The first boat I owned was a 16-foot Alumacraft that harkened to the good times I had on the water as a kid. I bought the boat, a trailer and a 10-horse Johnson from a Wisconsin farmer for $675. "Caught a lot of sunnies with it,'' he said.

When I moved to Ely a couple of years later, I tied this new-to-me old boat to a dock in front of a rented cabin on White Iron Lake. With the Johnson swinging, the Alumacraft came quickly to plane, and on days both hot and cold I crisscrossed White Iron and also Garden and Farm lakes, slowing only to jig for walleyes or troll for northerns or to skim the foamy rollers at Silver Rapids.

Next, I bought an Old Town canoe for $375 made from ABS plastic, a durable synthetic that ultimately would be replaced by lighter, more moldable polymers. Still in good shape 40 years later, the Old Town has since been painted camouflage and used not only for paddling but duck hunting.

In the early '80s I sold my 16-foot Alumacraft in favor of an Alumacraft Backtroller that measured 17 feet. This was my first new boat, and I sealed the deal at the Minneapolis Boat Show. About the same time, a friend was moving to the Washington, D.C., area and needed to sell his 14-foot jon boat. This was a vintage Montgomery Ward model with a narrow beam, making it ideal for duck hunting as well as river fishing. I coughed up $200 for the flat-bottom craft, maybe the best money I've ever spent.

Star Tribune

Star Tribune

With the Backtroller, the canoe and the jon boat, I was for the first time a three-watercraft owner, a lottery-worthy trifecta. Soon enough, for $150, to the jon boat I added a 5 1/2-horse Johnson, a combo that for years to come struck fear into the gullets of river smallies.

The Backtroller suited me for a few years, but ultimately I succumbed to boat envy and traded it for a Lund Fisherman. This was a deeper, longer craft whose wave-knifing chine suggested a smooth ride for all. Plus, it had a windshield, a bonus I hoped would provide bug-free returns to the dock on nights when I finally threw in the towel and stopped tossing lighted bobbers to Mille Lacs walleyes.

Somewhere in this period on a lark I bought an old-time Shell Lake cedar lapstrake dory. Perhaps I had watched too many reruns of "Love Boat'' and fancied my future self as someone who for indeterminate reasons rowed mystery starlets hither and yon to ports unknown. By a stroke of good fortune six months later I came to my senses and unloaded the unwieldy tub on a guy whose wife had recently left him for, he said, "any place warm.''

"Now I'm looking to get into woodworking,'' he said.

The most expensive boat I've owned was a 619 Ranger that my two sons routinely catapulted out of the hole courtesy of a screaming 225 E-TEC. In a weak moment, my wife, Jan, agreed to put the farm up as collateral, and the banker, an angler himself, fast-tracked the cash. "The Ranger,'' as Trevor and his brother, Cole, called it — speaking in the hushed tones of pilgrims whispering, "The Holy Land'' — put us on a lot of fish, and we looked good doing it.

When, after high school, Trevor enrolled in college in Montana, the need soon enough arose for a drift boat, and I bought one sight-unseen from an Idaho guy who as a favor dropped it at a friend's place in Jackson Hole, Wyo. It was there that Jan, Trevor, Cole and I picked it up following Trevor's freshman year, and en route back to Minnesota to drift the Upper Mississippi and St. Croix, we camped and fished the Snake, Madison and Yellowstone rivers.

Last but not least, a couple years back I bought a Grumman Sport Boat from a friend, a penultimately useful craft that isn't made anymore. Then I added as a 10th "boat'' — a paddle board, from which many flies have been cast.

So it goes — so far. Because my boat dreams haven't stopped, and I doubt they will.

A skiff for the Florida Keys? Why not? A seaworthy 30-footer for Lake Superior? Sure. A Viking sportfisher for marlin in the Sea of Cortez?

I can see it now, a big fella tail-walking off the stern.