We acquired our CraigCat® late in 1991, as a novelty item. For many years after that it was just that — an electric water novelty used for everything from a fishing platform to a floating raft and diving board for the kids. We have also had it in all of our local custom events like "Anything But A Boat Float" and "Christmas On The River" where all of the boats are decked with Christmas themes and lights.
Yes, for the first five or six years we heard everything from "what is it" to "look at the baby pontoon boat." For all of those years and even to this day I have told people that there is nothing more beautiful than taking this electric boat, which makes no noise, down the river in the early morning hours as the mist rises from the water or back up the river at night with the full moon and stars as our only light. The sights and sounds of the wildlife that you will see during these quiet times are unforgettable.
This may sound dangerous to some because our electric CraigCat® didn’t come with lights back in 1991. But when you live on the river as long as we have, you learn the river like the "back of your hand." Living on the river in our area means living in houses that are built on top of concrete block columns or wood pilings. It also means learning to live with little nuisance floods. Two or three days of steady, heavy rain usually cause these floods which causes the river to come over or out of its banks into low areas. On rare occasions, very strong winds out of the Gulf of Mexico push the water up into the rivers and cause nuisance floods.
These nuisance floods generally cause little to no damage other than some small items floating off and covering the roads in low areas with six inches to a couple feet of water. This means parking the car or truck on higher grounds and walking through the water for a mile or more. The other choices are to take a boat up or down the river to get to the house. This can be very dangerous during a flood. The other option is just to stay at a friend’s house.
This brings me to a short story that my wife likes to tell. Years ago on a Friday in October, the river was rising after two days of steady rain pouring down. The road didn’t have any water from the river running over it so we decided to go to work. If the river rose over the road by quitting time, we agreed to meet at the road where it became impassable. You see, this day was our wedding anniversary and this year we were going to do something very special. We were going to celebrate it alone, just the two of us having a nice dinner in a romantic restaurant followed by a quiet evening and night.
It was shortly after I arrived at work at the National Weather Service. They had just issued a small storm warning in the Gulf, which meant that the tides were going to be higher than normal and would be pushing the water up the river. I decided to take off work the rest of the day and go home. On the way home, I stopped by the store to pick up some wine and flowers for our special evening. The long winding road to our home had water crossing over it in many areas; however, it was not too deep for my big truck to go through — yet. It was obvious that this was not going to be a normal nuisance flood. The rainwater was flooding the river and the storm in the Gulf was pushing water up the river at the same time.
Once home, I checked everything under and around the house to make sure it was secure and would not float away. I had the 16-foot aluminum skiff on the trailer ready so it would be just a matter of towing it out for later use to get into and out of our property if needed. I packed clothes for my wife and me to change into for our special evening. With this completed, the last thing to do was to check the securing of the 28-foot pontoon boat to the pier and secure the floating dock with the CraigCat® tied down to it.
It wasn’t until I got to the pier that I realized just how fast the river was rising. The floating dock and the CraigCat® was already up to the top of the pier. Looking around I knew this was not going to be a normal nuisance flood. The river was rising faster than I or anyone had anticipated. In fact I wasn’t even going to get my truck with the skiff out and that we would have water under the house and over most of our property. I parked the truck on the highest part of the property and walked to the back of the house. As I sat on the porch drinking a cup of coffee, I knew I had about two hours before my wife would be calling me on her cell phone from the point of the road where the water was making it impassable. She would be calling me on my cell phone not knowing that I had taken off from work early and was stranded at the house.
It was shaping up to be a wedding anniversary that she would never forget … if I didn’t think of something, this was going to be the first time we were separated on our wedding anniversary.
My options were not looking very good.
My wife would not want me to take one of the boats down river during a flood. The last time this was attempted was to rescue a friend with motor problems. The result was that both us got stranded because the lower end of my motor snapped off on a magnolia log floating below the water.
I could go up the river with a bigger boat and bigger motor but that was also very dangerous. This is very difficult at best and dodging all the obstacles in the water is all but impossible.
Walking through 4 inches of water on the high areas of the road would be easy enough, but the low areas would be 6 to 8 inches deep with water. Swimming these areas is possible because there is little to no current on the road. The woods on the far side of the road and the houses, fences, trees, bushes and all of the other obstacles build up areas between the road and the river. This protects the road from the river's currents. Who wants to walk and swim for a mile and a half to two miles to get out of a flood along with the other wild animals and snakes, some poisonous.
Taking a boat on the road in the low areas may be possible but how do you drag a boat through the high areas in only four inches of water?
I was still sitting on the porch trying to figure out what to tell my wife and the best way to tell her. Looking out over the river I noticed that it did finally quit raining. More importantly, I noticed something else. There tied up to the floating deck was our floating electric novelty, the CraigCat@. The two marine batteries were still on the back of the boat and the trolling motor was situated up front on the deck sticking up in the center like a miniature flag.
If I were going to do anything, it would have to be real soon. My wife would be calling me in about twenty minutes. The CraigCat® was small enough and light enough. It drew very little water. The trolling motor would be strong enough to go through what little current was on the road. But, most important, the CraigCat® was unsinkable! It would be easy to raise the motor in the high spots of the road and lower it in the lower spots where the water was the deepest.
After telling myself all of this, I decided to try. I grabbed the bottle of wine and the flowers. I walked through knee high water and placed them on the passenger’s seat of the CraigCat®. In about twenty minutes I was over halfway there when the phone rang. It was my wife and she sounded very disappointed as she told me how far up the road she was. After she explained to me all the ways this unexpected flood was going to ruin our wedding anniversary including the fact that she had no clean clothes to change into, I told her to RELAX that I was on my way.
She still didn’t know that I was on my way in the CraigCat®. The CraigCat® was coming up the flooded road as though it was designed for this. Everything was working perfect. As I came around the last bend, I saw my wife standing there looking up the road looking for me to come down in the truck. Just as I pulled up to the end of the flooded road, my wife turned around and saw me. The look on her face was both one of shock and priceless. The wine, flowers and the very slow trip back home created the most memorable wedding anniversary ever to date. As we pulled up to the porch, my wife commented that we would have to reward the CraigCat some how. Three days later we purchased a new bigger 55-pound trolling motor to use on the CraigCat® and had the boat bottom coated.
Some other history tidbits of our CraigCat:
In 1997 a major hurricane broke the floating dock away from the pier. (The CraigCat® was tied down to the floating dock.) The floating dock was found several miles down the river but the CraigCat® was no longer tied to the dock and could not be found in the area. About two weeks later we received a call from our state marine resources stating that they found a strange looking small boat floating upside down and was entering the Gulf of Mexico.
I told them that I didn’t think it could possibly be our CraigCat® but that I would come down and look at what they found. As I left the house I told my wife not to get her hopes up too high. I explained to her that even if the CraigCat® had somehow floated all the way down the river and through the Back Bay to enter the Gulf, some 30 plus mile by water, upside down there couldn’t be much of it left. After the boat was up righted, to my shock and everyone else’s the only damage was the loss of the battery and the trolling motor’s control head. Even the bimini top was in perfect condition. It had been strapped down for the hurricane so the wind would not rip it apart. To this day, no one knows how it got turned upside down or how it made this long trip without damages to the boat itself.
In 2005, the "worst natural disaster in American history" occurred and it was called "Katrina". To this day, some 14 months after she hit the coast, I don't believe anyone knows the total number of homes, building, vehicles, boats and lives that have been lost and or destroyed forever. The boats were placed on their trailers and taken to high areas. Only the CraigCat® was not. Her trailer has been destroyed many years earlier by another hurricane and never replaced. We felt no need to replace the trailer because the CraigCat® has proven itself to be unsinkable and we believed indestructible. Not only that, but it seems like it is always in use by neighbor, friend and visiting family members.
Our home, two new vehicles, pier, floating dock and boats were destroyed. One boat strapped down to its trailer was flattened down by the wind. The other had a giant tree land on top of it and crush it. The CraigCat® could not be seen or found anywhere. It wasn't until 14 months later that the house was completely rebuilt and we started to clean up the property. The pier was completely destroyed. The floating dock was more than 60% destroyed and had sunk. Only the two extra lines that I had tied to it and the two big trees that had fallen across it kept the dock from completely sinking or floating away.
The two big trees were cut away and removed from the floating dock by a track hoe and to our complete shock and everyone else’s, guess what popped up. OUR CRAIGCAT®!
Fourteen months under the water and we are very happy to report that the total damage was:
- One missing seat
- The bimini
- The trolling motor
- The battery
The rest of the boat was in outstanding condition.
Now over the years and even to this day, even with the CraigCat@ electric boat in the condition that it is in, we have people try to buy it from us. In fact, we have had people offer us more than a new one with a trailer would cost. My wife tells me that to sell our boat would be like selling a member of the family. "This is just dead wrong."
So here is October again and our anniversary has come. So I asked by wife what she would like. I was not shocked when she stated that all she wanted was the CraigCat@ electric fixed up like new. I don’t know when it became hers but her request made me very happy.
I was even happier and shocked when I called the company (Craig Catamaran Corp.) to learn that they would in fact replace the seat and fabricate a new top for her boat. Just imagine her 15 plus year-old boat with countless hours, thousands of hours, on it — a small electric boat that somehow has served what no other make or model boat has served — looking like new again!
I decided that this year’s anniversary will be very special for another reason: I’m going to the Craig Catamaran Corp. in Florida, about 9 hours away, and buy a new gas-powered CraigCat®. Something that was never offered when we got our electric one.
By Henry R. of Gulfport MS