(NOTE: Originally posted 7.4.12)

The rubber raft swayed with a wobbly ripple as it took on new passengers. Its cardboard box guaranteed it would hold four people — four men, to be exact — and we planned to hold the manufacturer to the promise on its maiden voyage.

No test run. Just pile everybody in.

My 9-year-old son took the bow, followed by my wife and 5-year-old daughter. I sat in the stern, and it wasn’t too long before my daughter decided to relocate to my lap.

With the raft’s gunwale significantly above the waterline, we set out.

I remembered piloting a similar craft alone on a Minnesota lake while vacationing with my parents in my teen years. I recalled maneuvering around with some directness — heading out, turning around, spinning clockwise and widdershins all with a few strokes of the oars.

But now, with four people aboard, movement took more effort. We must have been quite a sight for those fishing from the nearby jetty as the raft floundered around and drifted from the launch pier toward the shore. The kayaking family who put in after us was long gone by now.

Our paddles weren’t very helpful. They were three-piece, screw together contraptions — a blade and two shaft sections, all plastic. First, the shafts kept unscrewing as we rowed, then they started bending at the joints. Circling haplessly near land, we decided to remove one section from each paddle, leaving just the blade and a stubby shaft. Although this gave us less leverage, the short shaft made it easier to row with the preschooler in my lap. The spare sections made adequate pushing sticks.

The bendy oar problem resolved, we began to make some distance and passed through a strait into an adjacent lake. The 9 year old took the paddles for a bit but then relinquished them after realizing it was work. The craft dodged a few partially submerged trees, and we pulled up to a sandbar to explore. (7.4.12)