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Designing a dock over and over again

The nice thing about owning a private lake is being able to do whatever a person wants to do whenever they want to do it. The disadvantage of a private lake is the person that wants something done is the same person that has to do it.

As soon as our lake was built, I knew we would need a dock. I was told it would take up to two years for the lake to fill. I had plenty of time to design the perfect dock for fishing, boating and swimming. That was in 1993.

What was supposed to take two years took just under two weeks. We had an instant lake and no dock. Since driving the tractor and posthole digger out to make pilings was no longer an option, I resorted to plan B. I would build a floating dock with barrels.

I pounded two steel posts almost flush with the ground on the shore, attached oak two-by-four's with U-bolts and built a structure that cradled plastic barrels 20 feet or so out into the lake. It was solid when a person walked on it and was about the right height to tie a boat along side.

It worked well until the next time it rained. When we went to check the lake, boats were floating at random, one post was pulled entirely out of the ground, and blue barrels were scattered on the shore from one end of the lake to the other. When the water rises several feet, a lot of force comes with it.

The second attempt at a dock was much more successful. It was about like what I wanted to build before the lake filled, but done without machinery or power tools. My son and I donned swimming trunks and set four large pilings for the base of the dock in about five feet of water. We built it from in the water up to where we knew the water would not touch the main deck. It was a thing of beauty and one heck of a lot of work.

From the main deck we were able to pound the pilings into the sand and mud. We built a walkway up and a stairway down to where we tied the boats. We enjoyed the fruits of our labor all summer. The winter ice did not bother it until the first heavy spring rain. At that time, the ice rose and shifted several feet. Huge sheets of ice two- and three-feet thick piled up toward shore, shearing off two of the pilings and pushing the other two over. We had a large amount of lumber to drag out of the lake in the spring.

There were several other designs that bring back painful memories of hard work and poor results. I finally resorted to using my college physics that at the time I swore would have absolutely no use in the real world. I built a tuning fork shaped dock with steel anchors screwed into the shore. A cable is attached to each side that attaches to a heavy beam away from the pivot point of the anchors. The dock itself floats on foam blocks. As the water rises, the whole dock can go up or down with no stress. When the wind blows or the ice shifts, the cables can relieve the side to side pressures. This system has worked so well, I even made a section on the one side where I can drive the boat onto the dock and it works as a lift.

Last weekend, it rained heavily and the wind blew. We went to the lake to check on things and all was not well. The boat, that had been resting safely on the dock had blown off and was upside down beside it. The trolling motor was still attached to the boat but the battery that is less than a month old is somewhere on the bottom of the lake.

This weekend, I think I will go diving to see if I can find the battery and perhaps spend a little more time designing a dock.

Walter Scott is an outdoors enthusiast and freelance writer from Bloomfield, Iowa.