Saturday, May 31, 2008

Got some practice time in...

We were able to do some maneuvering in the marina yesterday with the Lake Queen - what a great boat! It will rotate tightly without touching the wheel with differential throttle control alone. I'm impressed.

There is a problem after the tough winter with the fuel dock, so it will be Monday before we can fully fuel the boat for practical testing. I'm looking forward to running tests on fuel usage and performance before we get rolling for the season.

The marina still isn't open for the season, since the lake is still iced in... but, the ice is disappearing fast. Slip renters are understandably anxious about getting their boats in. The marina staff feels the same way; more staff are arriving daily. We are taking reservations for scenic cruise trips and fishing guide trips. There is a lot to get done; everyone that we've met here is friendly and helpful, and we're all working together to get the marina up for the season... we just need some cooperation from Mother Nature.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Lake Queen is in!

Ready to launch the Lake Queen II

Lake Yellowstone still iced in

Getting to Yellowstone

We were in the Tropical Tip of Texas in January 2008 when we applied for these jobs. There was some discussion about working again, but this looked to be a great summer job. We love Yellowstone, we love boating, and we can get paid to live here and do this... and someone else buys the fuel. At first blush, it sounds good.

The application/hiring process took a couple months. We applied on the internet, sent letters of recommendation, and waited. Then came phone interviews, the job offers, and confirmation... and finally the contracts.

There was a lot to be done: we needed to come up with an RV (we were long time RVers before we took to the water). You can live in the dorms while working in Yellowstone, but we felt an RV would give us more options, and most important - no pets in the dorms, and Molly the Cat is part of the family (she travels with us on the boat). We decided on a small toy-hauler travel trailer so we could bring along a motorcycle.

In early May, we put Wild Blue up on the hard, loaded up the RV, and hit the road. On our way north, we visited Moms on both sides, and made our way to Yellowstone. The weather forecast looked bleak... we were used to tropical temperatures and the forecast was for snow in Yellowstone the day after our arrival. We didn't have to wait for that - there was plenty of snow when we showed up on May 20th.

The employee RV park is very nice: paved roads and sites, cement patios, a picnic table at each site, full hook-ups including underground propane and telephone, and great comfort stations (that's showers, potties, and a laundromat for those of you who don't RV). It's a short 4 mile commute from our site to the marina. We set up our "summer home" and drove to the marina to meet our new boss.

On May 22nd, we had to drive to Gardiner, Montana to check-in, get uniforms, and an orientation. It must have been karma for my many years of saying "Snow sucks"... it took us 3 hours to get the 60 miles thanks to the nasty snow storm. We are at the 7,800 foot elevation at our trailer, so winter lasts longer here than most of the rest of the country. At the Employee Check-in, we filled out more paperwork, got photographed, got ID cards, name badges, an employee handbook, and uniforms. We owned our own business for most of our adult lives, so all this is new to us - even punching a time clock. Should be an interesting experience.

May 23rd, we reported for work. Joan started training for the marina office: renting slips, renting boats, scheduling guided fishing trips, selling tickets for the Scenic Cruiser, selling fishing licenses. I got to see my new "office": the 44 foot Lake Queen II, a 41 passenger, relatively high speed scenic cruiser. Three 310 hp diesel engines, specifically designed for this lake and these tours. Nice boat. It has been sitting all winter, so was in dire need of a thorough cleaning. And I went to work at that.

The next few days were spent opening the marina office, cleaning, training, and studying. Joan was an office manager for 30 years, so is prepared for this position. I have a 50 Ton Masters captain's license. There is a lot to learn. Due to the snowy weather, we have the time. The lake is still frozen, so there are no boats to rent and no scenic cruises to run. We have been told that the ice will disappear quickly once it starts to go. It is 2 feet thick in places... seems to me that it's going to take a while.

On Sunday, May 25th, we had the day off and made a supply run into Cody, Wyoming; the closest civilization to us, about 80 miles away. We arrived well-stocked on groceries, but needed a new phone, a phone card (we are in a "black hole" of cell coverage), a few grocery items, and more long underwear! It has been getting down to the 20s every night and only into the 40s during the day. We knew what to expect (we lived in Wyoming back in the mid-70s), but the amount of snow and cold surprised us. We always wanted to see Yellowstone in the winter... we just didn't expect that to be on Memorial Day!

On the way home from Cody and back in the park, we came across our first "bear jam"... think: traffic jam caused by wildlife. Seems that employees here call any of these traffic situations "bear jams" regardless of the animal. This one was caused by bison walking down the middle of the road... and tourists who wouldn't move while they photographed the procession. We know this is the first of many.

The next few days were spent with more training, studying, and quizzing. The ice in the marina area was getting thinner, with occasional water showing. This may be the thaw we have all been waiting for.

We had another day off on Thursday, May 29th, and decided to explore to the south. On the way back from Grant Village, we saw that the marina looked clear. We pulled in to take a photograph. As we came to the ramp area, we saw that they were launching the Otter, the safety boat for the Lake Queen and the boat used to haul people to the back country! When we got out of the truck, one of the other captains said to me, "Your boat is next." I asked the manager if I could help... he could tell by the anxious look on my face, told me to check in, and 5 of us got the 34 ton Lake Queen II into the water. She won't be leaving the marina area because the rest of the lake is still iced in, but now I can get some practical training/check-out. This is earlier than I expected, and I am pumped!