Holiday brings crowds, reminders of March storm - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

Holiday brings crowds, reminders of March storm, to Chickamauga Lake

HARRISON, TN. (WRCB) -- Hit Chickamauga Lake early on Independence Day, you get a lot more room, and a lot less chop.

But that also means Island Cove Marina towboat operator Shane O'Neal has a lot longer workday.

"You can always tell the ones who know what they're doing, and the ones who don't," he says.

Dead giveaways are those who find themselves aground, misjudging the slightly lower water levels.

"You don't want to go any faster than you want to hit something," this former Coast Guard skipper tells Channel 3. "Because you don't have brakes on these things."

The proof is his boat's broken window. A 'rescue-ee' put his bow through it.

If this Independence Day is like last years,  his crews may have 15 tows come evening's end.

"People aren't drinking water when they're supposed to," he says. "They drink more beer, they think they're not drunk, but it don't take much."

It's legal to drink while boating in Tennessee. But drunk is drunk, whether on roads or water.

The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency started 'showing the flag' on the Volunteer State's lakes and rivers last week.  Statewide 'Operation Dry Waters' netted 19 arrests for boating under the influence. One, on Chickamauga Lake, was a second offense.

Financial advisor Dan Norton has felt TWRA's presence. But welcomes it.

"They have a job to do. It's never been a hassle," he says. "We've always had our life jackets. Our horn. Our fire extinguishers. We haven't had a problem at all."

Keith Harrison wishes the patrols were more aggressive.

"Sometimes, you see some idiocy out there," he says.

O'Neal has seen his share of silliness, and bad judgement, in his four years of towing, and a life on the water.

But few scenes are as vivid as the devastation that a tornado brought upon Island Cove March 2nd.

"We had about 350 boats damaged, 13 outright sank," he says.

Four months later, several docks remain uncovered. Some owners are waiting for repairs.

"The Marina has done a remarkable job of getting it back together," O'Neal says. "Only two places around here can do repairs. There's a waiting list. Be patient. We'll get everybody back in the water."

Nature spared Dan Weller Sr's 19 1/2 foot Bayliner that Dan Jr. recently restored.

"It's a great way to beat the hum-drum," Dan Sr. says.

Hum-drum hits hard Thursday, when his trucking job takes him on a long haul across the Canadian border to Winnipeg, Manitoba.

"Great way to relax," Dan Jr. says. "And it's not all that expensive to get a full day's adventure for 50 bucks for however many people you can fit in your boat."

A fill-up is far from that cheap for Keith Harrison; $147 for a top-off.

"Do it that way, it doesn't hurt quite as bad," he laughs.

Besides, the lake is a lure he can't resist.

"When you're home, you're never relaxed!," the New Jersey-transplant says. "You're out here, you're relaxed the whole time. Drop anchor in a quiet cove, you don't have to go anywhere."

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