The words “party” and “boat” go hand in hand when many western Kentuckians plan their summer weekend gettogethers. Living near Kentucky and Barkley Lakes with miles of shoreline dividing the water and the sky, and tons of boats dotting the waters is something tourists see in their dreams, but locals have it all at their fingertips.
Paducahans Claire and Danny Key have been avid boaters even before they married in 1971. Entertaining their children and friends has been a part of their lives every summer since. “Our season starts Memorial Day weekend, and we close up around the middle of October,” Claire explained.
The Keys have had a variety of boats over the years starting with a ski boat. Today they enjoy the lake on a 45-ft. California Aft cabin cruiser with twin diesel engines, according to “Captain” Danny. “We have two heads (toilets) and two showers which help immensely. We also have a regular size refrigerator in the galley and a small one on the aft deck both of which have ice makers.”
A washer and dryer, the usual appliances, and plenty of boat storage and cabinets make entertaining easier. “Cleaning the boat is a real chore for me,” Claire admits, “but Danny says it helps him unwind. We each have our areas and we go about our duties on autopilot. It takes two to four hours each week to get the boat in good shape for guests and then an hour or two to close the boat at the end of the weekend.”
Cruising and anchoring in a secluded bay for a couple of days are what they enjoy most about the lake. “We also enjoy entertaining,” Claire said. Their favorite place to spend the weekend is Smith Bay. For dinner cruises they anchor in Demumbers Bay on Lake Barkley near Green Turtle Bay and Sledd Creek on Kentucky Lake.
Seasoned boaters, regardless of the size of the vessel, all know that it’s not as easy as it seems. From cleaning to loading towels and coolers to getting non-boaters on the boat and comfortable, it takes tons of preparation. And then there’s the weather!
“I usually start thinking about who to invite early in the week. On Tuesday I begin to plan my menu. My lists are huge, but very necessary to keep organized. I have a couple of tried and true things – like barbeque chicken from Mr. BBQ in Grand Rivers. With that we might have green beans, a grits casserole, homegrown tomatoes, marinated cucumbers, and peach cobbler. Or, we might grill pork tenderloin. We like to have everything prepared before our guests arrive to make serving easier,” the first-mate said.
One of Claire’s favorite appetizers is a layered Mexican dip that her children call the “Killer Dip,” a crowd pleaser. “For a casserole and some appetizers, I chop most things at home and put them in Ziploc bags. If a guest has been on the boat once, they are asked to bring something the next time, which all are happy to do. We always provide the meat and beverages; however, some guests will bring a bottle of wine or some other favorite beverage.”
“Make lists!” Claire advises. “They help keep people from bringing too much food and clothes for a small amount of space. Try to keep in mind that no one wants to work hard on a vacation and sharing helps.”
“I love the challenge of cooking up there. My galley is small, but it is handy and well-equipped. I have a convection/microwave oven that works beautifully for most round casseroles. We cook breakfast, too. I have made pancakes and waffles, but we usually have bacon and eggs. Lunches consist of sandwiches and/ or cold soup, which I make at home.”
“Eating is a big part of our day at the lake. I think being around the water makes you hungrier!”
“We have always anchored with other boats and have served as many as 22 on our boat. In those instances, we combined our food,” she noted.
By the way, Danny advises guests not to bring chocolate because it melts and is hard to clean up….and you do want to be invited back, of course! He also encourages guests to wear boating shoes or at least shoes without dark soles.
If you’re a new boat owner, you may feel overwhelmed with all of these do’s and don’ts, but tips from the “professionals” can help make your day on the lake easier. Claire advises using paper napkins, but says that inexpensive china plates are a good idea. “They are sturdier which means less spillage.”
“My favorite holiday in the summer is the 4th of July. We have collected lots of red, white and blue through the years and most of it came from our 4th of July guests and we love and use every piece. It is lots of fun to decorate that weekend (I usually start the weekend before). I don’t put batting around the boat because it would probably come off as we cruise and for the 4th I put little flags in the vases of flowers. I use the red, white and blue serving pieces all summer.”
Boating can be a group project. The Keys boated with the same group of friends for a long time, planning dinners together, coordinating guest lists and tying up with them. Claire recalled one special birthday when crabs were flown in from Baltimore for the occasion. They also celebrated birthdays and holidays and many other occasions with their four children as they grew up.
“Sitting on the bow of the boat at night is spectacular, particularly when our children were small. We watched the stars and the plane and just talked. I never tire of seeing the lights from the dam on Sledd Creek,” Claire said.
Today, the grandchildren love the boat. They take turns “driving” it with help from Granddaddy.
“The experiences we’ve had on our boats are endless,” the Keys remember. “One time many years ago during a storm we were playing a heated game of Trivial Pursuit (boys against the girls) when we looked up and saw a rescue boat going toward a boat anchored about 200 ft. from us. Lightening had struck their bow and blown out their entire electrical system. They had tried to get our attention for some time, but we were too engrossed in our game. They finally flagged someone else down for help.”
“It’s a lot of work for a few hours of pleasure, but we still enjoy it after all these years,” the Keys concluded.