The History of Boating and Love on Valentine’s Day

Great vintage boating valentine from

Another Valentine’s Day is upon us, the day of love, romance, and reaffirming our affection for that special someone in our lives. This Valentine’s Day, we at BoaterRated reflected upon the history of boating and love. Surely, we thought, there must be a deep and historical connection between the two. Why else would so many young men, who’ve never sailed in their lives, rent a sailboat just so that they could propose to their sweethearts on the water? Why would so many couples tie the knot on a yacht, sometimes even taking a dive overboard after the vows?

To get to the bottom of this link between boats and romance, we turned to the modern day source of all knowledge: the internet. It may come as no surprise that when we searched for “boat” and “love,” the diligent search engines returned over 3000 pages of stories and articles on, yes, The Love Boat. The classic ABC-TV hit of the 1970’s and 80’s wasn’t what we were after, though. Surely the historical connection between boats and love went deeper.
We expected to uncover stories about the tie between boats and love in ancient cultures. Perhaps the Egyptians had a ritual that required a suitor to row or sail out to his beloved, traversing the fierce currents of the Nile to prove the intensity of his affections? Or perhaps members of the Roman Legion, before departing for war in faraway lands, would present their wives with a wooden boat to symbolize the eternal buoyancy of their affection. Well, we didn’t find anything like that. Alas.

But just as we were about to give up hope, we remembered the story of Ole Evinrude and his girlfriend. What a great Valentine’s Day boating story, we thought! So here, with minor artistic liberties (OK, we made some of it up), is the romantic tale behind the invention of the outboard motor:

Ole Evenrudstuen was born in Oppland, Norway in 1877. When he was 4 years old, his parents immigrated to the U.S and settled in Wisconsin. The Evenrudstuen’s changed their name to Evinrude (good thing, as it would be hard to fit that long name on the side of an engine). Ole was a lanky, shy lad. He was a bit of a geek too, spending his days tinkering with all things mechanical. He started his own custom engine company in 1900 and hired on the equally shy Bess to help him keep the books.

One summer day just past the turn of the century, Ole had the courage to ask Bess to join him on an outing on Oconomowoc Lake, just west of Milwaukee. It was a glorious day and later that afternoon, Bess happened to mention how she’d love an ice cream cone from the vendor on the other side of the lake. Seeing a chance to prove himself and show his affection, Ole promptly hopped in the row boat and set out to get the ice cream. After an invigorating row, he bought the ice cream and headed back. The wind had picked up and the row across the lake was tough, but Ole pressed forward. He was crestfallen, however, when he presented the ice cream cone to Bess. It was a watery, melted mess. Bess was good about it. She ate the cone and didn’t give off the least sign of disappointment.

But Ole knew he could do better! All fall and winter he tinkered in his shop, building and testing, fixing and testing again. That next summer he triumphed! He took Bess to the lake, towing behind him a small boat with the first outboard engine in the world attached to the stern. He waited for the moment when Bess asked for an ice cream cone. The moment came, and he jumped in the boat, cranked up the little engine, and sped off to the ice cream stand. Once he had the cone in hand, he placed it in a round cut-out next to the steering stand (Note: Ole Evinrude never got credit for inventing the first drink holder). The ice cream cone was in perfect, frozen condition when he quickly reached shore. People crowded around to see the miracle engine on the back of the Ole’s boat. But Bess only had eyes for her hero. She relished the ice cream cone and shortly thereafter, gave an emphatic ‘Yes” to Ole’s proposal for marriage.

There may be other great boating love stories in history, but the Evinrude story is surely a dandy. Here’s wishing all our boating friends a wonderful Valentine’s Day. And for those of you out there that are still searching for your soulmate, never give up hope! Boating has a way of bringing people together! Join us on the Virtual Dockside for more stories from your boating friends.


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