If you live on a waterfront property, you must have a dock.

The pleasures of swimming, boating, fishing, sunsets, and cocktails are all enhanced by a dock.

But a dock is more than a useful platform.

A dock is both a practical and metaphysical interface between the land and the water, fresh or salt. Perhaps this proposition seems more profound to folks who grew up landlocked. But I suspect that a romantic enthusiasm for docks is universal; witness the proliferation of docks found on modest bodies of water everywhere, including on the pool-size ponds and dugouts of Prairie farms.

And a dock is invested with even greater philosophical importance if you happen to live on an island. It becomes a gateway to the continent and to civilization as well as a notional drawbridge, limiting access across the moat to the castle.

To install a dock can be easier in some locations than others, but will probably always be more difficult than would first appear. Every dock will have some special challenges, whether from high bank property, enormous tide swings, boat and ferry wash and wake, water too shallow to float a dock at low tide, water too deep to affix anchors, strong currents, high winds, hostile neighbours and recalcitrant regulators.

All deterrents to some, perhaps, but not to a recent retiree from a high-rise office, in a big city, in the foothills of Alberta. Dock contractors abound, but cheque-writing is just more pencil pushing, so we went with DIY.

The author's creation: "A dock is both a practical and metaphysical interface between the land and the water, fresh or salt."

Access to the site of our dock required construction of a serpentine stairway (140 stairs, 4-by-8 timbers) which meanders down and around the impediments of rocks and trees and slopes to the edge of a cliff. Basic carpentry required, and also some primitive logging and mining techniques. Blake said, “Crooked roads are the roads of genius.” Our stairway is plenty crooked; it evokes echoes of Escher, but did not, of course, involve any drawings or blueprints.

The stairway leads to the edge of a cliff and to the top of a 40-foot aluminum spiral staircase which is bolted to the rock face at 10-foot intervals and descends to a deck on the rocks at the water’s edge below.

One of the formal design criteria, (the only one actually), was that it be possible to navigate comfortably from the house up top, to a boat at the dock, with a hot or cold beverage in one hand. Some first-time visitors taxed the “comfortably” part of the test when stepping off the edge of the cliff, and appeared to prefer two hands on the railing.

A 30-foot aluminum ramp leads from the deck below to a floating dock anchored just offshore. The ramp is counter-weighted by a 45-gallon drum of concrete suspended from a pulley chained high in the limbs of a Douglas fir which is conveniently situated at the top of the cliff; it is an apparatus influenced by the works of Rube Goldberg.

Our dock is assembled from 100 modular plastic cubes (18 inches by 18 inches by 18 inches) which bolt together as easily as Lego. A modular plastic dock has many advantages: easily reconfigured, repaired, and dismantled for winter storage; flexes with wave action; does not damage colliding boats; and is easy on the feet — no slivers.

The entire system was designed, engineered, and constructed on a DIY program blessed with a surfeit of enthusiasm that trumped a paucity of experience, aptitude and skill. Thanks to the miracle of off-setting errors, the whole enterprise has been remarkably successful (all things considered), as well as a source of wonder and amusement for the neighbourhood and passing marine traffic.

The creation of a dock has much in common with childbirth, except that the labour part can extend through the whole nine months. After the euphoria of the launch, there is a surprising amount of supervision, care, expense and maintenance required.

Docks do require a lot of maintenance. Ours must be launched in the spring and removed in the fall, or the winter storms will do it for us. The whole launch/removal exercise is not a one-man job, and various family members and sympathetic neighbours have been helpful. However, while there have been few serious injuries, the fun seems to have gone out of dock work and backs are aging and it appears that several of the regular players are availing themselves of call display at critical periods, spring and fall. So the DIY program has been abetted by younger, stronger, commercial elements.

There is still plenty to do during the season replacing anchor lines, adjusting the counter-weight mechanism, and replacing damaged sections of the dock. There is always something.

Docks have much in common with boats. Both are expensive and troublesome. Many of the pleasures of a boat can be had with a dock. On a dock, a glass of wine at sunset, or a skinny dip at dawn, or wetting a line at noon can be every bit as pleasant as on a boat.

Some boat manufacturers sell serious boats without engines to purchasers who attach them permanently to docks in marinas and enjoy weekends on board, without the hassle and expense of a voyage to another marina. The boat becomes part of the dock.

Some folks have docks to which an outboard engine may be attached, and the dock taken for a cruise.

Far better than a dock taken for granted.

We certainly enjoy our boats and that enjoyment is greatly enabled by our dock. The dock is special all by itself. We recognize that at some point, it may be necessary to give up boats and/or docks.

But the dock will almost certainly be the last to go.

Bob McCaskill is a member of the WisdomFishing editorial board.