Sea — February 2002
By Capt. Bill Pike
Take a Boat Ride
|Part 2: Messing about in boats|
A helm chair's a good place to think, of course. As pilings and markers materialized from the shadows and then faded back into them, I began mentally revisiting a subject I'd been working over for months. With the world seeming in some ways sadder these days than ever before, what wasn't I baffled about anymore? What did I know for sure? Thank goodness for the beauty of the moonlit night I was admiring through the windshield. It showed great kindness by handing me what I'd been waiting on for some time--a short but significant list of things I indeed know for sure, things I'm grateful for, things that are the very essence of what Kenneth Grahame was getting at when he extolled the virtues of "simply messing about in boats."
The foremost is delight. While watching the moonbeams dancing and sparkling on the wavelets of the widening bay out near the river's mouth, I recognized, perhaps at a deeper level than ever before in my life, just how honest, trustworthy, and freeing delight is. Think about it. Why else do dictators, terrorists, crazy fundamentalists, and other ideologues so vehemently oppose and militate against it? Back during the `80s, when the murderous dictator Pinochet was still in power in Chile, I used to routinely visit the city of Antofagasta on oceangoing tugs hauling grain-laden barges. What I remember most from those trips is the utter absence of delighted smiles and laughter on the streets and the great joy I always felt when it was time to leave that oppressed and oppressive city for the delightful, sun-washed freedom of the open sea.
I dropped the Scrump's hook in the shallows at the edge of the Gulf of Mexico, noting more as a curiosity than a concern that my watch was pushing two o'clock. After the bow settled back into the swift current, I nixed the running lights, switched on the anchor light, took a seat in the cockpit, and put my feet up on the gunwale. I fantasized, for a moment, about just saying "to heck with it" and spending the rest of the night steaming south for Cedar Key, or even St. Petersburg. Then in purest solitude I turned these dreams into a basis for the completion of my reverie.
Fun's the next most important thing I'm sure about--the active, get-up-and-do-something form of delight. I'd say the exercise of fun in a people or a society is just about as honest, trustworthy, and freeing as the exercise of delight. The streets of Antofagasta during the `80s, after all, were just as devoid of fun as they were of delight, and hundreds of ubiquitous soldiers and policemen with assault rifles and dour looks kept it that way. I hate dour, by the way. Which is undoubtedly why I've spent most of my life in and around boats associating with fun-loving people who occasionally say "to heck with it" and hit the trail for faraway places, or at least do a little dreaming about them.
I pulled the hook about 3 o'clock and began heading on back to the Mansion, soon realizing the trip was going to be a tough one primarily because seeing the unlighted pilings and daymarks along the way was darn near impossible due to the considerable shift in the moon's orientation. Within a couple of minutes, my neck and shoulder muscles were knotting up rock-hard from the task of negotiating a tricky, poorly marked channel through gloom and glare, a state of affairs I periodically relieved by telling myself to just relax and go slow.
The final realization came at dawn. I was easing the Scrump back into her slip in the boathouse, feeling tired, sore around the neck and shoulders, and a little chagrined at the prospect of having to face the approaching day without sleep. But the night had been eminently worth it. I'd enjoyed some wonderful stints of visual delight. I'd had plenty of fun. And just as I switched the engine off, I discovered yet another very important thing I'm absolutely sure of.
The world would be a much kinder, gentler, happier place if more people would simply take more boat rides.
This article originally appeared in the January 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.