Shut it off! Shut it off!

At Sea - October 2002
At Sea — October 2002
By Capt. Bill Pike

Shut it off! Shut it off!
Wanna be a better boat handler? Then remember that the point is progress, not perfection.

Illustration: Christopher Bing
 More of this Feature

• Part 1: Shut It Off!
• Part 2: Shut It Off! continued

 Related Resources
• At Sea Index

When I got into the magazine biz, I had no experience handling small powerboats. This was a problem for lots of reasons, but one stuck out. Since the credentials of new, up-and-coming marine writers are of some interest to buyers and manufacturers of boats, as well as readers, word spread not long after I was first hired: ol' Bill's a former commercial seafarer with a big, bluewater ticket and a sextant in his sea bag. Could such a resume belong to anybody but a magnificent close-quarters handler of bowriders, sportboats, and other Lilliputian craft?

The answer was gloomy. Not only had the Almighty failed to provide me with any small-boat-handling experience during my seafaring career, but He, She, or It had handicapped me with a couple of personality quirks that'll mess up the maneuvering of just about any vessel, of any size, at any time. Perfectionism came first. I figured my helmsmanship had to be flawless all the time, even when I didn't know what I was doing. The second was related: anxiety. I was terrorized by the seeming flightiness of small boats around docks and slips. When coupled with perfectionism, this put me under just a little pressure.

An illustrative story. It took place 15 years ago in a big New England marina I don't have the guts to name, since most of the witnesses and participants are undoubtedly still alive and reading marine magazines. Things got off to an innocuous start. I helped my wife into the passenger seat of a high-speed sportboat on loan to me for the summer. Then, upon sliding in behind the steering wheel and cranking our 502-cubic inch V-8, I flicked a glance toward the fuel gauge, and it registered--zip!

Fear took possession of my psyche. It was Saturday, almost noon. The fuel dock was crowded with people and fraught with the copious comings and goings of other boats. Why hadn't I filled the tank during one of the lightly trafficked evenings earlier in the week, to avoid public humiliation? Why? Why? Why?

Our slip was buried at the end of a long, convoluted fairway, seemingly miles from where we needed to go. Moreover, by some fickle twist of fate, the owner of the marina, a woman with enviable small-boat-handling skills, happened to be standing near the gas pumps, talking with a guy who was big in the Coast Guard Auxiliary. He was a helluva boat handler, too.

"Do we have to buy gas?" queried my wife with foreboding. She'd observed my maneuvering techniques with the sportboat before, and she was starting to see just how congested and theater-like the fuel dock was. She smelled fear on me, I'm sure of it.

Getting out of the slip bow-first was a snap--getting back in, stern-first, was the challenge. We cruised the fairway, zigzagging gingerly past bow pulpits and stainless steel props, while I kept a weather eye on the traffic at the fuel dock. A big, fat, aft-cabin cruiser was just finishing up and would shortly leave an open spot, although a fishboat with twin outboards was approaching, apparently intent on laying claim. I throttled up slightly.

"Why are you going so fast?" demanded my wife, launching a string of nervous, fast-paced interrogatives. "Why don't you call the fuel dock and let them know you're coming? Why did you come so close to that last propeller? Why aren't you wearing a life jacket? Why do they call them PFDs now?"

Next page > Part 2: A hush came over the crowd > Page 1, 2

This article originally appeared in the January 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

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