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Soul Music

At Sea — October 2004
By Capt. Bill Pike

Soul Music
Tunes and boats—the perfect combo.

Illustration: Joseph Daniel Fiedler
 More of this Feature

• Part 1: Soul Music
• Part 2: Soul Music continued

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The first time I really put boats and music together was when I was a kid just back from Vietnam and my mind hadn’t quite settled down yet. Credence Clearwater Revival was topping the charts with “Proud Mary,” which had a refrain that went, “rollin’... rollin’... rollin’ on the riverrrrrrr.” The song peaked in popularity just about the time I bought an aluminum skiff with a humongous outboard, a 40-hp Evinrude.

It was a match made in heaven—or maybe hell, if you viewed it from the perspective of the local sheriff’s department. Barely out of my teens, I was having serious trouble transitioning back into civilized life after a combat tour in Southeast Asia that had entailed, among other things, lively excursions on patrol boats bristling with big, loud, .50-caliber machine guns.

But the skiff helped, and so did the stirring strains of “Proud Mary.” For starters, they both facilitated the numerous fishing trips my brother Mike, my friend Lee (an ex-door gunner who wore Ray-Bans even after dark), and I took on the river that meandered through town. They also briefly fostered an activity that was as memorable as it was therapeutic. To this very day, I can still recall with stunning clarity the way that song used to reverberate between my ears as the three of us would stow 12-gauge pumps aboard the skiff, along with a profusion of empty plastic milk jugs, and roar off to take turns blasting the jugs out of the water while bearing down on them at wide-open throttle. The depth of the psychic relief afforded by such insanity was lost on me at the time, but I understand it pretty well today.

Mainstream 1970’s rock ‘n’ roll saw me through an ensuing stint of newspapering and the years it took to graduate from the Great Lakes Maritime Academy. That and Gordon Lightfoot’s folk-rocky “Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.” During my last two years at the academy, I sailed as a cadet with guys who had actually served aboard other Lakes ships that fateful night, guys who were tough, worldly, and about as emotional as a shovelful of iron ore. Whenever Lightfoot’s song played on a radio, they’d either pause briefly if talking or if not simply stare off into the distance, momentarily tranced out. To both them and me, there was something about the song that went beyond catastrophe, capturing what was important but otherwise inexpressible.

A couple of years later, down in Morgan City, Louisiana, I switched from rock to easy-listening shortly after landing a job as a boat-driving mate on 200-foot tug/supply vessels, a gratifying accomplishment preceded by a long stretch as an able-bodied seaman (AB). The work of ABs in the early 1980’s on the Gulf Coast was boring at best. So, while busting rust off steel decks with a chipping hammer for hours, I was wont to enjoy a little Springsteen or some Pink Floyd to ease the monotony.

Next page > Part 2: These days, Buffett’s songs are still tops for boats in my book. > Page 1, 2

This article originally appeared in the September 2004 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

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