The author learns that cereal and complacency are a dangerous combination.
Dark clouds loom ominously on the horizon. Your radar is lit up like a Christmas tree; scared voices shout through the VHF. Go boating long enough and you’ll find yourself in this situation. When the storm finally finds you, fear will force you to make the proper safety precautions. Everyone puts on a life jacket, you dig out the EPIRB from a cluttered cabin drawer and you prepare for the tempest ahead. It’s easy to think about safety when staring down a storm.
Today’s story didn’t take place on a day like that. Far from it. It was a bluebird Miami morning. The breeze was light; the air hung hot and moist. The forecast called for more of the same. My colleagues and I were climbing aboard one of the many high-performance craft that we would sea trial during the Miami International Boat Show.
Our mission on that Valentine’s Day morning was to record the boat’s performance data and shoot a light-hearted video in which Capt. Bill Pike and I would enjoy a “leisurely,” “nutritious” breakfast of Cap’n Crunch while Simon put the boat through its paces.
As we meandered out of our slip toward Biscayne Bay, the captain asked us to don life jackets. They were the first builder to make such a request during the show. I remember thinking it showed good seamanship, but of all days to wear one, this was the worst: It was 8:00 a.m. and already the temperature soared into the 80s.
Alas, we survived the few drops of sweat and were enjoying one of the most exhilarating sea trials I can remember. The boat carved beautifully tight turns at an ever-faster rate. Lounging on the forward sunpad, Capt. Bill and I laughed like children as cereal flew from our spoons and bowls and out into the bay like a trail of sugary breadcrumbs.
When things go wrong on a high-performance boat, they tend to go wrong fast. Within the blink of an eye I felt something brush past my hair. “What the …?!” I looked right and saw blood sprinkled on Bill’s shirt, and my heart sank. I signaled to Simon to pull back into neutral. The boat—and our fun—came to an abrupt halt. I realized that the large forward cushion had come free and clipped Bill’s nose before soaring up and over the boat.
My heart rate began to return to normal when I realized the cut on Bill’s face was not as bad as it could have been. He’s a tough son of a gun, that Capt. Bill. I turned to our boat’s test captain and asked where he kept the med kit. He returned a blank stare. This was a new boat and there was no med kit aboard.
In short order we retrieved our wayward cushion and returned back to the dock. “It wouldn’t be a boat show without at least a little blood,” we joked.
In the chaos of the ensuing show I didn’t pay the incident much mind until I got back to my office and downloaded the footage from our Garmin Virb. It was sobering to watch in high definition as our morning shifted from hilarious to scary. I watched as a massive cushion with a hard underside grazed us. It became painfully clear that a few inches in the other direction and we would have eaten more than just cereal.
The blame, it was clear, rested with me. My team and I only wore PFDs because the company captain had asked us to. I didn’t look to see if safety equipment was on board. I placed blind faith in a captain who was quite probably a hired gun who’d never stepped foot on that boat before. What’s worse is that last year I secured ACR PLBs for everyone on my team to bring on sea trials. Did any of us have them that day? Nope. A lot of good that PLB was going to do me from my sock drawer had I been flung from one of our many high-speed sea trials.
With 20:20 hindsight, I realize I did one of the most dangerous things you can do on the water: I became complacent, and someone on my crew got hurt. Capt. Bill only got a surface scratch that morning. But the hit to my ego—that cut a lot deeper.
As us northern boaters join our southern brethren back on the water full time, I hope we all remember that like oil and water, complacency and boating never mix.