I surprised myself a few weeks ago, if only just a little. Darkness was falling at the time and the situation was not altogether choice. The Betty Jane II, sadly enough, had been experiencing network difficulties all damn day, with engine-, freshwater-pump-, electrical-, and electronics-related issues pounding away like the hammers of perdition. I was dog-tired from dealing with and worrying about these difficulties and I suspected that Power & Motoryacht’s managing editor, my friend Simon Murray, was a tad tuckered himself.
Moreover, it was freakin’ cold on Betty’s flybridge (the only spot on board with an operational GPS plotter) and likely to get colder. Certainly, calling it quits, turning around, and heading back downriver to the marina where we’d lined up a comfy berth for the night was looking pretty darn good to both of us at this point.
“Check it out,” I said, handing over a cruising guide showing a thin, serpentine waterway leading off to port, just a mile or so farther on. Called Murphy’s Creek, the thing appeared to pass through a thoroughly intriguing wilderness. Simon eyeballed the miles-long squiggle for a moment, holding the wind-blown pages of the guide down with both hands. It meandered south more or less, at considerable remove from the course of the river we were currently navigating, and then eventually rejoined it via a narrow passage that looked to be fraught with sandbars and shallows.
“Interesting,” said Simon.
The response was a fairly nervy one. Although we were indeed cruising the Betty Jane II through some decidedly empty countryside during the North Florida winter, our feisty little conveyance was not, in truth, quite ready for prime time. And while her insufficiencies were not in the least life-threatening, they were significant enough to plaster a giant question mark over any plans to depart the original itinerary and go off exploring a remote, untried, possibly impassable creek at dusk.
“Yeah, I know,” I agreed. “Although of course there is a chance we’ll get all the way to the end of the sucker and discover there’s no way out, which means we’ll have to come all the way back in the dark with no radar.”
“Then too,” I continued logically, “we could wind up getting stuck on a sandbar at the far end and have to spend the night in the middle of nowhere, with no heat, a couple of old, iffy batteries, a bag of Cheetos for sustenance, and a pile of water moccasins nearby, hunting a warm spot to bed down for the evening.”
“And then too,” I continued to continue, “there’s also a very good chance that, if we get stuck, the engine won’t crank in the morning. It’s not like this particular problem has not surfaced before during our little junket.”
The Betty Jane II continued to purr along. Gray scudding clouds overhead got grayer, imparting a forlorn spookiness to all and sundry. The black, jungle-like banks of the river reverberated with the eerie screams of limpkins, green herons, and ospreys. We hadn’t seen a light, a boat, a buoy, or any other sign of civilization for hours.
“Heck,” I chortled, “Let’s go for it.”
Which is precisely where the surprise I mentioned earlier came in. Was I out of my mind? I immediately wondered. Had I not grown at least a little wiser while growing older? Had I become so callous over the years to the fickle flounderings of fate, that I’d somehow reverted to the precipitous days of a misspent youth?
There’s an old board game called Risk—The Game of Global Domination. It was invented by a French guy during the ’50s and has since become one of the most popular board games on the planet. I don’t know about the global domination part—I have enough trouble keeping myself between the channel markers these days, let alone anybody else—but the title of the game, I think, captures a basic, sometimes unappreciated truth.
Boating, or perhaps more particularly cruising, involves a certain level of risk. And even though the risk is usually in some way or ways calculated, it is still undeniably there, essentially because some kind of exploration is called for, whether it entails paying a visit to a new continent, a new cove, or a new creek.
I am an old guy, sort of. And I suppose I could turn a little cagey, cautious, and reflective at this stage of the game and withdraw if ever so slightly from an aspect of life that, for all the risks entailed, has handed me one fabulous adventure after another.
But, nope. I’ve decided to declare a brand-new age of exploration instead. After all, Simon and I saw a spectacular piece of North Florida beauty that night. And we made it back downriver to our berth at the marina with not much difficulty at all, although, to keep things strictly factual, it was just a tad late when we finally arrived.