Capt. Bill Pike's brother didn't like boats. That didn't stop him from being a top-notch crew member.
My brother didn’t care much for boats. From the standpoint of recreation, he was more into gun collecting, reloading his own ammunition, nailing a bull’s eye at 300 yards and camping out for weeks on end amid the wolf-howling wilds of Northern Ontario. We were alike in many ways, I suppose, but, as I say, I got the boat gene and he, for one reason or another, did not.
But here’s the funny thing: My brother was a top-notch crew member. In fact, I’d say he was just about the best guy I’ve ever cruised with on any sort of vessel, recreational or commercial. Of course, there were a couple of big-time reasons for this. The two of us, for starters, were not just brothers but chop bustin’, life-long friends. Whether we were plying the frigid waters of the St. Lawrence River or sliding along some skinny backwater in a Florida sawgrass marsh, our conversations were always long, droll and laced with appallingly childish, wholly enjoyable stints of irreverence, usually directed toward the other’s mannerisms, habits and ineptitudes, both real and imagined.
But this, I’d say, does not plumb the essence of why my brother was so dang good on boats. Nope, the quality that put him well above the rest—at least in terms of throwing lines, steering straight courses and dealing with oodles of other seafaring entertainments—was the rare ability to size up a snafu, pull an appropriate response out of thin air and then, with unshakeable nerve, follow through. Indeed, his skills were so ample and assured that they produced, at least in me, a level of onboard confidence I enjoyed with nobody else. Whether I was maneuvering dockside, navigating in the fog or addressing a recalcitrant autopilot, with my brother on the scene, there was never any question in my mind—all would be well.
An adventure with the Grand Banks I owned some years back proves the point. Shoot, I wouldn’t have even tried to shoehorn the GB into the slip the marina had assigned us that afternoon had my brother not been along. The fairway approach was too narrow, too twisty and too obstructed. And there was no way out once we were in.
“Think we can do it?” I asked as my brother departed our flybridge planning session for the cockpit. “Ooooh yeah,” he replied, employing the same drawn-out, semi-comedic response he always used when we teetered on the brink of catastrophe. And, as it turned out, he was right—the whole thing came off smoother than fresh varnish, mostly thanks to a brotherly boathook yank.
There’s one final factor, I gotta say, that elevated my brother to onboard greatness. While our long, shared history together certainly engendered trust and affection, it also tended to enhance the moment now and then, usually with heartwarming remembrances.
Well before I owned the GB, for example, I owned an outboard-powered Steiger Craft 23 Chesapeake that could devour deplorable sea conditions at high rates of speed. Put the tabs down and pour the coal to ‘er and she’d flat-out vamoose. So, one morning bright and early, despite a dire weather forecast for Long Island Sound, my brother and I took a little spin up to Essex, Connecticut from Milford, where my wife and I lived at the time. And upon our return, 6-to-8-foot seas were slamming straight into Milford’s rock-sided inlet. A dicey, full-power, 40-mph situation if ever there was one.
“You think we can do it?” I asked as my brother chomped on a half-eaten Slim Jim, a smoked meat snack he favored when lively times arose. The sound reminded me of high-speed circumstances during our misspent youth, when the unique aroma of Slim Jims suffused the interior of my brother’s 425-hp Dodge Super Bee while we thoughtfully contemplated outrunning the New York State Police amid the evening mists of the Adirondack Mountains.
“Ooooh yeah,” he replied. And when we did, the feeling of brotherly victory was pure, one-hundred-percent euphoria. Maybe even better than it had been back in the bad old Bee-buzzin’ days of the early 70s.