When it comes to giving out boat-buying advice, the answer is clear for Capt. Bill Pike: Don’t. It never ends well.
I’m just not sure whether to buy this boat or not. Whataya think?” asked the tall, rail-thin, red-headed Texan. He was a supercharged youngster, outfitted with all the tells of the true sportfisherman (deeply tanned visage, Shimano-branded baseball cap, long-sleeved Columbia shirt, Costas in the retracted position and a technicolor buff), in spite of the fact that we were both chomping on crudité during a rather large, indoor wedding celebration on the outskirts of San Antonio. Of course, the ol’ ego kicked in immediately. Here was a young guy (him) asking an old guy (me) for advice. He’d heard from the groom, he said, that I was something of an authority on the subject of boats.
Oh, it was hard, really hard, folks. But I resisted the temptation to swiftly render an opinion from the heights, to subtly but judiciously let this young fellow know that, shoot, he was not just standing in the presence of an august authority on the subject of boats, he’d lucked into a freaking marvel of modern marine science. In fact, he’d struck pay dirt on the very vessel he was showing me a picture of on his phone.
Why did I resist? To answer that question, let me relate a couple of tales, each of them truly tragic. The first took place several years ago. A friend of mine had been pestering me for weeks, maybe months, about what brand of outboard he should buy to replace the one he’d worn out, mostly due to a cavalier approach to maintenance. Yeah, I was fairly convinced at the time that when people ask you for advice they really don’t want it. Instead, they want you to merely cosign the decision they’ve already made. But frustration and ego got the better of me on this one, I’m afraid.
“Well,” I finally opined, tapping a glossy brochure, “I think you should go with this. You’ll get better service, at least around here.”
The guy bought the motor. And from thence forward, every time we got together, whether for lunch, dinner or whatever, he’d manage to slyly inject the notion that somehow I’d talked him into a problematic, misbegotten purchase. Either “that damn motor” was running rough or pulling to starboard or sounding funny. It was always something.
A similar episode transpired even more recently. An acquaintance of mine was focused on a certain center-console size range but was going back and forth between two brands. “Which one do you think I should buy?” he asked earnestly, after tossing an array of pros and cons into the air with a gesture of helplessness. Maybe there was more than ego involved in this case, I don’t know. Maybe I was just trying to help. But hey, regardless of my motives, I hauled off and handed down a verdict.
“I’d go with the 28-footer,” I suggested. “The construction is more modern, more lightweight, more bullet-proof. It’ll serve you well on your long trips to the Bahamas.”
The guy called me up just the other day. At first, I thought he simply wanted to tell me about the latest jaunt he’d taken to Bimini with his wife and kids. It’d been fun, he said. The family loved the new boat. She was fast, and comfy.
“But you know,” he confided at length, “she just doesn’t track the way she ought to. Seems like I have to spend a lot more time steering than I would have with something heavier, more old-fashioned. You know, like the boat I almost bought.”
Are you getting the picture here? Do you see why I was a little standoffish concerning the groom’s sportfishing buddy out in San Antone?
“Yup, she’s a beauty,” I finally told him as we both gazed at the triple-engine screamer on his phone. “But I gotta rule about giving boatbuying advice, son. I try not to. It never ends well—trust me.”