Even the most experienced captains make a blunder every now and again—magazine editors included.
The illustration shown here is based on a bystander’s snapshot of my old friend Richard Thiel and I shortly after the occurrence of a hairy boating snafu I promised Richard I would never write about or even mention. At the time, Richard was the Editor-in-Chief of Power & Motoryacht and had been serving in that capacity for nearly three decades. He was renowned throughout the biz for his salty knowledge and skill, and for the many years we’d been friends, I’d always admired the cool, noticeably adept way he had of handling himself around a boat, whether it was navigation, maneuvering dockside or straightening out a recalcitrant diesel engine.
Anyway, the Betty Jane, my sadly departed Grand Banks 32 Sedan, is the vessel making a partial appearance in the illustration. And not more than an hour prior to the jocular scene depicted, the old girl’s bottom had been bumping and cathumping—bumpcathump, bumpcathump, bumpcathump—across a big, accurately charted, mid-channel shoal in the Intracoastal Waterway, several miles north of Fernandina Beach, Florida. I was down in the galley when the fracas started, slicing a tomato for sandwiches. At first, I was mystified by it all, almost transfixed. Then came the eye-popping realization, along with an expletive unfit for popular consumption.
The beeline I made from the galley, through the salon and up the cockpit ladder to the flybridge took less than a New York minute. And once I’d arrived at my destination, my appraisal of the situation was equally fast. All was well, it seemed. Richard sat at the helm, shaking his head, gingerly steering us back into safe water as Betty resumed her typically smooth, 7-knot, juggernaut purr.
“Damn, Bill,” he said, with noticeable chagrin. “I’m so sorry—the number on that nun back there was so hard to read. I was trying to look it up on the chart and got sidetracked.”
I could, of course, relate. Before going back below to finish the sandwiches, I made the promise I’ve already mentioned, thinking it might save my high-profile friend from some embarrassment. And I also briefly described, in a conspiratorial tone, how I’d almost slammed Betty into the side of a canal the year before while fiddling with the chartplotter. “If the darn boat behind me hadn’t blown the horn,” I concluded with a rueful grin, “I’d have skewered that sand bank with the bow pulpit.”
We laughed a little after that—we’d both been around boats long enough, I suppose, to know that mistakes are fairly common amongst boaters. Indeed, probably every one of us would be constrained to admit to running a boat aground at some point if rigorous honesty was called for. And probably every one of us would also have to admit to pranging a piling or two while backing into a slip or adding a few greasy black “character marks” to an otherwise pristine hullside while bravely trying to pull off some half-baked maneuver that was doomed from the start.
But here’s the deal. While this knowledge certainly helped Richard serenely enjoy one of my supremely tasty ham-swiss-and-tomato double-deckers while he continued to steer Betty down the ICW after running her aground, there was another, highly important contributor to his lip-smacking equanimity. Call it, for want of a better term, the courage to keep on keepin’ on. And yeah, it’s a virtue that, given the potential for error that messing about in boats entails, is an out-and-out necessity for the continuing enjoyment of the activity.
And oh! There’s absolutely no problem with bringing this whole affair to light here because Richard acknowledged it—wrote it up, as a matter of fact—in a humorous, albeit instructive Editor’s Letter that appeared in a subsequent issue of Power & Motoryacht, thereby releasing me from the promise I’d made to him one sunny afternoon, north of Fernandina Beach, long ago.