Capt. Bill’s performed many a sea trial over the years but this one? Bizzarroville!

A giant fracas started the whole thing off. I said I’d be wearing a face mask during the sea trial, but the boat company folks said they wouldn’t—they’d made it thus far through the pandemic without masks, so why start now? Wailing and gnashing of teeth ensued. Discussions. Confabs. And more discussions. Then finally, the company relented. Masks would be worn in keeping with Power & Motoryacht’s pandemic policies, and I was advised to “come ahead,” the boat was ready to boogie.

I hit the trail with a black mask in the glove compartment. I made no stops en route, whether at rest areas, gas stations or any other spots along the way where the infected might congregate. This all seemed fairly strange, truth be told, but it wasn’t nearly as strange as things were gonna get.

When I arrived, the boat company parking lot looked the same as always. As I ambled toward the office with my worn-and-patched Filson bag in hand, I marveled at how comforting it was to stroll through familiar surroundings and momentarily forget the feelings of alienation that had been creeping up on me of late. Before the pandemic had put the boots to my joyous lifestyle, I’d been traveling the world, testing and writing about boats for more than three continuous, convivial decades. Now, I was polishing off a four-month stint of home-bound, locked-down isolation. All this seemed pretty strange, too.

stranger-things

But then things got stranger still. For starters, the appearance of the two company reps at the office, each wearing a mask, sent shivers up my spine. While I knew each of them well enough, they’d both seemingly materialized from another dimension. One, with a black mask like my own, looked like a bank robber. The other, due to her mask’s shape, reminded me of an emergency room nurse. And what’s more, I could barely hear either of them due to the thickness of the fabric they were speaking through and the chasm that stretched between us thanks to -social distancing guidelines.

Don’t get me wrong, though. Such measures were completely appropriate at the time, considering that the good ol’ USA was in the midst of viral mayhem. Safety was paramount. But then again, even for a guy like me, who loves boats and boating people and wants everybody to stay happy and healthy, syncing up with the new reality would soon prove surprisingly challenging.

“Hi,” I said, sticking out my hand.

Total confusion erupted. The company reps drew back in alarm, not knowing what to do. And although oblivious at first, I quickly figured it out. What the heck was I thinking? At this juncture I was supposed to be the poster child for wearing masks and social distancing. No back slapping. No hugging. No -elbowing. And certainly, no hand-shaking.

“Sorry,” I said, sniffing a whiff of embarrassment. “I forgot.”

What happened next added lugubriousness to the mix. While the company reps stood nervously on the dock, fully masked, with arms akimbo, I examined the boat’s interior and machinery spaces all by myself. And folks, it was lonely. Freakin’ lonely! I genuinely missed the jocularity and companionability I tend to inject into such experiences. And it was also freakin’ strange. In fact, it had to be one of the stranger things I’ve ever gotten myself tangled up in.

But patches of blue always appear, right? And my patch arrived in open water, as I spun the lovely little boat’s steering wheel like a wild man, carving full-throttle loop-de-loops, with the wind in my hair and my mask virtually forgotten. Maybe it was nostalgia. Maybe it was revelry, bottled up for too long. But I swear—-driving that little jewel felt even better than I’d hoped it would.

This article originally appeared in the September 2020 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

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