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Learning a Single-Engine Boathandling Technique

Holy Shakespeare, Batman!

Learning a single-engine boathandling technique without even trying. Or paying.

I’d heard about Tangier Island, probably via some long-gone boat delivery, either up or down the Chesapeake Bay. Folks told me it was isolated and the language spoken there, at least among the natives, was like Elizabethan English—you know, the stuff you had to wade through back in high school? Like Romeo and Juliet. 

So anyhow, here I was, two hours southwest of Crisfield, Maryland, the weather on the bay had gone to heck, and there was ol’ Tangier right on the nose. Time for a visit, eh?

At the time, the only spot I could find to tie up was mostly inhabited by commercial crab boats. Called Parks Marina, it was run (and still is) by an old gent named Milton Parks. As I tried (and tried!) (and tried!!) to back my single-engine Grand Banks trawler into a slip right next to a hulking, single-engine deadrise crabber, Mr. Parks (being a straightforward fellow) eventually succumbed to apoplexy. “Give ’er some throttle!” he yelled. “Give ’er some throttle!”

I really didn’t get this admonition. In fact, to me, it seemed exactly opposite to what I should be doing. Hey, I’d been schooled by pros—when maneuvering dockside, keep your throttle setting low, to keep maneuvering speed low, to keep the risk of damage low, right? Moreover, what my mentors had passed on seemed especially germane in this situation, considering how I was trying to dock my first single-engine powerboat, which did not handle at all like the twin-engine powerboats I was used to. I mean, we were talkin’ apples and oranges here, folks. 

Once I’d gotten safely secured in the slip (thanks to divine intervention)—and the twitchy symptoms of DMT (Dockside Maneuvering Terror) had eased off—Mr. Parks and I shared a short but profound conversation, mostly in plain English versus Elizabethan, which I was grateful for. 

“Is that a single-engine boat you got there, son?” he slyly concluded, while sitting astride an old bicycle. “Or has that single-engine boat got you?”

The question was an ego-bruiser, for sure. Obviously, my boat had me, rather than the other way around. So, despite the fact that serious cogitation seldom does much good, I began contemplating dark things, among them the sale of my just-purchased single-engine GB, while the wind blew all afternoon.

But at sunset a happy happenstance happened. As I lay in the V-berth of the forward cabin, trying to cure my depression with a Louis L’Amour western, an outrageous roar tore through the marina.

I levitated, almost knocking myself out on the overhead and losing Louis altogether. When I recovered (which was quick), I shot up the companionway to the saloon so I could look out the windshield. “What the …,” I exclaimed.

There was another deadrise crabber, a big one, rotating in front of an empty slip just down the way, seemingly getting ready to back in. I watched as the skipper hit the throttle again, sending forth yet another outrageous roar. Then I saw him spin his steering wheel quite sportily, from hardover one way to hardover the other. He it the throttle again. Roar!

A mental lightbulb lit. Thanks to Mr. Parks’ apoplectic yelling, what I was seeing made sense: The skipper of the deadrise was using short, powerful bursts of thrust (and lots of throttle) to maneuver, along with hardover rudder.

The next morning, before hitting the trail, I asked the old boy what I owed him for my stay. “Oh,” he said, “how about $35? Unless you think that’s too much.”

I tossed in an extra ten bucks. After all, besides shelter from the storm, Parks Marina had handed me the fundamentals of single-screw boathandling technique. Free of charge. And hey—if you’d like to pay Mr. Parks a visit this summer for some boathandling instruction of your very own, forget the Internet.

“You get to be 85 years old,” he told me recently, “you don’t need a Web site.”

This article originally appeared in the June 2016 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.