My View of ‘Boating’
“Boating” for me is achieving ‘minimum stress in a naturally entertaining atmosphere.
Time on the water is precious and making the most of what I perceive to be as “one of our last ‘personal areas of freedom” requires a blend of preparation and integrity from the ‘Captain’ (or ‘Skipper’) to make any outing a success. This is not an article about safe and organized boating, its just a moment for me to reflect on what has contributed to the ‘better‘ days that I have experienced on the water. When nurtured correctly (and other than just buying a ‘lemon’ for a vessel) a relaxed and enjoyable day on the water should occur every time that you ‘put your vessel in.
From my early years raised on the Gulf-coast of Florida to now my later years inland (South Carolina’s Mountain Lakes Jocassee, and Keowee), spending time upon the water continues to bring endless pleasure of nautical observation. The clean freshwater lakes of Jocassee and Keowee are located in South Carolina at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Lake Jocassee is approximately 8000 acres, while Lake Keowee is twice that size and more residential – Jocassee is mostly uninhabited and federally protected. These lakes are great places to fish, camp, swim, or explore the many coves and waterfall settings available – any boating visit should be a wonderful experience.
Larger vessels are about but for portability I prefer my 20-foot center console for those simple excursions – usual route; heading to the far point of the lake and then slowly exploring the coves and landscapes on the return.
During these outings I continue to be amused by other “boaters” – while along the way I have found that “skippers” of boats are similar everywhere. Now I may not be a better person than the folks mentioned in this post, but through the experience of observation and preparation I just might be a better boater.
Even with my own personal experience there is always something to remind me of my own imperfections – for example, today while putting my boat in alone, I watched helplessly as my tag line played out and removed my Navigation light from the bow in one smooth stroke; for me this kind of thing does not happen often but it helped to remind me that I am far from immune to being ordinary (I would like to add that the light was somewhat weakened by previous salt-water exposure).
Boat ramps can be the most entertaining of places, normally I boat during the week to avoid the crowds but I like to allow for plenty of time around the landings, if I find a boat-ramp busy I simply watch and wait – by land or water the entertainment is cheap.
This past spring a fellow arrived at the ramp with his wife on what must have been their first planned (and I use the word loosely) day of seasonal boating. I observed from a distance as he unloaded his boat into the water and tied it off to the nearby dock, this was followed by several laborious trips of transferring supplies from their vehicle to the boat – all without cranking the boat. As they settled into the vessel the wife appeared anxious and excited for this day of ‘sun and fun’ on the lake – she exhibited a beautiful new suit and patience as her mate attempted to start the motor, at first. With time other boats came and went, several offering assistance, all to no avail. The boat was not prepared for this outing and would not start.
I observed as her patience evolved from sitting to standing, one hand firmly placed on her hip, to two hands, and then after some animated conversation while projecting her magical finger towards his face – the message across the distance was clear, sharp, and as powerful as a whalers harpoon – she rocked his boat, “loud and clear.”
It wasn’t long before the boat was hastily unloaded and returned to its trailer, a sweater covered that beautiful new suit for the long ride home.
First impressions are important; make a maiden voyage (without those that you may try to impress) first – prepare for pleasure.
Again, my usual course is to boat to the furthest point, and then slowly work my way back towards my intended lunch and evening locations. I take a fishing rod, but its just a ploy (not good at ‘catching’) mostly I observe, photograph, and enjoy every adventure – the pleasure for me is within the peace and the simple freedoms that boating provides.
There are numerous waterfalls on Lakes Jocassee and Keowee, one in particular where all species of boaters congregate allowing their kids, girlfriends, relatives, or wives an opportunity to explore the falls and to play on the sandbar while others remain in their boats. All floating among the armada. When this place gets busy, this too is where we separate ‘skippers.’
On one such visit I dropped anchor just off the sand bar so that others could access, its a nice sound as children laugh and the water splashes – other boaters are similarly anchored.
A beautiful new pontoon with a Honda 130 pulls in, I notice the boat more than those aboard but there were about eight folk’s onboard (running about). The pontoon was approaching quickly and several well intentioned mates ran to the bow – to ‘help,’ which caused the boat to list and change course. The ‘skipper’ continued to be slow in compensating for these actions and I sensed anxiety with the other boaters at anchor.
With the group aboard the “skipper” should have gently approached and beached (while guests remained sitting) – then allowed his guests to enjoy the setting – he was obviously out of his natural environment with this new boat. I really wasn’t sure what his idea was, but one mate requests the anchor and the skipper points to the starboard compartment where the mate pulls out a heavy ‘clump’ of tangled rope with an anchor somewhere within. The boat continues to close-in as the mate works to unravel the mess. The kids, guests, and wonderfully blessed wife (yes, I noticed her too) scramble to remove their over-clothes while abandoning the moving boat, the motor still running. Eventually, the foul line was unraveled enough to toss in, and with no idea of where his lines would become taunt and his vessel would settle; the anchor was down.
As the last mate evacuated the pontoon I pulled my ‘gaff’ out to hold his vessel ‘at-bay,’ the skipper apologetically announced that he would readjust, no problem, I was at peace and very much amused. I knew too that if he would simply pick up his anchor he could easily reset it (one heave) take the slack out, and we would all ‘weather’ alike. He was now alongside, so I calmly mentioned this to him.
This fellow had absolutely as much a clue as he did a tan, none. He pulled the anchor in, started the beautiful Honda (I appreciate motors too) and made a power move quickly shutting the motor down. The “skipper” made his way back to the bow and dropped the anchor. This new position was far into the other boaters, so now he was busy apologizing to them also. His helpful mate on the sandbar then requested a line to tie the bow ashore (across the sandbar, imposing on others), in which the skipper obliged by tossing a second foul and unattached line to the guest. The guest lashed the free end to a tree using a unique sort of knot and then worked back towards the pontoon tossing the remaining glob of rope to the “skipper,” whom took further time completing the entanglement so that he could pass the bitter end through his cleat and pull the slack out!
Needless to say this all took time, and by the time the men got the vessel situated the ladies and kids were climbing aboard, time to get underway again. I watched as the boarding ladder (still down) splashed in the rear as they pulled away.. Again I pondered the reasons that he might have had for not beaching and only found one to fit this occasion.
Another boater drifts in, this skipper drops his sea-anchor out and secures a taunt vertical line to his bow cleat. As he moves to the rear of the boat I notice that his cut-off blue jeans compliment his wife’s faded (and out-grown) ‘stars-and-bars’ suit, and soon too they are adrift into the others.
These are but a few examples, as you know there are many, many more – its all simply amusing.
The truth is that we seldom notice the majority of ‘skippers’ thanks to their preparations and concern for safety in advance of their excursions. Skippers enlighten their guests early on the simple rules that make their vessel safer, and the mates that return understand – this sets the course for an enjoyable outing.
True boating is aimed at providing a safe and courteous environment to others, and having that courtesy returned.
I have gained much from my own errors while observing my buddy Al, a special skipper that is painfully dedicated to preparing and organizing his vessel. When done right, the maintenance of ones vessel may never be recognized by ordinary guests.
In my small boat I appreciate that guests want to help, but many times request that they remain in place as I approach dockage, this way I can hopefully leave them in awe as I gently glide into the slip. In the summer I request shoes off, room is limited and struggling around objects on deck is unsafe. I also secure my own anchor line so that if a mate asks, the line is seldom foul.
They can call it cantankerous if they like, but I consider myself a boater that has not yet earned the title of Skipper, I am working towards it.
When the day is done those onboard leave, the skipper prepares his vessel for the next precious day on the water.