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gnat (29)

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Journal of gnat (29)

Monday March 31, 2003
07:46 PM

Learning to Drive the Boat

[ #11355 ]
For years I've been meaning to learn how to take out the Foam, the family fishing boat. But the great benefit of having a fisherman father is that you don't need to know this stuff--he's always been the nautical guy, and I've been able to get away with being the weedy indoorsy book boy. But we just spent a month in NZ while Dad was in the US, and I realized that I need to know how to do this myself.

So today was Lesson 1. We drove down to the wharf, Jenine, Dad and I, while the kids were at school. The Foam is moored close to shore, and my uncle's rigged up a little floating platform on a continuous loop of rope. You get on the platform, pull the rope, and you're carried out to the boat. An ingenious solution that means we don't have to keep a dinghy.

You get onto the platform from gungy and oyster-covered rocks. We picked our way out there, holding onto a tree limb. Dad reckoned it could hold two. He got on. I got on. Picture the two of us, knees bent to keep our center of gravity low on this keel-less extremely prone-to-tipping astroturf-covered three foot by three foot plank on top of some kind of buoyant epoxy. Hold that picture ...

Dad pulls on the rope, and nothing happens. We realize in a few seconds that we're grounded on the tip of a rock. He pulls harder, and we slide gently off the rock. We slide out, the nose splooshes into the water, but seems strangely slow to emerge. Hmm, the rest of the platform is going under the water and not coming back out. Shit.

So we turn around and start pulling the other direction, but in the panic we both lose our balance. Splash. I don't swim well but I was amazed to find myself out of the water in an instant. Panic does wonderful things to my ability to swim, I guess. I was sodden, Dad too. Jenine, of course, laughed.

I was worried about the cellphone in my pocket, so I went back up to the car to dry off, then realized that my right fot was covered in gunge from the sea. I looked closer. Hang on, that's not gunge, that's blood. The bottoms of some toes were deeply cut, and there were lots of scratches and cuts on the top of the foot. Mmm, oyster cuts, my favourite. Oh well.

So we went back out (one at a time this time!), and I learned to start the boat, cast off the moorings without setting myself up to tangle the rope in the propeller, motor out of the harbour, and navigate the tidal flow through the neck of the harbour. Then Dad threw a buoy over the side and I practiced pulling up alongside it. It was fun, but kinda scary. Driving a boat is like steering a car on ice--you turn the wheel and it can be quite a while before it responds. My uncle's put a huge rudder on the Foam, though, so it's about as responsive as a boat gets.

Then we motored back in. The scary part is that there's a channel that runs through the mouth of the harbour. When the tide runs out, the channel is a body of fast moving water relative to the water around it. So when you're coming in, the nose hits the fast tidal flow first and starts to be carried along by the water. Then when the back is into the current, you can steer again. But there's a very disturbing few seconds when the nose is being pulled around and you can't do anything about it.

Then I pulled up to the wharf, side on. Fun! Dad took it back to the mooring, because by this time I was getting very nervous about navigating between all the expensive yachts. I still don't know what's reasonable to expect from the boat in terms of responsiveness, so while he knows that he can stop within (say) five feet if he has to, it all feels wildly out of control to me. I guess it's like going around corners in a car--after a while you realize what's a safe speed and what's unsafe, and that becomes ingrained knowledge. But until then, you're never 100% sure whether you're going to slip sideways or whether you'll be fine.

Anyway, a lot of fun. And we made it back in without being dunked again. I now have a foot full of Betadyne (aka Bactine, antiseptic cream) and salty skin. But boy, what fun .... I figure if we do that every day for a week, I should be able to get the hang of it.


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  • A couple years ago we joined the local non-profit sailing club in Boston. It's only $200/yr for free, unlimited sailing & classes! We sail on the Charles river between a couple of bridges (maybe ~1 mile). It's great fun, and not too difficult to do. The hard part is that the wind changes as often as the weather. :-) All in all, it's a blast.

    I got a copy of sailing for Dummies, and combined with the classes, taking the old dinghys out is no problem. If I ever get better they have several larger classes

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