We're All in the Same Boat

Rob Temple
We're All in the Same Boat

The editors have asked me to contribute a column of interest to boaters

that they call the “Shipping News.”  This was inspired, no doubt, by Annie Proulx's novel by that name (a great read, by the way).  But I suspect that like many folks, the editors may be under the erroneous impression that all boaters are members of the same big, happy family.  Since I happen to have been messing about in boats long enough to know otherwise, I'm somewhat challenged by the task.

Back in the days of  “wooden ships and iron men” seamen had a lot more in common than they do nowadays.  Basically they were all sailors and they were all professional.  Sure their occupations varied a bit (i.e., fishing, freighting, fighting) but virtually nobody was out there just for the fun of it.

These days our waterways are swarming with a widely diverse armada of “pleasure” craft:  everything from magnificent mega-yachts to sailing catamarans to jet skis to kayaks.  And as far as professional mariners (i.e., those who earn their livelihood on the water) are concerned, all of these craft simply constitute one big, annoying hazard to navigation.  But, since commercial vessels are so vastly outnumbered by pleasure craft, most “boating” publications tend simply to ignore them.

But wait – it gets worse!  The interests of the various recreational boaters are not only not the same, but  in most cases are in serious conflict with each other.  The motor boaters abhor sailors (“blow-boaters”)  who, in turn  dislike them (“stink-potters”) and nobody likes to hear the annoying buzz of a jet ski except the person riding it at the time.  One only has to listen to the VHF marine radio during the annual spring and fall Intracoastal Waterway migrations to get an earful of the abuse hurled back and forth between “boaters.”

So if I can just come up with a column that strikes a common chord with all these factions, what next? The Middle East? No problem.

So... what to do?

Well, several years ago in South Florida I was  fueling up my schooner in a marina when an old gentleman approached me and said, “Can I ask you something?”

“Sure,” I said.

He said,  “I've had power boats all my life.  I've been active with the U.S. Power Squadron in Ft. Lauderdale for over thirty years.  Recently I was required to take a course through the power squadron on sailing.  And, my god!  You've got all these ropes and sails and you have to zig zag all over the place to get where you're going,  you're always tilted at a ghastly angle and you never go more than a snail's pace anyway.  Well, my question is:  what the hell's the point?”

He was so genuinely frustrated that I had to laugh.  I turned the question around on him and told him I always wondered why anyone would want to ride around in a motorboat just burning up expensive fuel with nothing very challenging to do.  He quickly responded by telling me that he could get to the Abacos in a matter of a few hours and how great it was to be there.

I could relate to that since sailing to the Abacos is something I had never tired of doing, although it usually took me a few days rather than a few hours to cover the distance from Florida. As we continued our chat, we found that we'd been to many of the same places in the Bahamas and had much in common there.  The basic difference was that for him his boat was purely a means of getting there quickly, safely and comfortably and, once there, the boat served as rather posh accommodations.  For me as a sailor, the arrival at a Bahamian landfall always involved mixed feelings:  the excitement of reaching a beautiful place mixed with the pride of having accomplished a challenging task mixed with a little sadness that the adventure of getting there had finally come to an end. 

When all was said and done, I don't think I made a sailor out of the old gent and he certainly didn't sway my thinking either but I'd love to run into him one day somewhere like Nipper's on Great Guana Cay and continue our debate over a Kalik beer.

Like the Abacos, Ocracoke is a somewhat remote port of call for mariners of every stripe.   It's a great place to reach by boat.  Back in the summer of 1979, a certain artist/photographer from Virginia who liked to vacation here tried to organize what he called “The Ocracoke Yacht Club.”  Unlike most yacht clubs, it was not very exclusive.  The one requirement for club membership was that you had to have arrived on Ocracoke by boat.  “And,” he quickly added, “ferries count.”   

That strikes me as a good place to start.  So, if you arrived here by boat, this column's all about you.  Drop your anchor right here and we'll have us a gam. Welcome aboard!

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