Thursday, June 19, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Buy, beg, borrow a boat

(Originally published June 27, 2004, on the Lifestyle page of The News Herald)

Buy, beg, borrow a boat 

No one who knows David Angier would consider him a trusting soul. He's a crusty old cynical courts reporter, after all, which makes his decision to offer me the use of his boat during my recent vacation all the more mystifying. Unless, as he said, the insurance was all paid up and he'd like a new boat anyway.

Now, I know about as much about boating as I know about flying an airplane. That didn't improve much after an afternoon's "training" voyage out on the bay with David, even with a handy-dandy notebook he supplied.

(Some representative notes: Sandbars bad. Avoid hitting other boats. Sunscreen good. Slow down before approaching a pier.)

As a longtime reader of David's "Dangierous Waters" column in the Waterfront section, I took the offer with a grain of salt. This was, you know, the boat that each month refused to run, went in for repairs, wouldn't go in reverse, sank to the waterline or otherwise tried to get out of doing its job.

My fear was less that I would hurt the boat, and more that it would hurt us. I had visions of being stranded with my family in the middle of St. Andrew Bay, in sight of land, and having to resort to cannibalism to survive.

However, the boat cranked and performed just fine on the Sunday evening David put it in the water and I drove it from the Panama City Marina. (So what if I steered close enough to the pier to count barnacles - I didn't technically hit anything.) And we crossed without incident to our waterfront campsite at St. Andrews State Park, where we anchored for the night.

The plan was to take the boat to Shell Island on Monday and return it to David that evening, but when the boat wouldn't start Monday morning, I figured it was a bad sign. It wouldn't start any of the other times I tried it that day, either. David finally returned my frantic voice mails after he got off work, talked me through steps to flush the engine, and we tooled around Grand Lagoon that afternoon.

"Keep it another night. Bring it back tomorrow," he said. So Tuesday, we took the boat through the narrow pass, around to Audubon Island and the Hathaway Bridge, circled almost to East Bay, then back to Shell Island. We played in the surf, collected sand dollars and snorkeled on the bay side. We saw dolphins everywhere. The weather was perfect; the water was crystal clear.

It was cool. It was also hot and sunny, but you know - it was cool.

My wife caught boat fever, and I came to a conclusion that I never had considered before experiencing the freedom that a boat provides: If you live close to the coast, you should buy a boat. And then loan it to me.



And here's David's column of the same date, telling his side of the story. It appeared on the Waterfront page, under the column header "Dangierous Waters" :

My baby's back, and all in one piece 

I honestly wasn't too worried when I loaned my boat to co-worker and friend Tony Simmons earlier this month. "It's insured," I told him, smiling. "Just be safe." I had no idea what I was doing. There I was, standing with arms folded and pained grimace, watching my boat head toward the Panama City Marina's seawall with Tony at the helm. But he swung it around and missed, by a frog's hair, before steering her cleanly out into the gulf.

I resumed breathing and put it all out of my mind.

The boat was running great and I didn't think there'd be any problems with it breaking down. How much trouble could he get in? He was just taking it for 24 hours.

I had given him a crash course (so to speak) the day before on a few hundred of the things he would need to know when he was in charge.

Tony, his wife Debra and daughter Jessica joined my dog and me on an afternoon trip from Watson Bayou to Shell Island. The water had a light chop and there was a spattering of traffic, both good for a lesson.

I talked nonstop about things to keep in mind: plugs, gas, oil, lights, life vests, etc. Of course, boating is the easy part compared to preparation, launching and recovery. I went through all those until my head hurt.

Then came the big moment; I allowed someone else to drive. First Tony took the helm, then Debra. They had problems with the finer points of working the throttle.

Debra, I discovered, is a very literal person. Tell her to get ready to slow down to take a wake, and you get a sudden pull back on the throttle. I'm just glad my boat has a walk-through, or in this case a fall-through, windshield.

Tony, on the other hand, has an interesting bump-and-grind docking technique.

But overall, both did fine.

So, on a fine Sunday afternoon, Tony set off from the marina and pointed the bow toward St. Andrews State Park. He called later to say that he'd made it safely.

He called the next morning to say he couldn't get the boat started.

Should have seen that coming.

Flooded motor. I talked him through getting it started and told him to just let it run. I was certain, however, that Tony wouldn't be confident enough in the boat to venture anywhere with it and thought I'd have to spend a few hours taking it back to the marina myself.

But by this time, Tony was proving that he had the right stuff to be a boater - blind faith and unreasonable optimism.

The boat started for him the next morning and that was enough for the Simmons family. They spent the day riding around, exploring the bay and soaking up all the benefits of access to areas that only boaters know.

They even took the boat out of the water, cleaned it and parked it in my front yard.

It all worked out.

Yeah, I know, I can't explain it either. But then, I'm not going to try. See I've been a boater long enough to know that you never question a miracle.
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