Even the saltiest captain has the potential to lose decades of hard-won boat-handling skills.
Exercise those hard-won boat-handling skills. Or else!.
My friend Jerry is of the liveaboard persuasion, and although he’s a salty soul with plenty of seafaring cred, his boat—a bowthrusterless, single-engine trawler like my very own Betty Jane II—virtually never leaves the slip. Some months ago, however, things changed, at least temporarily. Jerry sprung his light of love from her long confinement, guided her over to the marina/boatyard’s TraveLift and watched with bated breath as the yard crew conveyed his baby to a resting place “on the hard,” so her bottom could be thoroughly addressed with electric angle-grinders, dried out and barrier coated. Was this extravaganza a big, traumatic deal? Well, maybe. But then, on top of everything else, the work took a good long while and, as time dragged on, Jerry continued living aboard, albeit terrestrially and somewhat inconveniently. I caught up with him just a few days past the grand finale.
“Hey Jerry,” I said, “congratulations, man! Your boat’s back in the water. She’s looking good, I gotta say.”
“Well, yeah,” he replied, getting up from his chair on the aft deck to stroll over to the rail as Daisy, his dog, followed slowly along, “but I’ve got to say—I put on quite a show the other day, getting her back into the slip. Quite a show.”
The tale Jerry then launched began, benignly enough, with him and his nicely refurbished trawler making a smooth, easy departure from the shadows of the TraveLift. But then, when it came time to actually return the boat to her slip, stern-first, a vast tribulation descended upon both him and her. More to the point, no matter how many times Jerry tried pulling off a proper backdown—ordinarily a relatively easy task for him—the results were so dispiritingly bad that in the end, in complete frustration, he called the yard’s head honcho, a boathandling artiste if ever there was one, and asked him to hurry down to the docks, get himself aboard somehow and affect a much needed rescue.
“And you know the worst part of the whole thing?” Jerry marveled, as Daisy looked up with deep commiseration in her soulful eyes. “The guy docked the boat on the first try!”
It’s funny how things work out sometimes. In considerable amazement at the synchronicity of experience that was stacking up between us, I told Jerry about a similar—and equally frustrating—episode I’d endured during a boat test only a few weeks before. Basically, it had entailed a deeply humbling attempt to slide a sweetly dialed-in, exceptionally controllable, joystick-enabled flybridge cruiser into an ample slip, a relatively simple maneuver but one I hadn’t performed or practiced for roughly two years, thanks to the pandemic. Perplexities and mystifications ensued, big-time! Where had my hand-eye coordination gone? And my spatial awareness? And the self-assurance I could always count on?
“It was pretty darn wild,” I told Jerry. “I mean, my boathandling skills had just flat-out taken a hike. Due to lack of use, I guess.”
Of course, there’s an obvious fix for this sort of situation. Although I’m not sure what Jerry has in mind for the upcoming months, my own plan is simple enough. I’m going to take Betty out for at least a few weekend spins and, by way of getting beyond the rustiness that may have crept in while I dealt with a slip-bound hatch replacement, make sure I can competently handle her bowthrusterless, single-engine personality. Then, as soon as is humanly possible, I’ll also get myself aboard some kind of joystick-enabled watercraft and, after putting in a little open-water practice, take her dockside to rebuild my joystick technique.
After all, the ability to maneuver a boat—most any boat—in close quarters is ever so satisfying and valuable. But given the stuff that’s just come to light in my life, I gotta add, You’ll most likely lose it, my friend, if you fail to use it!
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This article originally appeared in the March 2022 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.