Tuesday, July 17, 2012

I’m Just Sayin’


Boating really is fun
The word “fun” can mean different things to different people. For me, as a skipper, “fun” means successfully facing and conquering the challenge of being competent as a skipper, especially boat handling. Why Knot being forty-five feet long with only a single engine and without a bow thruster requires some special techniques and skills to make her do what I want her to do. Handling her requires a lot of nuance that a twin screw with a thruster doesn’t need. Maybe other captains would say the same thing but driving her is more about feeling her through things rather than just controlling her. Take for instance our recent passage through lock 32 in Bobcaygeon, ON. The incoming channel was very narrow and packed with boats. I pulled her through a small maze of vessels and settled her onto the blue wall I think very smartly. Then as the swing bridge and lock opened I pulled her off with the able help of Lisa shoving off the wall at just the right force to set her just right into the chamber the right position for Lisa to grab one of the cables lining the wall at midship and I hopping down to get one of the cables at the stern, all the time keeping her at a nice and close distance from the wall without scraping against the wall. Then as we leave the chamber setting the wheel initially to be at the right rudder angle to pull her away smoothly in almost dead center to pull out without touching our stern against the wall. To me that is a lot of fun. It is also very satisfying that others recognize this. Whenever we boaters get together the conversation almost always starts with what kind of boats we have. Most loopers have twin engines and a bow thruster. There have been only a few other single engine boats but they always have a bow thruster. When I tell someone that we have one engine and no bow thruster they almost always say something like, “Whoa. You must really be good at driving your boat.” Some time back we were at a marina with several other loopers and we had docked Why Knot in a somewhat peculiar dock but one that I knew I could get her out of by using a bowline pivot. As we were getting ready to leave the dock master who was on hand was kind of jabbering about how he wasn’t sure I could get her out or not. One of the other boaters said (para.), “Don’t worry. He knows what he’s doing.” Now that is what I call FUN.

Boating can be boring
Just as boating can be tons of fun, quite frankly, sometimes it can be boring as watching paint dry. When you are on a long reach somewhere and all you have to do is to keep her straight and conditions are so calm that you could balance a pencil on your nose it can get excruciatingly mundane. There is a saying that boating is made of long periods of boredom punctuated with moments of sheer terror - true, so true. I remember when we were starting our cruise up the Potomac and we were on our first reach from Smith Point up the St. Marys River. All we were doing was following a very straight course line on our chartplotter for eighteen miles. The water was calm and smooth. Lisa and I took turns laying on the futon and sleeping. Sometimes all of the surrounding land looks the same. The water looks the same. Everything looks the same. And just like driving long distances over Kansas as the miles just keep passing by you can get tired at the wheel. One of the things we do to battle this is that Lisa and I change driving the boat about every hour.

“Marine”+ anything = More $
West Marine – that indispensible store throughout the USA that we boaters depend on. You have to hand it to them, if we need it they got it. Racor filters, check. Fenders, check. Charts and navigational aids, check again. Parts? Yep, they have them. They are the Walmart that supplies our passion. But as we all know they are a bit more expensive than if we can buy these things online or from a non-marine store. The problem with them is they are so damn convenient. Most US ports-of-call have one somewhat nearby. (There are some oddities like in Morehead City, SC where the nearest West Marine is like in the middle of suburbia rather than anywhere close to where the boats are.) And how about fuel? Marine fuel is ten to fifteen percent or more expensive to buy at a dock than if you drove up to a gas station in a car and bought the same stuff. But we’re stuck, aren’t we. I can’t set my chartplotter for the nearest Wawa, Kangaroo or Quiktrip and take on 400 gallons of diesel. It’s the cost of cruising. Oh well.

Fishermen are a pain the neck
Ok fishermen. I’m talking to you! I’m calling you out. Why must you insist that the best fishing is right in the middle of marked channel? I think that’s baloney. As we cruisers approach you while we are dead center in a marked channel, your thoughts are, and you sometimes yell this at us, “There’s plenty of water out there. Go around!” Rubbish. That same logic would dictate that you too could move off to the side. The fish do not have their own little fishy chartplotters and they don’t move along to a magenta line on their little displays. So get out of the way, for crying out loud. Think about it. We are larger, slower and less maneuverable than you are. Please, for everybody’s safety and well being use your heads and move off. You see, your draughts are a lot less than ours. Your draughts are maybe one foot, maybe two at the max. Ours are never less than 3 ½ feet, most of the time more. And in places like Canada when the charts say to stay in the channel because there are shallow rocks just outside of the channel we really need to stay in the channel.  Clipping a rock with one of our props can cost us big time. And while I’m talking about Canada let’s talk about no wake zones. We loopers try to be courteous and we are sincerely sympathetic to smaller craft and home docks when it comes to what damage, discomfort and danger our larger wakes can cause, and we do slow down. But don’t crab at us about our wakes until you locals get in on it too. We all have stories on how we drop down to idle speed so we don’t wake smaller boats. Then some yahoo local comes zooming by in his bass boat so he can beat everyone else to that perfect fishing spot in the middle of the channel up ahead. And we get yelled at. Please.

Most towns and marinas look the same and
Attention waterside communities and marinas – I have some bad news for you. As the miles and miles of waterways and bays and rivers pass by, I am sorry to tell you that each and every one of you begins to look exactly the same as the next. And it is a crap shoot whether we stop at your town or dock to stay for a night or two, to buy fuel or provisions, or dine at your local restaurants, or to otherwise spend some of our money on you. There are exceptions to this, of course. Some towns and marinas have rock solid reputations for being incredibly looper friendly. Some have some natural advantage like being at the perfect distance between other points. A good example is Chesapeake Bay. Once you leave Norfolk the natural progression is to stop at Deltaville, then St. Marys, then Solomons, and then Annapolis. Some have a special feature like Campbellford, ON. Dooher’s Bakery has a reputation as being the very best donut shop in North America. And while I think Bradenton Donuts down in Florida might give them a run for their money for that title, Dooher’s is worth the stop in Campbellford. (And by the way, where are all the donut shops?) If you would like to get more loopers to spend some time in your town or marina here is what you need to do. First, get your marinas up to snuff. We like easy moorings such as wider slips, tee heads and easy ins and outs. We like 50 amp power. We absolutely love courtesy cars or at least shuttle services. We like discounts to MTOA, ActiveCaptain, AGLCA and BoatUS members. (Canada, I’m talking to you.) Next, we like dockhands and masters that actually use VHF radios. We like maps of the town that show us where stuff is. We like marine supplies that big boats use. We like to see timely weather reports. And publicizing yourself is easy. Go ahead and pony up and join those above mentioned groups and let us know you really want our business. We all devour the information on ActiveCaptain.com and the AGLCA website like crazy. And speaking for myself, don’t exaggerate how close stores and other services are by foot. We like staying in nice places. We are actually kind of snobs and we think that we are a bit of a cut above the rest. We are on a long journey away from our homes and families and we would like a bit of respect. And most important of all, we all talk to each other…a lot. So if you dunce around with one of us we will all know about it very quickly. There are locales and marinas that have stellar reputations with us. There are others that are on our unofficial blacklists. We have no problem giving rave reviews when it’s deserved. You have to deserve it.
Let me be blunt. We loopers are generally more affluent than the average boater. We have more money to spend. We also recognize that transient docking prices are higher per foot or night for us than a seasonal or year-around dockage. An ideal business model for a marina the seasonal and year-arounds should be at a price and volume to cover your overall base costs including wages, operations and maintenance. Transients should be all profit. If they’re not there is something wrong with your model. We know this and we, knowing this, accept that we pay higher prices than others. Welcome us. Encourage us. Give us more value. Value is the accumulation of all the things and perks that make us want to come to you. We like value.

Boating has a secret handshake
Boating is a secret club where you have a secret handshake, otherwise known as waving.
Besides being a boater I also am a motorcycle driver and the same thing exists in that realm. Once you own and drive a motorcycle, just like in boating, you have joined a secret society with rules of etiquette and behavior. The most similar of the two is waving to each other. With motorcycles it doesn’t matter if you drive a Harley, a Honda, Kawasaki, Yamaha or a Suzuki (like me), you have to wave to each other. What is with that? It’s the same with boating. On my trawler bridge I wave to and get waved back to by each and every boat that we pass: cruisers, yachts, commercial vessels, dinghies, trawlers, sport fishers, houseboats, pontoon boats, runabouts, ski boats - each and every one of them gets a friendly wave as we pass…but not to jet ski riders.  Why is this? Are we superior to landlubbers? Do we possess a special knowledge that binds us to each other? Are we perpetuating a camaraderie that we share Well, yes. And I must say it is a pleasant thing. We do all share something and a friendly wave is a common expression of this context. So I will keep waving and will happily accept the gesture in return. By the way, like us boaters not waving to jet ski riders we motorcyclists do not wave to scooter riders. I mean, we do have standards. 

I really do care about the environment
I have always been a conservationist meaning that I did not litter, I recycle, I did not waste things like water and resources, I am concerned about how our country treats nature and I am in favor of behaviors that ensure a quality of life based on a balanced and harmonious relationship with nature. I believe that “environmentalism” is more of a political movement rather than a conscious decision to be smart about what we do and how we live. And I am sticking with those distinctions. As we travel I do find myself more and more questioning myself if I am doing enough in regards as to how I personally interact with nature around me. Long ranging cruising is really a management exercise rather than just a boating or floating plan. How we manage our resources, namely fuel, machines, water, electricity, and waste, are really what this is all about. As we cruised through Canada with its pristine waters and beautiful country, and seeing how proactive they are in maintaining that, I see that we in America are not doing enough. I can say that so far in the US I have not seen what could amount to horrible natural conditions. The water I think could be called clean, certainly more clean that it was twenty or thirty years ago. (I also know that we will be cruising through Chicago in the lower river which is supposed to be pretty terrible.)But we can be doing more without any great negative financial impact. I am not becoming a tree hugging loonie, but I am just becoming more aware of our short comings.

History is fun
I have stood in the exact spot that George Washington stood when he announced his retirement from the Continental Army - the exact spot. I have stood in the exact spot where Martin Luther King, Jr. stood at the Lincoln Monument when he gave his “I have a dream” speech - the exact spot.  I have stood at the exact spot of what was once the largest slave market in America - the exact spot. We cruised past Fort Sumter, the battle area of the Monitor and Merrimack and countless other sea battle locations, Kennedy Space Center, The Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island just like our forbearers did. We have retraced the routes of ancient sea explorers and pirates. We have straddled the two sides of the War of 1812. (If you would like read something interesting read the Canadian account of that war. America was the bad guy.) We have been in and out a bunch of museums both great and small. I have learned a lot. It has been very edifying.
By the way, go to Wikipedia and read about the history of the state flag of Maryland. 

I’m more proud to be an American than I thought
As an American boater we proudly fly the Star and Stripes as our ship’s ensign. And as we cruise in Canada we fly a smaller Canadian courtesy flag. But you know I find it’s more important now to make sure the Stars and Stripes is flying more than just as a part of proper flag etiquette. It’s important! As an American in a foreign country it is important to me that we represent our country in the best possible terms. And I guess the first way of doing that is to show respect for our country and to reflect our pride of country to others. I have read that the first real sense of fervent nationalism was actually started in America in the mid-nineteenth century, that other countries at that time did have a national identity but still mostly thought of themselves in smaller units such as provinces or regions. Perhaps the more localized self-identification of Quebec within the larger Canada is an illustration of this. But we Americans are indoctrinated from birth that we put country first, then state and city next. So I see myself as an American first, than a St. Louis, Missourian next.

Most restaurant food isn’t very good
Ok. Lets get this out in the open. Most restaurant food stinks. I don’t care what the cuisine is, most of it is just terrible. Since Lisa I started this whole thing back in November (2011) when we went to Sarasota to buy a boat we have only been to three “restaurants” more than once, and they were all donut shops: Bradenton Donuts, a donut shop in Pompano Beach whose name I have forgotten, and Dooher’s Bakery and Campbellford, ON. (I did that one solo.) Other than those the only great restaurants were at the steakhouse at Coinjock Marina (Prime Rib!) and the shore side restaurant in Amsterdam, NY. Other than those the vast majority of restaurant food has been pretty blah. Sorry, but it’s the truth.

99.999999999% of people of really nice
Loopers are great people. Marina people are great people. Lock people are great people. Townspeople are great people. Canadians are incredibly great people. I really can’t think of anyone in particular that was a real jerk, but I would have to think that there has been one somewhere along the line. As I have said numerous times in the blog that the real joy of this experience is all the people we have met along the way. And we loopers in particular are a tight knit group because we all share the same ups, downs, trials, troubles, joys and sadness. As we travel in packs, so to speak, we are always on the lookout for another looper and are ready to lend a hand catching a line or sharing a taxi ride, or giving information or just about anything. There is a line in the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta “The Pirates of Penzance” where one of the pirate band, when explaining why they do not pillage ships with orphans on board (The entire British merchant fleet has learned about this display of tenderheartedness and all claim to be orphans when the pirates attack.)  by saying, “…for we are orphans too, and know what it ‘tis.” Well, we are loopers too, and know what it ‘tis. That is a strong bond.

I’m more of an internet junkie than I thought
Ah, the internet, just an electronic gizmo that we climb into when we need a dash of information or diversion. Or, as I have learned about myself because connectivity seems to be so rare on this journey, I have become a bit of glutton for the thing. Actually its more than gluttony. It’s a craving. Well, actually more than a craving. I have a full on jones for the thing. I admit it. I am a junkie and my ability to get a fix has been more and more difficult to get as we go along. And who do I blame for this? Me, with my admittedly Type A personality with a bent for addictive behavior? No. Not me. T-Mobile is the villain in this electronic Shakespearean tragedy. Seriously, all kidding aside, I hate to be mean but T-Mobile has really let me down pretty hard. Their claims of coverage and connectivity really aren’t legit. When we were down in Jacksonville, FL way back in March we called T-Mobile to ask them some questions about phone and data coverage going up the coast and they pretty much told us straight up that we could forget about it in most of Georgia except Savannah, pretty much all of South Carolina, and most of North Carolina until we approached Norfolk. Then it would be spotty up in some areas in the Chesapeake Bay area and in the central New York and non-existent in Canada. And they were right. My contract with T-Mobile ends this month and I am switching to Verizon like Lisa has, and she always seems to have a signal.
But as for my internet addiction I will just go on living in denial and pretend I don’t have a problem (he says as his hands are trembling on the keyboard.)