Hundreds of books
are available to us about how to be better
boaters. But in my book even the very best
nautical tome, Chapman’s Piloting, Seamanship
and Small Boat Handling, places a distant
second to learning on the vessel with the help of
an experienced captain.
Speaking as the
proprietor of a live-aboard yacht school – Okay,
twist my arm: Florida Sailing & Cruising School –
this kind of learning operates on at least three
levels. You’re seeing it. You’re doing it. You’re
having fun. Compare that to burning the midnight
oil to cram for the final.
The old saw
is true: Tell me, I forget. Show me, I remember.
Involve me, I understand.
I know, I know,
book learning is a wonderful thing. I’ll be the
first to say the printing press lifted western
civilization out of the dark ages and taught us
about everything from Greek philosophy to
Madonna’s sex life. But even if you have memorized
Chapman’s Piloting from page 6 to page 636,
you haven’t heard our Captain Gary Graham calmly
talking you and your trawler safely through a
skinny channel between Pine
the Florida mainland, you probably would have
heard Captain Gary say, “If it’s blue, sail on
through; if it’s brown, you’ll run aground. You
didn’t read that in Chapman.
Let’s say you’re
up on the fly bridge and your assignment as the
student is to park this yacht with a 12-foot beam
in a 12-foot slip. There’s wind. (Of course)
You’re facing astern with your hands on the gears
and throttles. Engines are throbbing, as is your
heart, which is in your throat. At this point the
instructor, Captain Greg Corsones, puts it all in
the perspective of experience. Says he, “Only go
as fast you want to hit something.”
Captain Bob Mahood
jives up his sailing course with a reminder to
skippers to “keep the slimy side down.” Anybody
who has cruised the skinny-water bays of Southwest
Florida has seen our egrets and herons walking on
water. Says Bob, “Don’t sail where birds walk.”
reminds his students, “Boats have neutral for a
reason. If you don’t know where you’re going,
don’t go.” I like his observation about other
boaters seen breaking the rules of the road:
“Seldom right, but never in doubt.”
“When’s the best
time to reef your sails,” a student asks. “The
first time you think you should,” answers Capt.
My Vic gets off a
couple of good ones in his lectures. “If you run
aground, have a drink!” That’s his shorthand for
telling skippers what to do (or, rather, what not
to do) if they should run aground.
First make sure
the boat is not sinking. Shut down the engines and
go to the fridge for something cold to drink. Kick
back and assess the situation. He tells the story
of the skipper who ran up on a sand bar. All he
had to do is wait for the tide to come in. But, in
a panic to do something he put the engines in
reverse gear and promptly tore up two prop
shafts.” The physician’s code works for boaters,
too. First, do no harm.
Once upon a time
the proprietor of a certain yacht school and her
husband ran up on an Everglades
mud flat and put their vessel on its side.
Eventually the tide came back in and floated the
vessel again. Periodically, Vic and I will remind
each other of that learning experience.
Embarrassment is better than expensive. And you
never forget embarrassment.