I didn't write this, I found it on a CD of document files I'd saved in 2004 while searching--in vain as it turned out--for an article I had written. Unfortunately I failed to save the author's name, but I think he was the editor of Nor'westing in those days, and may be still be. If he sees it, I hope he won't mind my posting
it here, 'cuz it's just too much fun not to share.
If I haven't found the right forum in which to post it, please put it where it does belong...
"Hey… go get a rope from the crawl space under the kitchen and tie it to that silver rope-tying thingie on the right side of the boat towards the front. I'll be downstairs in the bathroom reading 'Northwesting'."
Being new to boating
is virtually impossible to conceal. As a boater currently in the heart of my rookie season, nobody understands the indignity of being a "boating newbie" better than yours truly. While I'd like nothing more than to be regarded as a "real boater", it's simply inevitable that a beginner's inexperience will display itself, often spectacularly, in words and actions.
When talking to experienced boaters, a rookie's vocabulary will usually betray him first. Boating has a language all unto itself, and for every word or phrase you memorize out of "Bob's Big Book of Boating Babble" there will be three new unfamiliar terms thrown your way. You can hope all you want that nobody will notice as you stumble your way through a conversation about boating, but the reality is that new boaters are generally as apparent as dandruff on a black suit.
Heaven help you when the old salts, who were on to you the minute you arrived at the marina, decide to start having fun at your expense. As you're pulling away from the dock
, someone will volunteer that "it sounds as though your bilge
is cavitating - your EPIRB
might need more tension". After a long pause you politely respond, "Thanks… I suspected that myself" and then agonize over whether you should call in a mayday and abandon ship or start watching the marine
store ads for a sale
on bilge rebuild
kits. Rest assured your decision will be the wrong one, much to everyone's delight.
Getting the terminology straight isn't a newbie's only verbal weakness, either. Our lack of experience means we have only a lack of experiences to reminisce about. While Cap'n Jack and Barnacle Bill are waxing nostalgic (there's probably a good nautical term for this, but I'm not yet aware of it) about the "big blow back in '52", your contribution is pretty much limited to "Hey… remember when it rained real hard that day in March?". Or even worse, "I knew a guy who talked to a guy who owned a boat once who said he heard that….".
Let's say you're a slick little weasel and you somehow manage to fool everyone and avoid sticking your deck
shoe in your mouth. You still eventually need to operate your boat, and competence at the helm
is incredibly difficult to fake. Even if you can "talk the talk", it takes experience to "walk the walk". Novices tend to "knock the dock".
Being new to boating is a more serious proposition than being new to most things. If a new golfer screws up, for example, he loses a golf ball. If a new gardener screws up, the petunias need to be replaced. If a new boater screws up, $100,000 worth of fiberglass
gets rearranged. As a rookie boater, I appreciate this. I don't take offense when someone gets short-tempered with me - they're just looking out for their investment. It's ok with me that a statistically significant percentage of the fenders sold in the Seattle
market in the past 12 months have been in response to my boating skills. I take solace in the fact that years from now I'll be looking back on all this and taking it out on the rookie boater just then arriving in the slip next to mine.
Someone once suggested (based on observation, no doubt) that I carry a big orange banner aboard my boat that says "NEW BOATER" to display at critical times, such as while maneuvering in the locks. I actually thought this would be a good idea at first, but in hindsight I realize it's not necessary. Odds are in your favor that everyone recognizes you as a rookie from the way your boat is coming in fast and sideways, or from the look of absolute terror in your eyes.
In addition to your (in)ability at the helm
, your boating equipment
may serve as a clue that you haven't logged a lot of hours on the water
. We've got an older 28' Smokesalot, and people are always coming up to us cautiously and commenting that they owned one just like it, only upright, back when they first got into boating. Some boats are just branded as "starter boats". Sometimes this is even mentioned in the "Boat For Sale" ad, which surprises me. That's pretty much admitting "it's not going to hurt this boat to slam it into a few more pilings", or "it's easy to see that a boater of your caliber shouldn't consider anything made since the Truman administration". Of course, a first-time boat shopper doesn't know any better and may even think that "starter boat" is a selling feature and not a warning sign.
Owning a buoyancy-challenged old boat is admittedly a weak indicator that someone is new on the water
. Some experienced boaters are happy with their starter boats and pose no risk whatsoever. In contrast, through inheritance or other such dumb luck, some people start out with a 60' top-of-the-line StatusMaster 2000. These boats scare me. They have every appearance of being an extension of someone's nautical accomplishments, but could as easily be a floating insurance
claim just waiting to be filed. While it's true that a pristine yacht in the hands of a newbie doesn't stay pristine for very long, a yacht without gouges or scratches is not necessarily a safe yacht. Keep in mind that somebody's got to be the first person they ram into.
Perhaps the most dangerous boating rookie is the person who is in denial about being a boating rookie. I find a bit of humility helps keep me (and more importantly, you) out of harm's way. The relative newcomer
to boating who thinks he knows it all is one of the greatest threats afloat. If you think you've got a handle on this "boating thing", even though you haven't been at it all that long, I urge you to take this little quiz to see whether you may still qualify as a Rookie Boater.
You're probably still an official novice
if you've experienced any of the following in the last year:
Someone asks you to toss him or her a line, and you do. Even though it's not tied to anything.
You solicit names for your new boat, and someone suggests "Kindling".
across the Strait of Juan de Fuca with your fenders out.
The talk at the marina is about "that idiot on C-dock whose boat started all by itself" a week after your boat started all by itself.
You actually get a laugh out of the agent when calling for a quote on marine insurance
When asked for your LOA
, you respond with something other than a number.
A tugboat insists you enter the locks first.
You found some spare change lying around.
Your Boat Log has a copyright
date of 1999 (or later).
tabs arrive in the mail, and you think, "Man… those are big".
You have yet to receive a Christmas
Card or stick-on calendar from a marine mechanic
You're reading this article because someone suggested you "really need to".
Not intending to brag, but I chalked up a score of at least seven. Then again, I know my place in the boating food
chain and I'm not ashamed of it. I do wonder at times how long I should expect this rookie status to stick with me, however. If anyone can answer this question, I'd be thrilled to hear from you. Look me up down on C-dock, I'll be checking the tension on my EPIRB