I’ve got a buddy who has always been a water and boat guy. Let’s call him Captain Bill. Growing up, he was always on the water. He loved to fish and took every opportunity to do so. As far back as I can remember, he had a little 1-2 person fiberglass dinghy with a small outboard motor just strong enough to get it across whatever small body of water he wanted to navigate. But honestly, the boat is just an accessory. He’s as happy as a clam at high tide just standing on any shoreline watching his line disappear into the ripples of the water surface.
When his time came to serve our country, the Navy was his natural choice. Water, water everywhere.
And his water exploits didn’t stop at the surface. Snorkeling during lobster and scallop season are his annual pilgrimages. He even became an accomplished scuba diver and dive instructor.
With retirement pending, he and his lovely wife took the ultimate plunge, purchasing “Triggerfish,” a 1998 49-foot Defever Cockpit motor yacht. It’s apparently also known as a 44 +5. It’s a handsome craft, with two sleeping cabins and a spacious galley ripe with teak accents. The flybridge has an extended roof and Isenglass enclosure. Twin Diesel Perkins engines are fueled by three tanks (port, starboard, and aft) that cumulatively hold 1,100 gallons of diesel fuel. It’s not going to win any sprints — high speed is about 10 knots — but scores high on durability and reliability. And it’s a real beauty.
Why is it that boat guys always need a bigger boat?
But I digress.
Though Captain Bill is a BFF, he has tried to kill me on the water. His enthusiasm in taking me on aquatic adventures is undeniable, but what he’s helped me discover most is my fear of bodies of water and watercraft.
The first such time this experienced waterman’s prowess almost did me in was one fine summer afternoon when we anchored in a small canal under a bridge near St. Petersburg. Cutting the engine, Captain Bill announced that this exact location would be a great place to dive in and cool off. I was not keen on the idea but figured that these shallows were likely an area devoid of sharks and barracuda. Acknowledging, under my breath, that I could see and probably swim to both shorelines, I nervously peeled off my t-shirt and kicked off my sneakers. Sensing my apprehension, Captain Bill clapped his hands and again assured his excursion mates that everything was ideal. Shaking off my trepidation, I took a deep breath and did my best knees-bent-arms-out-hands-together Olympic-worthy spring up and off the starboard bow.
Directly through a monstrous jellyfish.
If you’ve never been stung by the long tentacles trailing from a jellyfish body, consider yourself fortunate. Basically, they inject you with venom from thousands of microscopic-barbed stingers. Jellyfish stings vary greatly in severity. Most often they result in immediate pain and red, irritated marks on the skin.
This bad boy apparently didn’t appreciate me diving hands- and head-first through his body, and he released his wrath on my arms, face, and shoulders. Fortunately, my eyes were tightly closed as I broke the surface of the water. When I reappeared a few seconds later, I knew that something was severely amiss. Barely making it back to the boat, I was pulled up onto the deck by my friends. Beat red, welts popping up everywhere, tingling with ever more excruciating pain, and having trouble breathing, Captain Bill muttered some combination of “Didn’t see that coming,” and “You alright, buddy?” While I was writhing in pain, he offered to use a seaman’s tried-and-true method to take the pain out of a jellyfish sting. Unfortunately, this solution was for him to pee on my face, arms and shoulders. I couldn’t, at that point, see, so I can’t swear that he didn’t commence with unleashing his nautical remedy, but I managed an expression of “I’ll pass” while our shipmates stifled a combination of laughter and sympathy.
Captain Bill’s subsequent effort to have my wife collect on my life insurance policy occurred “not very far” into the Atlantic while fishing. It was a boys’ thing, a half-dozen pals in a rented t-top open fisherman looking to hook some kingfish that were running in the gulf. Again, big-time trepidation on my part. Captain Bill played the loyalty card as one of the guys, assuring me that the forecast was for calm seas. Knowing that I don’t generally do well with balance and equilibrium (or heights), he assured me that a Dramamine and his expertise at the helm would result in a wonderful experience for all.
Accompanied by generous supplies of sunscreen, brewskis, and sandwiches of various makes, we mates left the dock at the break of dawn, and by mid-morning, the shoreline was uncomfortably distant. So was Captain Bill’s clip to get us to the “perfect spot.” Up, down, up, down, up, down, all through increasingly choppy seas as gray clouds started forming overhead and the wind picked up. (Gotta love weather forecasters, eh? What other occupation gets to retain their jobs when they’re right only half the time?)
About halfway out, I started getting that dreaded cold sweat. I knew what was coming, so I unobtrusively worked my way through the guys to the back of the boat. Where the gas fumes were their most concentrated. Despite thinking and mouthing no, no, no, no, no … that dire dizzy, queasy feeling you get when your senses tell your brain that you are in trouble washed over me. At this point, I was sweatin’ like a sinner in church. No pill was going to stop what happened next in the choppy seas. The guttural sounds I was making drew uncomfortable stares from my pals, and Captain Bill to the back of the boat, who put his hand on my lurching shoulders and said grinning, “How you doing, buddy? We brought bait. You don’t have to be chumming to get the fishies’ attention.” The guys uneasily laughed and shifted en masse even closer to the front of the boat. I exorcised another few demons, and the Captain said, “You want to go back?” immediately followed by “You’ll probably be okay if you just lay back here and we cover you with some blankets.”
Not wanting to ruin what should have otherwise been a pleasant experience for my buds, I nodded and curled up in the fetal position with a bottle of water. A few more barfaronies followed, and then I mercifully fell asleep. I have no idea how long we were out there, but Ahab and the Boys filled up a cooler with a combination of mackerel and grouper. Back at the dock, Captain Bill and another buddy helped wobbly me up and out of the scow of death where we met our brides. Both took a look at me and harmonized, “Oh my.” All I could mutter was, “Bill … tried … to … kill … me. Again.” To which Bill smiled and, tapping his inner-evil sense of humor, said, “He’s my chum.”
Gotta love him, though. And I truly do. He doesn’t give up. He and his lovely wife also enjoy kayaking. Ignoring my well-articulated aversion to water and probably thinking that this slighter vehicle for water travel didn’t qualify for boat status, Captain Bill invited me to join them on a kayak excursion to the Everglades. My immediate question: “Do you see alligators?” To which Captain Bill grinned and said, “Dozens. Maybe hundreds, but they’re mostly on the shore watching us. You’re safe as long as you stay in the kayak.” “Yea no” couldn’t have come out of my mouth any faster than it did. All I could think of was hefty non-water guy + his buddy Bill = capsize and high tea for a grateful family of gators.
Captain Bill’s latest proposition to make a seafarer out of me is to join him and his first-mate wife on a voyage from South Florida to the Bahamas.
The western islands of the Bahamas are only 50 miles from Florida’s east coast. Across the Atlantic. At a whopping 10 knots, the journey would take “about a day,” according to the skipper.
I immediately started getting the shakes as one horror after another popped into my mind. Not only would we be in the middle of the freaking ocean with no views of land for many miles and likely multiple days, but there are also no guardrails or light poles at night to guide us and light the way. It’s as dark as dark can be out there. What about the many predators living (and waiting) beneath us, including Jaws’ relatives and other strange and terrifying creatures?!? That’s their neighborhood, not ours. And storms! To this day, I won’t see a movie where peeps have to battle waves tossing their vessels around like ideas in a boardroom. The Abyss and The Perfect Storm and The Deep? There is zero chance of me sitting through even a single scene. Boats always capsize and folks get tossed overboard! Don’t folks remember that the legend lives on from the Chippewa on down? The soundtrack of Jaws, one of the most chilling and recognizable compositions in film history, still unhinges me. And pirates! They’re still out there! Doubt that? Then why is there maritime insurance tied to pirates?
Lord have mercy! Not one concern noted above takes place on good old terra firma, which is where I will firmly keep my keister. I believe that nature is a bigger force than us and wants all of us — including fish — to stay in our place. When my pickup truck’s motor quits, I’ll calmly walk to get some help or call AAA. Not so much when out to sea. When the mechanic drops his wrench, he bends down and picks it up. When Captain Bill recently dropped a pair of pliers while working on his vessel, it plop-splash disappeared, never again to turn a bolt.
Through the sweats, I told Captain Bill that he’s only got one oar in the water. Thanks, but no thanks. I’ll fly over and meet him in Nassau.
I realize that if I can continue to dodge his overtures, I may not have much to worry about. Acknowledging that a boat is safe in the harbor, I have on occasion visited my dear friend on his Defever. What I have come to realize is that Captain Bill spends considerably more time prepping and fixing his boat than he does on even mini-excursions. When I asked him about the number of hours he spends tinkering with his new toy, he smiled and said, “I knew a little about boats. I was correct. I know little about boats.” Watching the Captain passionately tend to his docked beauty is, indeed, inspiring, but the old quip about boats always comes to mind — the two best days of owning a boat are the day you buy it and the day you sell it.
The Captain has heard the many jokes about the amount of money boat owners sink into their vessels. His favorite: that “boat” stands for “bust out another thousand.” He knows that Triggerfish isn’t going to keep itself in working order, so tending to and babying it has become his retirement hobby, albeit a humbling one. I can easily see my friend’s passion for messing with his baby. I believe he enjoys the tinkering and furbishing almost as much as casting off and enjoying the sense of freedom that comes with being on the water. On both counts, good for him. He just has to embrace the sea spray without his buddy, who much prefers his front porch swing, Wi-Fi, his pickup, and seafood in a platter with tartar sauce.