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Thursday, July 26, 2012


Is there anything more relaxing than cruising your own boat up the majestic Hudson River? Yes: sitting inside a bunker in the mountains of Tora Bora as concussion bombs rain down around you.

There is an old adage that quips that the two best days of a boat-owner’s life are the day he buys the boat and the day he sells it. But what about all the magical days in between, when he has narrowly escaped death? Every day that I cheat the Grim Reaper (which happens more often than you might think, especially if we play Scrabble) is the best day of my life.

My friend Dave and I have co-owned this boat for 11 or 12 years. It’s a 1988 27-foot Carver yacht. Dave is an engineer, he knows about motors, systems, boating safety and rules of the sea. I bring to the table the skill of explaining to the insurance company why there is an uncharted shallow coral reef in the middle of the Hudson River.

My mental picture of a yacht is one of a large, pristine vessel with portholes and a small helicopter pad, a guy with a mustache and a captain’s hat at the helm (the fake helm; the real captain is piloting the boat from the bridge), with eight supermodels basking on the bow. These are girls who have had their actual bodies airbrushed free of any imperfections, and go “WOO-HOO!!!” while they shake their outstretched thumb and pinkie at me.

In real life, our boat leaks a little from the bottom and a lot from the top. Basking on the bow is mold. The craft is extremely sleek and streamlined, the result of me breaking off everything that stuck out even a little bit, over the years.

Yes, of course I saw the episode of Dick Van Dyke where Rob and his neighbor, Jerry the dentist, buy a boat together. Of course, Rob knows NOTHING about boats and screws everything up, and they crash the boat and he and Jerry the dentist have a falling out (don’t have a falling out while on a yacht by the way), and even Millie Helper has some disparaging words for Rob.

In real life I play the part of Rob, and Dave plays the part of Jerry. My actual neighbor, even though not involved in any way, insists on making a few comments about my nautical skills.

Learning to dock the thing was an experience in itself. In teaching me Dave was so patient, I wondered how he was able to remain calm. Looking back, I realize now that he was attracted to the comedy of the situation. There are no brakes on a boat, not even a friggin’ parking brake. As soon as the other boat owners could recognize my face at the controls they quickly abandoned what they were doing to take up their defense positions next to their boats. People who might have thought that they wouldn’t touch our boat with a ten-foot pole were forced to reconsider just to keep our vessel from broad-siding them. I could sense that Dave wished that we had purchased a submarine instead, where people couldn’t see me approaching without SONAR.

So I brushed up. I boned up. I honed my skills. I got a captain’s hat. The first thing I learned was how to tie a decent knot. A bowline knot makes an ironclad loop that will not slip. I practiced it everywhere in the house. It’s a great knot to know, but now I can’t lower the blinds. A fellow boater called out to me the other day and said it looked like we could do about 25 knots. I replied that I could do four, including both my shoes.

I learned where the life vests are located, under the driver’s seat. How they knew that I would be hiding there at the first sign of adversity is a mystery.

I learned what horn signals mean: three short blasts means you are going into reverse. Five short honks is a warning, meaning stay clear, you may not be sure what the danger is. Five short honks followed by a loud crash means: “Yup, just found out what the danger was.”

I learned what the flags on the boat mean. We keep a pirate flag ready in case we need to commandeer and board a jet ski, which looks like fun.

I learned what the buoys signify. The old saw, “red, right, return” means that the red buoys numbering higher should be on your right as you return to the harbor. This makes the liberal assumption that you will eventually return to the harbor.

Incidentally, a cabin cruiser is a vessel usually 24 to 40 feet long, with at least one sleeping area below and an area on the bow for sunbathing. Sometimes a larger one carries with it a small dinghy, a light craft for going ashore. Often the girl sunning herself on the bow is a little dinghy also.