Mamie and Pa, my grandparents, introduced me to boats long before my mind started logging memories, birthing a lifelong love affair. When I was about 4, I remember trudging behind Mamie as we headed to the beach, feeling like my small beach bag with a towel, a cheese sandwich, and my lemonade was a massive load to tote. But then I glanced up at my grandmother, clipping along the hot sand with a 9-horsepower boat engine slung over her shoulder, and I stepped up my pace.
Once we got to the beach, she spread my towel on the sand and laid down the engine before swimming out to her small Boston Whaler, anchored close by with about seven other boats. After she rowed the Whaler back to the beach, mounted the engine to the stern, and suited me up with a life vest, we headed out.
Even though I did not like the thick orange life vest that propped up my chin a good 2 inches, I loved every minute of putting around the back rivers with Mamie. She taught me how to fish (she called the popular redfish a “channel bass”), how to crab, and I took great delight in watching her throw a shrimp net in a full moon.
As I grew older, it was terribly exciting to go out on boats with friends who were way too young to drive a car and yet somehow permitted to tear around on rivers behind the wheel of a boat. On a warm, sunny day, I was perched on the bow as one friend captained and another waterskied. The boat was not well-maintained, and the steering cable suddenly snapped as we sped along. The guy driving was hurled to the side of the boat, and I was slung from the bow like a Frisbee. As I plunged underneath the water, I could hear the boat circling above me, thus I dove deeper and deeper, hoping the boat would swerve in another direction. My lungs burned as I panicked trying to stay as far under the surface as possible.
Finally, I shot up, not able to hold my breath another second. What a relief it was to see that the boat was not as close as I thought. After gasping for air, I heard the engine die. My friend who was driving overcame his initial stupor from hitting his head, scrambled back to the wheel and shut the motor off.
While that terrifying experience did not deter me from a lifelong passion for boating, it certainly did a quick job in teaching me the importance of boat safety. With the Fourth of July upon us and many people gearing up for a nautical extravaganza, take a moment to read Lynn Beard’s article on page 38. While she shares the story about John Bunge, who survived a horrific ordeal this past summer at the hands of an inexperienced boatsman, she also gives solid advice for being prudent on the waters.
Certainly summertime is when we enjoy excursions on the water, but don’t rock the boat by being unsafe!