Boats are like tattoos. For whatever reason–too much alcohol, sunshine, optimism, cash in your pocket–or some kind of giddy adrenaline sparked by the lot, suddenly there you are at a boat dealer taking advice from a sun-scorched twenty-something with a hangover who clucks his tongue at you and “can’t believe you don’t have a boat already!” He does the equivalent of introducing you into the “cool crowd” in junior high by taking you over to the “best deal”. And even though you’re damn near fifty at the time and more keen to bullshit than the average bear simply because you’ve taught high school since you were his age, you flush a bit when he says “you look like a natural” as you grasp the wheel. Damn right.At that point if he’d said, “a picture of the boat would look natural on your upper thigh,” I’d have probably said “ink her up.”
What is it about taking that boat wheel in hand? I’m convinced that Odysseus never needed beeswax or his men to tie him to a mast to withstand the lure of the Sirens calling from shore. Circe should have advised him to just hold on to that wheel, for that would be more seductive than any winged maiden within earshot. I felt it again two days ago as I got into the boat to start it up, wanting to make sure it had no problems before potential buyers came to look at it. I pumped the throttle a couple times, turned the key and after the old gas cleared, The Nimble Little Minx coughed to life. Within a minute, she was running smoothly, and I sat and let the wheel hum lightly in my hands. I’ll miss this feeling. I’ll miss owning a boat.
When we bought the boat in 2007, we were as green as the algae that can get caught on your propeller. But we learned quickly about tides, and I learned to adeptly back trailer and boat down ramps for launchings. I learned with an air-born gulp and hard thump not to take the wake of a container ship at too high of speed. And unfortunately for my husband, I learned to get the boat closer and more parallel to the dock only after he fell in trying to get us moored for lunch one day. Some nice fishermen on the dock who spoke very little English fished him out. He forgave my poor skippering after a couple gin and tonics.
Salty smart asses too often target new and giddy boat owners with hull-scratching comments about their new purchases. They offer up tired phrases like
“The two happiest days in your life are the day you buy your boat and the day you sell your boat.” Or they define “boat” for the new boat owner as “a hole in the water into which you pour your money” or explain that the acronym BOAT stands for “break out another thousand.” These jokes, while technically true, are nothing more than a way to make newcomers feel like they’re fools. Of course, it takes one to know one, and that’s part of the joke. But I never really appreciated these jokes.
Just like I didn’t appreciate the guy on the boating launch one day say “Whoa, little lady. Ya think you can get that in the water?” (Note that this guy was probably my age.) I just looked at him from my truck window and said, “Fuck yeah.” When I negotiated that baby into the water in a perfect L-shaped turn and dropped the Minx in like I’d been on the water my whole life, I considered it not only a triumph for all women, but for all landlubbers.
The couple that bought our boat is new to boating as well. I like this pair. They are friends of an old friend of ours. They’ll go through some of the same things we did. They’ll likely buy a little tide book or have the Puget Sound tide page bookmarked on their computer to aid in their launching. They’ll figure out the inverse and counter-intuitive turn of a truck wheel when backing a boat down a ramp. They’ll no doubt through trial and error figure out how to back the ball hitch under the trailer just enough to pop it on—something we always sucked at. They are going to run into challenges with the boat and have moments of frustration. They are going to wonder if the money is worth it.
But I also know that they will have moments of pure joy. They’ll have moments like I did that they will keep forever. A moment like singing the song “Miss you so Badly” with my two best friends of thirty-five years out in the middle of Seeley Lake in Montana on a perfectly hot day. That’s the day the boat was christened The Nimble Little Minx. Or hearing over the motor my daughter squeal with laughter as she and my husband rode a towable inflated raft. Or heading home one evening on a glass-smooth Puget Sound when seals emerged around the boat, and we cut the engine just to watch them swim and play around us. So yes, I suppose that tattoo, even though I’m having it removed, is still really etched in my skin. And what a beauty she was.