Piloting a Boat versus a Bike

Riding a motorcycle is not for everyone. Notwithstanding the risk it takes to throw a leg over, there are physical demands precluding some people from even attempting the feat. Assuming arguendo that the average motorcycle weighs about 6 or 7 hundred pounds, it is a wonder ANY of us can do this while simultaneously balancing it upright as it is moves down the highway. Clutch, blinkers, foot shifters, stereos, hand and foot brakes, it isn’t easy. Nonetheless, over 200,000 of us here in Georgia do so and do so with proficiency. I have ridden for 40 years and consider myself quite good at it. I can also drive a car, operate a backhoe, motor an ATV up a trail and on occasion I’ve been known to operate a self propelled lawn mower across a patch of green (but not often or happily). So when it comes to internal combustion and the forward propulsion it causes I am a big fan regardless of the type. I am game for any motor driven activity as I consider myself an unabashed gear head. So while on spring break with the family last month, I found myself standing on a dock in the Florida Keys watching pleasure boats buzz the ocean all about me. All I needed to hear was ‘these boats are no different that motorcycles, just in the water’. So it was with relative nonchalance that I handed some Cuban guy named Juan $300 bucks in exchange for the use of what he told me was a “Boston Whaler”. It was 25 feet long and had a 150 horsepower engine sticking off the back. I remember thinking to myself: ‘this looks simple’. I also remember my wife, a pretty good sport, mumbling, “This is a bad idea”.

To be honest, I was not raised with any tutelage in boating and as a matter of fact, despite my obviously misguided machismo, I mistakenly convinced myself (and my family) that I could handle anything with a motor. I mean really, I’m a biker. How hard could boating be? It floats, and if you let go of the controls, it does not fall over! In retrospect, I had no idea what I was doing. All I knew was that everyone else pulled away from the dock with relative confidence and ease. I’d watch them hand Juan money, smile and throttle up with happy spouses and giggly kids aboard. Here was a vast playground with no white lines or double yellows or speed limits. My playing field was not restricted to the U.S. Interstate system, it was the whole Atlantic Ocean. What could go wrong? Well, if comparing piloting a boat and riding a motorcycle one would assume that a boat is simply easier. There is no need to even twist a throttle. Just push a stick forward, and the boat goes forward. Pull the stick back and it slows down. And the thing had a damn steering wheel just like a car! Easy peezy! What I did not account for was getting lost, or 5 foot waves, or giant yachts, or sharks, or cranky Coast Guard dudes, or buoys of every type, color, shape, and meaning, all conveying some secret coded message. All I know is that every time I approached other boats people yelled and waved both arms at me excitedly. I even docked the rented boat at some marina far from my starting point to enjoy lunch with my wife and kids.   The other boaters were so impressed with my docking/parking abilities they all yelled at me while simultaneously filmed me with cell phone cameras as I bounced off their boats along the pier haplessly aiming at an open spot. Perhaps to show insurance adjusters? Why they were so upset I do not know. Especially when the boats all have those rubber bumpers hanging around for guys exactly like me, no? One grumpy captain even summoned the Coast Guard who boarded my boat, counted my flares and life preservers and checked our cooler for I don’t know what. He asked how long I had owned the boat and I told him I rented it. He shook his head and left assuring me we would meet again that day. Wasn’t that nice? Eventually I did develop some concerns about my Captaining. I began to realize I did on fact suck at this. Despite the attached pic wherein I am feigning an heir of misguided confidence as skipper of the USS DISASTER. On a motorcycle you can always pull over onto the shoulder. The ocean has no shoulder. People on the side of the road in gas stations and at diners will always give you advice and directions. I got none of that from the other captains. Just glares and frantic waving and a bunch of middle fingers. My poor wife kept shaking her head in that disapproving ‘I told you so’ kind of way. Like the time I pressure washed the driveway with Clorox and killed the front lawn. Or the time I cut down the tree in my yard and it turned out to be my neighbor’s tree. Life, it is full of lessons to be learned. I remember thinking I wish ‘I were on my motorcycle’. ‘I wish I knew what a white buoy with blue stripes meant, or that I could find the marina we rented this thing from and just give it back’. But I couldn’t. After all, I am a man. A biker man. We do not ask directions. We do not admit defeat. I just did what any self-respecting biker would do. I pushed that stick forward and waved my middle finger back. It only produced more shakes of my wife’s head. I tried to go out to sea and find a reef using a wet paper map that Juan had given me. It was useless. The map had turned soggy and disintegrated. A vast literal sea of blue lay before me. I felt like Clark Griswold. We were tossed about like a toys, or better yet like Gilligans. No trees or distant mountains to give me point of reference assurances. No landmarks or highway signs. No other friendly bikers to pull along side and ask. Just flat scary blue horizon before me and an ever shrinking thin strip of land behind. The ocean tossed the kids about knocking bottles of water to the deck and sending towels out to the ocean to sink to the bottom. The waves just beat the hell out of us. I broke sunglasses, dumped travel bags, lost clothing items overboard and generally turned everyone green (and my wife red a couple of times). A long trip on a bike always ends with a bittersweet dismount. That exhilaration you feel having logged a few hundred curvy miles. Not true in boating, not for me. I could not have been happier to find Juan and his worried staff. With sunlight fading they thought we’d gotten lost. Well, we had. Our savior was a cell tower on that key my son somehow scoped out as we bounced from wave to wave a mile offshore looking for home port. I think the kids enjoyed it in a naïve way. Not understanding the peril we were in or even all the nautical faux pas we committed that day. We did snorkel a little and catch some red fish. We laughed at first and bonded as a family through the experience. A vote was taken that night over dinner and it was agreed, number 1; I suck as a captain, and number 2; as a family – we are not boaters. I woke up the next morning and took a sunrise walk on the beach with my wife. It was too early to laugh at the fiasco. She pursed her lips and refrained from saying it, but I knew she wanted to (the old ‘I told you so’ thing). A good wife indeed. The kids wanted some beach time so she took them to the shorefront at the hotel to frolic for the day in the sand and waves. Me, I hate the sand. I Googled “local motorcycle rentals” and found a shop in Key Largo that rented the biggest pieces of crap motorcycles to anyone with an “M” endorsement and $125.00.  I climbed aboard and headed out in shorts and a T-shirt. Key West lay 100 miles west on U.S. 1. The weathered and rusted Road King sounded like music to my ears. I clicked the old 5 speed Evo down into 1st gear in the blazing hot parking lot and motored out into traffic like a champ. It felt good, comfortable, familiar. I went to 2nd gear, then 3rd feigning small arcing turns on a relatively straight U.S. 1 with the Atlantic Ocean seemingly all around me. No one gave me the finger. I understood ALL the rules. I felt the sun on my face and the motor below me purring a sweet signal that this was internal combustion I understood. I smiled and twisted the throttle, I was home.

Well, signing off for now.  Remember, ride hard, ride safe, and in the end make sure you ride home.

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