I’m on a Boat!

Take a good hard look, etc. etc.

Since moving to the San Francisco area’s North Bay, my wife and I have come to experience more of our life on the water. Having wanted to be pirates from early ages, we decided it was time to get our towels ready, hit the deck and head out on the big, blue, watery road.

While searching for the perfect ship to take out on the deep blue sea, we discovered an opportunity to get our Basic Powerboat Cruising Certification from Club Nautique. While typically the class is kept to a small group of four members plus the instructor, we were fortunate enough to have exclusive hands on training for just the two of us during the entire 16 hours of the course.

We began the morning of the first day learning about the internal parts of the boat—much more than terms like bow, stern, port and starboard. We went over the engine types (and noise they make) and how to check the batteries, oil, water pressure, generator, bilge pumps and essentially all of the mechanical instruments that could fail on you and need routine or constant maintenance. We also went through inventory and safety checks, as well as cleaning and knots.

The Lido Deck

After lunch the instructor took us out to the bay to go over the basics of steering down by having us do circles, figure eights and a number of maneuvers in the 29-foot Ranger Tug Lido Deck. Out on the water, we covered a lot of practical, hands-on experiences, such as rules of the road, radio, buoyage systems, tides and currents.

The second half of the first day was spent practicing how to get the boat to pivot in place using its single diesel engine, making three point turns and backing up. Then we began going over docking and undocking procedures. During the course, we covered docking with both bow first, as well as backing up stern first.

We ended the first day after securing the vessel, hosing her down and then watched a presentation designed to reinforce the safety and rules topics we had talked about earlier.

The second day was entirely hands on, and after our morning checklist we began docking and undocking procedures. We even had extra time to cover what is the equivalent of parallel parking a boat, spring line technique, a method that involved heading towards a dock, jabbing on reverse so the boat swings around, and having a second person throw out a line to pull the boat towards the dock. To leave, the second person holds the line while the person on the helm goes in reverse to have the boat kick out to the side. I can honestly say that, as cool as it looked, it felt a bit nerve-wracking, and I more than likely wouldn’t feel comfortable doing that maneuver without an instructor or unless I had more experience with a boat.

Back at the doc, swabbin’

After getting out on the open water, we headed to a calm-water cove, where we went over anchoring techniques and the three types of anchors that are suited for various bottom types, such as mud versus grass. We ate lunch on the boat, overlooking Alameda’s shipping areas and the naval fleet, and then headed out to deeper water to practice man-overboard routines. This last part of the course was a bit frustrating for us, as it wasn’t just about whether we were successfully able to get our dummy back on the ship; rather, it was a test of how we used the ship to block the wind, as well as safely pull the dummy around the stern’s swim deck. The methods involved, whether based on looping back around through your wake (Williamson turn) or a racetrack-loop back to the overboard person, both ended with causing the bow of the boat to slide, so that the person in the water would be on the lee (not windy) side of the boat.

Once our two days/16 hours of experience on the water was complete, we headed back in, covered some additional docking procedures and set a date for the written portion of the certification exam.

—Michael “Captain” Hurston