Know what you're getting into on a boat

"...and the old sea captain locked his cabin door, drew the shades, and began his evening ritual of opening his desk, unlocking a secret drawer, and unfolding a piece of paper upon which was written: port left, starboard right..."


Yes, your "old codger" is back after stealing a couple of weeks to visit our beloved boat in Canada. My wife and I have been ardent boaters for the past 21 years cruising the pristine waters of British Columbia, doing a little fishing, crabbing, clamming and oystering, mixed with a bit of adult beverage socializing. Truly a great way to forget everything.

How so? Well, a boat of any size and complexity demands one's devoted attention in one way or another most of the time, much like a lovely lady, which may explain why so many boats are named after women and are always referred to as "she" or "her."

Of course, there's also the possibility that some men secretly desire two wives; a boat wife and a wife-wife. But this can lead to family mutiny when the wife-wife discovers that the boat-wife is the beneficiary of more money and attention, which sooner or later becomes inevitable.

Anyway, over the years, I've been asked many times what boating is all about, and what's involved with operating and maintaining a comfortable, life aboard boat, and until now I've evaded the question because serious boating is a subjective experience, almost a way of life. And under the best of conditions, it can at times strain a marriage.

However, perhaps I can be of some positive value to those of you who may be dreaming about or contemplating serious boating sometime in the near future. But bear in mind that most of what I say here is more applicable to power boats than to sailboats which, although often used for off-shore and inter-island cruising using engine power, are intended for the open sea, wind-sailing.

Our diesel cruiser, although a seaworthy trawler, would never be suitable for a trip to Hawaii or Tahiti; not enough fuel range and too much open ocean for probable storms. Mexico and Alaska, yes, but within 20 miles of the shoreline at all times to have a safe port to run to in case of unexpected storms. Sailboats can come back upright if knocked down by wind or sea. Power boats cannot! So a sail boat is what you want for open ocean trips.

Getting back to the pluses and minuses of boating, assuming that you husbands will be the principal instigators of such an activity, I must vigorously remind you that unless you or your wife have the aptitude for repairing or replacing electromechanical devices, mainly pumps and electric motors, you'd better forget serious boating. Complex boats are not a matter of loading up for a trip, turning on the ignition key and taking off.

For example, our boat has 24 pumps, three diesel engines (one driving an AC generator), a running AC generator driven by a main engine, three heads (toilets), a bathtub, three showers, a stove, oven, refrigerator, microwave, a washer and dryer, radar, autopilot, tyro-stabilizers, two depth sounders, three radios, eight huge batteries with charger, plus an array of filters (fuel, water and air) and other support stuff. Most of this equipment must be working at all times for family safety, which also means lots of spare parts.

While it's true that all boats require regularly scheduled maintenance programs which cover major elements, a boat in saltwater year-round lives in the worst possible environment. Every system on board will steadily deteriorate whether it's being used or not, and lack of use is worse than constant use. That's especially true of diesel engines and electronics.

Now, all this is no problem for me because I love working with electromechanical devices, and over a six-week cruise, I find something to work on every day. It's a complete change from what I do here at home, so it's a real vacation.

But that's not necessarily true for wives. And herein comes the rub in boating. While cruising and anchoring in cozy coves offers a great scenery change, the basic "hotel" work which needs to be done is exactly like home.

After all, most wives cook at home, vacuum, wash and iron, make beds, clean bathrooms and a host of other such activities and the same things hold true on your boat. "Ah, you say, why not split those chores with my husband like we do at home?" Because even a large boat can't accommodate two people doing those chores at the same time, especially in the galley. And is it wise to saddle your husband with household chores when he's already busy repairing things or actually operating the boat?

In all our years of boating, I've never seen a wife who wanted to operate a power boat in rough seas or while docking in wind and fast current, or who wanted to repair pumps, toilets and other "icky" systems. And for that reason, I believe that sailboats, when used on the open ocean, are better for wives because of extended sailing time which allows for sharing cooking and cleaning chores in shifts. It's been my observation that most dedicated women boaters are on sailboats.

Boating really is wonderful. If you decide to get involved, do it right. Take the Power Squadron and Coast Guard courses and study before you buy your boat. Don't let money be the only factor in your boat selection. I wish you calm seas and may the wind and tides always be on your stern.

Bob Thomas is a Carson City businessman, local curmudgeon and former member of the Carson City School Board and Nevada State Assembly.


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