Friday, July 11, 2008
Way, way back when, actually '89 to be exact, the Lake George Steamboat Company was having the maiden voyage of thier newest, and largest boat. A 690 Ton monster that could have easily carried about a dozen (maybe more) city buses. It was a big event with the press, and the Govenor of NY, the Mayor of Lake George, and even Dan (I can't spell potato) Quale in attendance. My friend Allen managed to finagle tickes to the first cruise that day so we were both there.
In those days, I had a knack for making magic happen, and getting to do things most human beings couldn't or would only dream of doing. Since Allen was so kind as to get us on the boat, I managed to get us a VIP tour of the boat, including places people never go. Places like the kitches (as in more than one) as well as Engineering and the bridge.
Engineering had a pair of brand new, giant, CAT diesels. The engineer was a guy who reminded me of "Scotty" from Star Trek. Not because of the way he looked or talked, but the way he simply glowed when talking about his babies. He was like a proud father of twins, and fauned over these giant engines much the way "Scotty" did. He was especially pleased with the fact that he had them tunned perfectly and running within 1 RPM of each other.
We finally made our way to the Bridge and got to meet the Comodore of The Lake George Steam Boat Company who was handling the maiden voyage himself. He too was proud of his new boat, and rightly so... She's a beauty from stem to stearn, a jewel of the lake in every way, and their largest boat. In this shot taken from the Company's website, you can see her docked, and a car in the picture to give you some idea of the size of her. We happened to be coming in at the end of the cruise while Allen and I were on the bridge, and the Comodore said he needed to step out to the starboat wheel to bring her in nice and gentle.
Keep in mind the fact that the biggest boat I'd ever commanded (driven?) was a four person canoe, but I had a really good grasp of little things like physics, and the way "flat bottom" boats behaved. One of the selling points of this baby was the fact that she was a "flat bottom" so as to cut the impact of her being there on the lake. Just so, she floats on the surface with nary a wake, and almost no bow wave because of her design and construction. Control surfaces and the screws are of course in the water otherwise, you're not going anywhere.
So I'm standing there quiet letting the Comodore do his thing and the way he lined her up to come into the dock. We were getting close and it was obvious to me that we were coming in at shall we say, less than and ideal angle. Our speed, plus that lack of a keel, had me concerned that we were going to make less than a graceful docking and I simply asked the following question:
"Begging the Comodore's pardon, but you do have bow thrusters?"
Allen punched me and growled, you know what they DO to people who mouth of to the Captain right? You're going to get us both fitted for cement swim fins and thrown into the deep end of the lake!!!
The Commodore assured me that he'd been doing this since before I'd been born, and handled bigger boats than this in the Navy. Not knowing when to shut up I said "Yes sir, but they all had keels right?"
He once again assured me things would be fine, and he was in complete control, but we were getting closer and still didn't have the correct attitude. As we got right up to the dock I wispered "Brace for impact" so Allen could hear me and grabbed the railing as we hit. Have to be honest it was a scene right out of Galaxy Quest as they are leaving the "Starport" in the Protector... Hit the dock and scraped the side of the boat up pretty good on the way in...
The Commodore looked at me and said "You were NEVER HERE, DIDN'T see that, and I'll thank you never to set foot on my bridge again." and then to the guy who was giving us the tour he growled "See to it that these two are off my boat right NOW!!!"
As we were walking back to the car, Allen looked at me and said, "Oh we know so much about boats, just had to mouth off to the Commodore no less!!! Like you could have done any better? Don't say a word, I mean it, just don't say it!!!"
That was then.
This weekend I was out with Mark, Val, my namesake and one of their neighbors for a BBQ. Yes, on Mark's boat. A BBQ. Not the first time we've done it, and God's willing, not the last. Mind you Mark's boat is much, MUCH, MUCH smaller than the Lady on the lake there, but the principles are the same. Like the old saying, it's not the size that matters, but the magic in it... Last time we were out, which was also my first time on Mark's boat, he had me take the wheel a bit and keep her from running aground, and out of the way of commercial traffic on the Ohio river. When it came time to head back I turned the wheel back over to Mark. Why? Because his marina is up one of the shallow tributaries of the Ohio and has a bunch of twists and turns, plus is only two feet deep from keel to the bottom. Motor has to come up most of the way out of the water, and it takes a very gentle, sure hand to bring her in.
I watched that first day as Mark brought her in like a pro, and just nosed in ever so gently to the dock. I had the greatest time, and watched everything he did and asked questions when I didn't get something.
So this weekend when it came time to head back I took her back up river, around a barge, slip streamed around the outside of the barge so I'd have a straight shot to the inlet across the bow wave the barge was pushing in front of her, and was throttling way back to turn the wheel back over to Mark. I said "I'll get out of the way so you can take her in?" and then as an after thought "Unless you want me to?"
He said simply "Sure if you want" and smiled.
Damn, the sweat started pouring off me and my mind started racing. Last thing I want to do is get us stuck, or hit one of the bridge abutments, so I'm thinking out my approach, course, speed, and so forth. Mark advised me that it handles way different in the shallows, you really have to turn the wheel a whole bunch (three or four turns he said) to get the same amount of movement. So there I was, lining up the nose to bring her under the trestle and between the concret structures that held it up. This is a bridge they run frieght trains across, so the supports were bigger than Mark's 24 foot boat.
I slipped between the supports and started in. We'd just had some pretty decent rain so the river was full of floating wood. I'd joked earlier in the day that it looked like one monster of a house boat had exploded, but was steering to avoid the wood. It made it through the turns and was into the harbor itself on the final turn for Mark's berth when I hear Tina (Mark's neighbor) holler "You go girl!!!" I was of course already grinning like an idiot because I'd managed to take the boat that far without a problem, and my smile only grew when I heard that! In my head I was doing all the math for the final approach and figuring how fast and what angle and so on. I was also remembering that day on the big boat on lake George and thinking to myself "Well lady, lets see if you're half as smart as you thought you were. This is real, not a simulation, this is for all the marbles. This is where you get to find out if you could have avoided hitting the dock and scraping up the baot."
This was, to me, so much more important because it was Mark's boat, his baby, and I didn't want to hurt her...
If anything I cut power two seconds early, and had to give her just the gentlest of nudges, but brought her right in smooth as glass, Mark jumped over the side and onto the dock and started to tie her off as she slid the last couple of feet in. No crunch, bang, or screech as the dock and the boat tried to exist in the same place at the same time. Just slid right in!!!
I'd done it!!! Proven I had a little bit more than an idea and didn't even need bow thrusters... Which is a damn good thing, since Mark's boat doesn't have any... ;-o)
I had the most amazing time! I'm still vibrating with happiness and satisfaction over Mark letting me do it, and the fact that first time I managed to do it like a pro!!! This is a day I'm long going to remember!!! I had a wonderful time, I mean what can be better than a lazy Sunday afternoon BBQ on the river, hanging out with people I love, watching the sunset, and then putting a cherry on the day by taking the boat all the way into the dock without mishap!!!
Like I say, vindication for that day a lifetime away, and a great time too!