Last weekend, Rich and I took a two-day boat handling course on a single-screw (one propeller) tugboat with the hope we’d be more prepared for our September charter on Tug Time, a 29-foot Ranger Tug. Weeks before the class, I was wrought with anguish because I’m pathetic when it comes to driving a boat. I over-steer, under-steer, get too scared-to-steer, and everything in-between.
I can visualize how to drive, dock, and pivot a boat, but when I get behind the wheel, I get so frazzled I can barely drive in a straight line in a wide channel. Nevertheless, I was hopeful that visualization would turn into marginal expertise when I got behind the wheel.
In addition, a few weeks before our class, we were told that we’d be learning on Mariah, a 42-foot Nordic Tug. Mariah is no run-of-the-mill tugboat. She features two large staterooms; two bathrooms (heads); stacked washer and dryer; large kitchen with a trash compactor, refrigerator, freezer, ice maker, and microwave; large salon with a settee that folds down to become a double bed , 20″ flat screen TV with Bose surroundnd sound … large pilothouse; and much more. Plus, the floors, cabinets, some of the walls, and molding are teak.
We also learned that we’d be joining another couple who will be chartering Mariah in July. However, they wouldn’t be staying on the boat; in the evening, we’d have the run-of-the-boat to ourselves!
Saturday morning, after a breakfast of Egg McMuffins and mochas we headed to Bellingham and San Juan Sailing. We met our instructor, Hal Thesen who hails from South Africa where his family builds boats. Hal has been on the water so much his blood is probably saltier than normal. He’s completed several transatlantic trips, been crew and captain on luxury yachts and fishing boats, and raced sailboats. He now teaches power and sailboat skill, along with overseeing the maintenance of several boats, including Mariah.
Jack and Heidi, the couple who were also in the class are from Puyallup, Washington. They used to have a boat and their passion for boating was recently ignited when they spent a week on a relative’s boat in California.
We started the day by visiting various boats in dry dock to examine the propellers, trim tabs, keels, and other features that impact the way a boat moves through the water and reacts when driven. A boat with a single screw or propeller favors one direction over the other, especially when going backwards and prop-walk comes into play. A boat with a propeller that spins clockwise will turn much easier to starboard (right) because the stern swings to port (left).
The rest of the morning was devoted to learning about the engine and systems on Mariah. After lunch, we started the engine (eck!) and motored out of the marina. Happily, the maneuvers we practiced were easy and I had few challenges executing them.
After returning to the dock, Jack, Heidi, and Hal bid us a pleasant night. Having worked up an appetite, we scampered up to the sun deck to enjoy crackers, smashed avocados with cracked pepper, and chive-flavored cream cheese.
Our hunger satiated, we decided to walk on the fishermen docks and speculate on the type of fish each boat was designed to catch. Many were quite decrepit and grungy with rows of hooks and lines or a large metal boat precariously balanced on the aft deck (for putting out seine nets). I can’t imagine going out for the day on a professional fishing vessel, let alone for weeks and months.
With scarcely a cloud in the sky and the sun setting, the boats were amazingly reflected in the calm water. Rich took many dramatic photographs.
Dinner was baked salmon (wrapped in foil and baked), mixed vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, red peppers, onions, garlic, and sliced kale seasoned with seasonings I brought), and instant mashed potatoes (easy to make on a boat)… enjoyed while watching a silly movie on the boat’s DVD player and large-screen TV.
We slept soundly on the cushy queen-sized bed, and were renewed the next morning when Hal, Jack, and Heidi arrived. Heidi, however, was feeling under the weather and after an hour or so, decided to lie down. The rest of us went up into the pilot house to practice maneuvers.
Periodically, Jack would check on Heidi. By the time lunch rolled around, Heidi was back on her feet, but didn’t quite seem right. She ate a few bites of chicken and a slice of cheese, and then froze up. Her fists were clenched and her body rigid.
I exclaimed to Jack, “I think Heidi is having a seizure!”
Jack remained calm, saying he’d seen her react similarly before. He concluded she’s probably taken too much of one of her medications.
Hal, the instructor, tried to figure out what to do. We were anchored in Chuckanut Bay, and in a medical emergency we could have motored to someone’s private dock and had an ambulance meet us at the dock. Jack opted to have us motor (rapidly) back to Bellingham Bay and the marina where Mariah is kept.
Seemingly, simultaneously, we cleaned up from lunch, pulled up anchor, started the engine, and headed back to Bellingham. It took 45 minutes to get back. Rich and Jack helped Heidi off the boat, who by then was able to walk, but was still very disoriented. While Rich and me “manned” the boat, Hal drove to the hospital with Jack and Heidi following in a separate car.
With the day drawing to a close, Rich and I cleaned up the boat and when Hal returned, I drove the boat to the fuel dock (and flunked the docking maneuver), and then back into its slip (super scary).
After gathering our stuff and securing the boat, we reflected on the weekend. Hal was still shaken by what had occurred. I was secretly relieved that I didn’t have to drive Mariah again! Rich would have liked to have practiced more maneuvers, but was happy with what he learned.
All three of us agreed the weather couldn’t have been more perfect with deep blue skies, fluffy clouds, and a light breeze. We had a splendid time and memorable time and I know have the confidence to be a confident first mate in September on Tug Time.