When the weather warms up, I notice some senior motorists zipping around in little red two-seat convertibles. The more daring ride shiny silver Harley motorcycles, zooming loudly to who knows where. I vowed never to do something so silly — so I bought a boat, a 28-foot 1999 Boston Whaler with twin 225-horsepower outboard engines.
When I bought it in 2007, I loved how it rocked gently in its slip at the Harbour Club Apartments marina in West Babylon. I’d watched speeding boats from afar all my life, and it all looked so effortless — until I tried it with my new Whaler.
When a novice like me takes the helm, look out! My first time I sideswiped a docked boat and, to my embarrassment, it took me forever to maneuver safely back into my home slip. It often felt like a wrestling match, with wind and current as adversaries that made docking akin to riding a bronco through a narrow doorway.
The crazy thing is that, unlike with a car, there’s no training or license required to operate a pleasure boat. The voluntary safety class I did take did not provide lessons on the water.As I was feeling inward distress, my family and friends were badgering me to take them out on the water. But I was afraid to take ME out. Frightened, I would just go aboard my docked Whaler and hang out — but that wasn’t the point.
Enter Gus Hald, a licensed master sea captain. I hired him to teach me the art of boating. He and I hit it off great. He was personable and had lived around and on boats most of his life. I was sure his knowledge of boating and the Great South Bay was unsurpassed. (His latest venture then was arranging burials at sea.)
But there was a problem: We didn’t speak the same language. He’d say confusing things like: “What’s the boat’s draft and beam? . . . Where’s your spring line? . . . OK, Nick, turn to starboard. . . . Before departing you need to test-check the windlass to ensure the rode is free.”
Through his lessons I gained some success, but we both knew I had a long way to go. His parting advice was to wait for low-wind conditions and then force myself to take to the seas.
With his advice in mind, I ventured forth, but grounded the Whaler twice on the sandy seafloor. Because the Great South Bay is so shallow, the joke is that captains who run aground can simply climb out and walk home.
As my new friend the towboat captain pulled me free the second time, I made up my mind to learn the ins and outs of the bay. I studied marine charts and created my own subway-type map showing channels and buoys. So far I’ve not run aground again.
Docking remained a hit or miss proposition until my marine mechanic, Ralph Macri of Lindenhurst Outboard, came to the rescue. Having a top-notch mechanic is key to a positive boating experience. In addition to doing maintenance and repairs, Ralph became a mentor and friend. Two years ago, tired of all my moaning, he gave me free docking lessons — bless his soul.
After five seasons on the water, I’ve grown fond of my Whaler and I’m extremely glad the grueling initiation is over. Buying a convertible, motorcycle or first boat may seem like a silly older-guy thing, but I’ve learned it can be a cool experience.
Photo credit: Radesca Family | Nick and JoAnn Radesca on their Boston Whaler, the Rad Escape