Boats? We can handle them!

May 1, 2024

This past weekend found myself and Andy C down in Portland, taking the helm of the Richmond Explorer for the first time under George's watchful eye.

He had already taken us, along with some other aspiring coxes, through the Boat Handling theory. After carefully reviewing our prior maritime experience (I crewed on a 2 person dingy a few times in the 90s; Andy has read all of the Hornblower books), he agreed to take us out on the water regardless.

Things did not get off to a particularly auspicious start. The weather forecast had us all packing our drysuits and working out just how much hot coffee it would be feasible to transport. Then, on arriving at the marina on Saturday morning, we were greeted by a line of police cars, and the news that the boat lift would be out of action until further notice - a problem for us, with our boat very much requiring lifting before we could begin. We found out later that the police were attending the scene of a body which had been found in the water shortly before we arrived, putting my irritation at the disruption to our plans into perspective.

We retreated out of the wind into a local café, where George made good use of the time by having us complete a perfectly harmonious and collaborative group chartwork exercise.

The police finished up their work and allowed the marina to reopen all facilities just after lunchtime. With the boat released, and the threatened downpours nowhere to be seen, we made our way down to the pontoon to begin.  

I admit I had expected George to take the boat out somewhere with nothing but a lot of flat sea for half a mile or so in each direction before handing over the controls. In the event, he had us driving right from the start. Despite my initial trepidation, thanks to a great briefing and clear instructions at each step, we made it out without incident and headed into the harbour for some serious practice.

With varying degrees of precision and success we motored, turned, stopped and drifted.  We tied up on the shotline at the Countess, and tossed poor "Bob the diver" in to be recovered multiple times. He was very stoic about the whole thing, and we did get him back every time. We headed back to the marina and finished the day by parking up. Many times, on many different pontoons,  and with a surprisingly high success rate... eventually. Our final stop was the Explorer's usual spot on Pontoon B, after which we headed back to our temporary digs for the evening.

The weather held off on the Sunday as well, even favouring us with some speing sunshine. We did some more manoeuvring, more diver recovery practice, dropped some anchors, rescued an unexpected "Bob overboard" and finished up with a lesson in refuelling and getting the boat ready to return to the dry stacks.

Aside from a brief contretemps in which the G&T of a boat owner who went to a much more expensive school then I did was briefly at risk of being spilled, both days passed without incident, and with a great deal of fun.

Andy and I are now, pending postage of a couple of cards, certified boat handlers - and may well be assisting a cox on a dive near you!