"Wait for the next wave." My father would say. I was nine. I knew what wave
sequences were, and when to make my move to the bow seat. That was important
especially in a small boat in the ocean. This was my special place. I guess I was
ballast. It didn't matter. Without the counter-balance in the bow, our tiny boat
would have been unwilling to maneuver in the wind and surf.
The bow seat was special. It was my seat. My position. My dad was an apt seaman
having served in the Marines/Navy during WWII as a Pharmacist's Mate and Swim
Instructor at the Navy base in Jacksonville. He knew everything about the water.
He could read the waves, the wind, and current. I was never afraid while in the boat
with him. I was safe, invincible, protected.
Dad loved the water, boats, fishing and just being in it or next to it. He loved the beach,
as did mom. Nothing seemed to ever upset him. He was upbeat, strong, sturdy, but he
had a gentle and generous side. So this wasn't unusual that we would be launching our
14-foot boat into the surf on this beautiful sunny day. A cloudless blue sky stretched
over the horizon. The sun came down illuminating the beach and everything on it.
Beach umbrellas were scattered up the beach and provided a haven for those people
ducking the sun's rays. Sea Oats grass swayed gently in the breeze.
The waves were flat, as he liked them. The wind was light and currents running easy.
Baitfish were present along the waters edge and everything seemed just right for a little
fishing, just past the breakers.
Atlantic Beach was crawling with tourists and sunbathers. We were somewhat of an
oddity. People watched as we dragged the boat down the beach towards the waves.
The breakers were small - maybe 18 inches. The water was flat. "Skinny water,"
my dad would say with a grin.
At waters edge, we loaded the rods, bait buckets, clams and oysters to be used for bait,
a bucket for our catch, the life jackets (I always wore mine, even though I was an
excellent swimmer having being taught by the Navy's best instructor). My father
carried the small outboard engine on a dolly. I think it was a Johnson 5 HP.
We had a small gasoline can and a bailing pail.
Everything was ready for our romp. I looked back to the beach towel where my mom
was seated and waved. She waved back as we prepared to launch. Dad put the
plastic tackle box into the stern and also the gas can and attached the engine to the
transom. He tightened down the turn screws to hold the motor. Then positioned
the oars, so they would be ready.
When we were just about to get going the wind picked up. Dad looked at me and
motioned with his hand. I took this for the sign to get to the bow seat. I watched
an oncoming wave. Let it pass and then started into the boat, climbing quickly to
the bow. Not looking back, I waited for the push from the stern. It didn't come.
I thought this was strange, and looked back just as a big wave broadsided the boat.
We were being push sideways. I could see that dad was doing all he could to
steady us and try to point the bow back into the coming waves.
There seemed to be something wrong with the engine mounts. Another wave came.
As the bow rose and fell a wave came right into the boat. Now there was too much
water to make a successful launch. People were now gathering around the boat.
The fishing box and life jackets were floating. And, the boat just sat there weighted
down by the water. Dad was hurrying to get the engine off the transom, get me out
of the boat, get all our gear out, and manage to maintain control of the situation.
People just stood around watching, but no one helped him.
I got out. I took what I could up to the beach and laid our gear out and tried to help
dad with the rest of our stuff. He was doing all he could to take the gas can, engine
and literally carry this stuff all to the beach. Our day was pretty much ruined, but he
kept his cool. He was pretty level headed through all of this and even laughed a little
when it was over. Mom thought it was funny too. We all laughed a little.
The boat was finally emptied of saltwater and sand. It lay on the beach for a long
time before dad took it back to the truck for its journey home. I'm amazed by how
lightly he took all this, almost humorous in a way. It taught me a couple of important
lessons. First, when everything looks like it's going well something can go wrong,
don't panic. In the worst situation you can still maintain control. You can make
split second decisions about a situation if you keep your head. Second, any time
you go fishing in the ocean, the ocean is boss. Respect the ocean, respect nature
and learn from your experiences.
The best lessons learned, were Dad's three A's: Be Attentive, Anticipate, and then
take Action. I've always remembered and applied them to a lot of situations.
I've had some really nasty times on the ocean. I've had people get sick in bad weather,
had the boat up on 8-foot swells, and learned that it is better to let your party know
what is going on and what their responsibilities are. I've found that in this way they
can keep focused on a task and forget about getting sick. I've had times when I
returned to the dock with everyone thanking me and after they leave my legs start
shaking. I don't think you can ever be prepared for all situations but you can learn
how to handle a boat and respect the ocean. She can be your friend or foe.
My father gave me valuable and practical guidelines, common sense and his love for the water.
Thank you dad. ~ Doug
Capt. Doug Sinclair has relocated from New Smyrna Beach, Florida to
Grantsboro, NC. He specializes in fly-fishing and light tackle charters.
Doug charters the Coastal Carolina area of New Bern or Oriental.
Catch him on the web at
www.flyfishacademy.net or call him at (252) 745-3500.
Doug is also a Sponsor here on FAOL.