If you are in the technology industry, you likely spend the majority of your waking hours focused on work. This near constant focus on a single activity often makes having good personal hobbies critical to your overall health and wellbeing. When my boys were toddlers, I had the idea of taking on a new hobby: boating. While my wife Kristin thought this was a resoundingly bad idea, she humored me with sailing lessons in Marblehead Harbor. On our second lesson, our captain threw a life preserver overboard and said: “That’s Jake and Eben. Go save them!” Kristin and I proceeded to do our best to save the life preserver, which I personally thought was swimming quite well on its own. But somehow we managed only to sail away when we wanted to sail toward it. Short of our boys being Michael Phelps, there was little chance we ever would have rescued them in a sailboat. I like to say that this was the day my dream of owning a boat died.
Fifteen years later, with my boys in high school and our Cape house near its closing date, I was given a second chance at my boat dream. According to our realtor, since our property included a small frontage on a cove, we had the right to put a mooring off the property. I’ll confess that I didn’t fully believe this, and expected the harbormaster to tell me I was sorely mistaken when I called. But when he told me all I needed was an MS number for my boat, a check for $75, and a proof of my property ownership, I realized I was going to finally own a boat. My only question now was: what is an MS number?
If you don’t already know this, boating may be the closest thing most of us find to a cult. They have their own language. For example, take a “rope” on a boat and it suddenly is called a “line”. A storage container on land might be called a “chest”, but bring it on a boat and it is now a “locker”. They also have their own beliefs. These include everything from superstitions about naming a boat to the weather to even bananas. The person who came up with “Red sky at night, sailors' delight. Red sky at morning, sailors take warning” clearly did not have a weather app on his smartphone. Also, who can actually have a personal issue with a banana? Boaters even have their own bible: Chapman’s Piloting & Seamanship. Before finding this book, I would have never believed a human could write a full 34 pages on the topic of anchors. But if you don't believe me, order the book, bring it to bed with you, and after 6-7 months of falling asleep reading, you will hopefully have finished those 34 pages (Chapman's is an all natural sleep aid).
But maybe the biggest surprise for me was that boaters also have their very own recruiters. These are boat enthusiasts, who appear like everyday normal people in your life, but are trained on indoctrinating new initiates into the cult. After deciding to buy a boat, agreeing on a budget with my wife, and then realizing that learning about boats from the internet is a lot like self-diagnosing your medical condition with Google - i.e. it might be the common cold, but it also might be the Bubonic Plague - I sought out a boat enthusiast. (a.k.a. Senior Cult Recruiter). Well, to be honest, I sought out a few boat enthusiasts.
My boat enthusiasts taught me everything I needed to know to buy my first boat - and probably a few things I hoped to never have to know. While the boat cult recruiters will tell you many contradictory things - e.g. Yamaha is the best motor; no, Evinrude is - there are a few messages they deliver with surprising consistency. These include:
- Boater: “How big a boat do you want?” You: “X feet.” Boater: “Oh, you need a bigger boat than that.”
- Boater: “How much do you want to spend?” You: “Between $X to $Y”. Boater: “You might find something at the top end of your budget.” This is boatspeak for: increase your budget.
- Boater: “What makes are you looking at?” You: “X, Y and Z.” Boater: “I’d get a Grady.” I wasn't sure at the time what it was about Gradys, but assumed there must be a cult discount for referrals. One of my boating colleagues told me that Gradys were “working boats.” After looking at the price tag on a new one, I had to laugh: for that price, you better be working.
Over the next four months I looked far and wide for my boat. When I started, I was looking for a 17 foot runabout, and when I finished I had purchased a 21 foot dual console. I made every mistake a new boat buyer could make. Let’s just say there is nothing less enjoyable than having a person at the Boat and Recreation Vehicle Registration and Titling Bureau exclaim: “You just purchased a boat without getting the title?!” But fortunately everything worked out fine, and for the last several years have been the proud owner of a Scout Dorado 210. Of course immediately after my boat first went in the water, I had the obvious new boater question: how do I learn to operate it? I didn't need to worry: the boat cult has state sponsored classes for that.