Editor's Note: This report was published in 2002. It was one of our first tests of joystick engine controls. Though some of the equipment and systems cited are non-current, the maneuvering advice remains as relevant today as it was then.
An alpha dog, he possesses the aura of intimidation common to NFL linebackers, prizefighters, and after-hours club doormen. Though he's never docked a boat before in his life, his skill with a joystick is legendary. But he has a math test tomorrow-and his father made him come-so he's in no mood to fool around.
David Rumplik, 12, wants to show this old salt a thing or two. Armed with Maxum's Control Max system, Rumplik says he'll be able to dock a boat with the ease and grace of a seasoned skipper, no experience necessary. With half a lifetime of conquering PlayStation bad guys, The Kid is a master at dealing with pressure. The gauntlet has been thrown down, the challenge is on.
Though I have nearly 30 years of seamanship under my belt, I'm not as confident. Catching sight of a flag onshore, my mind races. Is the wind steady or was that a gust? Which way is the current moving? How tight is the space into which I have to shoehorn this shiny, new, still-smells-like-styrene Maxum 2300? Are my skills with wheel, throttle, and gears up to the task? After a week of taking bets and testosterone buildup, my mouth now smacks with the metallic flavor of fear. My palms are sweaty as I turn to The Kid's father hoping for a reprise. But no, he's made his bets, too. He flashes me a wicked grin and fires up the engine. We slip the lines and head for a marina exposed to winds and waves. Let the dance begin.
Back Into a Slip, Wind Abeam. The Kid: Eyes aft, he pulls the Control Max's doorknob-shaped joystick back and to the side to correct his course. The twin stern thrusters mounted in the Maxum's hull hum and the boat heads for the slip. Whenever the bow starts to drift downwind, a twitch of the joystick activates the bowthruster to bring it back in line. All is going well until we get close to the slip. With the neighboring boats and a pair of pilings looming larger, The Kid begins to get nervous. He almost chokes, but with a little encouragement from his dad (I was giving him no quarter), he comes to a perfect stop just a foot from the bulkhead.
The Salt: With the stern lined up with the slip, I bump the Bravo Three drive alternately into reverse and neutral, cautiously inching backward. The rule is: Never approach a dock faster than you want to hit it. The counter-rotating props back straighter than a standard drive because each prop negates the side thrust of the other. A gust hits the bow, which is always more susceptible to the wind's influence than the stern, pushing it downwind. But it's not a problem, as I purposely started my approach with the bow canted into the wind by about 10 degrees. As the boat backs, the wind pushes the bow over so I'm almost straight by the time I get to the pilings. I make minor course corrections while in gear, but larger ones-such as those needed to get the bow back in line-I make by shifting to neutral, turning the wheel, and then applying power again. Slow and gentle are my watchwords. And, because of the confidence bred from experience, the pilings don't intimidate me the way they did The Kid. I'm a full 20 seconds faster, handily winning the round.