Crossing a single wake, whether you're on a racecourse or in your local cruising grounds, is not your biggest nightmare. A confused jumble of wakes can raise the blood pressure of even the most stalwart boater. When you find yourself in this situation, hold your course as straight as possible and trim down slightly to keep your boat level. We confessed that we don't always make frequent trim changes underway, so Fountain told us, "Pulling back on the throttles trims the boat as it slows. As the props spin more slowly, they create drag, which applies negative trim to the boat and lowers the bow." We tried this trick. It worked.
If you must turn in a messy situation, complete the maneuver quickly. Keep the time that the side of the boat is to the wakes as minimal as possible. As the keel passes over a wave, it can cause the boat to roll to unexpected angles. Fountain introduced us to the "steam roller" technique of getting through rough patches. Get in behind a larger boat and let it plow down the waves for you. The best place to ride is just to the left or right of the prop wash. Avoid the aerated water behind the props, which may cause you to lose your bite on the water, thus reducing speed and lessening control. If you're trying to pass that lead boat, remember its prop wash is traveling back so you have to run that much faster to pull ahead.
Whatever you do, avoid running too close to the wake's waves, which can suck you in. To demonstrate how disconcerting it is, Fountain pulled our 35 Lightning behind the 42 Lightning and eased over to the right, balancing on the edge of the wake's flat water and inner waves. We soon fell into a trough. Fountain held the wheel straight, but the boat veered back and forth on its own as the wakes bounced us around.
PLAY WELL WITH OTHERS
Wakes can throw you around, but it's the boats - and other captains - that are truly worrisome. "When you first encounter another boat, make sure the captain knows you're there," Fountain advised. Pulling up alongside from out of nowhere can spook a driver and cause him to respond erratically. Ease in and give him a wave. Then go on your way. If you decide to pass the boat ahead of you, make your move cleanly and quickly. Leave at least two boat lengths - use the longer of the two as your guide - of separation, gunwale to gunwale. If you're passing in a turn, do so on the outside. If the boat you're passing gets into trouble and spins out, it's going to do it to the inside.
Fountain continued: "When you're running alongside a boat, if your boat has the power, pull ahead so that your transom is at least even with its bow. That way, if the other captain makes a mistake, it'll happen behind you." If you can't pull ahead and are running alongside, leave at least one boat length between the two of you. If either driver runs into trouble, you'll need all the room you can get to avoid a collision.
As long as both drivers recognize and adhere to this set measure of separation, you'll stay safe. "If you realize you're heading for the same destination, improve your line of approach by gradually moving over. As long as the other driver keeps moving with you, you'll be lined up with your target perfectly." If the other driver doesn't maintain the separation, pull ahead if possible or let him take the lead.
Okay, we've looked at situations in which you're the aggressor, but what do you when a faster boat is coming up on you? This is the most uncomfortable place to be. You never know what the other guy has in mind or what he's capable of. Fountain's advice: "This is where it pays to keep some throttle in reserve, which will allow you to accelerate away to get to open water - or out of his way altogether."
Naturally, you'd rather make the pass yourself and tear across to open water away from the chaos. But when you get caught in a crowd, being assertive in your maneuvers is the winning way to run safely. Just ask Reggie.