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Off My Dock: Pressing the Red

How I learned to drive a boat.

October 13, 2017
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Off My Dock: Pressing the Red
Off My Dock: Pressing the Red Tim Bower

I told the man I didn’t know how to drive a powerboat.

Ten minutes into the job interview, I was beginning to grasp the scope of the position. I’d answered a blind ad posted in the back pages of Editor & Publisher magazine because, after 18 months as the assistant editor of Numismatic News, I decided I would never drum up much passion for coin collecting. So here I was, interviewing for a communications position at Outboard Marine Corporation.

“That’s not a problem at all,” said the man who would become my boss. “I need someone who can go over to engineering and get all the information on a new Johnson outboard and then write a press release everyone can understand.”

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Déjà vu washed over me. In my last job interview, the man who would become my boss laid the change from his pocket on a table and asked what I could tell him about these coins.

“Looks like 85 cents to me,” I replied. Which was good enough. He had plenty of coin experts on staff but needed someone who could turn their expertise into a story everyone could understand. Do you see the pattern?

Soon I was the PR buckaroo at OMC. After six months, I went into the field for the first time, to Sanford, Florida, to supervise some PR ­photography of new outboards. In this century, there would be a support crew and a special photo boat with a tower to give the camera some elevation. And a drone. But that morning, the photographer, the laid-back Brad Fuller, informed me that I would be driving the photo boat, which, to start, was a 17-foot bass rig. Brad removed the bow fishing seat and said he’d work from the casting deck, and I should pilot the boat right next to the subject of the photos as we tore down the St. Johns River.

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This time, I did not tell the man I did not know how to drive a boat.

I would figure it out.

Brad sat on the carpeted deck, and the other boats started out, and he said, “Come on, let’s go.” I turned the key, and the motor started. I pushed on the control lever, but it would not move. I pushed some more. I wiggled it.

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“You need to pull up on the red part to shift it into gear,” said Fuller in disbelief. “Don’t you know how to drive a boat?” Busted. Fuller came to the helm and showed me how to select forward and reverse and how to trim up and down and figured I knew how to steer and off we went. That brave man spent the day standing on the deck of a speeding bass boat, trusting me not to make any sudden moves while he peered into the camera. Also, being a kind man, he never mentioned the control lever thing to anyone else.

And that’s how I learned to drive a boat.

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