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I Learned About Boating From This: Respecting Wind and Tide

When experience leads to overconfidence on the water.

October 15, 2020
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Boating safely during inclement weather
How bad could it get? My confidence, experience and invincibility outweighed any doubt, and I launched the boat. Tim Bower

When I was very young, my dad bought a 12-foot boat that he took me and my brother out fishing on all the time on California reservoirs. When I was 15, he upgraded to a 19-foot Sea Ray, which we fished outside San Francisco Bay. There were numerous times when we headed out for salmon fishing on a calm morning only to fight 3- to 5-foot swells while trying to make our way back to the dock.

In my late teens and early 20s, I was taking friends out to fish and for weekend camping trips to the lakes. I was now the seasoned captain who knew all aspects of handling a boat and that I could handle rough seas.

In my late 30s, my wife and I bought a 19-foot Sea Ray. Months after buying the boat, I went fishing on the San Luis Reservoir. I had just driven an hour and a half to get there, and I could see whitecaps, but I did not want to turn around and go home. This is a reservoir where the hilly topography makes the wind blow fiercely across the water. I looked around. I was the only one there. Could this be a sign? But this is just a reservoir. How bad could it get? My confidence, experience and invincibility outweighed any doubt, and I launched the boat.

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I dropped my line in the water and realized it was way too windy to fish, and the whitecaps had turned into 3- to 4-foot swells. I decided to find a cove and anchor. I found a cove, but the wind was still too much to get the anchor set, and I decided it was time to call it a day (even though it was really more like 45 minutes).

I made my way back to the dock, which looked like an angry bull trying to buck its rider as the swells rolled under it. The wind was blowing from starboard, so I docked on the starboard-side so that the wind didn’t pound my new baby. With the bow and stern lines in hand, I pulled up and jumped onto the dock, and held on to the lines for dear life. While trying to get the bow line cleated, the stern line ripped from my hand. I grabbed the boat’s rail as the stern drifted away from the dock. With all my might, I was able to pull the boat parallel with the dock, but the gusts of wind at my back picked up, and the gap between the boat and dock widened, with my body now over the water. I wondered, do I try and jump back onto the boat with the possibility of ending up in the water? Or do I let go to save myself and watch my baby get thrown up against the shore? Or do I keep fighting to save her? I didn’t give up and was able to get the dock lines secured.

I sprinted up the long and steep launch ramp, gasping for air halfway up, and I thought, I’m not going to make it. But I made it to the truck and raced back down the ramp to happily see the boat still attached to the dock. I got the trailer in the water and wondered if I could get the boat on the trailer by myself. I jumped in, untied the dock lines, and powered the boat onto the trailer. When I got her back up to the parking lot, I turned the truck engine off and sank into my seat, relieved and still gasping for air.

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I learned that day that water and bad weather can act the same whether in the ocean, bay, lake or reservoir. Also, that having confidence, experience and a sense of invincibility on your boating résumé can easily get chewed up and swallowed by the weather. When it comes to doubt due to weather, I learned how stupid I was, and I now let doubt outweigh anything else to ensure I have a tomorrow to boat again.

Dan Mark

El Dorado Hills, California

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