With denial fully conquered there is indeed hope, happiness and freedom for those of us who know how to cope with sunken and shattered dreams.
If the School of Hard Knocks is indeed the ultimate university, I hold the equivalent of a Harvard PhD in bay boat operation. To obtain that degree, however, I had to employ several of the basic tenets of a modern 12-step recovery program.
Had I not done so, my boat by now would no doubt be sitting on the bottom of Galveston Bay, a proverbial “Million Little Pieces” of fiberglass, gelcoat and powder-coated aluminum. Everyone has to “hit bottom,” after all, before seeking help.
I did that early in the game.
My partner assured me that the white-feathered birds standing in the water ahead of us all had legs at least two feet long.
He was wrong by about 18 inches.
The human brain, in its infinite mercy, usually buries traumatic experiences like that. Writing a recollection like this, however, tends to unearth those kinds of things. Fortunately, I have the advantage of knowing the first step of bay-boating recovery. To fully assess, confront and conquer the joy and misery of bay boat ownership and operation, you must first admit you have a problem.
You don’t have a problem?
Of course you don’t. That is because you are in denial. Until you get past that stage I cannot do much to help you.
By the way, people accuse me of being in denial all the time.
I strongly deny that.
Anyhow, now would be a good time to grab a cold beer, assuming you are not engaged in a bona fide 12-step program. If that’s the case, instead try deep-breathing exercises, or put some Enya music on the headphones and take yourself to your “special place,” one where the water is always clear, the fish are always biting, and oyster reefs, floating logs, bad electrical wiring, spun props, sand bars, blown trailer tires, flaming trailer bearings, broken axles, hung-up anchors, cracked hulls, overheated engines and other such calamities do not exist.
Are you there?
Good. Let’s proceed.
You have a bay boat. You have a problem.
Go ahead; it’s okay to cry. Matter of fact, it’s advisable, so long as you are alone. Real bay boaters, battle-hardened veterans like you and me, face their pain in solitude. When bad stuff happens on the water, we know it’s always because “some idiot” screwed up.
In this regard, running a boat and driving a car are very much alike.
Shame, fear, pain and anger are all prerequisite emotions critical to the healing process. Embrace them. Fear not; you will be able to discard these toxic feelings like so many empty oil cans as you slowly but surely recover from the accumulated trauma with your ultimate goal finally accomplished … the unadulterated sheer joy of boat ownership.
In a word, that joy comes from freedom. As bay boat owners, we go when we want, where we want to go, and come back when we are damn well ready.
Like all worthwhile things, this comes at a price … and I’m not talking about money. Without cash, good credit or a hefty trust fund, any discussion of boating is … well, worthless.
That established and understood, to fully relish our joyous freedom it’s essential to unearth the excruciating experiences that got us in this predicament to begin with. Being well past the shame stage, I feel sublimely qualified to guide you through this delicate process. I need only provide a few of my own missteps as sad but true-life examples of just how rapidly an exhilarated boat owner’s mental state can collapse like a falling wave, and then, tempered by acceptance of that which we cannot change, once again stand tall and proud as a brand-new flying bridge on a 60-foot Hatteras.
Confession is painful, but allegedly good for the soul. Divulging my missteps … agonizing errors that by simply reading this you can almost certainly avoid … my soul is already getting cleaner than a deck-scrubbing brush left to soak in a five-gallon bucket of bleach for a week-and-a-half.
I must, however, ask a favor.
Do not let anyone else read this.
Are we good with that? Anonymity is critical to sharing, so I’m trusting you on this one.
Remember: What happens in Texas Fishing Forum stays in Texas Fishing Forum.
I have been privileged (or, to the as-of-yet unenlightened, “cursed”) to operate and “test” a broad spectrum of “demo boats” in the past 30 years. (I only recently discovered that “demo” means “demonstration,” not “demolition.”)
My first demo boat was an 18-foot vee-hulled aluminum specially designed for Great Lakes walleye trollers. For reasons even I do not yet fully comprehend, I believed at the time it would be the perfect rig for chasing king mackerel offshore.
By the time I got the thing a mile from the ramp it was up to the deck in saltwater. I assured my partner that some idiot at the factory had improperly rigged the engine as I headed back to re-trailer the rig and install the drain plug.
Returning to the mouth of the Galveston jetties, I learned that Great Lakes walleye anglers apparently do not mind drowning without going overboard. My classic “vee hull” had no flare. As promised, it cut through the waves like a great-big aluminum meat cleaver. Unexpectedly, however, every slice it cut fell inside the boat.
My would-be kingfish killer went back to the factory a week later, replaced by an 18-foot aluminum jet-drive fitted with a large and powerful inboard engine. The plan was to use the thing to invade super-shallow flats, where I would proudly pole the rig from the transom while pointing the lucky guy in the bow toward the nearest pod of tailing redfish.
Ever seen a leaf blow on the water? That rig made a dried-out and drifting oak leaf seem like a 40-foot sailboat with an 8-foot-long lead-filled keel.
It was practically impossible to pole, and little less challenging to handle under power. I did, however, use that particular boat to rescue a nun.
She had rented a boat in Rockport, Texas, without first checking the fuel gauge, and ended up adrift inside the Intracoastal Waterway. It was maybe five minutes before sunset when a random boater, operating his own crippled fishing rig, told me that “a lady” was in trouble a few miles away and in desperate need of immediate rescue. I assumed he meant “some idiot,” which made me feel terribly ashamed after the woman later informed she was not an idiot but instead a helplessly-stranded Bride of Christ.
This only bears revelation because I learned that evening that 18-foot flat-bottomed jet boats are extremely poor craft for towing half-ton, 21-foot-long tri-hulled (as the nun described it, “cathedral-hulled”) fiberglass rigs in very rough bay water, especially after dark. With what was no doubt divine intervention (and, the “higher power” of my high-performance inboard engine), I slowly pulled her and her companion back to the harbor at Kontiki Beach Resort.
I then drove them over to the rental facility, where I learned from a very sheepish renter of boats that the Coast Guard, the sheriff’s office and quite possibly the Department of Homeland Security had been frantically searching for her for the past several hours.
Everything you have heard about angry nuns is true. Nuns who have served time in the Navy, like the one I rescued, are especially fearsome. I’d just as soon towel-slap a wounded 10-foot grizzly.
Needless to say, the sister’s rental fee was waived.
I was very proud, what with my family consisting of so many Southeast Texas Bohemian Catholics, until my mother called to tell me that the Boating Nun was at the time editor of a large church newspaper and had compared me, her brave and valiant rescuer, with “the Archangel Michael” in a dramatic and gripping column printed just after the incident. Had I not arrived in the sheerest nick of time, she explained, she would have soon ended up atop a coral reef and, along with her friend, suffered a horribly lengthy and painful death.
The nearest coral reef to Rockport, Texas, is the deep-water oddity known as “The Flower Gardens,” some 150 miles to the northeast on the Gulf of Mexico bottom. Beyond there, you have to go to Florida to find coral.
Again, please do not tell anyone about this.
I am still trying to live it down.
I soon decided that aluminum boats and I were an imperfect match. Accordingly, I got my first bona fide demo bay boat … a fiberglass center console with a 150-horse outboard, stainless prop, Tee-Top, raised forward deck, the works.
There is a great but relatively-unknown fishing hole near my residence on Upper Galveston Bay, a narrow little slough about two miles north of the NASA Road One bridge at Clear Lake, past Red Bluff Boulevard on the western shoreline the second point down (a super-secret spot confided to me by the locals, so again, whatever you do, please do not mention this). I had fished it, and successfully, many times from the nun-rescuing jet boat, passing under the bridge without incident … but, notably, without a tall aluminum Tee-Top fitted with rocket-launcher rod holders.
Like any sensible boater (not “some idiot”) I had always slowed way down before passing beneath the bridge. I did the same with the new center-console.
What was not the same was the fact that the new boat’s Tee-Top was spiked to the gills with my best 7-foot trout rods. They were one-piece, fast-tapered graphite beauties, each fitted with a top-end baitcasting reel and a ready-to-go topwater plug or quarter-ounce shadtail.
Soon as I exited the opposite side of the bridge, those rods had all become two-piece models. I explained to my partner, with great indignation and anger, that some idiot had built the bridge with far too little water-to-concrete clearance.
Yes, I cried, but only after the boat was back on the trailer, my friend was long gone and I was alone at home, left to wonder if the manufacturer would replace such obviously defective products. Concerned that the company might think some idiot had gotten ahold of my rods, I finally decided not to make the call.
Shame, even preceded by anger, is a useless emotion. I elected to go with denial, even though I knew it would someday have to be faced.
That day is today. I had forgotten about it until now.
So again … and I only ask this out of fear that it will inaccurately be construed as the actions of some idiot … please do not tell anyone.
Defective products present incessant dilemmas to the ardent bay boater. Trolling motors are classic examples.
You would think that, even if left hanging off the bow, its power head and prop still planted deep in the water, a trolling motor shaft would not bend like a pretzel under the modest pressure of a hull running a mere 50 miles an hour.
Think again. Some idiot at the factory designed my unit in such fashion that it must be lifted and secured before the outboard throttle can be fire-walled. I almost called the trolling motor company, but again, decided to spare them the embarrassment.
I had, I reasonably reckoned, already experienced enough fear, pain, shame and anger to accommodate all of us. I saw no sense in telling them their mistake.
After all, some idiot would have probably just denied it.
Larry Bozka Coastal Anglers
Contributing Writer/Saltwater - Tide Magazine, Texas Parks & Wildlife Magazine, Texas Sporting Journal