Memorial Day weekend marked the unofficial beginning of boating season for many of us. But even some of the most experienced boaters might admit that it’s usually the Fourth of July before they really get the boating routine down to a science.

The early part of the season — from mid-May through June — actually means different things to different boaters. For the more experienced, it’s a time to shake out the cobwebs and refresh our memories on the equipment we need, where it goes on the boat and procedures for everything from firing up the engine to anchoring to getting to and from a dock without hitting anything.

For new boaters, the early part of their first season on the water puts them through the intimidating process of learning everything for the first time.

Regardless of your level of experience or the time of year, boating offers ample opportunity to make mistakes. To add insult to injury, the more embarrassing the error, the more people seem to be present to witness it.

For Randy and me, our first embarrassing moment came on May 14, 1994, launch day for our first boat, a Pearson 26 named After Hours. With great anticipation, we watched Handy Boat workers step her mast, and Merle Hallett himself — a legend in Maine sailing circles — brought her from the Marine Travelift slings to the dock, where we would finish rigging her and sail to South Freeport.

Our departure from the dock didn’t go exactly as planned. Instead of backing from the dock to open water in a smooth and controlled manner, After Hours did a pirouette in the tight quarters between the docks, narrowly missing pilings, boats and other hard bits in the area. Somehow we managed to get her pointed toward open water and give her enough power to get out without hitting anything. We waved to our audience and were on our way.

A couple of hours later, it was time to pull into our slip in South Freeport. In a typical rookie move, we came in too fast. Physics took over, and there was no avoiding the hard bits this time — we gave the dock finger a good hard bump.

Fortunately, the only damage was to our fragile egos. Again, we had spectators, one of them a friend who offered the sage advice to get the bow line around the dock cleat — this would help to ensure the boat would make no more errant moves.

We’ve all committed and/or witnessed classic boating snafus. Fortunately, most boating mistakes are fairly minor, result in no measurable damage and usually people can laugh about them later on.

Some boaters are repeat offenders (or entertainers, depending on how you look at it). I remember watching one friend show off his new-to-him dinghy and outboard by making S-turns as we explored a creek in Penobscot Bay. Suddenly the motor was cocked off about 45 degrees, and before we could say anything, it freed itself from the dinghy transom, went splash and landed on the creek bottom.

Fortunately for our friend, the water was only 3 feet deep and the outboard was quickly retrieved. This same friend had lost parts of his barbecue grill overboard earlier that summer. We should all have a friend like this. Aside from making the rest of us look good, he’s a nice guy, his wife’s a great cook and his kids are delightful.

Other stupid boat tricks to watch out for: Trying to leave the dock with a line or shore power cord still attached; running aground; losing things overboard; deploying the anchor without first checking that the chain or rope is secured to the boat; forgetting to open the water intake through-hull and overheating the engine; and failure to secure the dinghy to the boat, thus having it drift away. If nothing else, boaters are human.

While boaters of all types are susceptible to the above gaffes, sailors have even more things to worry about. Sails can be launched sideways, and with so many lines on deck, there is more than ample opportunity for foul leads that can produce suboptimal results if they go unchecked. The witness aspect is especially problematic for racing sailors because there are so many fully crewed boats — and cameras — in close proximity.

While it’s generally best to avoid mishaps like these, don’t beat yourself up over a minor slip-up. You’re in good company, and chances are someone else has done it with even more people watching.

Gail Rice of Freeport and her husband, Randy, race and cruise their Pearson 30 sloop on Casco Bay. She can be reached at:

[email protected]


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