Did wisdom come to the ancient mariner? Or am I getting soft?

A week ago, I helped move one of our three boats from Annapolis Harbor to the site of the Bay Bridge Boat Show on the Eastern Shore, which involved crossing the massive Chesapeake Bay.

The weather was overcast, and we expected periods of rain, as our team piloted the two Nimbus tenders and our 65-foot Regency motoryacht. It was the first time some of us had been aboard these new vessels, recently brought up from Florida to our new Seattle Yachts Annapolis office in Eastport. One of the Swedish boats, a T8, has a single Mercury outboard, while the 40-foot T11 had two 350hp outboards for serious performance.

nimbus boats in annapolis

The majestic Regency motoryacht has two D13 Volvo diesels, each rated at 900hp. These 12.8L engines are front and center in the impressive engine room.

I took the helm of the Regency as we headed across the Bay. Seated in a comfortable pilothouse helm chair, I was pleased at the outstanding sight lines in all directions, and was able to relax, enjoying my short time at the helm of this magnificent yacht. A trawler or motor yacht pilothouse is a proper command center from which to run the boat, all controls and information displays surrounding the helm position. I really enjoyed being in the moment as we slowly motored our way in company with the smaller boats for the six miles or so from Annapolis to the other side of the Bay, just south of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.

(Seen below: The flybridge helm of the Regency P65.)

flybridge helm on regency p65

My mind wandered as I thought of my situation, and just how far I have come in my years on the water since I first started driving a boat back in 1976 in Seattle. Whether it was a sailboat or powerboat, it didn’t matter, as it paled in comparison to my experience this day. Watching Seattle Yacht’s Martin Snyder maneuver the Regency out of her slip by gingerly toying with the throttles and thrusters, I saw the ease of control they give him at the helm. Electronic engine controls allow effortless tweaking of the big diesels to safely exit a slip and maneuver down a fairway.

The two sticks for the Wesmar hydraulic bow and stern thrusters are right there to assist at a moment’s notice, the awesome power of 25hp hydraulic thrusters a real joy for those who haven’t used them before. Unlike electric thrusters that provide momentary bursts of thrust to one side or the other, these units can run continuously, and offer awesome force when engaged. When you need a burst of serious thrust, two fingers on a joystick turn these units loose, as if some large tug is pushing your bow or stern sideways at full throttle. Wow.

And all this is done while seated inside a heated and protected helm rather than hunkered down in a cramped cockpit, cold wind and rain trying desperately to get inside foul weather gear to drench warm clothes.

(Seen below: The P65 Pilothouse Motor Yacht is simply a joy to drive.)

Back in the day I would flip a coin as to which side the stern would move when I put her in reverse gear, the full keel of the sailboat and puny propeller doing whatever they felt like given the conditions of the moment. Where the wheel or tiller was turned had little to do with the eventual outcome. It was always a fun experience, especially if one happened to be transiting the Hiram Chittenden Locks in Ballard out to Puget Sound. Boats back then were not nearly as sophisticated as today, and dare I say, neither were we.

I always considered that the more it took to handle a boat safely, the more it proved the mettle of the sailor. Making a safe long-distance passage was more than justification to warrant a tattoo on one’s arm or shoulder. Things were pretty basic in those days, and I laugh at the state of electronics we used back them. My first big sailboat had a radio with vacuum tubes in it. I am not sure it was even a VHF radio, and I recall it may have been an AM radio. Do you remember those old depth sounders with the vibrating green line across a dial? They worked well enough but were nothing compared to today’s CHIRP technology.

Did your old boat have Barient winches? And every genuine cruising boat carried either a CQR or a Danforth anchor. If it was good enough for Eric and Susan Hiscock, or Hal and Margaret Roth, it was good enough for me. I bought my marine supplies from Cal Marine when I lived in the Seattle area, a far cry from the specialty chandleries, West Marine, and Amazon that is but a click away for today’s cruiser.

Every Sunday afternoon, on my way home from racing a Morgan 27 out of Shilshole Marina, I would stop by Gove’s Cove on Westlake Avenue and walk the docks to see their used boats open for inspection. The plywood and early fiberglass sailboats all had that familiar mildew smell from living in a constant state of dampness. It was just part of the deal of living and boating in the Pacific Northwest.

When I later moved East, the routines changed, and the racing and cruising became much more seasonal. The smell of coconut oil comes instantly back every time I think of those warm summer weekends, ladies tanning in bikinis on the Jersey shore, and the fleet of sailors bobbing just offshore in hopes for an afternoon sea breeze.

Today, as I join the downsizing generation, I found many relics of the past, and more recently, the volumes of the Time/Life book series on boating. What a walk down memory lane, and the simple life it was back then! Stories of a chef who filled a cooler with “gourmet” meals prepared at home and brought on board to warm up on the weekend cruise brought smiles. It seems so long ago.

It was.

While I do miss that simplicity and uncluttered fun, I can’t say I want to go back at this point in my life. What about you? I have grown accustomed to these extra controls and systems, multi-function displays, and engine and system gauges instead of idiot lights. I find it much better to have warning that something is amiss, rather than a red light indicating my day on the water is most assuredly done. These days I prefer joy sticks, thrusters, trolling valves, and the like, operated from the comfort of a pilothouse or helm station located out of the rain or glaring sun.

Have I graduated to another level or am I just getting slack? Hard to tell.

But I do know that my experience with oil lanterns, hoisting a gaff-rigged mainsail without winches, and setting an anchor by hand without a manual or electric windlass, sure makes me appreciate what is available today. And while I completely understand that the conveniences of these helpful controls come at a price, in terms of complexity and maintenance, there is no going back.

My frame of reference has always been how it feels at the end of the day. Do I feel invigorated having made it safely after this passage? Do the inevitable problems and foibles coming from Murphy’s Law add a rich patina that lingers over the evening cocktails? Or does it just feel great that everything worked as it should, without issues, and we had fun?

While my answer from the ‘70s would no doubt add a different perspective to this narrative, today I feel darned good to make it through a day when nothing much happened. A day on the water with no drama. How nice.

(Seen below: Bill Parlatore at the helm.)

bill parlatore

Whether that makes me a wisened old soul or not, I don’t know. But it is all good. I don’t need to add to the aches and pains of age with the added struggle of hauling up an anchor that refuses to pull free or fending off another boat when we come together in the turbulence when the lock doors open, or when the raft of boats drags downwind…towards shore.

A shot of Pussers Gunpowder Proof in my tea is reward enough these days.

We had a great boat show, by the way, and the long lines of people wanting to see the Regency and Nimbus boats were proof that the hard work of getting nice boats into a post-quarantine show was well worth the effort. Watching people tour new boats is always a treat, and I like being there to answer questions. Helping the cruising community celebrate their lifestyle is what it is all about. And assisting couples as they choose the right boat goes down a maze worth solving.

line at boat show

That effort may not be worth a tattoo, these days, but it sure is great fun.

Enjoy these other boating and cruising articles by Bill Parlatore: