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David Bouchier: A Few Well Chosen Words

David Bouchier: The Great Memorial Day Launch

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At harbors and marinas all along the Connecticut and Long Island shores, the pleasure boats are being unwrapped from their winter plastic and prepared for the new season. In this way we continue to honor the great New England seafaring tradition. Our ancestors arrived from the old world by ship, a perilous three week voyage in the days of sail, battling contrary winds and terrible storms.

The romance of the sea is still strong along the shoreline. Every harbor is packed with boats, but nine out of ten are power boats, some very powerful indeed.  Instead of launching out into the boundless ocean, at the mercy of the winds,  where very nasty things can happen, our local recreational sailors confine their voyages mostly to Long Island Sound.

The love affair with boats, like most love affairs, has grown more expensive over time.  A modern motor cruiser costs more than a frigate in the war of 1812, with fifty guns and a crew of two hundred.  Every marina seems to be filled with these handsome plastic and chromium pleasure palaces, some bigger than the Mayflower, rocking gently at their moorings, going nowhere. A landlubber can’t help being impressed.

The basic rule of Long Island Sound boating seems to be: only too much is enough. There’s an old joke that a boat is a hole in the water into which the owner pours money. Now, in order to keep up with the seagoing Joneses, he must pour in fancy furniture, personal jet skis, outboards big enough to shift the Queen Mary, and enough electronics to equip a space station. Peeking into the cockpits of these boats from the dock, you would assume that they are at least about to set off around the world, if not to other planets. They have radar scanners, depth scanners, direction finders, satellite links, and even electronic charts that show how far the nearest comfortable marina is, and what the lunch specials are. The old-time mariners, finding their uncertain way with a clock and compass, and checking the depth with a lead line, would be amazed. Navigation on Long Island Sound seems easy by comparison. If you pass under the Throg's Neck Bridge, you've gone too far west. If you are about to be run down by the Orient Point Ferry, you have ventured too far east. The Connecticut side is the one with hills. What else does a skipper need to know?

It seems that the real job of a powerboat is to tear through the water at maximum speed, regardless of destination or direction. In the boating magazines, every power boat is seen tearing through the water. Not a single one is pictured puttering peacefully along, allowing its passengers to enjoy the scenery. Roaring back and forth along the coastline with a fine bow wave must be such a pleasant change from being stuck on I-95 or the Long Island Expressway. This is boating as catharsis, and I must admit that I’m a bit envious. Where else can a man pour on the power, sit in the center of a whole cockpit full of electronic toys, play Captain Bligh to his own family and, at the end of the day, instead of facing the perils of the open sea, tie up at a nice marina and plug in the cable TV?

Copyright: David Bouchier

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