Mood: accident prone
Last Saturday I drove down to Portsmouth and took the New Hampshire state boat license exam. A word of advice: if ever you need to take this test, the answer to 90% of the questions is either "150 feet" or "A Type III personal flotation device." It also doesn't hurt to brush up on your red spar buoys vs. your black spar buoys, because the state is rather keen that you know the difference. On paper the correct answers are "pass to the south or west" and "pass to the north or east" respectively. In practice, when you're driving a boat the correct answer is really: "pass on the side of the buoy that is opposite from the large rock pile/island/shore/mooring field/other solid obstacle".
I missed two questions, both of which concerned what to do when you're underway on the ocean in fog. (Answer: sound your horn one time every two minutes. Or is it two times every one minute? I don't think it really matters. If I ever find myself drifting out to sea in the fog, I'm going to be sounding the airhorn 50 times a second until someone comes and rescues me.)
Aside from that, the rest of the exam went fine. I am now licensed to pilot my caviar-powered yacht anywhere it will go.
Prior to the test, we had to sit through a mandatory all-day class taught by a no-nonsense Marine Patrol guy with a snappy mustache and brush cut. He screened several "Don't Do This" videos depicting boaters gadding about at night without lights, unsafe passage violations, gangs of jetskiers terrorizing an innocent couple having a quiet glass of Chardonnay on the dock, sailors tangling their mast in power lines, and drunken hunters plowing into a bridge. At the end of the class, he asked if there were any questions. A forest of hands went up:
"Can I drink while my boat is anchored?"
"Can I drink if my boat is tied up to a public dock?"
"Can I drink if I set my throttle on idle and take my hands off the wheel?"
"Can my ten year old drive while I drink?"
"If I'm drinking on a jetski, does that count as a BWI?"
"If, hypothetically, you saw someone cruising along holding an open can of Budweiser, would you have probable cause to pull them over?"
"If my boat is on a lake straddling the Maine/New Hampshire border, and I'm drinking in the bow, which is in New Hampshire, and the marine patrol pulls up, can they still arrest me if I cross over to the stern, which is in Maine?"
As the questions went on, the marine patrol officer began to look more and more despairing, his clipboard lost its jaunty angle, and his mustache began to droop. It reminded me of the time my brother had to attend traffic school in Florida for a minor moving violation. He was forced to spend a whole Saturday in a classroom with a bunch of hardened vehicular felons. At the beginning of the class, everyone had to go around the room and state why they were there:
Guy #1: "Uhhh....yeah, so I wasn't wearing any clothes, and I was full of prescription drugs, and I crashed through some palm trees and did $15,000 worth of property damage."
Woman #1: "I was doing 45 in a 15 mph school zone. I wasn't really watching the road because I was, um, 'servicing' my ex-husband who was in the passenger seat. Afterwards I dated the cop for awhile."
Guy #2: "The cop pulled up behind me, and I was afraid I was going to get jacked, so I took off. He chased me for five miles before I skidded off the road and took out a Girl Scout cookie stand."
My brother: "Ummmm...I made an illegal right turn on red."
But anyway, back to boating. If the thought of drunken lunatics zooming around the waterways with Everclear sluicing through their veins makes you want to take a permanent vow of landlubbercy, consider this: there used to be no licensing requirements at all in New Hampshire. Anyone over the age of 12 could operate a motorboat. It was the Wild West out there. By the time I turned 13 I was driving the Boston Whaler into town by myself to get the day's groceries. We did the most incredibly stupid things as kids, like having pitched sailboat naval battles out in the cove and slingshotting each other into the rocks on waterskis and free-diving over old boat wrecks that were 20 - 30 feet down. My sister and I once got trapped out in the Whaler in a terrible lightning storm at night and had to grope our way home along the shore. I can't even believe our parents sat calmly on the porch reading the newspaper while we did these things. That was another world.
I was going somewhere with this lengthy preamble - something to do with Diver Dan, or something. I'm not sure. Sometimes I start off these blog entries with a conclusion in mind, and veer wildly off course, and find myself in an uncharted area marked "HERE THERE BE MONSTERS".
I'll leave you with one final nautical tidbit from the class: Red Right Returning. This mnemonic stands for two things:
1. If returning to harbor from the sea, keep the red channel buoys on your right.
2. If there is a David movie on television, keep the red-haired boy on the channel.
There will be an exam on #2, so pay attention.