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The Key to Boating for Fun
Making Every Trip Out Worth the Effort.

The following article by Jim Kalvin was published in the July 2009 issue of “Waves.”

"Underway." What does that word really mean?

I’m sure it means different things to different people, but most think of it as a nautical term that refers to the status of a vessel.

Under the definition of the United States Coast Guard (Inland & International Rules of the Road), it means that your vessel is not tied to a dock, affixed to the bottom (anchored), or made fast to a marker or other fixed object. In other words, you are "free to move about" as one popular commercial says.

"Underway" also applies whether your boat is moving or not or whether your engine is running or not. Sounds pretty simple. If you're not secured to something, you are "underway".

For me, it starts earlier than that. I consider myself to be "underway" when I get out of work - whether it's the day of, the day before, or two days before an outing on the boat. Because once that particular work day is through, preparation for the trip begins. It might include hitting the tackle shop on the way home, West Marine or Ace Hardware after that, and a trip to the grocery store. It also may include stopping at all afore-mentioned places, plus a few more! Once I get home, the oil is topped off, all lights are checked, and the new bits of tackle are added to the existing inventory. I might even take the time to restring my favorite reel.

Ruth and I elect to keep our Sea Craft on a trailer, because we have a lot of favorite, and secret (yeah - right!) spots that range from Sugarloaf Key to Lemon Bay - with scores of possible launch points in between. So, getting "underway" for us always includes picking a ramp and a destination. This is weather dependent, as some of our favorite spots are almost completely protected from the wind.

Once we have a float plan, the engine is run on the hose, and the cooler is stocked - might even sample one of the cold beverages during the process, you never know. A quick listen on the VHF weather channel, and off we go. Or, if it happens to be one of those rare opportunities when we are able to prepare the night before the voyage, off we go to bed! Because beauty sleep seems to be more important each , especially in the summer heat.

Sometimes I feel the anticipation of a kid as we're preparing for the day - wondering how the weather will be, what the seas will be like, wondering if we'll be able to get offshore - I mean REALLY offshore. Seems like those days have been very few and far between for me lately.

My work takes me all over SW Florida, so I see the Gulf every day and I see a lot of very beautiful slick and calm water almost every work week. But when the weekend comes, the wind kicks up, the water turns greenish brown, and once again, I’m not able to enjoy that "summer calm".

My brother, Mike, told me that the water is only calm from Monday through Friday - the weekends are reserved for strong winds, high seas, and extreme tides. Though I know that the law of averages will catch up to me, and I will - once again - get to enjoy a "millpond" day offshore in the near future, we've gotten the stew beat out of us the last four trips out.

Anyway, back to the topic. "Underway" is a state of mind, if you're not tied to the technical definition. And you can make the preparation for the trip whatever you want it to be.

Sometimes it feels like a quest. A quest to finally get out onto the water and enjoy the day afloat. An example would be that time when you had to stop for everything under the sun - gas, groceries, oil, tackle, sunscreen, air, or drinks. And ice - you have to have plenty of ice! Then, for us, there are two trips per year that include a stop at license dispensing facility, because our fishing licenses expire at different times. Though I can always remember that my license HAS expired, I don't seem to have the where-with-all to remember that it is ABOUT to expire!

Honestly, there have been days when it has taken longer to get ready and get TO the water than the length of time that we actually had to spend ON the water. Why do we do it? Because we want to, I guess. There is no better feeling than hitting that perfect day, or almost perfect day, with family and friends.

You roll the dice, hit the water, and make the best of the opportunities that are available given sea state, rain probability, tides, and traffic. The days that aren't so perfect? Well, those are the days that spawn "sea stories," which all boaters seem to have by the bucket-full. There's even an unofficial "contest" that skippers engage in from time to time to see who has the best one. But I'll cover that in a future column.

Q: You know the difference between a sea story and a fairy tale?
A: A Fairy Tale begins with "once upon a time..." and a Sea Story begins with "this is no bull..."

I have one from two weeks ago that would start something like this. "This is no bull... So, there we were, 15 miles off, sky as clear as ever, not a cloud anywhere. I reached down for a cold drink, and when I looked up, here it came. Clouds out of nowhere, lightning, and waves – big, BIG waves. By the time we figured we couldn't outrun it, we were in it! Seas like brick walls, wind blowin' like a scalded banshee...We were 'underway' for 2 hours beating home into that storm!"

And, of course, once we hit the pass and made the channel, the clouds parted, the wind subsided, and the sun came out. The only things missing were doves, rainbows, and an angelic choir.

So, you can have a good time and an unforgettable day while "underway," or you can generate a Sea Story - either of which makes the trip worth the effort. Just make sure that you have the time to prepare your vessel, and that your safety gear is in top shape. Nothing can ruin a day faster than a mishap at sea.

Jim Kalvin is a native Floridian and a career mariner with 25 years in the Marine industry in Southwest Florida. He has been a contributing editor for Scripps-Howard, Southern Boating Magazine, and Marine Business Journal. He is currently the General Manager of Diversified Yacht Services, Inc.

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