Departments — 05 October 2018
Grounding an education in boats and boating

By Mark Gauert

City & Shore Magazine

It sounded easy.

“You’re the lookout,’’ the captain said. “You just ride in the front of the boat and look out.”

“Look out for what?” I said.

“Anything we might run into,” he said. “The dock. Other boats. Sand bars …”

“Sand bars?”

I was a boy from the high plains of New Mexico, unfamiliar with seagoing terms. Unfamiliar with the concept of water, really, in any quantity.

And this was my first time on a boat in South Florida.

“A cowboy walks into a sand bar,” I said, attempting to lighten the captain’s mood, “and says, ‘I’ll give any of you $1,000 if you can make my horse laugh …’”

“I’ve got to get us underway,” he said, turning back to the wheel in the back of the boat. “Take the nautical chart with you.”

I looked down at the chart, which appeared to be a map of Biscayne Bay in front of us but with tiny numbers scattered all over the water, designated in blue. (Even a boy from New Mexico could figure that out.)

It was nice up at the front of the boat sailing away from Dinner Key, the morning sun sparkling on the bay waters, the freshening breeze on my face. I looked ahead for docks and boats, then down at the chart.

I liked being the lookout.

“All clear ahead?” the captain called from behind.

I looked down at the little numbers on the nautical chart, ranging from 1 to about 20. I was unfamiliar with how this worked, but I guessed that a score of 1 was probably better than a score of 15. (Even a boy from New Mexico knew that.)

“Aye, captain!” I said, attempting to impress him with a nautical expression I’d learned many years before from Ensign Chekov aboard the Enterprise.

We were about halfway across the bay when I noticed the numbers on the chart were beginning to fall – 15 then 10 then 5. Excellent, I thought. This must mean we were progressing nicely toward the optimal sailing experience. The coveted 1.

But before we reached 1, the boat came to a slushy stop in the middle of the bay – at 3 on the nautical chart.

So, the smaller the number, the shallower the depth of the water. Not the quality of the sailing experience.

Now I know.

“We’ve run aground!” the captain said, looking down at the sand swirling around us. “WHERE’S MY LOOKOUT!?!”

Years later, doing research for this special Boat Show Issue, I was on a boat on the Middle River in Fort Lauderdale. The captain, who offers the boat for rental through Miami-based (think Airbnb but for boats) was sending me up to the front of the boat again.

“You’ll enjoy the sunset more up there,” he smiled. “Take a glass of wine with you.”

“Not the nautical chart?” I said.

“I’m taking care of that,” he said.

It was nice at the front of the boat sailing away from the dock near Sunrise Boulevard, the setting sun sparkling on the Intracoastal Waterway, the evening breeze on my face. I looked ahead for other boats, pink clouds on the horizon, then down at the chilled wine in my hand.

I liked being the lookout again.

“Our primary mission is to make boating easily accessible and affordable, for anyone regardless of boating experience,” said Jackie Baumgarten, Boatsetter’s co-founder, who’d joined our sunset cruise. “You don’t have to worry about the boat – you can just enjoy your guests and your friends and your time on the water.”

It sounded easier.

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