I had Driver’s Ed. with Mr. Henderson in a room off a hallway across from the gym and behind the auditorium. Marty Reed is the only other classmate I can recall out of a group of fifteen or so. The class met twice a week, I believe, for a semester. We learned all the rules of the highway, car maintenance, and Pennsylvania vehicle law. Ideally, this part of the class was mastered just prior to one’s sixteenth birthday, when obtaining the learner permit would allow for the second part of the course, driving an actual car. In retrospect, I find it a bit disarming that the three driver’s ed. instructors I know all had nicknames: Schrec, Wild Bill, and Disco Dave. I leave the rest to the imagination. No wonder driver’s education has been cut from many school curricula.
Fifty years later I am back in driver’s education…for boats. Just a week ago I boasted about learning one new painting term every month. Now I have to learn seven chapters of facts, figures and terms in 24 hours. When I signed up for the boating safety course, I had no idea I had to pass a fifty-question exam at the end of eight hours. We are told we can miss 10 and still pass. Thankfully, I attended the two-night version of the course, which gives me this afternoon to study material we covered last night. I quickly mastered port, starboard, bow, stern, and gunwale. But freeboard, draft, displacement hull, and impeller are new to me. As a reading specialist I know that a student must have 7 meaningful interactions with a word to learn it. I don’t even have storage space in my brain for new words.
In the middle of the first four-hour boating class, our instructor passed out lengths of rope to each of us and had available on every table simulated docking apparatus: a metal ring, a dock cleat, and a post. He had illustrations of several knots for us to try. Even with hands-on help, I only mastered one knot. But I am determined to practice at home. Remember the scene from Jaws when Quint tosses a rope to Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) and orders him to tie a sheepshank? Hooper ties it and tosses it back. I want to master a knot with that kind of confidence.
A huge part of our instruction required us to identify which boat in various water encounters would be the “give-way vessel” or the “stand-on vessel.” All those situations included many of the previous terms and knowledge of various watercraft as well as their navigation lights. Even more, we learn various horn signals for communication. I make a note to purchase a horn.
The Coast Guard instructor grills me, “In the U.S. Aids to Navigation system, lighted navigation marks showing the port side of a channel when returning from sea have what color lights?”
I struggle to translate any part of that question. I stammer, “Uhhh…”
The coast guard officer provides the answer and we move on. My classmate, Evan, an eleven-year-old never misses a question.
I’m exhausted after the four-hour slide presentation. I return home and relay the gist of the evening to Paul. He says I don’t have to go back. I have all the important information we need in the materials. I wake up the next day determined to obtain the Safe Boater Card. I feel like a Junior Girl Scout again, earning a badge for my sash. Even more, I picture all the girlfriends toasting with rum and addressing one another, “Captain!” just like the Captain Morgan ad on television.
Day Two: Dead Reckoning
My favorite new term from boat class means calculating one’s current position without means of a GPS. I learn how to avoid propeller injuries, engine fires, and hypothermia. What to do in case of capsizing, swamping, or collision. I note all the visual distress signals to have on board and learn how and when to call MAYDAY. I prepare to handle fog, storms, and tides. Any of you readers who plan to visit can now put your lives safely in my hands. Or you might be terrified of all the impending disasters that await.
My new study buddy, Evan, tests a flare gun. Coincidentally, our Coast Guard instructor teaches driver’s education and has us wear special goggles to simulate alcohol impairment. I swear off alcohol (at least when I am piloting the boat.) At last, the feared moment arrives: the test. Pencils scratch. The young lady next to me finishes in twenty minutes. Two others finish and line up to have their papers graded. I am back in fifth grade wondering why it takes me so long to read the questions. I finish just before Evan and step up to the table for the instructor to check my answers. I PASS!! Receive a hand shake and my card.
I am now an official Skipper.