In­cred­i­ble sights boaters ex­pe­ri­ence

Boating - - FEATURES - Kevin Falvey, Ed­i­tor-in-Chief ed­i­tor@boat­ing­mag.com

A bet­ter view­point

As we mo­tored un­der the New­port Bridge and up the east pas­sage of Nar­ra­gansett Bay early on a Tues­day morn­ing, the tall ship ap­peared like an ap­pari­tion out of the fog. A dull shadow at first, its form took a more de­fined shape with ev­ery ro­ta­tion of our pro­pel­lers, fi­nally re­solv­ing into a three-mast, fully rigged ship some 200 feet long and mak­ing 11 knots right at us.

I al­tered course demon­stra­bly to star­board, as a cour­tesy and what The Rules call for, and watched in awe as it slid past on our port side.

Of course, I had spot­ted it on radar first and also on AIS, which gave me its name: Oliver Haz­ard Perry. I’d seen it be­fore. But it was the ac­tual sight of this ship ma­te­ri­al­iz­ing out of the mist and not the mere knowl­edge of its pres­ence that made the meet­ing an ex­pe­ri­ence.

On this early mid­week morn­ing, the bay was cloaked in fog and de­void of other marine traf­fic. This is “fog coun­try.” Re­duced vis­i­bil­ity would keep few lo­cal boats tied at their moor­ings as a gen­eral rule. Even so, not even the wakes of unseen, un­heard boats dis­turbed the wa­ter. It was just us, the Perry and the fog. For a mo­ment, as we closed in on the ship and my eyes fol­lowed the proud line of its 70-foot­long bowsprit be­fore ris­ing to the lofty height of its masts, we were trans­ported back in time. It could have been 1817 in­stead of 2017. For a mo­ment, any­way, it took my breath away. And I’ve seen some stuff on and around the wa­ter.

Just days af­ter cross­ing cour­ses with “OHP,” as some New­port lo­cals re­fer to the tall ship, a hump­back whale de­cided to rise from the depths and breach a few yards off the bow of my per­sonal boat, aboard which I was en­ter­tain­ing old friends. We were just a mile and a half off the beach. But we were in a boat, and for peo­ple in a boat, an en­counter with a cetacean goes from un­likely to pos­si­ble, and even on to prob­a­ble if one boats dur­ing a cer­tain sea­son in cer­tain places. It was, in fact, the fifth or sixth whale sight­ing I’d made in a month, though none at such close range, and I wasn’t even try­ing. Other sights this year in­cluded fire­works re­flected on the wa­ter, acres of por­poises and, thanks to a mirage type known as Fata Mor­gana, a con­tainer ship ap­pear­ing to float up­side down above the hori­zon. Yes, in­deed, boaters are af­forded a van­tage point un­avail­able to the land-bound.

You can hardly ex­plain to the boat­less just what it is that they are miss­ing. I mean, if we were to tell them, they might be­lieve us, but they just wouldn’t un­der­stand. Ap­ply­ing the most de­scrip­tive prose in the world to the sight of a swoop­ing ea­gle snatch­ing a fish; to the rapidly chang­ing col­ors of sun­set on the wa­ter; to a head-on meet­ing with a fully rigged ship; de­scrib­ing, in fact, any num­ber of the in­cred­i­ble things boaters ex­pe­ri­ence just doesn’t do it. Even pic­tures serve only to record and more keenly re­mem­ber events for the peo­ple who were ac­tu­ally there. To the boat­less, the im­ages strain­ing our smart­phone’s mem­ory might as well be gift-shop post­cards.

We boaters have got it good.

Yes, in­deed, boaters are af­forded a van­tage point un­avail­able to the land-bound.

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