The photo accompanying this post shows my husband at a brief and rare time for us: We owned a boat. “Lillie G” was a 16-foot Boston Whaler that we had from 2002 to 2007 (I think). We had her in the water maybe three times before we decided that We Are Not Boat People.
We never were, really. The only reason we bought a boat was because, back then, it was necessary for schlepping things between Provo and North Caicos. The daily air service was on six- or nine-seat planes. You could bring over some groceries, but larger items, like a wall mirror or mini-fridge, could try the patience of the pilots and owners.
Anticipating the need, Tom and I took a U.S. Coast Guard boating safety course in the early 1990s. We were the only people in the class who didn’t have a boat. Got some interesting looks!
As the reality of our North Caicos home drew closer, we went to a boat show in Richmond, picked up all the brochures, and made a decision. We bought the Whaler and trailer from a local marine dealer and arranged to hire someone to take them down to Port Everglades, Fla., for shipping to the islands. The whole thing felt a bit illicit, as if we were in a major drug transaction … or maybe that was because we met and paid the guy in the parking lot of a Rite-Aid in Chester, Va.
For a couple of years, Lillie G sat first in our garage, then alongside the house. I had moved to the island, but didn’t have the confidence to launch her without Tom. When we finally did and took her out a couple of times, we were terrified. What if we hit a sand bar (or something worse)? What if it stalled and we couldn’t restart? It was becoming clear that we were not really boat people. I didn’t even have the confidence to snap back when, after many tries, we anchored offshore near our house for a break, and a neighbor who thought she owned the ocean gave me hell for “parking” too close to her place. Those who know my willingness to call an a-hole an a-hole will realize how much the stress of that boat affected me!
We did take Lillie G to Provo once, with the help and guidance of our friend Mark McLean. After that, we sold her to two guys who were more willing to play around with the waters and the gear. It was a huge relief. By that time, ferry service had made it easier to carry things from Provo and more merchants on North had reduced the need to do so. Our boat chapter was closed.
Looking back, though, I see that we were pretty much doomed from the start. I believe true boat people are either born into it or start learning early. They grow up near water and are introduced to watersports, sailing or fishing. They view boats merely as cars without wheels. We, on the other hand, grew up inland with relatives whose occupations and pastimes were land-based. I learned how to climb trees, navigate a sled past oncoming traffic, catch fireflies and now a lawn. I skated on top of water instead of operating a boat through it.
I now know I am not a boat person, but at least I can handle myself in the water without a boat and I wouldn’t be totally helpless if required to run a boat in an emergency. I am always surprised when I meet an islander who can neither run a boat nor swim. It’s one thing for someone like me to have to struggle with the “surrounded by water” bit of island living. But it should be a part of the upbringing, and clear-eyed knowledge, of those planning on living there. You don’t have to be boat people, but a minimum of comfort and survival knowledge is required.