Boys and Their Toys

Just Another Way We Learn

The Gorgeous 23.8m (78’1″) Custom built Buddy Davis Motor Yacht “Plastic Toy” takes at break at Jarrett Bay Industrial Park along the ICW in Core Creek, NC

I’ve always had a love for boats. I think it started when my best buddy in Grade school and myself dragged an old, rotted and wooden skiff out of the woods near the banks of the Tar River in Greenville.

Even though Tom Sawyer was just another book to be read at the time, Mark Twain must have known exactly what the historically strong attraction that young and adventurous boys have always had for boats. Especially boys who had the great fortune of being able to grow up near navigable Rivers, Lakes and Oceans.

The inevitable challenges that boating adventures (and mis-adventures) present to the young minds of boys are just too irresistible for those young minds and I suppose, go a long way toward building the all important self-confidence that would be needed later as they grew into young men and responsible people.

These early challenges and water borne activities may not ever had been experienced or had possibly been forgotten by our parents who, by this time in our growth years, were suspicious but nevertheless mostly unknowing of their offspring’s antics as long as the activities of said offspring didn’t turn life threatening. Besides, They were of “The Greatest Generation” and had much bigger fish to fry as family providers and survivors of a brutal World War.

The dangers and consequences of dragging an old wooden skiff out of the woods to experience a mid-summer, 20 mile trip downstream a narrow, muddy and mostly lazy river was never an issue in our 15 year old minds. Instead, it was the adventure of planning our own expeditions and the accompanying freedom from hot, sticky Summer tobacco jobs that madly drove us in our poorly planned, but (sometimes) successfully executed endeavors.

Of course, as every future Mariner should know, a “shakedown” cruise is absolutely necessary on any newly acquired watercraft and our wooden skiff was no exception. As I much later in life discovered, a shakedown cruise is a very important part of the boat ownership process.

Pushing off from the banks of the muddy Tar River for the first time, we quickly discovered that minor leaks were a part of the wooden boat experience. To remedy that, we made some cut up Clorox bottles to bail out the water if it got deeper than an inch in our vintage watercraft. We didn’t realize it at the time, but these plastic bottles were to be our introduction to the much more sophisticated version of the automatic electric bilge pump we would rely on in the far off upcoming future. Apparently, the saying that “there is no better bilge pump than a scared man with a bucket” still holds true to this day.

Soon after, on our second excursion, we realized that some sort of steering would be needed so we “borrowed” a couple of Cypress Garden water skis from a friend to use as oars or more accurately, as paddles. They did a fair job of keeping our bow pointed downstream but precise steering was yet to be learned as our paddling skills (like 15 yr. old male brains) were not yet quite developed.

The loss of steering control continues to this day, to be one of the most serious emergencies that can occur on any watercraft. The US Coast Guard regularly performs seaborne rescues just off our coast to vessels and Mariners who have lost this vital ability aboard their crafts. We learned this lesson early in our boating lives on the third of our Saturday shakedown series as we pushed to “sea” from our ancient home port on the Tar, known throughout history as Port Terminal.

Port Terminal occupies an important place in Tar River history as it served as a port and warehouse area for the shipping of timber, pine tar and other commodities produced in our area in the early Colonial days

The Tar River gets its name from North Carolina’s history as a naval stores colony, where the dense longleaf pine forests provided much of the tar, turpentine, and pitch needed for shipbuilding and transporting goods throughout the colonies and abroad. Like all coastal rivers, it is also due to this abundance of trees, and the tannins their leaves produce, combined with the stirring and movement of rich sediment during storms that the Tar River gets its brown color.

I can remember, it was a very hot, windless and lazy afternoon. Our afternoon float plan allowed for about an hour or two for fishing for Catfish and just general “skylarking” (a Navy term) as adolescent boys are so well at doing.

Drifting downstream on these shakedown cruises was always an open-ended thing. We never knew exactly where we would end up but were always careful to not stray too far from where we had set off from. The Tar had a swift current. And if not careful, our planned for “passage”, which was still in the planning stages, would get started before we were actually ready for the “Big Day”.

We knew that the Tar became the huge Pamlico River at Little Washington. We also knew that the Pamlico eventually flowed into the vast Pamlico Sound and eventually through Teach’s Hole Channel out into the Great Atlantic Ocean. Never mind the distance. We had already done this first leg (with our parent’s permission) floating along on truck inner tubes. (I won’t go into explaining what they were, just Google it)

The exact place the Tar River becomes The Pamlico River at the Highway 17 bridge (left) in Little Washington, NC

As all 15 year old’s know, we believed we were up to any task and invincible. This was the lofty and overly ambitious route of our future plans and dreams. But we didn’t care. We would make it!

In the time that it would take to get all of this accomplished, we would somehow figure out how to explain how we got so far from home to our parents and they would happily come to get us and our gear in their early ’60’s station wagons. (Google again) The great experience would make all the whippings to our backsides and groundings worth it in the end.

It was on this day that we discovered how important steering was to a well found vessel.

The first sign of trouble was realizing that we had gotten caught mid-stream in the fast current. There had been recent thunderstorms which had brought an abundance of rain which in turn, caused high water and a very fast moving down stream current. We noted that it would be these conditions which would be to our advantage on the first leg of our passage to Little Washington, 20 miles down stream. We also agreed that finding a 16 yr old friend with a driver’s license and access to a car for a ride to get back to Greenville could wait until we got closer to the day of the start of our “circumnavigation”.

Rushing downstream without the aid of propulsion was thrilling. Steering was another matter. We soon found ourselves being pushed to the edges where giant trees overhung their branches into the high water caused by the recent rainstorms.

Unknown to us at the time, really big snakes and water moccasins loved to lay out and sun themselves on the lower branches where they could easily slip back into the water to escape predators or pursue prey.

As we were pushed under one of these leafy branches, the biggest Water Moccasin I’ve ever seen just fell down into our little skiff with us. It MUST have been 6 feet long! The snake dropped in and we all bailed out into the muddy, fast moving water.

We eventually managed to get the boat to a sandy bank where we pulled it from the water and overturned the craft to rid it of the unwanted passenger. We learned a valuable lesson that day that would last a lifetime. A vessel under control is much safer and especially more conducive to pleasant passage making.

Pondering what to do as part of our “great trip”, my lifelong buddy came up with the idea that we could “borrow” his Dad’s outboard motor from his garage to both provide propulsion and steering and would also give us the option of a method for our eventual return. This idea would take time to implement as proper planning for the opportune time to “borrow” it was instrumental to the plan’s success. A few week later, the right moment arrived and we all met down at the sandy beach where our vessel lay in wait for it’s final shakedown and excursion.

Initially, we had a little difficulty in getting the old Evinrude started but being the tinkerers we were, we soon had the old 2 cycle smoking and coughing her way back to life. We had placed it on the transom and were soon ready for shoving off. Thinking back, I believe there were 4 of us who boarded that day.

None of us considered that this day would be our last aboard the old wooden skiff.

We had really come to love our “find” and were even trying to come up with a name for her that all of us could agree on. She had previously provided us with crazy fun, lots of freedom, a new knowledge of watercraft and yes, a few scares which have all developed into one of the lifelong stories that long time friends always share and reminisce about decades later.

Shoving off from the beach in Neutral at a fast idle in a cloud of oil smoke and gasoline fumes, we were modern day versions of Tom Sawyer, Christopher Columbus and Robinson Crusoe. We were 10 feet tall, bulletproof and invisible. Until we kicked the little Evinrude down into gear.

Disregarding that the motor was at a much too high idle to go into gear properly and that our old wooden skiff did have a lot of rot in the transom, we dropped her into a grinding and loud bang forward gear which promptly destroyed the rotted wood on which she was mounted allowing the entire river to rush in and quickly sink our boat along with all of our carefully thought out plans of becoming the first Pitt County natives to successfully cross the Pamlico Sound to the Outer Banks in a 12 foot skiff. The poor motor also sank to the bottom but was eventually recovered albeit with much explanation.

Perhaps the old skiff found it’s own way down the River and eventually became a fixture in a local flower garden.
It might have even made it’s way to the Outer Banks where it became a piece of Yard Art in front of an Island Daycare Center. Here, it could inspire the dreams of a much younger crowd. I’d like to think of this ending for the skiff.

It’s crazy, but we learned a lot with that little boat. Knowledge that has unbelievably lasted to this day. Shakedown cruises are important in that they will bring out most of the weak points in a vessel. Never go out without lifejackets and proper safety gear. Boats are always full of challenges, surprises and fun. And finally, as parents.. to never fully trust the judgements of a early teen.

Now that I am older, arguably wiser and a licensed captain, I still have that dream of cruising and passage making. I still enjoy the challenge of single handing my 38 foot sailboat “Brilliant Cut” in all kinds of weather. I can also see the lust for adventure, and sadly, a lack of knowledge and Common Sense and casual disregard for Safety in the eyes and actions of some new and some experienced boat owners. Being around the water everyday and delivering all kinds of boats provide a lot to observe.

In trying to understand some of the craziness I see on the water, I sometimes think that these folks never had the advantage of being raised close to water or the opportunity to learn from the irresponsible behavior that naturally comes with the freedom of adolescence. Most of us, if we are lucky, live through those times to understand that our actions come with consequences. Never as much as they do with time spent around water or boats. Unlike breathing, responsibility and knowledge is not a natural human trait. It must be taught and learned. Hopefully with as much a lack of pain as possible.

Boating is supposed to be fun and a rewarding part of life. As you go about your Boating fun this Summer, make sure you have the proper training and knowledge to safely enjoy one of the greatest pastimes our earth offers. Your life and the lives of those you love may depend upon it.

Fair Winds and Following Seas.

An Eye Opening

A tug pushing a tow on the ICW

Knowledge is something no one can ever take from you.

Long Ago Wisdom from My Dad

Recently, I had the opportunity to experience the US Coast Guard Captain’s Licensing Course at Carteret Community College’s OUPV Program in Morehead City, NC.

OUPV is the Coast Guard’s acronym for Operator of Uninspected Passenger Vessels. It is also widely known as a “6 Pack” license among boaters and Mariners. It is the most popular Coast Guard License. This License allows qualified individuals to operate a commercial vessel with up to six paying passengers and crew.

The necessity of a Captain’s License to legally operate your boat is unrelated to the size of your boat. However, some insurance companies require a captain’s license for moving yachts over a certain size. This was for me, a particular reason for obtaining my license.

There are many details involving the securement of the licensing procedure and I will touch on but a few of them here. The rest, and much more detail can be found at The Coast Guard’s National Maritime Center website. The entire process is lengthy, detailed and expensive. Thanks to Carteret’s excellent program, it becomes a much more affordable affair as it is a State Supported School and the cost of the course is much lower than local private instruction schools.

Lastly, with that last statement in mind and all things considered, it is doubtful that one could find better quality instruction, more experience and knowledge or a better venue that is brought to bear by Carteret to get this course out to the public.

The OUPV License comes in three different forms and carries many upgrades as endorsements. The three forms are:

The Inland Captain’s License– Allows the holder to operate commercially on bays, sounds rivers and lakes.

The Great Lakes & Inland License– Allows you to operate on both the Great Lakes and inland waterways

The Near Coastal Captain’s License– Permits you to operate on both inland waterways as well as Near Coastal waters (out to 100 miles offshore)

The basic minimum requirements, the boating experience for each version of the private boat captain’s license vary slightly.. but to be brief, some of the basic requirements are listed below.

  • Be at least 18 yrs. old
  • Have a minimum of 360 days boating experience. Ninety of these days must have occurred in the last three years.
  • Be a US citizen or be able to show lawful admittance to the US for permanent residence if not a citizen
  • Pass a physical exam and drug test.
  • Hold a valid CPR and Basic First Aid Card
  • Obtain a Transportation Workers Identification Credential (TWIC Card) which includes a background check done by Homeland Security.
  • Pass a USCG approved OUPV/Six Pack course like the one offered at Carteret Community College.

You can use an online course to study for your OUPV license but are required to attend a proctored exam in person to complete your license. Testing Centers are widespread and not that difficult to find.

Some Tools of the Skills. A Compass, Chart, Dividers and Clock.

The “Eye Opener”

Personally, I can legally document more than 43 years experience on the water which includes much more than the required offshore experience I needed to obtain my license. I keep my hours current with the many deliveries I have done in the past three years both alone and under the license of my good friend of 42 years, Captain Joe Sizemore.

When Capt. Joe first encouraged me to get my own license, I was truthfully, not all that interested. I had a “lot going on” as most of us do and our deliveries together, which started out as just two sailors enjoying the water, fit rather nicely into my busy schedule. More responsibility at that time in my life was not needed nor required. I was just happy being a Deck Hand, and the occasional First Mate on longer passages.

If there is anything you know about me, then you know how much I crave knowledge, and understanding about the things I get interested in.

So…during all these years as a Boat Owner (I think I’m working on having owned 10 or 11 boats right now), Delivery Skipper, Yacht Racer, Fleet Captain and Commodore of The Pamlico Sailing Club, Yard Manager, and Dock Manager, I studied.

I studied everything I could get my hands on. I bought a lot of books and spent dozens if not hundreds of hours online. Studying Navigation, Pilotage, Boat Repair, Seamanship and Boathandling Skills, Rules of the Road and even cooking at sea! (I’ve got some great recipes in my logbook).

When I retired and found more time to spend on other things other than where and when somebody wanted me to be someplace I didn’t want to be, I finally made my decision. Capt. Joe never gave up on encouraging me to get my license and recently, I pulled the trigger (so to speak) on making my interest official.

Feeling that this program would be a “walk-in-the-park” for me, I did my customary research after which I called Captain Scott Leahy (who happened to be the Marine Program Director) at Carteret Community College.

Scott was prompt in answering my emails, calls and texts and was very easy to talk to. Upon signing up for the two week, full time course, I was encouraged even more. Let’s get this done!

Was I in for a big surprise!

In a nutshell, I was humbled. The approved USCG course presented by Scott himself, for me, an experienced skipper and Boater, was more like trying to walk on water rather than a stroll in the park.

I thought I knew a lot. (and I did). But that didn’t help much. Commitment, constant attention, copious notes and nightly study were the order of every day. Exams.. there were five.. were HARD! I learned skills that I never even knew I would need as a Licensed Captain.

Captain Leahy’s credentials and experience are impeccable. Both as a modern instructor and knowledge of subject matter. But he didn’t pull any punches. No exam was “open book” and he takes his responsibilities very seriously. You are expected to “hold-up” your end of things with promptness, nightly study and attention in class.

I was not alone in my thinking. There were 7 other classmates who all breathed a sigh of relief each time their exams were graded. They consisted of experienced marine fishing business owners, Hopeful charter boat operators and Engineering students still in school. Even a young, family brewery operator and a 30 yr. experienced and successful Financial Advisor were included in the diverse mix. I think it’s fair to say that we were all challenged.

You Don’t Know What You Don’t know
Chart Plotter On “Brilliant Cut”

I’ll admit. Using modern day electronic Navigation equipment runs the risk of making one lazy. Why would I ever need to know how to compute a compass’ deviation, a chart’s variation or Speed/Distance/Time in Nautical miles instead of just regular (statute) miles? The chartplotter does all that for me. Jeez.. I haven’t used basic algebra in years…

Why did I have to learn the many parts of the term “Tide”? I know the difference between high and low tide and how to find out the time/difference information, wasn’t that “enough”? Did I ever know the numerous forces at work that influenced the tide where I happened to be at the time?

A Local Tide Table used aboard “Brilliant Cut”+

The answer to these and many more questions was a big “NO” But thanks to Capt. Leahy’s Patience, Knowledge and Experience, I do now.

I cannot recommend the OUPV and Marine related courses at Carteret Community College highly enough. And as it turned out, it was really convenient when it came to obtaining some other credentials that are needed for the license. You can get a TWIC card right around the corner from the school and there is a FastMed close by to get the needed Physical. An approved First Aid Course is also included at the end of the course.

In fact, I plan to return as time progresses. I kinda have an interest in Boat Building (an old but thriving Coastal NC tradition) and strangely, Big Outboard Motor Repair. (Go figure)

I have personally instructed at 2 Community Colleges in my past. Both of which were in different states, and I can attest to the Thought and Quality that has gone into establishing the program here in Beaufort. Captain Scott Leahy is to be commended for his efforts and care. I am especially glad I stopped by their booth at the Annapolis Boat Show, 2 years ago, where I first learned of Carteret’s OUPV Program. If you’re interested in gaining your OUPV or would like to gain more endorsements on an existing license, I encourage you to check it out

In thinking about all of this, and being a US Navy veteran, I think I better understand an interesting observation. And that made it alright with me. The US Navy, The Merchant Marine, and The US Coast Guard all thrive upon tradition. A tradition of being on the Sea. A proud tradition that originally attracted me back in ’72 and continues to run deep to this day. Yes. sometimes it becomes a PITA. But as a tradition, it remains. Unlike so many temporary things that continually surround us these days.

The Ocean has it's silent caves,
Deep, quiet and alone;
Though there be fury on the waves,
Beneath them there is none.

The awful spirits of the deep
Hold their communions there;
And there are those for whom we weep,
The young, the bright, the fair.

Calmly the wearied seamen rest
Beneath their own blue sea.
The ocean solitudes are blest,
For there is purity.

The earth has guilt, the earth has care,
Unquiet are it's graves;
But peaceful sleep is ever there,
Beneath the dark blue waves.

Nathaniel Hawthorne
Early One Morning at Sea

Being a Mariner is something I am proud of. The Ocean, both wild and calm, dangerous and beautiful is made up of many contradictions and mystery. It is both intimately personal and vastly universal.

The knowledge gained by obtaining my OUPV license continues in that proud tradition for me.

I have many people to thank now, and during all the years of my “Nautical Education”. Many more than I have room to list here. To all those Schools/Authors/Friends/Instructors/Captains/Business Owners and Mentors, I thank You. I will always do my best to not ever let you down


An old Navy adage, repeated aboard US Navy Attack Destroyer, USS Blandy DD-943. Somewhere along the Gunline, Quang Tri, N.Vietnam, 1972

Life on the Water

November Sunset in Upper Broad Creek, Along The Neuse River, in North Carolina

Sunsets seem to be the image of choice for ANYONE who’s holding a Camera or Cellphone while on or near the Water. Why is that? The two just seem to go hand-in-hand. But in some Photography Circles, They are an Old as a Cliche as can be had for a subject. It is curious thing. If you’ve seen one sunset, You’ve seen them all, Right?

I’ve thought about this a lot. And coming from someone who has photographed everything from Brides to Trucks to Waterfalls, One would think that a sunset before Me, would be, well… “just another sunset”. I know for sure that they are certainly the bane of most all Image Editors. They’ll let you know, right up front, “No Sunset Pics” and that’s because they have millions in hand already. But I think I might know a partial answer/explanation to the above question.

Maybe, It’s because.. Like Winter’s Snowflakes, We see Every Single One as Unique and Different. And they ARE, to those of us that can load up a terabyte of drive space with our sunset images alone.

Thank Goodness.. And God’s artistry.. that no two Sunsets ARE alike. Ever. Just how boring would that be? Each one seems to be more beautiful than the last. And once again, We are amazed! We just can’t let that moment slip by, Can we?

So each time we experience one, It’s almost as if our eyes tell us that we’ve never looked upon one that beautiful before. (Constant amazement is Great, isn’t it!)

Thoreau described it perfectly with his statement quoted above. Among other things, We don’t just “look” at sunsets. We “see” them. And each of us, by Nature.. see things differently at times. Throughout history, this is manifested in all of the world’s greatest artist’s work.

So the next time someone just has to show you their latest recording of the oldest image subject in the world, try and Think about what is was that THEY saw when the button was clicked or the shutter was pressed. Through someone else’s eyes, You just might be amazed too.