Unfortunately, the two teenage boaters who left from Jupiter Florida on a fishing expedition will not be found alive. The survivability of even a week in the ocean without drinking water is next to nil. It’s the reason the Coast Guard announced a halt to the search at nightfall on Friday, July 31. But while this story is unlikely to have a happy conclusion, it’s important that we a) don’t criticize the families of the boys for allowing them to be on the water and b) that we don’t limit young people’s access to what is most often the beginning of a lifetime on the sea. Although I rarely bring up personal experience it’s very applicable in this case.
My first experience in boating was in my mother’s arms at the ripe old age of 3 months. My dad served in the Navy for several years, starting his duties at the end of WWII. He was a very poor kid who, thanks to determination and the GI bill, was able to raise himself out of poverty through a profession that would see him bring into the world over 3,000 babies.
When he finally saved enough money after several years of practicing medicine, he bought his first boat, a 26 foot Chris Craft with a single screw. Although it was fast, it was terrible to dock in a cross wind. My parents kept that boat until the early 1970’s when they met a one-handed captain in Cape Cod Massachusetts who suggested they give Sail boating a try, which they did. Me, my brother and our sister all took lessons from this salty old captain, who, despite only having one hand, could sail the heck out of that Lighting that he captained. My parents fell in love immediately with the idea of converting to wind power or as my power boating friends like to call it, “Blow Boating”. They would own blow boats, for the next 30+ years.
At six-years-old I already understood the idea of the wind and how it made the boat move forward. By eight years, I was learning how to sail Lasers and Hobie Cats, (the 14 because it didn’t have a jib). By ten, I could sail the a Laser and a Hobie Cat 14 or 16 and do it with some level of expertise. Sailing is about understanding the various points of sail as well as the tides and weather but most of all it’s about feeling. When you become a “Sailor” it’s more about your relationship with the boat and the ocean than school book preparation. You can learn some things about life from a book but nothing comes close to experiencing it. I must point out however that my father did teach me about navigation, plotting courses and figuring out your position by the stars. And although I never mastered the use of a sextant, I fully understood its purpose should all power be lost. It’s called seamanship.
By the time I was 14, the same age as these two boys, I was sailing my Laser out into the Atlantic off Ambrose Light because every afternoon without fail, a 15-20 knot wind would develop and the sailing was unparalleled. I still believe the Laser is the finest day sailing boat ever built.
It was about this time that my parents starting docking their boat at the Deep Sea Club in Montauk, the eastern most point of Long Island. I would sail my Laser out of the channel and right out to Montauk Point. It would often get rough but the combination of safety measures, (life vest, flare gun, water etc.) and experience, kept me from ever having any serious issues other than a capsize or two which is quite common in these boats. Righting them however, is not difficult with the proper knowledge.
When sailing was not an option due to either heavy winds, large seas or both, my friend and I would speed out to Montauk Point aboard his 20 foot Robalo with a 200 Merc. It was called the Black Max in those days and was every bit as cool as any outboard offered presently. We would troll for Blues and Weak Fish and more often than not come into port with dinner for most of the boats at the dock. Fish doesn’t get any fresher than that.
My point is to explain that the ocean is a wonderful place for young men and women, even as young as 14-years-old as long as long as they are properly trained. Children who are brought up in the outdoors or on the water, enjoy those activities for the rest of their lives. Surfing, sailing, water skiing, and scuba diving to name a few are best learned early in life as those who learn earliest usually develop the best skills. Young people are every bit as capable, more so in fact, than adults who get into boats with virtually no training. There are more than a fair share of boaters who treat their boats as cars on water. They’re the ones who should not be allowed to enjoy all the water has to offer.
What happened to those young men was a tragic accident. But accidents do happen and one can’t stop riding a bicycle or driving a car because of an accident. Had 2 grown men been in the boat, the outcome might not have been any different. I could think of a number of scenarios but they would all be speculation. But one thing is certain, we only experience life by living it. Being cautious is fine and proper at times but being frightened and overly cautious prevents one from growing and enjoying all the world has to offer. This tragedy should not stop anyone from teaching their children about the sea and allowing them to enjoy it. In fact, it should do just the opposite. It should serve as a reminder to properly train and prepare your children for any and all possible scenarios. Training, whether skiing, flying or boating is the key to safety. And although I would certainly never put words in the mouths of the grieving parents, I’m sure they would not have done anything differently.