Captain Schmaptin

I don’t need no stinkin’ badge.

I had been procrastinating for months as to whether to bother to renew my captain’s license when I had what I shall politely refer to as an epiphany. In fact, I was bent over the examination table receiving a physical from my doctor. Curiously enough, he had served as a yacht captain for years before he washed ashore and became an MD. As he went about his grim business I asked what seemed the obvious question...“Geeez, you ever miss your old job?

I never needed a license for driving Anhinga, but when I bought her 20 years ago the exercise seemed a worthwhile challenge. I already had a piece of paper that entitled me to the rights and privileges afforded a yacht designer. I had also invested in membership in a variety of august societies dedicated to self-promotion and sound design. I figured a captain's license would add a bit of salt to my nerdish collection. I had great respect for the captains I had known over the years and I figured that if I could make the grade, I would be in good company.

When I was a wee lad a yacht captain served as my mentor. This fellow must have been Noah's first mate because he knew how to finesse the sluggish, underpowered houseboat-style motoryachts we now reverently refer to as "classics." Putting one of these varnish- slathered sleds into a slip was like parallel parking the Ark. Funny thing was that Noah didn't have a captain's license and neither did my mentor. Years later, as a designer, I had the good fortune to work on projects with the crop of skippers that this fellow's generation had trained.

I thought about these folks when I enlisted in captain’s school. I soon discovered that “classes” had nothing in the way of hands-on, and that many of the students had little practical experience on the water. As I remember, the “instructor,” a recent graduate, simply asked and answered the hundred or so questions on the exam until the class could squawk the answers like parrots. Students also learned how to fill out the sea time form (creative writing) and if they passed the pee test, the school guaranteed a passing score. If you missed the multiple-choice or the cup, you could try again.

I knew I could pass the written test although I wasn't certain I could pony up to pee with spectators on hand. The nurse had explained to me that she had the right to watch as applicants often cheated by hiding a sack full of a drug-free pal's urine in their undershorts. Good God! What would my long-gone captain mentor make of this? He didn't even drink! Every time I took the pee test for a renewal I wondered: It seemed so many young captains drive as though they are impaired. A retired captain pal, one of the old-timers, set me straight. "They're not stoned...they just don't know what the hell they're doing. Instead of a pee test, they need a driving test," he groused.

I can imagine it. The instructor turns off the bow thruster and the joystick…“Sonny, she’s all yours now… let’s see if you can put her in the slip without peeling off the rubrail.” Next…a clogged sea strainer…the student must solve the problem in less than an hour without the benefit of a cell phone. As so many captains seem to think they know everything about boatbuilding and design, perhaps a skiff-building project could be offered for extra points? There could even be an “etiquette component” for teaching sportsfish captains how to address the owner and guests without yelling at them.

My doc really doesn’t miss his old job and I guess I wouldn’t either. Being a yacht captain these days just isn’t what it used to be. But wait a drug reps and free parking...? “MD” would look nice on my wall!