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The Call of the Water

Before you answer it, think safety

A glimpse of a small boat under full sail sets my heart racing.
    Back to the Water is a season all its own in Chesapeake Country, aligned with spring but serving separate pleasures.
    We expect less warmth of Back to the Water. Winds are often gusty, giving sailors some fun, and water temperatures in the mid 50s mean a cold bath that could do you harm. Air temperatures could be colder or much warmer on a day on the water, which is all in the day. If you’re one of those people who the water’s pull affects like the tides, the weather won’t keep you on land.
    For fishing people, the pull of their prey is irresistible. For boaters, it’s the call of the wild: reunion with the elements, timelessness, freedom. Sailboaters work the elements to their purpose or try themselves against them. Motorboaters command horsepower and ride the thrill of speed.
    Hailing from parts of the Midwest where cornfields were the biggest open spaces and rivers the waterways, I know how lucky we are to live here, where water is ours for the taking — in sizes from ponds and creeks to the ocean.
    Plenty of us out here have the boats to get us on the water. But you don’t have to own the boat — or a big boat — to have its pleasure. Kayaks — a bandwagon barely moving when New Bay Times began — are as common and affordable (or pricey) as bikes. If you haven’t gotten one of your own yet, you can paddle for minimal rental costs, even free, all over Chesapeake Country. Any day now, you’ll be seeing opportunities in our 8 Days a Week calendar of events.
    Getting out on the water on bigger boats, sail and motor, is no problem, either. Find options of both sorts in a range of prices at City Dock Annapolis and on historic boats at Calvert Marine Museum in Solomons.
    Not even disabilities need keep a water lover landlocked. Chesapeake Regional Accessible Boating offers free sailing excursions and lessons at Sandy Point State Park: www.crabsailing.org.
    When you’re out on the water with a professional captain or guide, safety will be your first lesson. Make safety your first priority when you’re on your own, and you’ll vastly improve your chances of returning home after a beautiful voyage on the water.
    The bad luck boating stories in my collection are not all funny; there’s major mishap among them, and far too much tragedy.
    Last year, Maryland Natural Resources Police investigated 23 water-related deaths, 17 involving boats. Nationally, nearly 85 percent of all drowning victims were not wearing a life jacket.
    In the excitement of splashing your boat for the first time this season, Col. George F. Johnson IV, superintendent of NRP, warns boaters “may overlook some things that will keep them out of harm’s way. We urge everyone to take 15 minutes or so to do a stem-to-stern equipment check. If you get stopped on the water, our officers will conduct a safety inspection and may issue a citation or require you to return to shore.”
    No-penalty safety inspections are also offered by the Coast Guard Auxiliary: http://cgaux.org/vsc.
    To make yourself and your passengers (even your dog) as safe as your boat, buy a new, comfortable lifejacket and wear it. Modern inflatable life jackets and vests are a world away from the old cumbersome Mae Wests. They’re even stylish, and stay flat until you need them.
    “People think that in an accident they will have time to grab their life jacket and put it on,” warns Johnson. “In reality, bad things often happen in the blink of an eye. And once you’re in the water, it may be too late. Life jackets only work when you wear them.”
    One more thing: Please, if you haven’t yet, take the Maryland Safe Boating Class. It’s life-saving and very accessible with online (www.boat-ed.com/maryland‎) as well as instructed options (again, watch 8 Days a week).

Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher; editor@bayweekly.com