Call For a Tow

Flipping the Thumb

By Tom Neale, 4/6/2006


Tom Neale's logs have a new name and home on BoatUS Magazine. We know Tom has a loyal and devoted readership, so we wanted to share his tips and insights with an even bigger audience! For the latest articles, click here for Onboard With Tom Neale.

We were offshore, beyond the 5 mile limit, beyond the smog, beyond the crowd. The Gulf Stream was carrying us northward, saving lots of fuel and lots of money. The 3 knot lift we were getting from the Stream was for free. A high pressure ridge lay anchored across the Florida peninsula, extending out into the Atlantic, circulating a light sou’easter--just enough to keep the sails filled, giving us an additional light push and steadying the gentle roll from the long swells. It was a quiet and beautiful world. But just for kicks, I turned up the volume on the VHF and started listening. We were still within radio range of the weekend boating bedlam.

Breaker Breaker 16, can anyone hear me out there? Where’s the fish. Anybody got any live bait?

Hey, you ___hole, thanks for the wake. You’re responsible for your wake, you know.

Waa. Waa. Must be a blowboat.

Cry Baby Cry Baby.

I’m not no blowboat. And when I see you at some dock you’re going to wish you never said that.

Hey buddy, you show me that finger again and I’m going to come over there and cut it off.

Harvey, Harvey, are you out there? Harvey, come in. Over. Over.

This is the “Dramamine Dreams” calling for a radio check. I just installed a new set, Can anybody hear me?

Yeah, buddy, I got you loud and clear in Hong Kong, five by five.

Then we listened to channel 9 on the other set. It got even better.

Calling the bridge, calling the bridge. When you gonna open?

Which bridge are you calling?

It’s the one with a lot of cars going over it And there’s this little house on it..

This is the bridge tender. The game is on. I can’t open till the next commercial.

Any tow boats around? I need a tow boat. Quick, one of you guys hurry up and get here. And bring a pump. A big pump. I hit one of these poles somebody put up all over the place out here with the green signs up top. That made me lose attention and then I hit the bottom of the river.

This is the “Marine Machine” calling the boat I just passed. Didn’t mean to fill you up with water, but it’s a boat you know.

This is the “Sea Barge” calling the Paradise Harbor Marina. Do you mind if I tie up to your fuel dock for about a half hour and use the bathroom and get some water? And is your pumpout working this week? My holding tank’s filled up again. You remember me dontcha? I came in there and bought 12 gallons of gas last month.

We listened for around a half hour, then turned the sets down again just enough so that we could zone out the trash but hear anything serious and relevant to our location. The world got much better.

A huge sea turtle basked on the surface, lazily lifting his head, gulping air I guess, then burying his head under water, flipping along. He looked like he was playing. He probably wasn’t playing, he was probably doing something much more serious, but I do think he was having a good time. We brought him in close with the 7X50s and wished we could know more about him (or her). That size meant a lot of years and a lot of dealing with the sea. As we passed farther away he disappeared completely behind the swell.

Thumb Flicking Tips

1. It’s important to stand by on VHF 16, even if it’s driving you nuts. This is where you first hear distress calls, Maydays, and important Coast Guard announcements.

2. If you hear a Securite (pronounced “saycuritay”) broadcast announcement, shift to the appropriate channel and listen.

Click Here for More Tips

A family of porpoises were playing, zooming in from the starboard quarter and leaping in the bow wave time and time again. As I lay down hanging out over the bow pulpit and caught their eyes, they nodded their heads in mid flight. I’ve swum with them in the ocean; I’ve known them for years. They seemed so much better than the people we had heard on the VHF.

Looking down into the waters we could see many other fish. It’s a teaming world down there—but so very quiet. I had been under the day before. The quietness is one of the things of which I’m most acutely aware when beneath the surface—the quietness and so much more that doesn’t meet the eye when the eye is above. It also doesn’t meet the eye when the eye is ashore, or in the ICW or the rivers. The ocean is very special.

One of the many good things about it is that most boaters don’t come out here. That day there must have been thousands of boats on the water in the area, but they were all in the ICW and other tributaries. We did have one 60 plus foot Hatteras come by. The boat was veering left and right as it came up astern at what must have been maximum burn. It veered over to us and passed us so closely we had no room to turn into its wake. There was ocean from the east coast to Africa, but this guy had to take that jog and crowd us. The top deck was full of people, all smiling and gaily waving. No ill will, just no clue. But it was soon gone and all was quiet again.

Later in the day we got an updated weather forecast. The high had started to shift, making room for a cold front that had been hanging around up to the north. It was now moving down. Our barometer confirmed this. We never choose to buck a norther at sea if we don’t have to, and we didn’t. We headed for an inlet to the northwest, and after a few hours were inside—with most of those thousands of boats. We weren’t looking forward to all the rudeness and incompetence we’d heard on the VHF.

The amazing thing was that nobody was flipping the bird and we saw no idiots. People were waving at each other and smiling, people were stopping to help each other, and families were having nice times together. Everybody seemed to be having fun. In its own way the scene was as beautiful as the solitude of the ocean. Where were those people we’d been hearing on the VHF?

Maybe they’d had enough and had all gone home to top off the weekend with some road rage. Maybe their thumbs had become exhausted from holding down the PTT switch on the mic. It’s strange how a few of us can really mar the day for the rest of us. All they have to do is figure out how to turn on the set, flick the thumb, and run their mouths. And if one thumb gets tired, they’ve always got a second one. It would be nice it they’d go back to sucking their thumbs instead of flicking them.


Copyright 2004-2008 Tom Neale