I Love My Snake

By Tom Neale, 2/23/2006


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There’s no greater feeling than pulling away from your dock for a weekend and looking back to see the power pedestal sinking beneath the waves, on the end of your stretched out yellow cord. Searays, Bayliners, Oceans, Carvers, Hinckleys, Rinkers, Mainships, Gulfstars--no matter what kind of cruising boat we have, we all have the long yellow snake. And if you’re sitting there saying, “Hey, wait a minute. I’ve never taken off and forgotten to unplug my snake,” then I’m sitting here thinking, “You’re very very special, my friend.”

These days, when we dock, the first thing is to tie the lines (or at least the ones on the side of the power pedestal) and the second is to plug in the snake. It’s the source of air condoo, TV, DVD, CDs, blenders, heat, and all those good things that make life on a boat so much like life in a house. It’s so important that now the phone line, if you have one, and the cable TV line, if you have one, have got to be yellow too. If it’s a Walmart white or a Radio Shack black it just isn’t cool.

It’s gotten so much better since Mr. Hubble, or whoever it was, came up with the twist lock connectors. In the good old days when you forgot to unplug your electric cable you just pulled out the cable and trailed it merrily along, dancing in the wake, until it snagged on a crab pot and you noticed your battery charger, or whatever else you had it plugged into, moving across the deck heading for the stern. Now modern day technology has this problem solved. You either pull out the receptacle from the pedestal, you pull the pedestal from the dock, you pull your receptacle from your boat, or if your engine is like some of mine, you bounce back on the end of the yellow rubber band, hit the dock, and explain to the crowd standing around that you just wanted to make sure you could find your way back. As we know, all of these possibilities are shocking in more ways than one.

When I first started boating back in the 50’s, the only electricity I had aboard was the D cell batteries in my portable AM radio. I’d use it to listen to music at night and it was my only source for weather other than looking at the sky and feeling the wind. Finally I graduated to a 27 foot sailboat with a car battery to start its Atomic 4. I even got one of those old style inverters from a Radio Shack. It was a great furnace. As long as my batteries lasted I could use it to warm my hands on the coldest winter day. I also got a battery charger. The battery charger had to be powered when plugged in, so I got an orange extension cord, and snaked it to the 15 amp plug on the side of the restaurant near the dock. It was like heaven. We could listen to music on the radio (even cassette tapes) without eating up batteries, we could read late at night without smoking up the boat with kerosene lanterns, we could even heat coffee without the daily morning conflagration of the old alcohol stove.

Shore Power

1. Forgetting to unplug the shore power cord can be so dangerous that it’s important to establish a reminder that works for you and your crew to be sure this job is properly done.

2. Always turn off the circuit breaker on the power pedestal before plugging or unplugging the power cord. Also turn the off the AC power selector switch which should be on or near your boat’s electric panel before doing either.

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These things didn’t take much electricity and the orange extension cord worked, but I began to develop an overwhelming sense of inadequacy as I compared my skinny little orange snake stretched out across the docks next to those big thick yellow snakes with the big fat fancy plugs at the end. More and more of them began to show up and as the years passed matters worsened considerably. It became harder and harder to find a place into which to plug my 15 amp orange snake. The only 15 amp plugs were the ones on the back of the restaurants. I’d have to join several together and sneak around behind the building, hoping nobody would see me dragging my undersized line. Often in the morning we’d awake to no power because someone at night had ripped off the section of the extension which was out of sight behind the building. But I couldn’t afford to buy a fat yellow snake. I would not only have to buy that, I’d also have to buy the covered receptacle and mount it on my boat and then run wires from that.

Finally our day arrived. We got a new BIG boat. She was 41 feet long and she came equipped with a fat yellow cord with twist lock ends and covered receptacle mounted to the side of the cockpit. I’ll never forget how proud I was to plug that cord in the first time I pulled into a marina.

Just like I’ll never forget the first time I headed out to sea and forgot to unplug it. The problem was that the little orange snake had always wound its way through the cockpit and into the cabin and was pretty hard to forget about. I tripped over it about every 15 minutes during normal circumstances, and about every half minute when running about trying to get underway. It was a no brainer. But the fancy new cord was discreetly out of the way where it belonged and it blended right in with all the other fat yellow cords on the dock. A lot of fancy boats today (and mine isn’t one of them) have made it even worse. They have reels down inside a cabinet that retract the cord and only let out what you use so that there’s no nice messy jumble of yellow cord on the deck or the dock to help you to remember.

But I love my snake. It’s old, and the yellow is covered with dirty smudges. But when I get back to the marina on a hot summer day, turn off my motor and turn off my generator, I can sit in the air condoo, turn on the blender, crank up the music and chill out. After all, that’s part of what boating’s all about isn’t it? Or am I missing something here?


Copyright 2004-2005 Tom Neale