The Captain



 For the last several years of my life, I’ve been lucky enough to share it with a man who not only tolerates my crazy (no short order there, I assure you), but to share it with a man who chooses to earn his living as a boat captain. His ability to talk me off the ledge aside (again, no easy task), he impresses me.

 Forget what you’ve heard about boat captains, because boat captains – real boat captains, not people who buy a boat and decide to set up camp in Boca Ciega Bay – are some of the most conscientious, responsible, and hard working men and women you will ever meet.

 If I say “boat captain” and all you can picture is last week’s cover photo of the beached, derelict sailboat, keep reading.

 A real captain won’t leave the dock if he can’t trust his sails, motor, and electronics. He visually checks the fuel, tests the radio, and takes a hard look at his boat before setting sail. A real captain can handle a boat, and I don’t just mean an afternoon sail on the bay. He (or she) can navigate a variety of situations – a stormy afternoon, a transatlantic voyage, or a cruise through the Greek isles. A real captain maintains his boat in good working order, and that includes safety gear. He voluntarily submits his recreational vessel to a Coast Guard inspection, and he keeps flares, life jackets, and perhaps a backup radio on board.

 A real captain understands weather and anchoring and how different types of anchors work in different areas of the country. He knows that anchoring in sand differs greatly from anchoring around reefs. He keeps appropriate ground tackle on his boats at all times to make sure he is prepared for anything. A real captain gets his ass back home when weather looms on the horizon, and when he stores his boat in the water, he takes every precaution he can to save the boat in the event of the storm. More importantly, he secures the boat so it won’t be a danger to anyone else’s life or property.

 And that’s just an unlicensed captain. Once somebody has a captain’s license, they’re bringing their A game. El Cap has a sailing endorsement, his 150–ton Master license, and a string of classes I can only begin to fathom. He’s taken courses in basic lifesaving, fire fighting, and a whole bunch of other stuff I neither remember nor fully understand. All I know is when we travel he has a card he can show instead of a passport, and he takes the title of “captain” very, very seriously. I would trust him with my life, and not just because he could kill me in my sleep and chooses not to. I would trust him with my life because I’ve seen, firsthand, how seriously he takes his responsibility as captain, whether it’s just me, him and Calypso on the boat or if he’s carrying paid passengers.

 I’m not so much bragging about what he can do as I am trying to show you that captains aren’t lacksadaisical layabouts who hang out at the corner bar and whistle at girls as they pass. They aren’t the type of people who live on a half-functional sailboat in the bay. They aren’t the type of people whose incomplete understanding of navigation, anchoring, and weather lead to a boat running aground, and if for some reason that did happen, they wouldn’t leave the boat there for any length of time.

 I have long supported Gulfport’s mooring field and, more recently, the suggestion that the city marina allow regulated liveaboards. Last week, I watched the local sailing community help push a rundown piece of fiberglass and lead off the beach because they had the same fear I did: that somewhat uneducated but otherwise truly decent people would look at the Promise and decide that THAT is what boat captains, mooring fields, and liveaboard communities would bring to their community.

 Please believe me: that boat owner is not a captain. He is not what the boating community considers a true liveaboard. The Promise? It isn’t even a boat anymore. I’m almost positive that if the good sailors who freed the boat from the sand could have gotten away with the deed, Gulfport Fire Rescue would have witnessed the boat’s final moments.

 Why do I care, anyway? Sailing in Boca Ciega Bay isn’t really dangerous, and Debby was certainly no “perfect storm”. The average depth of the bay is eight feet, the bottom is mostly sand, and the waters, more often than not, are flat and glassy. El Cap, and others like him, are likely overqualified to sail here and in bays like it. So who cares if every now and then a boat runs aground? What’s the big deal, really? Why would I waste a column talking about what constitutes a captain?

 Because I know how seriously real captains take their title, and I know that our boating community is a responsible one that cares about its boats, its waters, and its non-boating members. I know that El Cap, and hundreds of others like him, would never allow that to happen to his boat and his community.

 As for the man who owned the boat on last week’s front page? I shudder to think that when people ask what El Cap does for a living and I say “boat captain”, this is what they picture. Because the man who owns Promise?

 That’s no captain.

Contact Cathy Salustri at CathySalustri@theGabber.com.