You’d expect, I suppose, that just about any adolescent golden retriever would literally jump at the chance to get aboard a sweet little trawler like the Betty Jane II. He’d spot her from afar—let’s say, from the backseat of a car in a marina parking lot—plaster a giant grin on his face as he hit the tarmac, say to himself, “Oh boy, a boat ride!” and run for it, barking with doggy delight. And then having arrived alongside the boat, with the same sense of panting anticipation that a dollop of peanut butter would tend to generate, he’d lunge into her cockpit like a four-legged version of Burt Lancaster in The Crimson Pirate.
But here’s the deal, folks: Such expectations as these, wondrous as they seem, simply cannot be applied to Champ, the two-year-old, 70-pound, devil-may-care golden retriever who dwells beneath the roof of my tottering ranchero. In fact, they are so far off the mark that Champ himself would find them laughable.
Not that the old boy’s standoffishness is that unusual. Back in the days of my own seafaring youth, I, too, looked upon the boarding of a boat—or more specifically, a ship or oceangoing tug making ready for a long voyage to a foreign port—with deep misgiving. To this day, I’m not sure exactly why, although I suspect an existential sense of uncertainty was always at the bottom of it all, coupled with the dread of physical confinement that could go on for months. Once I finally stepped aboard, however, all the gloom I’d been assailing myself with would simply vanish, and I would be fine, happy to be going back to sea.
But here are the questions I’ve been bothered with lately. Will my friend Champ ever experience the same conversion I used to enjoy, going from dark imaginings and dread to a cheery, confident, seafaring reality by merely setting foot on board? And, if such a miracle does indeed take place, will he then become a true, swashbuckling sea dog, a salty soul, who will heartily accompany my wife and I on long, adventurous jaunts to far-off, deeply interesting places?
I’m afraid the answers to these questions are still a tad up for grabs at this point, although I do remain optimistic. After all, there’s mucho truth and empowerment in the old saw about how to successfully introduce newcomers to boats and boating—EASY DOES IT! And, in my humble opinion, our most recent outing, which followed an earlier visit where Champ merely eyeballed Betty and her charms from the dock—gives the trusty old adage, I think, a resounding woof, woof, woof!
The outing began with the usual two-hour car ride to the marina, interspliced with a brief stop at a rest area for the comfort of all and sundry. I drove, of course, and Champ mostly snoozed in the back, with one of his toys nearby. Many treats were on hand and the water supply was ample. I called my liveaboard friend Jerry as soon as we hit the marina.
Our plan was simple. Jerry had already snugged Betty against the dock and the relevant finger pier. And because both structures are fixed, Champ and I arrived at high tide, thereby guaranteeing Betty’s gunwales would be level with all the surfaces involved. And finally, I’d tossed a nutritional ringer into the mix—a brand-new jar of thick, crunchy peanut butter to use as bait.
“Well, now,” enthused Jerry as Champ leapt into the cockpit, still smacking his big, floppy, wraparound lips. “Apparently, that dog will do just about anything for peanut butter.”
“Yeah,” I replied, watching Champ’s big bushy tail disappear enthusiastically into the salon. “So, how about next weekend we put his PFD on him and go for a boat ride?”