Accent on Living

THIS is undoubtedly the biggest year ever for motorboats, and the only wonder is why it has taken so long for this form of recreation to hit its stride. Without arguing whether riding around in a power boat is a sport, one finds in it nevertheless an activity consonant with our habit of life: expensive, quite dangerous under certain conditions, and involving little or no physical exertion by the participants. Unlike golf, with all its tiresome swinging and walking, motorboating calls for no more effort than Sunday driving — indeed, to judge from the number of boats being towed along the turnpikes of a weekend, at an insouciant 70 mph, it combines the hazards as well as the ease of both road and waterway. (In New York state over the July 4 weekend, 50 per cent more persons lost their lives in accidents on the water than on the highways.)

What to do with the motorboat, once it is afloat, raises various questions. The small runabouts have a way of pounding fiercely. To put one at speed across the smallest ripples brings spine-thumping, teethclenching slams on its bottom, loud slams that seem to threaten the very structural integrity of the boat. The widening circles from a discarded cigarette butt are enough to make some boats pound; waves make them pound even harder and more wetly. So, off goes the merry cruising party, sitting on the hard and narrow thwarts, knees under chin, to remain thus for several hours, ideally under a broiling summer sun. There is no way of getting up and stretching in a well-filled little runabout; far from shifting his legs for a change of posture, the passenger will find it hard enough to find a place to store his feet without involving those of his benchmate.

The bumps, and their effect on the occupants, will depend on what the host thinks of the others aboard. If he hopes they will come again, he seats them in the stern, where a more cushioned ride results from the hull’s course through the water, and he himself will carry on from the bow’ by remote control. But if he has had enough of them — perhaps on the return leg — he will let them pound it out on the thwarts up forward while he lounges at the tiller unscathed.

The duration of an outing in a small runabout is not very long, regardless of how it may seem to the passengers as they bounce up and down. The fuel supply is limited, and anything like heavier seas in fairly open water is too rough for safety. So the cruise is usually around the same lake or inlet, or up and down the same river, unless the owner decides to take his car and “trailer” (a verb in good standing with the fraternity) his boat to similar waters elsewhere. A move of this sort makes an impressive addition to traffic on the expressways: the owner, in his plaid cap and bright shirt, at the wheel of his convertible while the boat pursues a slightly more sinuous course on its trailer in the rear. In some states the trailer is not required to have brakes, and where the boat would go if the owner found himself obliged to make a crash stop is anybody’s guess. To be overtaken by such a combination at high speed on the road, especially if the boat is a big one and heavy, is something of an adventure in itself.

Boat speeds on the water have gone up in recent years along with the boost in the power of outboard engines. Originally a small kicker intended to replace the oars, today’s outboard produces up to 75 hp and will drive anything from a dinghy to a houseboat. But one doubts the good sense of a boating expert on TV who asserted recently that anyone who can drive a car can run an outboard. A few small considerations such as charts, fog, squalls, and the general art of seamanship might make a difference.