Oh sure, I try to sink the boat ONE TIME and everybody gets all hypercritical

"Hello, I am an Adorable Dolphin. May I have some of your delicious snacks?" (Actual photo of actual needy dolphin)

GateHouse — Listen, I’m from Indiana. We don’t know a lot about saltwater sea-craft in Indiana, given our state’s disappointing proximity to most oceans. We are, as you know, a land-borne people who spend our time farming, jerking around with daylight savings time and being Colts fans when they’re winning. My childhood, it can be safely said, was not one that involved a lot of rigging up a jib sail to the topmast or whatever.

So it was with this sort of generations-old sailor’s background that I found myself last weekend on a boat for an afternoon of sailing around the waters of my little coastal town, a pretty unconditionally delightful way to spend an afternoon, save for the brief few moments in which I attempted to sink the boat and all aboard it, which included my six-year-old son, several lovely couples from whom I will no longer have to worry about responding to dinner invitations on time and three or four large coolers, all of whom are now totally ignoring me.

In my defense, though I did, admittedly, attempt to point a pontoon boat directly at the seafloor, I didn’t do so on purpose. By definition I couldn’t, since I didn’t do anything on this trip on purpose, since I didn’t (and still don’t) have the foggiest idea how to transport a boat through waters that have waves and sharks in them, mostly sharks. We received shockingly little guidance from the company that rented us the boat, mainly the helpful advisory to keep the red markers either to our left side or our right, and, if heading directly at another vessel, to turn the wheel a bit, or, failing that, whoop and jump up and down a lot.



Luckily, I have been told that it is nearly impossible to sink a pontoon boat without several dozen pontoon-puncturing spears, a mid-size warhead or the precise coordinates of a giant sea monster that eats boats. Pontoon boats, I suspect, are specifically designed for sponge-brained dimwits like myself, which is, I imagine, why they’re the ones afforded to you when you decide you and 10 friends want to rent a boat and go out on the water for an afternoon. Like, well you might hit a house or two, but I mean it’s not like you’re going to die, probably.

Happily, I can take solace in knowing that though I might have given the deck a much-needed seawater rinse or six, some previous tenant of the boat enjoyed a much peppier experience, one in which he (or she, although, I mean, come on) rammed the front left pontoon into an object of considerable immobility, enough that it bent the pontoon’s front into an angry-looking 90-degree angle, the result being that every time we bounced into, through or reasonably near a wave, a bracing spray of water showered whoever was sitting in the front-left seat. We had, by all accounts, the Splashiest Boat In All The Seas. They’re totally gonna write chanteys about us.


Related, sort of


The upshot is that when we hit a particularly lively wave which I did not see due to the very reasonable excuse of that I was at the time consumed with the pursuit of a donut (yeah — donuts and beer on a boat BEST WEEKEND EVER), the front left pontoon dug into the wave, and rather than slice through it like a butter knife like most right-thinking boats would, this one JUST KEPT GOING down to Poseidon’s grave, further and further until — well I’m not really sure how far it went down, frankly, due to pure animal instinct taking over at this point, giving my primal subconscious instincts full control of my brain and causing me to react in the way that millions of years of evolution commanded: Squealing like a “Twilight” fan and shutting the engine off immediately, so as not to risk further danger by moving anywhere. Frankly I thought this was sort of genius. It was tough to discern my shipmates’ appreciation for my quick thinking though, what with the way they were all crying in each other’s arms like children.



All of this, incidentally, did cause some concern on the part of my son, who, after our splashification, repaired immediately to the captain’s seat, where I was sitting, now bathed in my own sweat and unable to actually remove my hands from the steering wheel, to report, with the sort of delightful bemusement only possible from a child who does not realize how near he recently came to swimming to the first grade, “Daddy, there’s a lot of water on the boat.” It’s a lucky thing he can be easily distracted with donuts.


About Jeff Vrabel

My writing has appeared in GQ, Men’s Health, Success, the Washington Post, the official BruceSpringsteen.net, Indianapolis Monthly, Billboard, Modern Bride and more. View all posts by Jeff Vrabel

9 responses to “Oh sure, I try to sink the boat ONE TIME and everybody gets all hypercritical

  • Dad


    Sorry that there were no “sailing” lessons in Upland !



  • Thomas Stazyk

    Maybe now you know how Tony Hayward feels! 🙂


  • Abe's Blog

    I commend you on saving everyone on board with your quick-thinking.

    While pontoon boats are often rented the un-schooled boater, I believe that they are secretly outfitted with hidden cameras to record reaction of the screaming men and women during the nose dives that these craft invariably perform. Same thing happen to us on a family reunion. It was funny later, but not when we all thought we were going to die.


  • Sue Ann

    Once again I find myself stifling laughter at my desk. We had a similar experience on the Levander boat on Lake Holiday last year. It was hysterical after the fact, but a wee bit scary while it was actually happening. Our fearless Captain, Amy Levander Flack has gotten us out of many the sticky situation and she handled that one with undoubted grace. Sail on Indiana boy, sail on.


  • Sue Ann

    Oh and by the way… We had 12 people, 4 dogs, and 3 coolers on the boat. Good times.


    • Jeff Vrabel

      Seriously, you are like the sixth person to report a similar near-sinking, which is heartening to hear (well, I mean, not heartening in that almost-swimming-home sort of way but well you get the idea). I think we should start calling for a national review of Well-Attended Pontoon Boats That People Take Out For Drinking Purposes standards. We can get Adm. Thad Allen on it, once he’s finished mopping up the Gulf. (Incidentally, thanks so much for reading, and the kind words.)


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