Even More Tales of the Normal: Sea Tow and the Value of Membership

As children, we’re told it’s ok to make mistakes. Chalk them up to “learning experiences.” But as adults, mistakes stop being ok. Research shows, however, that making mistakes can be beneficial and contends that mistakes should be seen as opportunities for growth, discovery, understanding and powerful tools for learning.

     Published in 2011, Alina Tugend’s book Better by Mistake: The Unexpected Benefits of Being Wrong, suggests that embracing screw-ups can not only make us happier, but healthier and smarter. Thus the “learning experience” is good for adults as well.

     If that’s the case, the protagonists of the following tales of the normal should themselves be happier, healthier, and smarter.

     The fact is, however, both our heroes had the self-awareness to have purchased Sea Tow memberships. You can read about the benefits of Sea Tow membership on their website, www.SeaTow.com, but the truth in a nutshell is this: Sea Tow captains are on call 24/7/365 to help boaters with everything from the plebeian foul-up to sunken boat recovery and environmental clean-ups. All for the low price of an annual membership. The company also offers some pretty strong marine insurance which you really should look into.

    But for now, consider Ed and Frank, both regular guys and average boaters. Pretty much like you and me. And, like you and me, they screw up from time-to-time.

Tale One:

Wherein Ed Disregards Battery Maintenance

When he was 67, in 1945, and probably the most widely known literary figure in the United States, Carl Sandburg bought a home on 246 acres of forest and farmland in the Blue Ridge Mountain village of Flat Rock, near Hendersonville, North Carolina. The poet and writer lived on the farm for about 22 years and published more than one-third of his works while there.


The Flat Rock farm became Sandburg’s home years after his time in Milwaukee and Chicago, both on Lake Michigan. In 1916, he published “Picnic Boat,” a snapshot of the aftermath of a Sunday boating excursion.

Running along the deck railings are festoons and leaping in curves are loops of light from prow and stern to the tall smokestacks.

Except for the smokestacks, you might imagine the end of a day of boating fun on any of the Piedmont lakes.


It was also in 1916 that Sandburg wrote a wonderful short poem about fog called, simply, “Fog,” describing it as coming “on little cat feet” and “looking over the city and the harbor on silent haunches.” But, when you’re out on the water and are suddenly confronted by thick fog, there’s nothing benign about it.

So, we turn now from Sandburg, the three-time Pulitzer Prize-winner, to Ed, the average boater. And fog.


Did you know that fog is simply a concentration of low-lying water vapor in the air? Especially in the fall, these tiny liquid water droplets often form over bodies of water like your pond, your pool, or the lake where Ed does most of his boating. Fog forms when cool air and warm water meet and, more specifically, when the difference between the temperature and the dew point is less than 4° Fahrenheit. It’s science.


You see, water is heated by the sun and stays warmer than the air temperature during the cool night. When the cold layer of still air settles over the lake where Ed lives, warm water vapor from the lake evaporates, entering the cool air above it. The cool air then traps the concentrated water vapor and fog forms. In the morning, as the sun heats the air and temperatures rise, the water vapor evaporates and dispels. But Ed’s not into science. He’s in sales.


And Ed likes everything about the water, especially boating. He lives on the lake and has three boats, of course. A small sailboat, a pontoon, and a 32-foot express cruiser, which he bought with the help of that big, year-end bonus. He figures he’s covering all the bases this way.

Also, Ed has dogs. Two of ‘em. A Labrador Retriever – He does live on the water, after all. – named Ralph and an emergency back-up dog, Petey the Chiweenie. Ed doesn’t own a cat. Really, no one owns a cat, they just feed them. So, Ed doesn’t know about “little cat feet.” Or much about fog, either.


It happened that, on this evening, Ed decided to take the pontoon out, accompanied by Ralph and Petey, for some night boating. It had been warm the last few days but cooled off pretty quickly at night. Ed had a couple of good cigars and a cooler full of Dr. Brown’s Cream Soda, his favorite. Ed doesn’t do alcohol and neither do Ralph and Petey. Ed had a big presentation coming up and wanted to clear his head and focus on his pitch. What could be better than a cool, crisp night on the water?


But the batteries. Ed has two but recently he hasn’t kept up with cleaning and maintenance (Are we surprised?), so this business of night boating with its motor-starting and “loops of lights from prow to stern” just might be a problem.


And a problem it was. Ed had done some cruising and had stopped in a cove to think over that presentation and work on a cigar. He wasn’t paying much attention and his boat was soon shrouded in fog, as if quietly coming in as on those “little cat feet.” At the same time, Ed’s lights seemed to be dimmer. It’s this fog, he was sure, so Ed decided to try to find his way out of there. Ralph and Petey concurred, but then the boat wouldn’t start. It’s getting cooler, and the fog was thickening.


Well, we might find some shortfalls in Ed’s boating life, but he knows some of that about himself and he likes to always have “Plan B.” That’s why he has an emergency back-up dog. This night, Ed’s back-up, his “Plan B,” is his Sea Tow membership. Ed’s boat doesn’t have power but, thankfully, his phone does, so he calls Sea Tow. They’re probably an hour out, but that’s ok. Ed lights another cigar and drops his anchor. When the Sea Tow captain gets close, in all the fog, it’s Petey the Chiweenie who closes the deal. His incessant barking is a beacon for the rescuing captain who towed Ed’s pontoon, complete with Ed, Ralph, and Petey, back to their dock.


Ed didn’t get a Pulitzer Prize, but his Sea Tow membership seemed like an award.

By Mike Aldridge

Tale Two:

Wherein Frank Trusts His Fuel Gauge

Like Ed, our friend Frank is an avid boater. Frank doesn’t live on a lake like Ed, but he’s close enough that he frequents the marina which stores his boat, so Frank has his boat on the water often. Frank’s boat is in dry storage, and he’s become pals with all the marina’s forklift operators. The hands on the gas dock expect to see him several times each week. He’s a regular.


Frank knows his way around the lake. He pays attention to the markers and buoys. He knows the rules of the road and is a responsible boater. He’s someone you can count on … on the water and off.


Trouble is, Frank’s boat and many, if not most others, have some “issues” that can become problematic. And, while Frank is responsible, and careful, he occasionally misses a detail here or there. And don’t we all?


Which brings us to the gauges on the dashboard. Those little dials with arrows and lights that are put there to help us all have trouble-free days on the water. But those innocent-looking dials with arrows and lights can be stone cold liars. And you might not know, and then here comes trouble.


But first, we need to remember John Gilbert Collison, Sr. He was the son of the inventor of the instantaneous shutter for cameras, way back in the late nineteenth century. But John G’s mother died followed soon after by his inventor-father, while John G. was still very young, so his formal education ended after second grade.


With that second-grade education, and his innate engineering brilliance, our man, JG, went on to an amazing and varied career. Among other things, as president of the Dayton Irrigation Company in the 1920s, he designed and patented an underground irrigation system. But he’s best known, for his invention of the artificial steel hip ball and other ground-breaking surgical tools and appliances many of which were manufactured at his Acme Engineering Company plant in Greensboro, NC, though Collison himself resided in Baltimore.


But I digress. We were talking about gauges, and we need to talk specifically about fuel gauges. As it happens, John Gilbert Collison invented (Really.) the Fluid Gasoline Gauge back about 1919, which he later sold to the Buick Motor Company. The device was rapidly adopted by other automobile manufacturers and a version, some would say a far less accurate version, can now be found on your boat’s dashboard. You can now tell all your friends that the irrigation system under your lawn, the ball-and-shaft of your hip replacement, and the gas gauge on your boat all owe something to John Gilbert Collison.


But remember Frank? He’s the avid boater with gauges on his boat’s dashboard. We’re now especially interested in his fuel gauge … and ours. Forget about politicians, used car salesmen, and stockbrokers – if your boat is bigger than a canoe and smaller than the QEII, chances are it’s lying to you right now. Gauges on boats are notorious for being inaccurate. (John Gilbert Collison would be horrified.) They often give bogus readings or fail completely, and even expensive models can’t always be counted on to provide reliable information for very long.

In many cases this is true from the day a boat leaves the factory. Why? Because marine fuel tanks often have V-shaped bottoms so they can fit into a boat’s hull. Because of that shape, when the sender’s float is halfway down, there’s only a third or less of a tank of fuel remaining. Also, consider the wear and tear a marine fuel sender endures, as opposed to one installed in an automobile. Constant pounding, rocking, and rolling means that the float and arm never sit still, but instead are always being worked up and down, and back and forth.


You can calibrate many gauges by filling your tank in precisely measured amounts, but a new sender and gauge may be needed from time-to-time or should be replaced with solid state instruments.


But back to Frank and his fuel gauge. He’s on his way out of the marina for a day on the water, after a casual glance at his fuel gauge. He sees half a tank, so thinks he’s in good shape. Besides, he wants to get out and feel that warm air coursing through what’s left of his full head-of-hair.


Speaking of precision and attention to detail, there, thankfully, is Sea Tow. One of their top calls for assistance comes from boaters like our friend Frank, who was on his return trip when his boat choaked, coughed, and quit. Like our other friend, Ed, who hadn’t kept up with his battery maintenance, Frank hadn’t been fastidious regarding his fuel load, and put far too much trust in the glistening gauge that led him astray. Fortunately, the captains at Sea Tow are always able to help and Frank’s membership helped ease the embarrassment of the situation. Good thing he hadn’t invited a boatload of friends to join him that day.


So what did we learn? Buy that Sea Tow membership … and renew it annually … so you too can be happier, healthier, and smarter. Cheap at twice the price.

This Way to

Other Tales of the Normal.

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More Tales of the Value

of Membership.

Or go this way to

Still MORE Tales of the Value

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Pilot Media publishes boating guides providing comprehensive information on boating and waterfront living. Each edition includes an index of boat related businesses, reference maps, marina & boatyard guides, a directory of waterfront & water-access restaurants - The Pilot's Galley - and a Fishing Guide that includes a directory to area fishing service providers.  Read more >

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