July 15th 2013 | Comments

How to drive a boat

“I know what will be fun,” said Mrs Socked as we soaked up the sun on a recent sojourn to East Anglia, and I was immediately filled with dread over what would come next, for I was certain that I would find myself way out of my comfort zone, doing some sort of activity as alien to me as good manners to a German tourist.

And so it proved: “Why don’t we hire a boat for the day?”

My wallet suitably relieved of sixty of The Queen’s Pounds, we were led to the river bank and our transportation for the next four hours. To be honest, it was hardly the Titanic, and I dare say Leo Di Caprio’s nudey drawing of Kate Winslet might have come out somewhat different if she had been lolling across those fibre glass seats, open to every buzzing insect that the Norfolk Broads had to offer.

how to drive a boat

According to the gentleman tasked with making sure that we didn’t sink the thing, set fire to it, or launch a full marine invasion of a foreign power, driving the thing couldn’t be simpler, just as long as we followed a few simple rules, which boiled down to:

* Drive on the right

* Don’t speed

* Don’t sink

* Don’t  launch a full marine invasion of a foreign power

Armed with this knowledge, we set out for the distant metropolis of Beccles, home to a nice tea shop, and a shop that looks like – but most certainly isn’t – Woolworths.

And Boat Wrangler Man was as good as his word. Driving a boat is as easy as it looks. The diesel engine is simply “Go forward” or “Go backwards”, the steering at a steady 4mph is responsive, and angry fishermen soon give up chasing you as you accidentally sweep them into the water after straying too close to their rods.

Unfortunately, Boat Wrangler Man had misled us somewhat on one vital point. There is no way on God’s Earth you can sensibly park a boat. I will repeat that for you: No man can park a boat.

For a start, once you get in close to the bank, the rudder becomes unresponsive, and no amount of back and forth with help you manoeuvre. In open water, boats don’t act like cars, so a neat three-point turn just leaves you drifting round in circles as you ram it into forward and reverse gears, swearing.

On top of that, after the sixth attempt, we began to suspect that the order to park “stern on” (ie backwards) was a bit of a joke to give the boat wranglers a bit of joy watching lubbers attempt the impossible.

Then, like a bolt out of the blue, I realised how it was done. To park backwards, you go in FORWARDS, crash into any other boat that may already be there, eventually ending up stern on in the approved manner.

Tying up, I asked Boat Wrangler Man exactly how one should bring a boat in backwards.

“Yeah, mate,” he said, scratching his trouser parts, “You come in forwards an’ crash into everything till you’re the right way round.”

The secrets of boat handling: They are ours.