I know this paper's called the Pilot, but I have to admit that I had never piloted an actual boat until a couple of weekends ago.
My wife recently bought a Groupon for a two-hour Duffy boat rental in Huntington Harbour. I looked forward to using it for weeks. I would learn to steer an actual boat by navigating the safe, man-made channels at 5 knots.
With our daughter in tow, we had lunch and drove down Coast Highway to the rental place. The staff was nice and informative as we filled out the paperwork, got a life jacket for the little one and asked questions about the route.
We received a quick dockside lesson from a polite young man on how to command this canopy-covered cruiser.
This was his main instruction: "Don't over-correct."
I would later learn what he meant.
He offered to take a picture of the family before we set out, giving us a Facebook moment, and then handed us a map of the harbor, which included some daunting red lines we were not to cross.
He pushed us from the dock, and then it was up to me. I was at the helm, working the throttle as I gently pulled into the channel.
The first thing I noticed was the traffic. It was one of those how-could-you-live-anywhere-else Sundays. The harbor buzzed with paddle boarders and boaters. The weather — sunny, warm, clear — was lifted from a plein air painting.
Because the first of the home-lined channels was a bit narrow, I basically slowed to 1 knot or a stop to avoid collisions, letting experienced types pass.
It felt a little like learning to drive. It became clear that the wheel was much more sensitive than a modern car's — sort of like those steer-with-your-pinkie American cruisers of the 1950s and 1960s.
Despite the deckhand's advice, I indeed over-corrected, getting a little sideways a few times but never too close to an oncoming boat or boarder. My wife and daughter seemed oblivious, staring into the horizon and at the enviable harbor homes.
We made it to the main channel and I realized that I was in command of an actual boat. (Yes, I know how ridiculous this sentiment must seem to the many Daily Pilot readers who own and operate boats.)
I plugged my phone into the speakers. The music played. We ate grapes. Drank sodas. Crunched chips.
I put my daughter in my lap and let her steer, remembering when my late grandfather did the same with me in his old Ford LTD.
Over-correction, it seems, runs in the family, and she steered toward a man-made beach. I had to take the wheel again.
More paddlers passed. Folks on boats waved.
At one point we spotted something splashing in the water and slowed down. I thought it was a couple of swimmers.
It was a pair of dolphins, possibly porpoises. My daughter, who loves animals more than Noah, went berserk with glee. The marine mammals swam alongside and in front of our boat for a good 10 minutes, jumping out of the water for air.
We eventually turned back, found the canal in which we started and pulled toward the dock.
"Slow down," someone admonished me from the shore.
I did, inching into the dock, two hours passing faster than they ever have.
JOHN CANALIS is the editor for the Daily Pilot, Laguna Beach Coastline Pilot and Huntington Beach Independent. He can be reached at (714) 966-4607 and firstname.lastname@example.org.