Bottom Kisser is not a good name for a boat.
I know this because, three years removed from law school, while single and weary of apartment life, I needed a residence. I didn’t have the resources to acquire one on land, so I thought I’d purchase a trawler and live aboard. I closed in July 1998 on a 30-foot 1981 Clipper Marine trawler (obviously not the boat pictured above). It had a nice berth forward, a head, a hanging locker, a spacious (relatively speaking) salon, and a flybridge with an upper helm station. A 120-hp diesel engine provided a cruising speed of 7 knots, though the 1960s-era depthsounder was not user-friendly.
Until I bought the boat, my first 27 summers had been spent at an expanded family beach cabin on Port Susan Bay in Washington state. The grade of the beach was quite gradual, and extensive sand shallows existed. This is where I’d learned to boat, starting at age 4 or 5. My father would tie a long line to the bow of a wooden rowboat, and the other end to a concrete anchor. He’d heave the anchor into the water and shove me offshore, and I’d row in a circle. Sometimes on an ebb tide, I would end up without any water in which to row. On a flood tide, I would need to be “rescued” as my rowing radius shrank.
By age 27, I had logged thousands of boating hours in Port Susan Bay. I knew the waters well. Blindfolded and placed on the shore, just by the smell of the air, I could determine the month, general weather conditions, and whether the tide was high or low. A skill I was soon to forget.
The move aboard went smoothly. Within a week or so, it was time for the first cruise. I chose the family beach cabin as the destination: far enough away to get a feel for the boat, and close enough to be navigating in familiar waters.
Two mates were enlisted. The first was a longtime college and law school friend, Dave. He originated from eastern Washington—a place known for wheat fields, not saltwater cruising. His idea of boating was to tie six or seven truck inner tubes together and float in a local river. The second mate was my father. He had extensive small boat experience at the family beach cabin, but things of a mechanical nature were not in his wheelhouse.
Saturday morning of the cruise arrived: hot with no wind. The night before, I’d viewed a full moon from the aft deck while double-checking the boat. I had plenty of diesel (though checking the tanks required using a stick with measurements on it, and then extrapolating the fuel level into gallons using some math). Oil and coolant were checked. The raw water thru-hull was open. Things were right.
Dave arrived with a bounce in his step and a family-size pack of Oreos. My father arrived dressed for a solo open-ocean transit, as though he were about to depart on a 17th-century ship.
We set off, and the cruise north was pleasant. Oreos were consumed, and the boat operated just as it was supposed to.
Near the beach cabin, I could see a gathering of relatives milling about. The arrival of a “big” boat was a spectacle to be duly observed.
That’s when Dave called to me from the aft deck: “Hey Doug, is the water supposed to be this brown?”
In an instant, I knew my error. This was July in the Pacific Northwest. The moon was full. We were arriving late in the morning. The air had the briny smell of rarely exposed seaweed and barnacles.
Today was a super low tide, one of the lowest tides in a calendar year.
I turned toward deeper water, knowing full well that the whole area was basically flat sand. A smart move was to shut off the engine, to prevent it from sucking up sand. A second smart move was to deploy the anchor, to prevent the boat from being pushed toward shallower water. When it was all said and done, the trawler, yet unnamed, sat in maybe 2½ feet of water. Its draft was 3½ feet.
The three of us took the dinghy ashore, and I went to visit with my mother, who I recall may have been enjoying a beverage. She leaned over and asked, “Doug, do you have a name for your boat yet?”
Still a bit unsettled by the sandy experience, I responded, simply, “No.” She then said, “Why don’t you call it the Bottom Kisser?” and let out a good laugh.
This conversation becomes funnier as the years pass.
Later in the day, Dave and I made our way back to homeport. That cruise was smooth, and sand was not found. A few days later, I had the boat hauled. Some of the bottom paint on the full keel was rubbed away, as was some of the paint on the tips of the propeller blades. But otherwise, no harm.
The lesson, of course, is that checking a tide chart is never a bad idea. Another lesson may be that things known can be forgotten if one is preoccupied. My boat operated just as it was intended to operate; the captain temporarily lost focus of something he knew well.
I never did call the boat Bottom Kisser, but I did learn to read that antiquated depthsounder.