Summary: Is what is in your head also in your heart?
Baby and the Beautician
In 1977 I decided to become a licensed boat captain. It was during that time that I had the opportunity to meet a man named “Baby”. He got the nickname because when he was in the second grade, he had to quit school and go to work to support his single mom and his brothers and sisters. Baby went to work on a commercial snapper fishing boat as a second grader. Baby became the skipper of a boat when he was only 14 years old. He was a natural at boatmanship. He graduated from snapper boats to work boats such as cable layers, ocean going tugs and oil field boats. He had navigated all over the world and had handled boats up to 300 feet in all sorts of weather and sea conditions.
Baby was running a standby boat in 1977 when the coast guard started requiring an official license for the captains of such. It was during that time that I had the privilege of trying to help him pass the exam. You see, since he only had a 2nd grade education, reading and test taking were very difficult for him. In fact he failed every practice exam he was given and then when the real final exam came, he failed it as well. Baby just could not read and comprehend the test well enough to pass it. Baby could not pass the academic requirements to get a license, but it was more than obvious that he had a thorough and intimate knowledge of the sea and had many living experiences to prove it.
During the time that I knew him, he related some stories about his adventures at sea. I remember two of them very well. Once, as he was headed out of the Mississippi River in bad weather, the boat he was in charge of started acting tenderly, meaning it did not respond to rudder or power commands like it should. He took the deck hand with him to look for the problem after putting his first mate on the helm. Upon entering the engine compartment he found it flooding rapidly. Water would soon reach the air intakes of the engines and shut them down. He found the cause, a large hole in the bottom. He sent the deck hand to get a mattress out of the berthing compartment while he started the emergency pumps. When the deckhand returned with the mattress, he put it over the hole and then made the deckhand stand on the mattress with the instructions that if he got off, they would sink and probably die. After taking the helm again, he was able to maneuver the boat back to shore where he beached it until repairs could be made.
On another occasion, he was moored near an oil rig on a standby boat when the weather turned horrible. Now a standby boat does exactly as the name implies. The boat is to standby an oil rig, usually on a mooring buoy, until the last person is evacuated in the event of an emergency. It is a safety measure to prevent loss of life in the event of bad weather or other emergency. Well, during this bad weather, Baby had the boat going full speed ahead into the wind in order to take the strain off the 1” steel cable that he was moored with. The wind and sea was so fierce that it caused the cable to snap and fly back to the deckhouse knocking out windows. Folks, it takes a lot of force to snap a 1” diameter steel cable. He had to maneuver in that terrible weather until the wind subsided and he got get back to the oil rig. He fought the sea for hours and was blown several miles from the rig before he could return.
Well at the same time Baby was struggling to prove his ability academically to obtain a license, there was a beautician getting her license. She had claimed, as part of the documented sea time requirement, experience at the age of 4 on her daddy’s runabout. The limit of her experience was on a boat less than 26’ long and she had never been out of the sight of land. However, having some college and being relatively intelligent, she had no problem in passing the exam. She got her license on the first try. Baby made several attempts to get his and only after the coast guard gave him a practical exam on a supply boat was he able to acquire his license. He was able to demonstrate his intimate knowledge of the sea by his ability to handle the boat, navigate from rig to rig, holding it up in the sea, and handling emergencies as they arose. He demonstrated his genuine intimate knowledge by proof of action rather than academics.