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If Only I Could Ask Him

Dean Burnett, Vice President of Yamaha Marine, is a great guy, and a good friend. He was about as excited as he gets last week, when he was debuting the future of outboard power from Yamaha. He was addressing a bunch of us outdoor writer types at the Yamaha test facility, and what he showed us was borderline unbelievable.

It was while Dean was talking that I got blindsided by a ghost from my past. It seems one minute I was standing there oohing and ahhing with everybody else, and the next minute I was suddenly looking for a place to hide. Dean was showing us video of an intellectually challenged ad salesman, with no boat driving experience, parking a 35-foot boat, into a 38-foot space, with one finger on a joystick. Inventions like this can be huge for the future of twin and triple engine boats.  Everbody involved in the boating industry understands one of the biggest problems hampering boat sales for the last several years, has been that the product indimidates the customer.  You see a lot of guys retire to Florida, after a long hard career up north, and decide they want to buy a boat, and become an offshore fisherman.  We've all seen what happens next. They pull their brand new twin engine boat up to the ramp, only to find the wind and current are a little different  than when they pulled that jon boat up on good ol Lake Minnetonka. The resounding  crunch when fiberglass meets concrete, embarrases our new boat owner, and after he screams at his wife, the boat will soon be back on the market.

Everybody in the room was excited. The boating industry has been stuck for the last few years, and the new products coming from all the major engine manufaturers  are going to open up the market, by making it possible to drive a twin or triple engine boat as easily as driving the family car.

Just as I started to picture the guys I knew that could really use such a system, I lost my breath, and started to look for a place to hide. You see, my dad had been just such a guy. I know he loved to fish. I watched him get so excited catching a 6-pound bass on the Saint Johns River he immediately started shopping for a boat of our own. I suddenly thought "What if Dad..." Oh God, I had to get out of the room.  Dean, please don't look my way. God, was I about to embarrass myself.

You see, we ended up buying an old leaking 17-foot wooden cabin cruiser, with a 50 hp hand crank Johnson Sea Horse, and a non galvanized single axle trailer. I remember when my mom and sister made curtains for the cabin. I also remember crying because after Dad pulled the starter rope for an hour, the motor stalled and we had to paddle home. Next, we burned out the clutch in the family car trying to get her up the ramp, and one look at Dad told me his career as a boat owner was over.

I hadn't thought of my dad in so long, and suddenly there he was piloting a 35 footer with his little finger, with my brother and I tying up the dock lines, while we got ready to weigh our world record marlin.

What if...what if Dad's early efforts to be a serious fisherman had been successful? What if he could have had today's equipment? Would we have had a common bond that would have kept us close during my awful teenage years? Would he have been the Captain of the first charter boat I ever worked on? Would he have tagged my first billfish?

Did dad lose his desire to fish, or did the equipment of 50 years ago beat it out of him. If only I could ask him. I believe someday I will.

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