I'd Rather be Boating

Living on a tiny tropical island surrounded by ocean as far as the eye can see, I thought I should learn how to navigate the seas. Plus, boats are cool.

The Air Force marina offers low-cost boat rentals to military and DoD civilians. The only catch is you have to take (and pass) their boating class. They offer both power boating classes and sailing classes. Fred and I started with the power boats.

The marina

We heard while signing up for the class that the instructor
takes boating seriously and will fill your entire day with the lesson. This was very accurate. The instructor, Chiaki-san, is Japanese and has spent most of his life around boats. He starts his lesson by rambling on about how he wishes the class was a three-day affair because that's the absolute minimum time you need to learn properly. The Air Force wanted him to teach it in two hours. I suppose they compromised on one full day.

Waiting for Chiaki to finish chatting it up

As the lesson went on, we came to the conclusion that Chiaki-san would like three days because he likes to tell lots of side stories unrelated to the lesson itself. It seemed every comment could lead to a new story. Josh, our friend and Fred's co-worker, took the class with us. Chiaki asked Josh a boating question in the classroom and he answered in Spanish by saying "si" instead of yes. This spurred Chiaki to speak every language he knows - Spanish, French, Italian, and Portuguese, in addition to English and Japanese. Way to make us look bad. He told us how he worked on a cruise ship in the Mediterranean and thus learned all those languages.

Josh and Fred

A couple of his other stories were actually interesting and informative. I learned a good deal about the Okinawan fishing industry since part of boating in Okinawa involves avoiding the commercial fishing nets. You must also stay 300 ft. away from the whale shark cage. Yes, there is a whale shark living in a much-too-small cage out in the ocean for tourists to visits. The whale was accidentally caught in one of the large fishing nets and is now an underwater freak show. I should rent Free Willy and take notes.

Boating class also taught me that Japanese aren't the great environmentalists I imagined they would be. They don't seem to mind that their fishing practices accidentally kill endangered humpback whales. In the words of Chiaki, "whale stupid." Chiaki also didn't seem to mind if we drop the anchor on the coral reef and damage it. His response was, "no problem!" Then he taught us if it gets stuck on the coral, simply throw the boat into reverse and rip it out with force. I'm no reef expert, but this didn't feel right to me.

Chiaki teaching me the ways of the Japanese boater (and Josh)

The available rental boats leave much to be desired. They are pretty basic, but good for diving, snorkeling or fishing around the island. As we took turns recklessly docking the boat, Chiaki made sure we knew he didn't have to give us our license if we can't get it right. Then we had to learn how to dodge the coral in the open water and hear stories of how other Americans who didn't take him seriously ended up shredding their boats on the reef.

We ended the day getting our licenses. But Chiaki still seemed concerned for us and repeated everything we need to remember like a parent cautioning a child. I hope we make him proud and don't become another one of his stories.

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