How to Drive a Boat

I taught high school when I was a young man. And in the summers I worked on a commercial fishing boat out of San Pedro. It was a purse seiner, eighty two feet long and 26 feet wide. It held one hundred twenty tons of fish. The boat was small compared to the tuna fleet that used to be based in San Diego. Those boats were huge in comparison. The boat I worked on was big enough for me. I was one of eleven crewmen. Purse seiners, as the name implies, fish using a net (sein is net in Italian). The net is gigantic, six hundred fathoms (a fathom is six feet) long and sixty fathoms deep. When we made a “set” we launched a small boat called a skif off of the back of the main boat and the main boat would encircle the school of fish. We would then connect the net and winch the attached cables that would close the bottom of the net much like a purse string. Hence the name purse seiner.

There were days we caught fish and days we didn’t. In either event we had to do the work of setting the net. We were a day boat, meaning we would go out mostly for the day, but sometimes we would stay out for several days or even a week.

On one such trip out to sea I was scheduled for my first turn at the wheel. I was pretty excited. When the captain gave me the wheel he simply said, “Keep her heading this way,” and pointed toward the open sea. I thought I was doing a pretty good job of doing just that, but after several minutes at the wheel the captain came up and said, “Let me have the wheel. You go aft and take a look. Come back and tell me what you see.”

I went aft and took a look. The wake I had created by my steering looked like I was a running back in a football game, zig zagging all over the place, trying to avoid tacklers. Zig zagging works really well in football, but not so well when driving a fishing boat.

I sheepishly went back to the wheel and told the captain what I saw, and how embarrassed I was.

The captain then explained how to drive a boat. “Pick a point way out there, and steer to that point. Don’t get caught up looking too much at what is right in front of the boat.” I took the wheel again and followed his instruction. After about a half hour the captain had me go look aft again, and I saw that my wake was straight and true.

Learning how to steer that boat became a valuable life lesson for me. We are told to live in the moment, and that is true. Each moment is all we have. We can’t get those moments back. But the question is what exactly are we living in each of those moments?

I believe we are living into a future. How we perceive the future gives direction to our present. When things had gotten really bad for the Israelites some twenty five hundred years ago a prophet named Jeremiah spoke to them about God’s plan for them. A plan for their welfare and not their demise. A plan for a future with hope. Their hope for the future was life-giving even in truly death dealing circumstances.

If we can keep our eyes fixed on a future filled with hope we will become people who are hopeful. And the world will change for the better. It won’t always be easy. 

But it will be worth it.