Blog article: The Four Do’s and Don’ts of Taking Your Boat to Mavericks (Part II)

The Four Do’s and Don’ts of Taking Your Boat to Mavericks (Part II)

Mavericks is hectic and scary for both surfers and people who operate a boat out there. I learned a few things about the boating part some years back and have shared these with you all. In part I we talk about how to avoid shallow water (aka likely destruction) and why the fog is not your friend at Mavericks. Now here’s part II.

Don’t do #2: Don’t overload your boat with too many surfers

Boats have limits in terms of bodies or weight that they can handle before their operation becomes compromised. If you want to test this out some time prepare to pay the price but don’t do it in big seas (better yet don’t do it at all).

After filming the grand finale surf scene in Chasing Mavericks I found my boat overloaded with 2 or 3 too many bodies for the run back in. We’re talking 7 fully grown men, gear, and 5 big wave guns all at about 1400 lbs total (guesstimate). My recommended limit was 900 and I was overloaded. While I felt the diminished power and steerability of the boat, I thought we could cruise in and all would be fine.

And it was all fine with glassy water on our way to the deep-water buoy until, lost in conversation with Pete Mel, I hear “Ummmm, hey captain. Look behind us.” from a voice on the back deck. I look back to see a very big and raw open water swell stand up behind us. At that point it was already too late, we were surfing this giant rolling hill of water. I felt the steering completely give way to the wave as the boat made a hard turn to port, much too hard for the speed we were going.

My stomach dropped out. We were going to broach.

That hard to port meant that we were going to come back over to starboard even harder as the boat tried to right itself. In worse case scenarios, the boat completely flips over and my stomach sickened at the thought of this happening to us. I looked to starboard to see the water come within inches of my window that is usually 4 feet+ above the surface. It was close but we didn’t flip. We didn’t even lose anyone over the rail or bust any boards or camera gear. Neptune, Poseidon, and all the other ocean gods must have been smiling down on us that day 🙂

The boat settled down and we coasted to a slow stop. I was shaken but guys like Mel, Healey, Long, and Wormhoudt just chuckled and went back to their conversation. Another Mavs story to add to their long list.

With so much weight on board the boat was unstoppable once it got pulled into that swell. Another bullet dodged boating at Mavericks but hard a lesson learned that I will never forget. 

Do #3: Operate your boat as you see best

This ties directly to the previous ‘don’t do’. At big wave venues like Mavericks there can be pressure placed on you by others that puts your boat and those on board at risk. It’s way cool to let somebody who just got held under for 45 seconds to rest for a few minutes on your boat if you have room. If adding that body makes your boat sluggish and impairs your ability to outrun a rogue set, don’t do it. Straight up.

If the photographer wants to shoot the wave from a specific angle that puts your boat in a sketchy spot, don’t do it. If you’re not feeling it then do not do it. If you don’t like the thick fog, don’t do it (hah!). And if ‘just one more person’ makes your boat slow and hard to steer, you sure as hell shouldn’t do it 🙂 

Follow your gut and operate your boat as you see fit with an eye on safety at all times. Luck is not something we can count on in the ocean and it will indeed run out sooner or later. And maybe sooner than usual at Mavericks.

Don’t do #3: Don’t focus on pics while operating your boat

It’s really hard to resist taking pictures of a glassy bomb breaking at Mavericks when you are about 50 yards away from the wave on the shoulder. There are skippers much more coordinated than I who can likely manage a camera, steering wheel, and throttle all at once but I couldn’t pull it off. 

To get a decent picture you have to steady yourself and focus on the wave, taking seconds at a time that pull your hands away from the wheel and throttle, and distract your attention from the horizon (and the next wave that may be swinging wide). If there something insane happening on the wave, like when I watched Dorian pull into a giant barrel, your attention may be glued to the wave for 5-10 seconds. With a 15-18 second interval swell, you’re basically only giving yourself 8-10 seconds or so to react to the next wave. Maybe that will be enough to make a move with the boat if necessary. Or maybe not…

I did find a balance between attention to the horizon and capturing a few decent pictures by using the camera on ’sport mode’. When an interesting wave started to break I’d hold the camera out the window of the boat, pointing at the wave, hold the shutter button down, taking a burst of pictures, while keeping my eyes on the horizon. I ended up taking 8-10 pictures per wave and having to sift through a 100+ images later on to find 2 – 3 that actually look good. It was something that an amateur photographer like me could post to Instagram and feel good about. 

To tie it all together, Mavericks is a wonder of nature that demands total respect and caution from anyone in the water around it. In years of pushing my luck in the ocean, I count myself the most luckiest for surviving both the fog and broach incidents at Mavericks. The majority of my other scares in the water seem rather tame compared to these and if I continue with my luck, will be the worst scares I ever encounter. But luck never holds forever does it? 🙂