Full view of sailboat "Grendel" with clients on board.

Clients having a good time aboard Grendel

For the past 26 years, I have been in the enviable position of doing something I love and getting paid for it! Not only was I able to use a lifetime of boating knowledge to teach others how to operate in situations they had never encountered before, but I also enjoyed the serenity of sunset sails and the joy of wreaking havoc with a staged pirate invasion!

I managed this by working part-time as a charter captain for Lord Nelson Charters. We offered afternoon cruises and sunset sails, did corporate team-building sessions on sailboats or pontoon boats and offered a bit of theatrical entertainment.

On the pontoons, we would teach clients how to use a hand-bearing compass and read a nautical chart. We’d familiarize them with the channel markers and the three “R”s (Red Right Returning). Each pontoon would carry six to 10 occupants, one of whom would be the designated boat driver who went through separate training on how to safely handle a boat on the lake. There would also be a captain, who would tell them where to go, a navigator to tell them how to get there, a tactician, who would decide what order to take the clues in and the rest of the crew who would participate in the decision making. From time to time, they would rotate crew positions, so everyone got a chance to be captain, navigator etc. Then we would turn them loose on either a scavenger hunt or a treasure hunt.

On a scavenger hunt, each team would have to go around the lake answering questions such as “What is the color of the flag on University Yacht Club?” or “How many chimneys are on the house with the red roof behind channel marker #7?” In recent years with the internet, someone would inevitably look up the website for UYC and get the color of the flag without having to go there. Likewise, with the red-roofed house, someone might get on Google Earth and zoom in on marker #7 to count the chimneys. This is all legitimate as we are simply teaching them how to work together as a team in an environment that they are not used to.

On a treasure hunt, we would hide a bunch of pirate booty such as swords, hats, vests, “jewels,” and “gold” on various islands around the lake, give each team a treasure map and turn them loose to collect as much treasure as they could in an allotted time. The challenge was to figure out what order to visit each island in so they could get to them all in the time allowed. The team who brought back the most booty would win!

For the sailing event, we would have four or five large sailboats, each with about five clients and a licensed captain aboard. In the morning we would teach them how to sail, and after rafting up for lunch we’d give them a bunch of challenges to accomplish, the last one being a race back to the bar! For me, it was an ego trip, because I would start with a group of people, some of whom had never been on a boat before, much less a sailboat, and by mid-afternoon, turned them into competitive racers!

Another event we would offer was the “pirate attack.” This would typically occur in conjunction with a company dinner cruise on one of the party barges available from Lake Lanier Islands. These are converted houseboats approximately 80 feet long which might take 50 or so passengers for a catered dinner onboard and a sunset cruise of the lake. Meantime we would be stalking them on board the “pirate ship.” This was a custom-built wooden boat that looked like she belonged in the last century or possibly the one before that! We had a bunch of actors aboard dressed in pirate costumes and would approach from windward. When we were sure everyone could see us, we would run up the “Jolly Roger” and fire off a round or two of black powder shells from a 10-gauge saluting cannon. It made a lot of noise, and it sent a cloud of gunpowder smoke drifting down on the quarry. We would yell “Prepare to be boarded!” Once aboard, “Captain No Beard” would introduce the various members of the crew, including me, “Vicious Vinnie, the Scourge of the Chattahoochee.” We called ourselves the “Legendary Pirates of Lanier” not to be confused with the “Pirates of Lanier,” the organization that sponsors the Poker Run each year to raise money for charity. Then we would explain that we had lost a bunch of our crew to desertion, terrible wounds, and diseases such as scurvy, and we needed to recruit replacements. Then we proceeded to teach them how to “Walk the Walk and Talk the Talk” to be pirates, i.e., how to “Swagger and Snarl” and to “Stagger and Scratch” and “Lurch and Laugh.” Each time they did this we would give them another piece of pirate gear, such as a hat, sword, vest, bandana, etc. Pretty soon we had 40 or 50 pirates swaggering and snarling and lurching and laughing around the deck. For anyone who wasn’t interested in this, I would take them sailing on the pirate ship.

Finally, my favorite events were the sailboat charters, where I would take up to 15 people aboard the big wooden boat and go out for three or four hours to watch the sunset or simply sail around the lake.

I met all kinds of interesting folks such as rap artists, where we did a photo shoot for an album cover, a bachelorette party, global employees who were attending corporate meetings, a bride and groom sailing off into the sunset after their wedding, and many more.

Lord Nelson Charters has created happy memories of Lake Lanier for me and many, many others. Sadly, the business is being sold so I don’t know what the future will bring. However, I did have a good run for 26 years and the best part was that I went sailing and got paid for it! Glad to have been aboard.

Photo: courtesy Vinnie Mendes