And there I was, standing on the bridge of a 35 foot sport fishing yacht tentatively pushing back on throttles of the dual engines as I faced backwards and took directions from my husband down in the pit.
His arms were outstretched and he shook his right hand indicating I should move the boat that direction. Then, he pointed his left hand in the opposite direction indicating a counter thrust to bring us closer to the empty little water bottle that bobbed in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Madeira Island; 669 miles off the coast of mainland Portugal.
The sport fishing yacht rocked back and forth as the waves tossed us around. I widened my stance on the bridge and bent my knees to keep from being knocked off balance in the turbulence.
I had never run a boat like this before in my life! In fact, I'd never run a boat in my life! Nor did I have a single moment's experience operating large equipment.
I recalled running a push lawn mower for an afternoon in my teens and had fond memories of summers running a jet ski on a Minnesota lake in my 20s but, I had not one single ounce of experience or knowledge to prepare me for running a 16,000 pound yacht with engines that had the power of 630 horses in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean!
I took deep breaths to calm the nervousness I felt while trying to remember which throttle to push or pull to make us go in a certain direction. My heart pounded knowing I had the responsibility of two powerful engines at my fingertips and one wrong move could threaten our lives, at worst, or damage a priceless sport fishing yacht, at best. Neither consequence was agreeable.
My husband remained patient as I first turned the boat in the wrong direction and then corrected. He bent over the bow and picked up the water bottle that bobbed in the Atlantic. Then, he tossed it out again and motioned for me to advance forward away from the bottle. I did as he indicated until he held up a universal hand signal to stop. Then, he motioned for me to back down on the bottle as if it were a giant Blue Marlin.
His hand signals mimicked a fight we might expect from a 1500 pound fish as it swum away from us; first dodging left, then dodging right. My husband instructed me to advance forward so the fictitious fish wouldn't swim under the boat causing the propeller to cut the line.
We "caught" that empty water bottle at least 20 times that day while I learned how to run the boat. We did so well that all the other captains within eyesight thought we were "hooked up" and fighting a giant fish! Alas, that wasn't the case.
What really happened was that the mate failed to show up. In fact, THREE mates failed to show up to help us with a fishing charter we had scheduled the following two days.
When we found out the night before that our Plan C mate had failed to come through, I looked at my husband and said, "What are you going to do about the fishing charter? Are you going to cancel the clients?"
He looked at me with a stare that confused me at first, and then, alarmed me.
"I don't know how to hook up bait! I can't help the clients catch a 1500 pound fish. How in the world do you think I'm going to take the place of the mate!?" I screeched.
He said, "You're not. I will take the place of mate. You're going to captain the boat."
At fist I was floored. No way could I run a boat. But his belief in me bolstered my confidence. Was there a snowball's chance in hell that I could run this boat?
My husband was/is an experienced sport fishing captain. I trusted him and believed him. If he thought I could do it, there must be a way. So, I acquiesced which is how I found myself on top of that bridge running that boat for three days in Madeira, Portugal.
I'm happy to report that the clients enjoyed several wonderful days at sea despite not getting even one single nibble from the Blue Marlin we were trying so desperately to find. Candidly, I was relieved that I didn't have to back down on an actual fish.
In retrospect, this story illustrates a business and leadership aphorism I firmly believe in: When asked, "What will you do?" in the face of adversity, I respond, "Whatever it takes."