The outdoorsman lately has taken up boating at night and, unsurprisingly, has found something new to grouch about -- spotlights.
Generally, sailing after dark on Chesapeake Bay turns out to be a delight. After sunset, the crowds disperse and the breeze often fills in and stays all night.
In his recently acquired sloop, the outdoorsman has enjoyed several splendid sails in the moonlight, sometimes even in no light at all. But increasingly, these adventures have been diminished by the appearance of blinding beacons in the hands of fellow pleasure boaters.
One such fellow disrupted a beautiful anchorage in a protected cove behind Tilghman Island on Maryland's Eastern Shore one busy weekend.
After a sluggish, breezeless day, the wind had picked up at dusk. The outdoorsman's crew moved the boat up to the head of the cove, where they anchored in quiet water amid several other yachts.
The crew was lying around, staring happily at the sky and listening to the halyards clanging against the mast, when their reverie was smashed by a boat nosing into harbor in the dark, its frightened skipper arcing a beam of incredible intensity from shore to shore as he sought safe passage.
Even when the fellow was a quarter-mile away, the beam from his hand-held marine spotlight was painful. As he drew closer, never dimming, he bathed each boat in a stem-to-stern wash, until it was the outdoorsman's turn.
"AAAAARRRGGGGHHH!" the offended parties shouted, but the man locked his beam and continued on his terrified way, lighting up the haven with a quartz-halogen wand.
These marine spotlights lately have come into vogue among recreational boaters. It used to be a 200,000- to 300,000-candlepower rig was expensive and bulky, the province principally of commercial boats and big yachts. But nowadays you can buy a 12-volt marine spotlight for as little as $50 and plug it into a cigarette lighter, and everyone with a 20-footer seems to have one.
Many don't understand that the need for a searchlight on the water is rare. Principally, it is used to find unlighted day markers when in close quarters after dark. But anyone who has spent time on the water should know that he who shines a bright light into the eyes of another sailor trying to find his way has blinded the other guy.
The other night, coming out of his home creek, which is marked by unlighted day markers, the outdoorsman was creeping along when a motorboat roared up the creek mouth, heading in.
The skipper was using his spotlght as a pathfinder, swinging it randomly across the channel without a break. Soon, everyone aboard the sloop was night-blind.
The motorboater didn't even need the narrow channel -- the water was deep enough to support him on either side -- but the sailboat with its deep keel had no room. The crew clawed along by feel. Then, when the motorboat passed, the folks aboard it waved merrily, having no notion they had rendered their comrades helpless.
A good beacon is an important safety feature on a boat, but it ought to be used sparingly. At night, nautical visibility generally is superb; lighted marker buoys are plentiful on the Bay and its tributaries, and often can be seen farther away on a clear night than they can in the daytime. There's no need to scan the water with a beacon unless you're trying to pick up a man overboard, identify the numbers on a close-by aid to navigation, or confirm the location of an unlighted day marker or obstruction.
That done, you cut the bloody thing off and do as sailors have done for a thousand years.
Use your eyes.