I was captain of a $5 million, 96-foot boat. For a few minutes, anyway.
On a recent weekday, I elbowed up next to Capt. Matthew Miller for a run of the William Market, from Catawba Island to Put-in-Bay.
The ship is named after William Market Sr., who along with his wife, Mary Ann, took over the Miller boat line from Mary Miller. Their two sons, William “Billy” Market and Scott Market, and their daughter, Julene Market, now run the business.
Capt. Miller — no relation to the former owners, as far he knows — pulled the William Market away from the boat dock at Catawba Island.
Once we made it to open water, I took over inside the wheelhouse.
I claimed my seat and placed my hands on the wooden wheel, running the course shown on a GPS system. I also had to keep an eye on the radar to my left, which was mapping out the locations of other boats. Miller pointed to a large piece of deadwood to our right.
“Watch the shallows of Mouse Reef,” he said.
He and a few others in the wheelhouse pointed out the other Miller Ferry Boat to my left, which was also making a run.
“He may be asking me later what I was doing,” Miller said.
I steered a little closer to Mouse Reef and away from the other boat's path, managing to put a good distance between our boat and the other boat. While doing so, if I might say so, we did a beautiful job of staying away from the deadwood and the shallow reef.
A light rain fell from the gray sky. Normally, this sort of weather would seem like a sullen summer day in north-central Ohio.
But not today. On this day, I was captain of a ship sailing over waters as smooth as glass. It was an amazing feeling piloting the William Market as sliced through the water.
“Do you know what Signing Your Signature means?” Miller asked.
I had no clue.
Explained Miller: If a captain is making big wheel turns, he's weaving back and forth, creating a wake like a person's signature.
“Am I doing that?”
“No you're doing good,” he said.
All too soon, Miller pointed out the Miller docks on Put-in-Bay.
“Do you see that white building? That's our dock,” he said.
“I see it."
The rest of the journey, it was just a matter of keeping the building within sight, and heading directly toward it. As I got closer to the docks, I asked Miller to take over the wheel. I didn't want to be responsible for slamming a multimillion-dollar ship into a dock.
“The dock would lose,” he laughed.
I surrendered the wheel to the real captain. Miller started with Miller Boat line in 1976, and he's been running boats for about the last 20 years. He averages up to 10 runs a day, which means he logs about 1,500 runs a year.
“The moments of most stress is when it storms," Miller said. "I've seen everything this water has to offer."
And yet, there's no place he'd rather be then in the wheelhouse of the 1,300-horsepower William Market.
It's easy to see why.