I have spent my first summer in many years boat-less. It is an odd thing for me. While a boat can be as callous and unreliable as a cheating girlfriend, and regularly leaves you despaired when she fails you, the pleasure you enjoy in and around boats is something that everyone should try at least once in their lives.
I really miss it, although I do not miss the breakdowns.
My first boat was a vintage 1961, 31 foot Owens. Over the course of a year, I spent nearly every free weekend and many evenings restoring the “Endeavor,” which was moored at the old 22nd Street Landing in San Pedro. Classic wood hull/mahogany decked boats are about the most expensive girlfriend you can take; the maintenance is non-stop.
These low-stout boats were built in Baltimore, Maryland, and are reminiscent of many wooden hulls of the time, such as Chris-Crafts. Mine was equipped with two large Volvo Penta engines, and could handle even the largest swells with the greatest of ease. It had a decent sized indoors and outdoor salon, and a queen sized bed in the cabin, with a full galley, head and shower. As I said, the entire deck was made of mahogany, held together with hard wood dowels, and when it was freshly finished it shown like the sun.
However, she was constantly breaking, and in the end I donated her to the Sea Scouts, B.S.A. I always felt guilty that I gave that fine organization my boat, as I knew that she would punish them with her fickleness, the way she had me for many years.
I think that A.A. Milne said it best when he wrote; “Now then, Pooh,” said Christopher Robin, “where’s your boat?” “I ought to say,” explained Pooh as they walked down to the shore of the island, “that it isn’t just an ordinary sort of boat. Sometimes it’s a Boat, and sometimes it’s more of an Accident. It all depends.”
For the next 10 or 12 years, I did what any rational man would do after dealing with such a horrible, disrespectful, and disloyal–(unprintable); I rented boats–both power and sail—sea and fresh water. Over time I rented all sorts of boats; houseboats, fishing boats, ski boats and even mastered for a spell a 32 foot Catalina sailboat, all the time knowing that when the boat broke, and they always did, I simply had to get it into a slip somewhere and it was someone else’s problem.
I became the engineer on a friends ski boat for a time. There is absolutely nothing you can tell me about a Chevrolet 327 engine. I can fix them in the dark, or bobbing in the middle of a lake; even when lacking the proper tools to do so. I know exactly where to punch and kick these motors too, and I have the knuckle scars to prove it.
I once captained a 56-foot cruiser, from a port near Ponce, Puerto Rico, to San Juan. Much of the time the owner of the boat fished for dorado (mahi-mahi), fully believing that I somehow knew what I was doing, which I did not, but through the grace of God I brought the ship in. The pleasant one-day trip in lazy swells turned into a mess of howling winds and 15-foot seas.
On another misadventure, I anchored my rented dilapidated houseboat near the shoreline on a remote section of the Colorado River, only to wake the next morning sitting completely out of the water on a sandbar. Several hours and many hard pulls later, I freed the thing and made it to Lake Havasu, Arizona.
After wrecking a sleek-fine catamaran near the Mexican resort town of Mazatlan, I was held hostage at the airport by the Mexican Federales, and not allowed to board my plane until I produced a credit card and forced to pay ridiculous overcharges for repairs. I had already paid him for the damages, but he had second thoughts; I would call it extortion. As soon as I reached the good old U.S. of A., I promptly called the good old American Express office, and disputed the good old charge. This Yankee did go home, and the charge was voided. The accident was in fact not caused by the boats captain, and was indeed caused by my friends and shipmates who refused my orders and we flipped the thing. They felt that I was being too authoritative, but quickly stopped laughing when they found themselves dumped into the Sea of Cortez.
Speaking of being a Captain, there is something about the responsibility of sailing a boat that turns even the nicest of people into an Ahab. And I have been guilty. But while your guests are enjoying a few hands of gin; both playing cards and the liquid kind, you are tasked with endless hours at the helm, which makes you question why you ever wanted to take up boating in the first place. I have a safety certificate that I earned after taking a comprehensive course in sailing, and I often thought about safely anchoring the boat somewhere safe and throwing several of these guests overboard; without a life vest.
Most people trade up for bigger boats, but I got smaller, and for nearly fifteen years, I was the proud owner of one of the fastest jet boats made. When it ran well, it gave us many a fine day of skiing and wakeboarding, and I experienced some of the greatest days of my life. However, during that time, the boat probably spent more time in non-running condition than it did in the water, and in the end I was happy to be rid of her.
Now I am faced with the dilemma of what do with the several hundred pounds of skis, boards, shots of line, a dingy and a canoe or two, tubes, oars, anchors, rods and reels, maps, radios, flags, outboards, flare guns, ski and dock lines, life vests, and countless boxes of tools and other boat related equipment.
Maybe I can rent them to somebody?
THE ENDEVOUR-1961 OWENS EXPRESS CRUISER. The 31 Flagship was one of their most popular models, and during their heyday, Owens was second only to Chris-Craft in production of mid size cruisers. Sturdy, seaworthy and crafted of Honduran mahogany the 31 remains popular even today (Photo, Author),