Chapter

My first boat

Recently, I wrote about my first big (at least, big for me) boat.  But it certainly wasn’t my first boat. That came at a much earlier point in my life.

When I was 12, we moved to a small town on the coast of Georgia where my dad bought our first boat. It was a red and white 16-foot fiberglass-covered plywood cabin cruiser on a homebuilt trailer with a small Evinrude outboard. But to me, it was like I was aboard Paul Allen’s 414-foot yacht, Octopus, whenever we got to take it out on the water, which as it turns out, was not all that often.

My dad was working long hours at the time, and we didn’t get to make many trips in it. Instead, I spent many hours aboard having imaginary boating adventures while it sat in the driveway. The times we did go out were heaven.

Disaster struck one day when my father was in the driveway examining the boat. He made the horrifying discovery that with little effort he could push his hand through the bow. It seems that the plywood had either rotted beneath the fiberglass, or more likely, the fiberglass had been added to conceal the rot. Whatever the case, at least we had discovered the problem before the boat slowly sank while we were boating.

We began to cut away the damaged areas in order to begin repair work. I spent many days desperately trying to repair it, to the extent that a 12-year old could. However, the more I cut away, the more we found that needed to be cut away. It eventually became obvious that the boat was totaled. I still remember the day the man who bought the motor and trailer came to pick it up with the agreement that he would haul off the remains of my beloved first boat. If anything, it was worse than when I broke up with my first girlfriend.

It was not until I was in graduate school down in Miami that I had the opportunity to enter the boating ranks once again. Two other students and I pooled our meager assets and bought a 16-foot Thunderbird tri-hill with a Volvo inboard/outboard engine for $1,500. It needed some cosmetic work, which we immediately set about to do. One of my boating buddies replaced the panels in the stern with cool-looking laminated maps while I took on rebuilding the louvered door that led to the tiny cuddy cabin.

A few days later, we were ready for our maiden voyage and launched our tiny craft off of Key Biscayne. I can still remember how my chest swelled with pride as we idled out of Bear Cut and set off on our very first adventure—one which was quickly interrupted.

It seems that President Nixon was fond of hanging out at his buddy Bebe Rebozo’s house on the Key Biscayne waterfront. The row of white poles with tiny signs (which we had neglected to read) marked a presidential security zone. Unknowingly, we had cut across the outside corner of the zone, at which time the powerful-looking Scarab go-fast boats that lurked close to shore came screaming down on us with their blue lights flashing.

It turns out that the President wasn’t even down at the time, but I suppose these guys were bored and itching for a fight. We stood there wide-eyed while they read us the riot act about entering the “forbidden zone.” We acted appropriately contrite and a few minutes later were allowed to continue our maiden voyage, our spirits only slightly dampened.

We had lots of good times aboard that little boat. Loaded with piles of scuba gear, we would head out to dive the edge of the Gulf Stream near Fowey Rocks to spear fish and search for lobster. Enormous goliath grouper (which were referred to as jewfish at the time) hung along the reef. These enormous fish, some weighing hundreds of pounds, never appeared afraid of us but would keep a fixed distance away. This is probably fortunate as that is the only thing that kept us from trying to spear them, an act which most certainly would have ended badly—for all of us.

Disclaimer: Frank Wilem is an author, speaker, and all around funny and entertaining guy. On this blog, his stories are based on his real life experiences, often with a satirical twist.

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