Not unlike many other small boys, I was drawn to water from my earliest memories. As a four-yearold child, I can still recall a carnival in Yonkers, New York, that had a boat ride. I know for certain that I saw a carousel, a roller coaster, and a Ferris wheel, but they were no match for the boats that glided through the mysterious wet stuff. I pleaded with my parents that I might go for a ride, and can only imagine that my enthusiasm got the best of them. I was mesmerized, as the boats went ’round and ’round. Once in the boat, my hands just had to touch the water. The small boats would follow one another in a circular water basin which was five feet deep. As my hands touched the water, magic flowed through my fingers. Hysterical Mom and Dad had the operator shut her down, so their seagoing toddler might come back to the safety of land. And I suspect they thought I might have a thing for the water, or perhaps they might be parenting a juvenile kook.
Eight years later, as a grade-school mariner in Westchester County, two of my buddies and I discovered an abandoned cement tub that was used for mixing cement. We naturally figured we had salvage rights, and soon discovered the tub would make a spectacular pleasure craft. As I was surveying the landscape, I can recall saying to my buddies,
“I don’t see any ‘no boating’ signs. What do you think?”
Then my sidekick Dickey said,
“I bet that sucker floats real well, what do you think, guys?”
“Heck yeah,” and in chorus we said, “let’s do it!”
After we had trundled our newly pirated pleasure craft to the waters’ edge, the launching and float testing was accomplished like seasoned salts. Carpenters Pond, in New Rochelle, New York, at first glance, was an attractive pond, but upon closer inspection proved to be a shallow mud hole full of duck crap. Once we got in the middle of the pond, using sticks as makeshift oars, shipmate Bobby wanted to see what would happen if he stood up and did the new dance craze, “The Twist.” Before we could tell the knot head to sit down, the water was pouring in over the stern, and we were yelling, “We’re going down! We’re going down!” And we did, in thirty seconds, like a rock. The three of us remained in the tub all the way to the bottom, which was twelve inches below. I looked at friends Dickey and Bobby, and said,
“Well, you guys got any other cool ideas?”
On another occasion at Lake Carmel, in New York, Dad and I would go fishing, and this time we were to use a row boat, but unfortunately, it was not seaworthy after the effects of a storm. I still recollect looking down at the little boat from the rocks above, and seeing the boat full of the lake. I did not tell Dad, but at the time, I was thinking, “The heck with the fish, let’s get the water out of the boat, and go for a ride!”
It was never the fish I was interested in. It was the boat and the water…man against the elements, and the unknown… below and beyond. To me, the fish were just an excuse to play in the water. I am still not sure what I saw—power, mystery, raw strength—but for sure, it wasn’t the smelly fish. I never had thoughts of being a sea captain on a large merchant vessel, or captaining a naval dreadnaught, or an America’s Cup sailboat, or any of the other lofty ideas that boys get. For this sailor, it was good enough to be on or near the water, and of course, actually in the water. I have always thought it ironic, that the more position and title one had, the more it would distance them from the water. If I wanted to be in the world of computers and electronics, I would have stayed ashore with the rest of the landlubber geeks. By the age of twelve, I was already accumulating a repertoire of sea stories. As many people go to sea, there are as many stories, and here is one of mine.