• by Virginia Koetzner

New York to Florida with Al Grover

When you marry a man who lives to be challenged, you can expect a life full of surprises and adventure. When Rosemarie married Al Grover in her senior year at Syracuse University, she went back to college to finish the semester and graduate with her class. Their honeymoon was her first trip in a big truck when Al picked her up at Syracuse on the way to Ohio to pick up seven Lyman boats. When it was her turn to drive she’d wake him up to help shift the big rig. It never occurred to either of them that her art degree would be useful in his boat business. She was the only person who could cut a water line without taping it when she painted boats. Thus, it was not surprising that years later in 1977 they celebrated Al’s late October 50th birthday by taking one of his 26’ Groverbuilt two bunk cuddy cabin skiffs down the Inland Waterway to Florida. Leaving Freeport well before dawn, the ride to New Jersey “was a real Nantucket Sleigh Ride in following seas with waves five and six feet high. I went below to get our first chart and after rolling and unrolling several charts with no success - no Jersey charts - started to feel “woozie”. With the motion of the boat and recoiling charts, the search came to an abrupt end. Topside for me! ….With a whiff of the nice fresh sea air, my seasickness passed. The boat was handling beautifully”. They arrived at the Manasquan inlet by 9:30 am. Rosemarie’s “Am I crazy – I left a nice warm bed for this!” thoughts subsided when they stopped to pick up charts and hot coffee. Her outlook brightened as she contemplated their first day’s travel plans. “The very name ‘Intracoastal’ suggested a calm canal to me.” They ran all day past the dreary pre-casino waterfront of Atlantic City and the beachy areas of the Jersey Shore and tied up at the commercial fishing docks in Wildwood at 7 pm. Their first hot meal was Progresso Minestrone Soup heated on the Sterno Stove. Up by 4 am the next morning, they left early, taking advantage of a full moon and a clear sky. She sat on the engine box to get warm as they headed south around Cape May, into Delaware Bay. On the east side of the Chesapeake at Chestertown, Tolchester Marine became their first fuel stop. Powered with an 80 hp. Lehman Diesel engine, 56 gallons filled the tank. They finished the day stopping at Solomons, Maryland and had dinner at the Harborside Restaurant where Rosemarie remembers the oversized martinis, the really fresh vegetables, fried oysters and homemade pies. A full moon and a clear sky the next day got them an early start for Norfolk, Virginia. At Norfolk they saw huge gray battleships and an occasional submarine. By 4 pm they fueled up at the Atlantic Yacht Basin near Great Bridge, Virginia. By the end of the day at 8 pm, they pulled into the Conjock Marina in North Carolina. There was no restaurant, there were no showers and it was raining – dinner in the cabin – Dinty Moore Stew, canned peaches and straight Scotch. A local Old Salt told them, “a full moon, calm water – will bring about a change tomorrow – a bad storm.” They ignored his advice, leaving at 7:30 am, heading into the Albemarle Sound. The Southeast breeze picked up to 40 mph, but they kept going. They found the Alligator River and when they reached Belhaven, North Carolina, “the seas were breaking over the jetty and a 33’ sailboat was aground and sinking near the entrance to the River Forest Manor. Dinner was all you could eat….Guests all took turns pumping the old player piano – it proved to be the greatest spot on the whole trip. We sat next to the lady and gentleman from the sinking sailboat. She was 65, frightened, didn’t know how to swim, had no knowledge of boating but was game enough to help her husband, a retired military man, launch his retirement dream – sailing to Florida.” It was the warmth of the hotel and the size of the bathtub in their room (about 10’ z 4’) that finally got Rosemarie to take off the fur hat that she had been wearing continuously since they left Freeport. It not only warded off the chill winds during the day, it kept her warm at night in her bunk. The next morning, they left in heavy fog. “It seemed to engulf the very air we were breathing. It was eerie; we navigated the Neuse River strictly on compass and ran from buoy to buoy, checking each marker off on the chart.” That night they stayed at Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina – a beautiful marina at the drawbridge. So exhausted they ate some heated canned food and fell into their bunks. Taking turns running the boat, their morning ritual was to brush their teeth, wash up and by the time they had their coffee, oatmeal and soft boiled eggs, they were “like two kids laughing at our crazy act.” The next night got them to the Thunderbolt Marina in Georgia and they caught up with the Huckins people they had met at an earlier stop. They fueled up, showered, had cocktails aboard the Huckins and had a great dinner at the marina restaurant. They did laundry and shared stories with the crew from a 42’ Egg Harbor from Virginia. Although Al had hoped to run outside, the Coast Guard morning broadcast warned of 8’ seas and posted small craft warnings. The bay was so rough it convinced them that the ocean would have been hard to manage in their 26’ skiff. On their eighth day they reached Jacksonville, Florida at dark. They wanted to celebrate but had docked at a new marina, so new it wasn’t open yet - no phone, no showers, nothing but pilings, “but nothing could dampen our joy.” The next day included a gas stop at Daytona and tying up at the Titusville Marina in a bad Northeast storm. The marina basin was surging with little to no protection from the east wind. We hung on a piling away from the dock, hoping to find a little letup from the howling wind.” The next day they headed south. “The sun was shining and we were all smiles. This was the Florida we liked. Dolphins played alongside our boat. On Tuesday when we reached the Merritt Boat Yard, Pompano Beach, we relaxed and folded up our charts.” The 1977 trip to Florida on the 26’ Groverbuilt was actually about the middle of the stories of Al Grover’s trips south. As a newly licensed captain at 18, Al took boats to Florida for $100. a week. There were many trips and they ran at night after the bridge tenders stopped working. Climbing up on the bridge, they would open the bridge, go through and then close the bridge so the bridge tenders wouldn’t be looking for them the next day. They navigated with a compass and the coastal maps Texaco Gas & Oil published every year. You couldn’t call them charts, but with their red stars locating all Texaco Gas stops, you could use them to find your way to Florida. Not having all the electronics available today, old time boaters relied on what worked for them. In the Freeport area WGBB was one of the first Long Island radio stations and they had a very big tower close to Main Street in Freeport. If you didn’t have a Radio Direction Finder you brought a small portable radio along on your boat. In poor visibility such as fog or heavy rain, you could navigate by locating the signal from the radio tower. Local boats used the Woodcleft Canal to correct their compasses. After Al’s 50th birthday trip to Florida in the skiff, he bought a ketch rigged 41’ Morgan like the ones they had chartered on Island vacations. He liked the two-masts of the ketch for the times he was by himself in bad weather, being able to put up a small jib and the mizzen and not have to leave the wheel to take down a big sail up forward. His sailing background came from sailing with his boyhood and lifetime friend, Fred Scopinich, on the Scopinich STAR in local, national and international competitions. The Morgan Out Island was made for charter use and heavily built and rigged. Al described the ride as steady, stiff, and that it sailed well in bad weather. The Morgan’s name, “Hoomanawanue,” always gave the bridge tenders trouble. Being able to run all night cut out bridges and traffic that made the Inland Waterway trip a time consumer, so Al got to enjoy the freedom of the open ocean. The open ocean made Rosemarie seasick, so she only made a few of the trips in the Morgan. The Grover sons made several trips and customers at times became part of the crew. The last trip was a Freeport to Florida delivery when they were selling the boat. Stripping the boat of all their personal gear, they bought some groceries and headed south. When the customer changed his mind, they decided to bring the boat back, bought some more groceries and headed into a storm. Neither of them had foul weather gear, but they did have heavy black plastic bags and masking tape and they used their custom foul weather suits all the way home. Al’s advice for first timers taking the Inland Waterway or the Atlantic Ocean to Florida from New York or New Jersey – the best times to travel are May-June and September-October and having a copy of the Waterway Planning Guide would be helpful. Bring Sunscreen and your cell phone. When you estimate your time for the trip you have to factor in the bridge opening times if you use the Inland Waterway and the weather if you stay outside. Pictures and information on 1977 trip provided by Rosemarie Grover’s “New York to Florida


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