• by Virginia Koetzner

With A Little Help From My Friends

When I started writing this article about buying my first boat, it didn’t occur to me until I saw it written that it never would have happened had it not been for the kindness, enthusiasm and help from my friends. I can’t remember a time in my life that I didn’t want to have my own boat. Others in my class in our early teens had sailboats, rowboats or sometimes small boats with outboards that the family had outgrown. When I was a little older and working, the dockmaster at Cedar Beach in Babylon, Russell Smith and his family, were kind enough to take me out, teach me to waterski, find my own boat and show me how to take care of it after I owned it. Russell found a lightly used small Chris Craft runabout with a 60 hp. Chris Craft inboard engine that needed a little work but would put a water-skier on top of the water quickly. At that time I worked for a large Wall Street law firm that gave substantial Christmas bonuses, month-long summer vacations and offered lots of overtime. The opportunities to come home with a fat paycheck were there. I had been working a lot of overtime, anticipating buying a boat and covering its needs – insurance, dock space, mechanical upkeep, winter storage, etc., but I was about $1,000 short of what I needed when Russell found the boat. When I asked my father for a loan to buy a boat, he said he didn’t think I could afford a boat and walked away. After hearing about the boat and my financial problem, it was my mother-in-law who volunteered to lend me the $1,000. She had three conditions: that the loan had to be a secret so she wouldn’t be seen as the family bank, she wanted to know how fast I could pay her back – could she have it back in six months and could I repay her in cash, pretty much as she gave it to me, nothing bigger than a twenty. Yes, yes, and yes – we had a deal. Within 15 minutes of discussing my problem she had solved it. She was stuffing a fat manila envelope full of small bills that added up to $1,000 into my pocketbook. I had a friend I skied with in the winter who worked in my office. She lived with her family in Freeport and would come for the weekend any time I asked to go to the beach in the summer. I told her I planned to put an ad in the local paper to teach kids to waterski, would she want to stay at my house if she could get August off and be the observer, the legally required second person in the boat who watches to see that the driver doesn’t run over the skier? She jumped at the chance and was able to get the time in August. She was so happy to be out on the boat she designed a one page take home sheet for new water-skiers – stick figures with bent knees holding towropes leaning forward, reminding the new skiers that weight forward made it hard to fall. The ad in the local paper read, “Let Ginny do it – will teach your kids to waterski – your children will have fun and individual attention from a patient instructor. Can pick up by boat at your dock or meet at a municipal dock.” The ad, that also included my phone number, changed the next week to incorporate learning to clam with a rake or by treading. Under the best conditions with four weeks in August, charging $50 per child, we could do lessons twice a day for $100 and needed only ten good days in August to repay the loan in a month. It took a little longer, but repayment was way ahead of schedule, which made everybody happy. Once you have the boat, expenses to teach waterskiing and clamming are relatively small. I used my own waterskis for bigger children, my slalom ski for the adult who wanted to try it, had my own clam rake and pail, but I did buy some small pails, two pairs of child size waterskis and three child size life jackets. The pails were free to the student clammers to take home their clams. The ad and gas, which was really cheap, then, were the only other expenses I remember. My first customer had two children, seven and nine years old, and wondered if she could come along. She came, she was enthusiastic and encouraging and her children learned quickly. I gave her a discount for the second child. While Patti and I pulled the girls along the grass with towropes behind her house, the mother said her husband was impatient and not a good teacher and wished she had someone to teach the girls how to fish and clam. That afternoon, after both girls got up out of the water on their waterskis and spent a little time skiing around the bay, I asked the mother if I could pick up my rake and pail and would teach them, free of charge because she had given me a great idea, how to tread for clams and how to rake them. Patti and I put a one page take home together for new clammers that reminded them to find out whether they needed a license, find out where the closed areas were and it showed them the different size clams and their names. We had a wonderful afternoon, the girls and their mother found clams enough for a nice surprise for their father for dinner and my ad was now going to incorporate clamming lessons. It’s true what they say in marketing, how one happy customer can do wonderful things for your business. This mother told several of her neighbors and we were back in the same neighborhood the next day. We stopped at Frank & Dick’s on the island in the State Boat Channel to get gas and tell Dick he could send me customers. I knew Dick and his parents from way back when my father got gas there before going to my grandparents’ house at Saltaire. I told Dick I was in business for the month of August teaching kids to waterski and clam. “Clam? You have to teach someone to clam?” He couldn’t stop laughing. Being a bayman from a family of baymen, Dick thought having to teach someone to clam was pretty funny but he agreed, there were parents who would pay to have someone else do it and he did send me customers for waterskiing lessons. The loan was repaid in less than two months, Patti went back to Freeport and fall came suddenly after a warm August and September. The little Chris Craft went to Karl Tank, Inc. Shipyard in Lindenhurst, as it was known then, and in the spring when I uncovered it, Russell Smith came back, as promised, to show me how to sand, varnish and paint the boat. He went over the grades of sandpaper, what I had and what I’d need and when it was time to varnish he showed me how to prepare the surface, when during the day was the best time to varnish and to check the wind direction and watch out for wind-blown dust, dirt and pollen. Over a period of two years my boat looked good enough to sell and the 60 hp. Chris Craft engine didn’t have many hours on it. My tastes had changed. I still liked waterskiing but I could also see myself staying at the beach for the weekend. On a nice day I hated to leave Cedar Beach as people were going through their coolers looking for the dinner they would cook on the dockside grills. I could see trading up to have the creature comforts and space that would make a weekend comfortable if the weather wasn’t perfect. I went to the Bar Association to see if they had an employment agency of their own or if they recommended one and they did have their own. I filled out an application, told them I only wanted part time work so I could keep my job on Wall Street. They said they could employ me for one or two nights, holidays, vacation time and weekends. I started with two nights a week. They kept sending me to the same person who, after asking me if I was willing, went to the Bar Association and worked out some payment with them and I became his permanent part-time secretary two nights a week, some holidays and some Saturdays. I realized in one sense that my father had been right. I really couldn’t afford a boat on my salary with my expenses, but then I was young, healthy and had a lot of energy, so there was no reason not to take on a second job. I was a L.I. Railroad commuter and the first thing I did on the train after I got paid at my second job, was to write out the deposit slip so I could put the check in the bank. I continued working for him for nine years as I bought and sold five boats, with my last boat bought while working my second job being a 30-foot twin engine Chris Craft Sea Skiff.

The Schmidt family lived in Babylon but from about 1942 to the mid-1990s when Dick sold Frank & Dick’s, the family moved to the Seganus Thatch Island for spring, summer and fall. Offshore fishermen would line up early to get their bait, fuel and coffee before trips to the canyon and then weigh in their fish on the way back Dick had a heart attack and died around the time he sold the business. It was sold and resold, with new owners increasing the inside space for a restaurant and tiki bar. Superstorm Sandy decimated the place, with five feet of water surging through the buildings, knocking down a wall and the pilings supporting it. Frank & Dick’s was sold again in 2015 to a marine contractor from Massapequa.

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