Of Power Boats and Sails
Being the story of a lifelong power boater and his love for sailboats
One thing I can’t deny is my love of boats, the sea and the nature surrounding it all. I write, paint, fish, hike the beaches and dream about it daily. It started long ago in the wetlands, upland woods, ponds, and streams, leading to a body of water near my childhood home called Jamaica Bay. My first forays into boating were rafts built from discarded wood. My younger brother Chris and our friends would paddle these creations on the ponds, streams and into wetland channels running to the bay in the back of Rosedale, Queens. It was the mid 50s. Every day we came home caked in black mud and smelling like dead crabs and overripe clams. We loved it! Up early with our fishing poles and not returning until dinner. For some reason our mother, always a neat freak, allowed and encouraged this adventurism. My dad equally loved the sea so he was never on our case. It was a “Huck Finn” existence. As we grew older, the hassocks in the wetlands became camps for teenage indulgences such as smoking Camel cigarettes, drinking clipped church wine, and young romance interrupted by swarms of mosquitoes when the breeze died. Unending summer days end. High School and college altered my pursuits. My concentration centered on Painting, History, and English Literature. Off time was spent working and playing the guitar. That’s how I met my wife Linda at St. John’s University. She lived in South Amityville, a salty town on the South Shore of Long Island. Her entire extended family from kids to adults all had boats! Everyone sped across the bay to Gilgo to “Surf” and swim. I hit a goldmine! Love and boats! We married in Oct of “68”. My first real “power” boat was a wooden 18ft bay boat with a 150 Merc built by my wife’s brother and cousin. That thing moved. I used to fish for weakfish under the Robert Moses Bridge using Salty Dog rigs. The sunsets were magnificent. Over the years from that point, I have owned a series of nine powerboats. My main interest was always fishing so they were always Makos, Boston Whalers and Grady Whites. We’d go to the Chicken Canyon, Mud Hole and wrecks such as the Bacardi, Yankee, and San Diego. We caught our share of big ones and had tons of fun. We live on the water in Bellmore and own a summer house on Oak Island so we have a smaller Whaler to commute from the parking lot docks and to ply the shallow waters of the flats and channels in the salt grass meadows. Next thing you know your life is dominated by the compression engine. Power boats offer you just that-Power! Power to hit 45 MPH in seconds and keep you planed as you race across the bay and out the inlet in pursuit of trophies. I must admit that all the horsepower behind you makes you feel akin to Arnold Schwarzenegger. I owned a 30ft center console that had twin 250s hanging on her transom. It should have required a pilot’s license to captain her. As I got older I didn’t need that much power and fuel consumption so I traded down to a 24 ft Whaler with a single 225, which I presently have. It’s not unusual these days to see 30 ft boats with 3 outboards of 300 HP each on their transom. I often wonder if they are going to Mars with all that power. Yet there was another aspect to propulsion that I had never finitely explored but was rooted in my love for the old whaling, pirate, and trade vessels of yore and that was wind power! SAILS! The Oak Island house piqued my sailing interest in several ways. There are some very experienced sailors on Oak Island. Some favor smaller traditional catboats. These are rigged with one dominant sail with the mast way fore and are gaff rigged. Catboats have been used since colonial days on the East Coast. So I posed a question to myself. Could a “power boat guy” master the art of sailing? It seemed logical and I began to seek a proper sailing vessel to harness the winds of the Great South Bay. After research, I decided on a 15 ft cat boat built by Bill Menger in Amityville. It took 5 months to build and I named her after our first grandchild-Althea C. Rob D. was an engineer on commercial ships all his life. He is a good neighbor on Oak Island and an excellent cat boat sailor. When I took possession of Althea C. in 2003, Rob was kind to come along and sail her from Amityville to Oak Island. He knew exactly what to do-I didn’t- so I watched and noted every move. It didn’t seem difficult and we made it without a mishap. I couldn’t believe his proficiency as his approached the dock stopping within inches of a piling and nonchalantly tying a line on. “How did he do that?”
That maneuver made my mind spin from “Easy to do” to “There’s more to this than meets the eye”! I have now owned the Althea C. for 17 years. I have my good and not so good sailing days. Master sailors on Oak Island leave their docks with ease. I struggle to launch at the narrowest point in the lead where extremely strong currents converge seeking exit or entry to the bay. I bought a small outboard to help but have never used it. It seemed an admission of defeat. Maybe this year I’ll relent. But when I get going the payback is immense. Sailing brings you close to the water, the sky and the wind. In fact, you become one with them. Once past the stress of launching I sit back and relax as the wind fills the giant sail and the boat moves across the water surface quietly and majestically. My neighbor and friend, Ken K., is a natural sailor. I love sailing on his catboat Jitterbug. Nothing intimidates Ken. He sails over flats I would never attempt. He navigates small channels between salt grass islands and runs along the banks where you can stick your hand out and touch the salt grass as you sail downwind. He tacks back and forth in areas no more than 50ft wide. He’s another one of those sailors who come right up to the dock without kissing it. He tries his best to improve my skills. Thanks, Ken. So over the years, I have indulged this seafaring affectation. I once capsized Althea C. with a bad jibe in a strong wind. My wife swam to shore and swore off sailing. I’ve tried to come up to the dock like the pros putting many scratches in her hull. But every year I launch her with dreams of a perfect sailing season. And now my eldest grandson Nate is 11 years old. For the last few years, he has been learning to sail in Oyster Bay. He loves it and definitely is into all things salty. This may be the year for him to take the helm. Eventually, he can show his younger cousins, Nico and Lucas, the beauty of being one with the wind. Maybe they’ll become real sailors while I sit watching them from a rocking chair on my power boat! Watch for my sail on the bay!