Sitting at the helm on Patty O’s flying bridge, I was enjoying a sub sandwich on a sunny Monday noon. We had spent the weekend anchored up in the lee of Flat Hammock, just off the north side of Fishers Island. I was taking a break from giving Patty O’ a thorough scrubbing. Not that she needed it, far from it. But I like doing this about every two weeks. While it keeps the boat looking good, it also lets me take a close look at everything, alerting me to any potential problems before they can become big ones. After all, being built in 1954, there are age related issues that sometimes must be addressed. Taking a sip of my water, I heard the tinkle of my phone ringing. Of course, it was below on the dinette table and the only reason I could hear it was that the windows in the salon were all open airing out the inside of the boat.
Normally, when I hear my phone ring and it’s not nearby, I tend to ignore it, knowing that if it’s important whoever is calling will leave a message. This time, I had a premonition.
Picking up the phone, I saw that indeed there was a voice mail message. “Call me!” the voice of the Blonde, my wife, came over the earpiece. She was clearly upset. Punching in her contact, she answered on the first ring
“Why can’t you keep your phone in your pocket?” she angrily said. “Why do I always have to wait for you to call back?”
I was taken back. While we do occasionally have our disagreements like all couples, this was far out of character.
“What’s wrong?” I asked
Hearing her sniffle, I repeated myself, “What’s wrong?” She blew her nose.
“Amy just called. Jeff had a heart attack.” Jeff is her older brother.
“Oh Jane,” I said. “How is he?”
“He isn’t,” she said. “Apparently, it was massive.”
“I’ll be right there.”
It took me fifteen minutes to get to the office building where the Blonde works. She was sitting in the passenger seat of her Mini as I pulled the pickup into the parking slot beside her. Getting behind the wheel, I turned toward her and held her close as the flood of tears came. We remained like that for about ten minutes. She pulled down the sun visor and opened the mirror. She then proceeded to ‘fix’ her face. “Where’s Amy?” I asked.
“Home. Can we head over there?”
“Of course,” I said, starting the car.
The next few days were like a blur. The Blonde spent most of the time with Amy, along with her other two siblings. Amy and Jeff had been married for over thirty years and she depended on him for everything. The heart attack was totally unexpected; he was an accountant, ran several miles a week and belonged to a gym, working out regularly. One never knows
I did what I could to comfort the Blonde, staying in the background. Among her sisters and remaining brother, I’m not held in very high esteem. They clearly do not approve of our choice of lifestyle and feel that I am sponging off her, due to my not having a ‘real’ job. Years ago I had been downsized via the so-called Golden Parachute which handed me a nice piece of change. Included in the package was full health insurance. From time to time, I take on a consulting gig; I do my best to keep current in my field. Sufficient to say, we are not destitute but I still get the cold shoulder. All this attitude tends to keep us away from most family gatherings
Once the funeral was past, I thought it would be a good idea to get away for a while. A bit of time on the internet, and less on the phone, and we were set for a week’s stay in Eastport, Maine
A week of recharging, enjoying the eastern most city in the US did wonders for both of us. Sometimes, you just have to get away
Back at Patty O’, we settled back into our routine with no regrets. The first three days I spent helping my friend Ritchie move two sets of cabinets he’d contracted to build, and one day on a trip with him back to Maine to pick up a load of exotic wood that he heard was for sale. He’s always on the alert for lumber like this that comes up for sale from time to time. This batch was two pallets of Honduras mahogany, located in Kennebunkport where an old time boat builder was retiring.
Meantime, there was maintenance on the two boats. If you neglect a fiberglass boat, it’ll just look like it’s going to sink. Not so a wooden boat. Mustard, the little Century runabout was new in 1953, and Patty O’ came to life a year later. While Mustard has been restored, she sat on a trailer for forty years before coming to us and required extensive hull and bottom work. Patty O’ was in pristine condition, and over the years, we have kept her in that same state, with modern updates. She is our boat to be sure, but she is also our home. While her outside appearance remains the same as when she was delivered to her first owner, there have been many changes inside. She came to us from the estate of her second owner who had meticulously maintained her.
We first laid eyes on the boat the year before we bought her. We had always had boats, but when I was downsized, I decided that someone without a job had no business owning a 35 foot Sea Ray.
Moping around the condo that summer about drove me crazy. There didn’t seem to be any permanent jobs in my field unless I was willing to relocate and I was not too keen on doing that. The Blonde had and still has a very good job as an architect. It wouldn’t be fair to make her move.
That fall we were driving back through Rhode Island after a day in Newport and we decided to take a side trip through a boatyard just because. There, on the third row sat Patty O’. A man whom I judged to be in his sixties was laying out a canvas cover with the help of two teen aged boys. Rolling down my window I said “Very nice.” He smiled and walked over.
“Yes, she is.” He said. “Bought her from her first owner. Never wanted anything else.”
We chatted a bit more and headed for home. All winter, the sight of that boat haunted me and when the following season rolled around I knew I had to see her again, but this time in the water.
The first weekend in July we headed back over to the Rhode Island boat yard where we saw Patty O’ the year before. Noticing that the yard had a new name, I hoped that the old boat would still be there. Driving through, we didn’t see Patty O’ anywhere. I was disappointed, and stopped at the yard office on the slim chance they would know where she went
“That old Huckins?” he said. “Guy died last fall while he was trying to cover it. His family doesn’t want the boat. We put it for sale, but not much interest in a ratty old wood boat like that.”
My mind was going a hundred miles an hour. Ratty old boat? “Can you point it out to us?” I asked.
“Sure. Go right down that row ‘till you get to the end. It’s right up against the fence. Probably gonna be cut up this fall.”
Following his directions, we soon were standing beside the boat. Clearly, the winter cover hadn’t been put on. She looked awful. Shaking my head, I got back into the car and sat in silence for a few moments.
“I know what you’re thinking.” She said. “Might not be such a bad id
ea, keeping you busy.”
“Yeah, I said. And he must have collapsed soon after we saw him last fall.”
Back at the office, I received permission to go aboard. While she indeed looked a mess, it was obvious that she had been prepared for winter storage. Both engines had been winterized and water tanks drained. The batteries were missing and I assumed that they were stored in the yard’s shop.
Coming back the next day with Ritchie, who although he is not a surveyor, does know about wood. Other than a few minor items, mostly due to spending the winter minus a cover, she was in pretty good shape, albeit quite dirty.
We went to the widow’s house and made an offer. She accepted and there I was, a happy boat owner again. Spending the following week at the yard, sleeping aboard, the boat was in the water by the weekend. Drafting two of my boating friends for the trip, we got her back to the yard we’re in now with no problems, and the adventure began.
While living aboard certainly isn’t for everyone, it suits us. We enjoy each other’s company and are quite content with our lifestyle.
My phone rang, and I pulled it out of my pocket. “Hey, Bubba.” She said. “Get some water going, I’ve got two very nice lobsters.
“On it,” I said smiling.