Have you ever picked a boat name, and then sought out the right boat to bear it?
I did. The name I picked was “Training Wheels.” This was to be a “kidsʼ boat.” An entry level to learning how to operate the bigger, more powerful, and more expensive classic wooden boats in our family. I wanted a boat that would be inexpensive to buy, inexpensive to operate, inexpensive to repair (for obvious reasons), reliable, fun, not too fast, and that would have similar handling and controls as my other wooden boats — meaning inboard power, a wheel-mounted spoon (throttle), and a separate gear shifter (not a Morse).
The boat picked me. Well, actually, I was pressured to buy it via a hurry-up offense from Matt and Texx, Chad Durren, Mike Mayer, Matt Byrne, and Paul Harrison, who ambushed me with an e-mail campaign to “ACT NOW.” To this day, I swear they had bets going whether or not they would succeed.
So I did what any responsible boater would do (he said, sarcastically). Based on a handful of pics and a limited description, I clicked the eBay “Buy it Now” button and bought the boat sight unseen for a bit less than $6,000.
The next day, one of the above conspirators sent me an email asking if Iʼd bought it. Here was my reply:“Yes I did. Or at least I think I did. It’s all kind of a blur. It was an on-the-road-for-days-with-three constantly-rivaling-kids-and-the-beer-had-stopped-sedating-me impulse buy. With more than a little pressure/mockery from my “friends.” I now know what that blonde girl felt like when she woke up next to me back in college and didn’t know who I was. Wait a minute. That never happened. But I see from the email chain, the boat thing did. Whatever happens, Chad might save the day for me. He’s offered to have me pick him en route for the inspection wet/test. Should make for a much more interesting day.
Plus, since he neighbors Iowa, perhaps he speaks the language. Then again, perhaps, he’s a WoodyBoater plant, to monitor my heart rate or something, just for reader amusement.”Then even more mocking emails started coming in. From the same guys who pressed me to buy it!
Chad referred to my purchase as: “…the consummate Slow/Stop sign holder’s vessel.”
The boat I bought was a 1959 Chris-Craft 15ʼ Cavalier, weighing in at around 1,300 lbs, with its original fiberglassed bottom (an option in 1959), its original Model K, 6 cylinder engine, plus trailer. It had incorrect seat cushioning, incorrect oak slats on the floor, an incorrect Perko aftermarket stern light mounted right next to the (correct) flag pole, incorrect logos on both sides, 2 incorrect vents, and 5 dash gauges — 4 of them incorrect and none which matched. On its windshield, it didnʼt have an ACBS sticker. It had “Mr. Woodpecker,” the cigar chomping cartoon logo of Clay Smith Cams, not to be confused with “Woody,” the even angrier looking (but non-smoker) cartoon logo of Thrush Exhaust.
Perfect! Because, the way I saw it, all those incorrects added up to one incorrectly correct (or correctly incorrect) “kidʼs boat.” The less fancy and original, the more peace of mind Iʼd have. Better to damage a “relaxed” user boat than an original barn find. The kids wouldnʼt even know (or care) about correctness. All theyʼd care about is how cute it looks and the freedom and fun of operating it.
Between purchase and pickup, the seller wet tested the boat so there would be no surprises. He found a leaking head gasket and replaced it. Uncommon integrity. He wrote: “I honestly don’t think you will have any unpleasant “surprises” once you see the boat.” Common fallibility. (Youʼll see why in the next para.) Chad accompanied me to pick up the boat in Iowa. Owing to flood levels and swift current on the Mississippi, we were unable to water test the boat. On good faith, based on the sellerʼs evident character, based on the low cost and simplicity of the boat, and given I was 604 miles from home, I took possession anyway. After dropping Chad off back in Naperville, IL, I brought it up to Hessel, MI. Upon my arrival, my now late friend Tommy Mertaugh of Classic and Antique Boats, looked over the boat and informed me the hull sides were soft in spots. (Sigh.)
While the news that repairs were needed was disappointing, I remained certain the seller did not intend to deceive. He demonstrated far too much goodwill for that, given the engine work he had done voluntarily, given the detailed binder of records, receipts, and photos he provided me, given the life jackets, fenders, lines, and paddle he included with the boat, given how nicely detailed the boat and trailer were for my pick-up, and given his limited knowledge of boats overall (he was a car guy).
So, the guys at Classic Boats proceeded with repairs and we launched the boat in early August of that summer. It was now a member of the family.
But this story isnʼt about “Training Wheels.”
This story is about the impact this unassuming, incorrect classic boat had on me as a parent, and on my teenager. Not just any teenager though. A girl teenager, who happens to be my first born. Since this involves a teenage girl, I suppose you could call it a suspense story. (Cue the Twilight Zone theme.) It was Boat Show day, August 9, 2014. My plan was to take scads of photos for WoodyBoater, then write up the Show. I was kind of at a loss what to say, though, because I had covered our show in 2011, 2012, and 2013.
Well, I ended up not writing about the Hessel Show that year, because what happened later that day became a far more compelling story idea for me to relay. Like many people that sunny, Boat Show day, I stood on the Hessel break-wall and watched the boats fire up and depart Hessel Harbor at the end of the Show. I went back to my boat, “The Majestic,” a Scripps- powered 1948 25ʼ Sportsman, which was a “Feature Boat” that year, and burbled the 1/4 mile back to our cottage. The Show was over. But we had a gorgeous Les Cheneaux summer evening ahead. After dinner, my 14 year-old daughter asked me if she could take her friends, who were staying with us, for a boat ride in “Training Wheels.” Because she was still learning how to operate a boat, and because this particular boat was still new to us, I said yes, but that I would accompany them.
We left the dock, three teen girls sandwiched in the front row, with the fourth girl and me in the back row. As I usually do, I brought along my point and click camera and began to take random pics.
As I watched my daughter at the controls, I was overcome with a sense of gratitude. Here I had taught her everything she knew about operating a classic boat. Here I had bought her and her younger brothers a “kidsʼ boat” of their own, to learn on. And yet I was the one feeling gratitude? Yes. Because she was giving me back something far more precious. Proof that my efforts had led to a competent and confident young boater. It was wonderful seeing her run the throttle just as I had taught her. It was wonderful watching her enjoying the freedom to weave the boat wherever she wanted to go.
It was wonderful watching her smile and laugh behind the wheel. And it was wonderful knowing she was loving the moment she was in. There are few things more gratifying as a parent than to watch oneʼs children demonstrate talents one knows they picked up from you. Itʼs like verification that “yes, all these years, they actually have been watching, and listening, and learning.” They donʼt need to thank you for imparting this stuff. Watching them do something you taught them correctly is a heart-load of thanks.
As we boated around, I patted myself on the back for a job well done. Great idea, this little “kidsʼ boat.” Great name for it too! Here was my daughter, operating the boating equivalent of her first bicycle (though Dad was along for the ride, just in case).
Since I wasnʼt talking on the ride (with four teen girls aboard, I was in fact, the only one not talking), I kept on observing and thinking. My thoughts turned deeper. And thatʼs when a realization hit me, square between the eyes.
“Training Wheels” wasnʼt just a boat for her to learn on. And it wasnʼt just a boat to help her become an expert boatsman. It was a part of her learning to be an independent, confident young woman. And in becoming that, “Training Wheels” was, in fact training me to let her go. That boat ride made me realize moments like this would soon be in the past.
Many times Iʼd heard parents of older kids tell me to treasure my own at their young ages because the times we were having were fleeting. But I didnʼt get it. I didnʼt feel what they were telling me… until this boat ride. It was then that I began to miss my daughter. Even though she would still be living under our roof for a few more years.
As I watched her, suddenly I could see her driving off in a car. I could see her packing her bags for college. I could see her packing her belongs after college, heading to her first apartment. And I could see myself giving her away in marriage. It hit me that, day by day, I was losing her to independence. All this, as I watched her laughing with her friends and delighting at the boat ride.
Anyone who has kids who are college age or older will probably identify with this story, especially when it concerns a daughter. Perhaps you had a similar realization as yours became closer to the first step away from the nest. Well, it was here, on this unassuming flyweight toy of a boat that I realized it.
I guess my reason for writing this story was to share with Woody Boaters yet another connection between classic boating, especially this singular classic boating experience, and memory making. Only in this case, it was also a powerful connection to parenting. I consider myself a pretty romantic guy. I love the romance that only a classic wooden boat can offer. Iʼm so grateful my daughter is, in some meaningful way, developing her wings behind the wheel of this one.
Though I began this story way back in 2014, for some reason I set it aside. Probably because life comes pretty quickly at a father of three busy kids who are constantly changing. In the case of my bright, headstrong daughter, it felt like I was trying to write about a moving target. Soon after the above ride, Marion took her first solo ride in a classic boat. It was “Training Wheels.” I took photos from the dock. A few days later, I gave her $50 and asked her to drive the boat to Hessel marina and fuel up. Yes, this doesnʼt sound like a big deal. But it was her first time taking this next responsibility for operating the boat. I took photos from the dock. Two weeks after that, Marion took friends out in “Training Wheels” without an adult on board. I took photos from the dock.
This past summer, 2015, when Marion was with us at the cottage, she took “Training Wheels” out for a spin almost daily. I soon stopped taking photos from the dock. My confidence in her had grown, as had her self-confidence (though I still worried a little and watched for her return).
By summerʼs end, she had graduated to “Lush Life,” our beautifully restored 1946 22-U. I watched her first solo in that boat. And I watched her, and 6 (!) of her friends, ride off in it for ice cream and to catch the sunset. I took photos from the dock. It was beautiful.
It won’t be long before I let her drive my more powerful, and much costlier boats. I think Iʼll be OK with that. “Training Wheels” hadnʼt just trained a daughter to drive a classic inboard. It had trained me to trust her. My good friend, Mike Mayer tells me this is nothing like giving her the keys to the car. ( And yes, she has her learnerʼs permit now.) But hopefully, “Training Wheels” will help me make that transition too, to let go just a little more.
Woody Boater NOTE, Here is the original story on Woody Boater that sucked Alex in! In 2013!