My sons and I were in the Jeep pulling the old boat on the trailer. We were on our way to Oyster Bay, where I had spent many days with Dad, who had passed away the year before on Father’s Day. Now a year later I felt it was time to introduce Anthony and Robert to the joys I once knew.
I had a marine mechanic check out the inboard motor, and he serviced it and said the boat was in pretty good shape considering all the years of inactivity. Before we left the driveway, I had the kids walk around the boat to get accustomed to it. Ten-year-old Robert, intrigued by the small toilet next to the galley, laughed when I said, “That’s the head.”
As we drove up Route 106 to the bay, I remembered going out on the water with Dad and Pop in the old row bow. It had been Pop’s father’s boat, and when he was a boy they’d gone fishing in the days before the war along the South shore, when it was a clamming paradise. Collecting clams in low water, then rowing out to catch a few big fish, they would go home and have a barbecue. When Dad got old enough to go out with them, the clams were disappearing, but he remembered his grandfather sitting on the boat and drinking wine as they searched the surf.
The fishing shifted to the North shore when Dad bought our house in Muttontown. We used the old row boat for a brief time, but it seemed too small now with Pop along and me getting bigger. Pop started staying home as Dad and I’d go out. On those few occasions, I recalled those moments alone with my father, the sun setting on the water, the strong smell of the bay, and only the fish tugging a line could break the sacred silence between us.
Dad broke down in 1979 and bought the Coastal Cruiser which we now towed. It was 36-foot long with all the amenities Pop could never have imagined. On our first trip out on the bay, Pop sat there with his rod and a can of beer like a king in the swivel chair. Dad taught me how to operate the boat, and I thrilled at pushing the throttle up high and manning the steering wheel.
“Why didn’t Papa use the boat anymore,” Anthony asked, his voice seeming deeper since he turned 13.
I kept my eyes on the road. “After his father died and I went off to college, he didn’t like going out by himself anymore.”
“Why?” Robert asked.
“I guess he thought fishing should be a family thing.”
I drove into the parking lot, passing the pier where other fathers and sons dangled their poles in the water, creating Father’s Day memories together.
I backed the trailer into the water, a little nervous as I was doing this for the first time all by myself. I said, “Make sure you take the cooler, the tackle box, and the rods.”
“Aye, aye, Captain!” Robert said.
I pulled the boat closer to the pier and tied the rope to a post and waited as the boat rolled off the trailer into the water. I got back into the Jeep and parked in a designated spot. Returning to the boat, the boys were already onboard and I said, “Put on those vests!”
As they slipped on the orange vests, I looked at the name of the boat painted on the stern – Endurance – and thought about how I had wished my father’s love of the water had truly endured. Instead the boat sat under that tarp and the gear languished in the garage for over thirty years.
Once onboard I slipped on my vest, took the key out of my pocket, and Robert ran over to me and tried to grab the wheel “I want to steer, Dad.”
I pointed out over the bow and said, “See all those boats and that land out there?” He nodded and I said, “When we get out beyond the neck, I’ll let you take her on the open water. Okay?” He smiled enthusiastically.
Anthony attempted to prepare the rods as I moved the throttle to hi-idle and started the engine. It purred perfectly as I remembered from long ago. I slowly moved the boat away from the pier, navigating a path through an array of ships moored in the harbor. Some people were sitting out on deck, enjoying the sunshine and waving at us. The kids waved back at them and then Anthony said, “Are you going to show us how to fish?”
“Yes, of course.”
As we moved into more open water, we passed the North shore mansions overlooking the bay, their stately columns and wide verandas reminiscent of the time of Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. The smell of the oil mixing with saltwater and fresh air invigorated me as I caught a glimpse of the Long Island Sound ahead of us.
I gently pushed Robert forward and he grabbed the steering wheel. “I’m driving!”
“Just keep it steady, son,” I said with a hand on his shoulder.
When got to what Dad used to call “the sweet spot,” I cut the engine. Robert said, “I need to pee.”
“You know where to go,” I said.
He went down the steps into the cabin, and I walked over to Anthony who seemed squeamish about putting the bait on the hook. “I…I don’t like worms.”
I helped him and then prepared Robert’s hook and mine. After Robert came back on deck, we cast our lines and stood there with not a cloud in the sky and the sun high above our heads.
“This is really cool, Dad,” Robert said.
“Are we going to do this more often?” Anthony asked.
Placing my pole in the rod holder, I put my arms around the boys’ shoulders and said, “Every chance we get.”
Photo credits: pics.usaauctions.com; clarahinton.com; thecorrectness.com
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