At my 80th birthday dinner in New York, Lori and Ted–my friends and neighbors in Maine–said their gift was too big to bring to the party. When I returned to camp last month, I found a vintage 1968 Duratech—a classic aluminum motorboat—moored at my dock. With wooden seats and flooring, its retro style took me right back to my youth out on Irondequoit Bay in Rochester. I had talked about wanting a vintage boat for a while and Lori and Ted had taken note. It was a tremendous surprise, from two close friends. The boat was really the second gift they gave me. The first was three years ago, when they introduced me to the wonders of life on the lake. The Duratech was a new milestone, marking a big birthday, and a new chapter in my life. I could now explore the lakes and waterways of my adopted state of Maine in a boat reminiscent of my youth, and with the benefit of its 9.9 HP engine, seek out distant, yet undiscovered fishing hotspots.
My history with boats isn’t too romantic. I grew up on Lake Ontario in upstate New York, sailing with my best friend Bobby Spector. On Sundays during the summer, he would pick me up in his Chevy Impala convertible. He had an Eagle Daysailer that we would take out on the bay. I was filled with enthusiasm during these outings, but inevitably I would not duck sufficiently and get slammed by the boom coming about. It really was the school of hard knocks because I did learn to sail–at least the rudiments.
I never owned a boat until I moved out to Long Island. By that time I had a family and I immersed myself in the hobby of restoring a Comet sailboat over the winter in a friend’s garage on Three Mile Harbor. It was more an exercise in relaxing after working 10-hour days trying cases and making a living as a young lawyer in the early 1970s. I hired a helper who knew everything about restoring and he guided me along. Admittedly, he did a lot of the work, and I just got my hands dirty, but I put enough into it for bragging rights with friends and colleagues. I test sailed the boat on my own the following spring. Lacking in self-assurance going into the harbor without a motor, I launched the boat and off I went. It was calm starting off and I was able to keep the sail filled. However somewhere near the opening onto Gardeners Bay the rudder snapped off. Without the rudder I had no control and I quickly disabused myself of the notion that I was a competent sailor. There was a boy’s camp across the water and I paddled over to it with the sail down. I went ashore and found some kids swimming. I asked them if they would like my sailboat. They looked at each other and at me with amazement. I suppose I was the first person to come off the water and offer the gift of a free sailboat. Well, that was the end of my Comet experience.
Years later I built a family home on Georgica Pond and was encouraged by a neighbor and friend to buy a Beetle Cat sailboat. That has been a 20-year experience. I sailed the first year and learned what I didn’t know about sailing. I took lessons when no one was on the pond. Eventually I started competing in the local Sunday races. It was a disaster. I would get a good start, sometimes, and always come in last. After years of frustration, I decided, in anticipation of the annual end of the season regatta, to hire a REAL sailor to go with me. I found someone who had the credentials–he had sailed in Newport races. Guess what–we won. When I was asked to come forward to accept the winner’s dish, I thought I heard boos. After that, I gave up competing. The last time I saw the trophy my boat’s name-“Forever”-was still engraved on it. Now I take the Beetle Cat out on the pond with family. Since spending time on East Grand Lake in Maine, I have gravitated toward canoes rather than sailboats, primarily for the fishing. Recently, I took my grandson and his friend out on my new-old birthday motorboat. It was almost like a rollercoaster ride for them. My boating stories going forward will now have the energy of a 9.9 horsepower engine. Thank you, Lori and Ted.