“Anyone who loves boats and hates normalcy can’t be all bad.”
Not too long ago, a childhood friend, Buzz Smith, and I were sipping on a glass of wine and reminiscing about our parents and cruising. How we wished that they were still with us sitting on the flybridge with Buzz & his wife, Lori, and Susan & myself. Buzz and his folks often joined us on cruises from Rumson, New Jersey up to Long Island Sound, Boston, Block Island and a host of other wonderful cruising destinations aboard Folly II.
Folly was a 28’ Steelcraft, perhaps the ugliest cruiser ever built, but we loved her. Dad bought her for about $2,500 in 1958 or 1959. For no extra charge, she had a hole rusted in her bottom, a compass off by 90 degrees, and an array of mysterious wires hanging down from above the helmsman position. Not to be discouraged, Mr. & Mrs. Smith and Dad & Mom got her somewhat ready and took Buzz and me on cruises that we cherish to this day. My greatest childhood memories were with my parents and Pally, our Norwich Terrier, aboard Folly II.
My sister, Barbara, tells me of Dad coming home with his first boat. She was a 1928 36’ double ended trawler named the “Eleanor Francis” — or “Ellie” for short — in the Seattle area, in about 1952.
I was still in diapers, so I don’t really remember, but I love hearing the stories. Dad had to climb down in the engine compartment to start the engine with a crank like the old Model “A” Fords. Once, Dad was taking a nap up on the cabin top, and Barbara painted his toenails red while he slept. Dad did not realize it until we returned to the dock later that day and noticed people snickering as they walked by him while he was washing the boat. My sister always seemed to like that story better than our father did!
Entertainment often consisted of Dad running out of the galley with the little alcohol stove on fire and throwing it over board. I suppose that it was more efficient than a fire extinguisher! The next morning, Mr. Smith would retrieve it with a large hook on his fishing pole. A big cheer would go up, as we could have dinner that night! Our refrigerator consisted of an icebox with a 50 lb. block of ice. That block served not only to keep our food cold; it was like a giant ice tray; Dad and Mr. Smith could chip off pieces for their gin and tonics! Now we see these large, insulated tote bags and few remember when they were called ice bags.
The head was up in the bow, with the water tank welded to the ceiling up high enough to provide ‘water pressure’ for the galley sink. When there was fog, I would stand on the toilet seat and peer out the forward hatch as a lookout for other vessels. During one ‘pea soup’ fog, we nearly ran into a ferry boat aground across the channel. I never considered what would have happened to me if we had hit the ferry! Another time while taking Pally ashore, the fog rolled in and obscured where Folly was anchored. I passed her and was on my way out to sea, when I realized that I saw no boat anchored. I followed the trail of engine bubbles I had left back to the anchorage and found Folly. My parents never heard that story!
Another time while at the Mystic Seaport Village and Museum, we tied up next to the Charles W. Morgan, the last of the old whaling schooners still in the water. One evening, with the museum closed and our parents enjoying cocktails aboard Folly, Buzz and I climbed up the mast rigging of the Charles W. Morgan. For some unknown reason, as we called down to our parents below, they were not nearly as excited as Buzz and I were.
As I got older, Dad and Mom stayed young! They were a great example of living life to the fullest & cruised well into their 70s. One such cruise was from San Diego down Baja California to Cabo San Lucas & La Paz Mexico. I was able to go with them taking a semester off grad school. We went 3,000 miles altogether and was something we all cherished. Never say, “I’m too old!”
A generation later, I was able to cruise from Annapolis with my 3 kids to Mystic and again tie up near the Charles W. Morgan. Needless to say, my kids had already gotten the lecture about not climbing up the mast of this ship! As we pulled in by the venerable old vessel, my kids, Erik, Kristen and Hans gazed high up the masts, looked back at me and asked, “Dad, what were you and Buzz thinking?” That sounded very much like what the Smiths and my folks asked us over 25 years earlier.
Now another generation has come along. Susan and I get to enjoy similar memories and experiences on the water with the now-adult kids and our grand children. As I shared with my oldest son and my daughter when they bought boats, “Congratulations, I am so proud to see a third generation of Chilbergs buying a boat that they cannot afford!” But as I sit here anchored off Elbow Cay in the Abacos and turn the pages of these precious memories, I ask myself, “Is there a better way that we all could have spent our money?” I doubt it.
But remember, if you ever get to Mystic, Connecticut aboard your boat, at least one evening climb up the mast of the Charles W. Morgan. The view is great … but don’t let your wife or kids catch you.