My three brothers, a brother in law and my sister left early in the morning, as it was a long drive. We found the boat moored in the marina as per the directions. I looked at the old Chris Craft and thought to myself -it is a terrible thing that water, time, and neglect can do to a wood boat. Even today you will occasionally see a boat like this, crumbling in a backyard. A dream, no, a folly, that was too expensive to repair. Destined to rot away slowly. My older brother must have sensed what I was thinking and said, “it looks fishy”.
The unkempt-looking Captain and Mate arrived a good 45 minutes late. Had they just come from a bar? The mate was sporting a black eye and quite a severe limp. The captain asked us to step back as he opened the deck hatch to expose one of the motors. Immediately my eyes fixed on the depth of the water in the bilge – too much water I thought. The captain finally cajoled the first motor to start with a burst of blue, too many hours, smoke. They were a well-worn pair of v8 gas engines. The knock I could hear was not right and what worse could see the concern in my mechanic brother’s face.
Eventually, the second motor started, and we were on our way and all the bad signs seemed to fade into memory as we slipped out of the inlet on a calm day. Perhaps an hour or two later they turned the engines off and tossed the frozen chum over the side. Shark fishing, I must admit to being ashamed thinking about it. A couple of not new rods were produced, baited, and lowered to various depths facilitated by balloon floats. Slowly the chum, a mixture of groundfish would melt and create an oily slick for our quarry (Sharks) to follow.
In an hour and a half, the second bucket of chum was added to the first. The wind had picked up and there was an angry grayness to both the now frothy sea and sky. I knew the danger 10 miles offshore might as well be 50. One brother slept in a Dramamine-induced stupor. The rest of us starred at the floats hoping that there might yet be a good point to this great mistake. The sea continued to build, and I began to curse myself for getting on this leaky barge. The captain announced it was time to go – “sorry but you know fishing”. Then he tried the first engine- it would not start.
By this time, the sister and brother-in-law had retreated below decks and were in a “the death embrace” (the final goodbye). It took what seemed to be an eternity for him to get a motor started. We set off for home albeit at a slow pace. I doubt, even had there been two engines, we could have gone any faster as the sea had continued to build. Soon there was water breaking over the bow -some of it was deep enough to have color. My sister and her husband were miserable below as there was not a dry spot- everything leaked. It took hours. There is an odd irony – just when we see the inlet and say a silent ‘thank God’ reality sets in as the risk is the greatest – rocks and a swift current. Even sturdy new boats were known to capsize there: (Shinnecock inlet boat capsized) Then the one running engine died as if the lesson was not quite complete. We had learned when the captain lifted the microphone to use the radio and the wires dangled freely that there would be no calling for help. Oh my god now sabotage! (Probably their last patrons) We were alone in this twilight zone nightmare and there would be no calling for help. The current grabbed us for a further scary few minutes. Finally, thankfully and luckily, they got the other engine started and we limped back to the dock.
Stress is a funny thing – I went home and slept deeply. I did not hear from any of the family for quite a while. Finally, sometime later, my brother called me and said he went fishing in the relative safety of the sound. “Your sister and brother-in-law pulled into the parking lot and saw some ripples on the water in the harbor and turned around and went home.” I could understand they were forever traumatized. they still held those Memories of the Deep-Water Drifter.