Thursday, March 4, 2010

My Old Man and the Sea

There have been two times in my life when I felt that I was about to die.

The second was on September 11, 2001 in lower Manhattan.

The first occurred in mid-summer 1975 on my father's boat.

That's the one I'm writing about here. But before I get to that, allow me to provide some background...

Regular readers of The LG Report may remember the story of my father and the Magic Tubes. It can be found here in case you missed it.

My dad was born and raised in Greece, a sea-faring country. It ranks 10th among the world's nations in miles of coastline, and third in the number of registered merchant ships, behind only Japan and Germany.

There are roughly 1,400 islands in Greece, 227 of which are inhabited. My father grew up on one of those, Andros.  It's visible on this map, off the coast of the mainland, due east of Athens. The ratio of people-to-boats on Andros, like most of the Greek islands, is not too far from 1-to-1. And those who don't own boats generally know a lot of people who do.

But here's the rub: my dad, unlike his father and grandfather before him -- and many other relatives -- was not a skilled mariner. Not in the least. Unfortunately, this self-knowledge eluded him. Like the monster fish that we never caught, it was always just beyond his grasp.

"A man is never lost at sea."

-Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea, 1952

Ernest Hemingway did not know my father.

This is a childhood picture of my dad.  It was taken in the early 1940s.  He's the one standing.  Every fisherman knows that you're not supposed to stand up in a small boat. My dad was oblivious to the rules of the sea from the start.

My father's natural talents in the nautical arts were the equivalent of Wilt Chamberlain's ability as a jockey. Actually, that's not a good analogy since Wilt, as far as I know, had the good sense to avoid racing on the backs of a thoroughbreds. Plus, he didn't come from a family of jockeys. My dad would've been the Kennedy who couldn't get elected, or the Osmond who couldn't sing. You get the point...

Just so you don't get the wrong idea, however, I should make it clear that my father was very talented in the Art of Running a Diner.  Here's a photo of him (on the right) at work as a young man:

He was in his element at the diner, no doubt.  He knew what he was doing, and was one of the best in the business.  On the sea, however, it was a different story.

Much to my dismay, my father acquired a series of "fixer upper" boats during his lifetime. The first was a small and seemingly harmless craft, but as my dad's diner business grew, its successors increased in size and capacity -- capacity to induce vomiting, that is.  Even when on dry land.

These larger status symbols merely proved a Law of the Universe that came to me intuitively at a young age:

Larger Boats = Larger Headaches

The possibility that More Boat = More Fun never entered my mind. And for good reason.

Sometime around the spring of 1974, my father came to own his largest vessel ever, a 35-foot wooden powerboat with twin inboard engines. I'm not sure if he bought it outright or won it in a poker game – a distinct possibility -- but either way, it was ours.

I couldn't find a picture of the actual boat, but here's a reasonable facsimile:

This baby was the fanciest in my father’s lineage of nautical jalopies. One of the most famous and reliable brands in boating is Chris-Craft.  My father’s boats seemed to have been manufactured by a competitor: Clunker-Craft. But, God bless him, he never lost his enthusiasm for this hobby no matter how challenging it became.

Our new vessel featured a cabin with a head (that's a bathroom for you landlubbers), a separate sink for cleaning fish, and two short, cushioned benches which my father referred to as "sleeping bunks." This perplexed me, because the only human I could see being comfortable on one of them would've been Tattoo from "Fantasy Island." Nonetheless, that didn't prevent my father from telling people that the boat could sleep two.

Maybe Tattoo had a brother who I didn't know about?

For a reason unclear to me, this boat never had an official name. Some fitting monikers would've been:

S.S. Deathtrap;

The Money Guzzler;

ShitLoad Of Work;

Weekend Destroyer;

Destined for the Bottom; or

Rickety Floating Crate.

Take your pick, all have a certain charm and appropriateness. I'll just refer to it as the "S.S. Deathtrap" for now.

The S.S. Deathtrap needed more work than Joan River's face.  There was scraping, sanding, painting, cleaning and....well, just reciting the list causes me to perspire. War veterans have flashbacks to the smell of napalm; mine come as paint thinner.  The S.S. Personal Vietnam would have been another good name.

In case you couldn't figure this out, the boat had approximately the same number of safety devices as the car in "The Beverley Hillbillies." 

Actually, the car wins by virtue of Jethro's rope seatbelt, since the S.S. Deathtrap had nothing.  No, wait, that’s not true. It did boast four rancid life preservers that my father transferred from boat-to-boat as he upgraded his rides. The smell of these bright orange vests would curl your nose hairs.  It probably wasn’t true, but I suspected that they floated only because they were injected with cow farts.

By the way, the part of that sentence that I don’t think is true was that they floated. They were definitely injected with cow farts.

If a shipwreck didn’t kill passengers, I was sure that prolonged exposure to that smell would’ve done the job.

There was always something wrong with the two motors on the S.S. Deathtrap.  ALWAYS. I don't think I realized, until years later, that you could actually start a boat without having to open the engine hold and use all sorts of sprays, lubricants, gels, incantations and voodoo dances to get the thing going. And, of course, a number of strategically aimed Fonzie-like whacks with a hammer.  We always had at least one TV at home with a wire-hanger antennae in those days.  These engines were fraught with the marine equivalent of wire-hanger antennas.

My father was constantly sending me into the auto parts store (while he waited in the car) to get a spray to start the boat.  I can't remember the name, but you streamed it into the carburetor to help the engines turn over.  If you mistakenly sprayed it into an open flame, the can would explode in your hand like a grenade.  The good news in this entire story is that such a catastrophe, surprisingly, never happened.  Let us rejoice in the simple pleasures!

This spray actually worked on most occasions.  I still find it hard to believe.

[EDITOR'S NOTE: This story became too long for a single post. The conclusion will appear late next week, after the winners of the Cutest Dog Contest are announced (which occurs on Tuesday, March 9th).  We're sorry for the inconvenience (yes, it's a cheap trick) but we have to keep you checking back somehow.  And, as always, thanks for reading The LG Report!]


  1. What??!! You left me hanging LG -- you're a great story-teller... you have me laughing at every post. Mybe you can email me the rest because I am not the best at waiting!! :)

  2. I can't wait to read what happens. I have a feeling this is going to end badly for someone - Eggman

  3. Larry:
    I love the stories about your dad. There's a book there somewhere. I hope you also get someday to write about your own misadventure with a boat and how you actually sank (something your father never did) the boat of Lee's father.

  4. you are funny!! good stuff here, easy reading and cool pics! Stopping from WOW on your BON-bon day. Congrats!!


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