My family has a history of boating going back several generations, at least.
It all began with my grandfather and his love for boating. His love for his sailboat is what lead him to construct a 'boathouse' to protect it in the 1940s, before he was shipped off to war. His love for the water is likely what drove him to make the structure livable, adding a bedroom, and a kitchen addition upon his return. His love for that cottage was definitely the driving force between my family's relationship with Seneca Lake all these years. If you know me you know I love it, as well.
I've been told that my grandfather scooped up waterfront property for nearly nothing in the late 1930s or early 1940s. At the time the land was considered nearly worthless - it was hundreds of feet off of the road, connected only by a dirt path. Who would want it?
My grandmother told me that my grandfather's friends referred to the land as 'Dick's Folly', and although he tried to convince some to buy neighboring land, none were interested.
The cottage the year it was built - originally a boathouse for my grandfather's sailboat, furnished as a cabin after WWII so that my grandmother, a southerner not accustomed to such rustic things, might want to stay overnight there. They actually lived there for a while...
Below, my father drives his father's boat, the cottage visible in the background. You can see the kitchen, added on when Gramp returned from WWII. Note the old motor and the glass gas tank..
During the years I was growing up my family would make frequent visits to the cottage, often staying the weekend, and sometimes even for weeks at a time. Trips in the family's old wooden boat would be my favorite part of the weekend.
I'm told that, when I was an infant, only a ride in the boat would help me get to sleep at night.
Our family out for a ride in my grandfather's boat, below:
My father had a boat of his own, an old Arkansas Traveler. It was fiberglass and, to my brother and I, it seemed so shiny - it might as well have been brand new.
Below, my grandfather on my mother's side, and several of her family, trying to start the motor.
I loved that boat. It was old for its time, and faded - well past new, for sure. But, to me, the gleaming fiberglass, and the baby blue paint topside, made it a sight to behold. I still remember exactly how the mixture of oil and gas smelled... how hard it was to lift that big, heavy engine... and how even the loose board bench seat pinching your bottom wasn't enough to ruin the fun of a boat ride.
Its engine required pull starting, but once you got it fired up it really moved. Many days were spent water skiing behind it.
Below, the first photograph of me as a boat captain, circa 1977.
Sometimes I let Uncle Mark take the helm...
We also acquired a rowboat at some point. I think my grandfather may have picked it up so my brother and would have a boat of our own. He bought it used and attached one of his old motors to it.
The rowboat opened up a whole new world of boating to us. No longer would we need to wait for my father to join us - we could explore the lake on our own anytime we wanted.
There's me driving it around, behind the family getting ready to waterski in the bigger boat. (Even as a kid I'd take puttering around in my own boat over just about anything else.)
That boat is long gone. I think it may have floated away when the waters rose to historic levels during the Flood of 1993.
We still have that motor, though.
I saw a model replica of the motor at Disney World a year or two ago, and almost blew the hundreds of dollars they were asking for it. Sounds crazy, but when you fall in love with something as a kid, seeing it all those years later brings back memories. I didn't buy it, but I stood and looked at it longingly for quite a while before I moved on.
We store the motor in the garage. People driving by have noticed it and stopped to offer money for it.
It goes without saying that it will never be sold.
For nearly a decade after high school I was without a boat. The motorboat had finally outlived its functionality, the steering cables having come undone my senior year. The rowboat, as mentioned, had disappeared. A canoe was all that was left, and it just wasn't the same...
As much as I had loved boating, I didn't miss it all that much. We were fortunate to have access to the water all year long, via the cottage, and I spent most of my free time there. I watched boats go by, and while it stung a little at first, laying out on the dock or going for a swim quickly squelched all that. I mostly had happy memories of the years we'd been boaters, and those sustained me. I knew I'd boat again, but as long as I had access to the water there was no hurry.
In 2003 my brother and his wife relocated to New York. With no permanent place to go, they settled on the cottage. Suddenly my access there was lessened, and as much as they tried to make me feel invited, spending the nights there wasn't the same.
My itch to sleep on the water is what made me begin looking at boats. It didn't need to be big - it just needed to be big enough to allow me to go to sleep, and to wake up, on the lake.
In the spring of 2004 I found a used sailboat on the hard at the Village Marina in Watkins Glen, NY. The seller had just refurbished it, and it looked beautiful. I decided I would buy it. The owner was asking for $5K, and I had much less than that in the bank. So I did what any self-respecting boater would do: I went and took pictures of her, put them in a frame, hung them up by my front door, and looked at them every morning when I walked out the door to work double shifts.
A few months later I'd banked enough to make an offer. We negotiated, and between my savings and a promised loan from a friend, I had enough to buy the boat.
Still, I didn't have enough to buy the boat and pay for the marina slip. I contacted the marina and made them an offer of payments, and they made me an even better offer: they'd pro-rate the slip rate and give me a discount if I agreed to take it - they wanted to get that sailboat off of the hard, and see it in the water. We agreed, and once the original owner agreed to take the last portion of his take in payments, the boat would be mine.
That sailboat - a 1971 Chris-Craft Pawnee - would be my first foray into 'living aboard' - such as it was.
With a head that stymied me, no cooking apparatus, and an icebox that only kept ice cool for a day, 'living' would be a stretch.
But I stayed aboard, and slept on the boat, using the bathhouse facilities often and walking up into town for breakfast and, sometimes, other meals.
To me, it was living aboard.
And, I found, living aboard was living.
In 2006 I inherited a small amount of money - just enough to move down south.
I'd spent several summers 'living' on my sailboat, and decided to move somewhere coastal to try my hand at doing it year round.
I attended the Sailboat Show in Annapolis, MD that year, and got my first idea of how expensive sailing could be.
I'll admit that walking on the million dollar Gunboat, and the Beneteaus and the Hunters and the Hanses all intimidated me. They were so big, and so beautiful.
They made my 1971 Chris-Craft look downright rustic by comparison.
I was offered a job in Orlando that fall, and I took it.
Between building a career and new friends and relatoinships, returning to life on the water was essentially pushed into the background.
It would take ten years, and being laid off by my company, before I'd try my hand at boating again.
MORE TO COME...