This story is rather long, but I think it illustrates what happens if you act on a whim and fail to do your homework.
I first visited Cape Cod in 1965. Peter, a college friend, had a summer cottage in Megansett, in North Falmouth, and he invited a group of us to visit for a weekend in spring of our freshman year. I was hooked on the place. I loved the weather, being near the beach, and the variety of things to do. At the time, I didn’t fish or engage in boating, but there was plenty to keep me busy.
During college, and well after, I visited my friend often. His family welcomed me to visit any time I wanted, and even assigned me a standard room in the cottage. I became a regular.
One Saturday morning I woke up with another in a string of bright ideas… I needed a boat! My friend didn’t have one and I thought if you were a regular on the Cape, you needed a boat. So I announced at breakfast that I was going to look at boats that morning.
After breakfast, Peter and I headed to a local boat dealer. Sitting in the lot, on a trailer, was the perfect boat. It was a 16 ft run-about with a 50 hp Evinrude motor. It was nice and clean, it looked brand-new, and it was in my price range. I wanted it. So, right on the spot, I gave the salesman a deposit, with instructions to have it ready next Saturday for pickup. I had to have a hitch attached to my car so I could take my new toy to the water. I thought it strange that the salesman kept telling me that the boat was “as is”. Of course it was… I could see how it was. (This was before I went to law school!)
Over the next week, I got my car outfitted with a hitch, and I was very much looking forward to picking up the boat on Saturday. Of course, Peter was drafted to help, and I thought another friend would be insurance, so I also drafted Bob to the party.
Saturday finally came, and the day was beautiful… calm winds, bright blue sky… a perfect day to tool around Buzzards Bay in my new boat.
We picked up the boat, signed the papers, and hitched her up to the car for the ride to the water. We had to make a few stops… we needed a cooler, ice, lots of beer, and gas. We were good to go.
Before too long, we were at the boat ramp in Megansett, and I managed to get the boat trailer lined up with the ramp. I stationed Peter off to the side to guide me down the ramp, and positioned Bob in the boat to manage it once it was in the water.
At this point, I should mention that I had never been in a small boat and had no idea about the basics of boat ownership or piloting.
As the boat entered the water, I heard Bob yelling “It’s filling up with water!” Luckily, we hadn’t unhitched the boat from the trailer, so it was a simple matter to put the car in “drive” and head up the ramp. As I did, Bob asked “Did you install the drain plug?” What drain plug? I didn’t know that boats had a drain plug. But lo and behold, there it was dangling from the steering wheel.
We installed the drain plug and gave it another go. The launch was perfect. The boat was tied to the dock, the car and trailer were parked, and the three of us were off for a day of boating.
The motor started on the first crank, and we headed out of the harbor. Rather than tool around the harbor until I got the feel of the boat, I headed for the open waters of Buzzards Bay, and a lighthouse about 3 miles offshore called Cleveland Light. It was a beautiful day, no waves on the Bay, and we were cruising a top speed toward Cleveland Light. This is what I’m talking about!
This lasted for about ten minutes, and then the motor made some sputtering sound, and was then dead quiet. We were about 2 miles offshore, sitting in the boat, with nothing to help us in this situation. Well, we do have beer, but no radio, no anchor, no suntan lotion, and most of all, no clue how to get this motor started again.
After drifting for about thirty minutes, we were fortunate to be able to flag down a passing boat. The captain was kind enough to tow us right back to our dock, where we managed to get the boat back on the trailer. This could have been so much worse.
During the week that intervened between buying the boat and picking it up, I did some research on why the salesman was so clear that the boat was “as is”. It meant that, no matter what, I wasn’t getting a dime back on this boat. This was clear. So rather than risk an argument with the dealer, I decided to take the boat to another dealer in Falmouth… one who specialized in Evinrude motors. So we took the boat down to Falmouth to see what could be done about this motor that won’t start.
Of course, a Saturday in the summer is no time to get a diagnosis on an outboard. So we were instructed to leave the boat, motor, and trailer and they would look at it during the week. I was to return the following Saturday to pick up my repaired motor.
Saturday arrived, and once again Peter and I head down to get the boat. The minute I laid eyes on him, I knew it wasn’t good news. He was wearing a long face when he asked “Where did you get this boat?” I told him, and a look of “Ah Ha!” covered his face. I explained that I got a really good deal on thus boat, but it was sold “as is”.
Well, he gave me the news. The motor had, at one point in its life, been underwater, and our trip to Cleveland Light was the last time anyone would hear a sound out of it. It was a total loss. But luckily the dealer had a new motor in stock that he could put on my boat that week. So, out came my checkbook, and another week began.
Saturday arrived with another trip to pick up the boat. This time, I dragoon two friends from home to accompany me. Ed and Cindy were good friends, and I thought a nice trip to the Cape in the middle of the summer would be a nice outing. We planned pick up the boat, drop it off at my friend’s house, catch a nice shore dinner, and head back to Boston, where I lived.
As promised, the boat was ready to go. Now we can just get this baby home, and life will be good. But as I paid the man for my new motor, he said “You’re not going to drive it home on that trailer, are you?” “Of course, why not?” I respond. He asked that I take a look at the main axle on the trailer.
The main axle was rusted through, and was being held together by a rusty hinge of metal. Now, what to do? Being the “out of the box” thinker that I am, I spied a Radio Shack across the street. They must stock TV antennas masts. I’ll just get one of those, a couple of clamps, and bolt this whole contraption to the axle. I’ll drive slowly, and it is only about ten miles. What could go wrong?
So, with this contraption strapped to the axle, we took off for my friend’s cottage. Driving very slowly, we made our way through the back streets of Falmouth. Our route took us past a hotel that is across the street from a small pond. At this point in the road, there is a slight decline in the road.
As I descended, very slowly, down the road, I felt the car getting hit from behind. As I looked in the mirror, I saw that my boat has somehow managed to run into my car! This can’t be good. So I pulled over to the side of the road, right near the pond, to investigate. And it was not long before the smell of gasoline filled the air.
It seems that while heading down the hill, the trailer had come loose and off the hitch. Luckily, I had safety chains installed, so the tongue on the trailer was free to swing around a bit. And as I descended the hill, it swung under my car and had punctured my gas tank. I was leaking gas all over the street.
Quickly, I stationed Ed and Cindy to direct traffic around this mess while I headed into the hotel to call for help. In a very short time, the place was swarming with police, firemen, and a couple of tow trucks. After mopping up the spill and taking my car and boat to the closest body shop, the tow truck driver was nice enough to take us to a car rental agency.
Heading home in the rental car, we were by now pretty hungry,. And I did promise my friends a shore dinner, so we decided to stop at the Chart Room in Bourne to drown our sorrows. The Chart Room is an institution and hasn’t changed one bit in the 45 years I have been eating there. It has a piano bar, great food, and is right on the water.
As we were being seated in the restaurant, I spied a familiar face seated at the piano bar. It was my friend Peter’s mother, singing and having a grand old time. I introduced my friends to her, and we returned to our seats for our dinner. At the end of our meals, I saw the waitstaff muster in a corner, and soon they are marching in our direction, singing, with a cake covered in candles. My friend’s mother had told them it was my birthday. She was prone to pull stunts like this in the past, but I had not been the target before.
After our desert, we drove home in the rental car, happy that the adventure was over for the time being. That week, I managed to line up a new trailer for the boat. So when my car was repaired, I was able to return the rental, pick up my car, pick up the new trailer, and get it over to the garage that was storing my boat. I’m not sure how they managed to do it, but they got the boat onto my new trailer, and I was on my way to another great day on the water.