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Where Do They Go?

Lead Line — October 2004
By Richard Thiel

Where Do They Go?
After its life as a boat, the stuff is as worthless as it is eternal.
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For me, one of the enduring mysteries of boating is what happens to old fiberglass boats when no one wants them anymore. Fiberglass has been around for more than 40 years, and a lot of boats have been built with it. Among that number are no doubt many so deteriorated, out of date, or just plain ugly that no one wants them. Where do they go?

Wooden boats eventually turn into mulch, and steel boats corrode into nothingness. But fiberglass lives forever. There aren’t any marine junkyards that I’m aware of, probably because fiberglass boats are largely unsalvageable. A car can be disassembled into reusable components. Indeed, most cars are largely metal, which is easily recycled. But you can’t do anything with old fiberglass. After its life as a boat, the stuff is as worthless as it is eternal.

This subject came to mind a while back while hauling a load of brush to my local transfer station. (For the uninitiated, that’s a big building where trash is separated into different piles to be transferred somewhere else for final disposal. It’s used in towns that don’t have a landfill.)

While I was unloading my truck, another pickup pulled in, towing an old 16-footer on a trailer. It did a U-turn, then rapidly backed toward a pile of junk. When it was a couple of feet from it, the driver slammed on the brakes, and the boat shot neatly off the trailer and into the pile, nestled among mattresses, bedroom furniture, and other dross. He then briskly pulled away, never having exited the cab.

Fascinated, I walked over to the boat. The seats were torn, the dash was stripped of instruments, the windshield was broken, and it was covered in grime, but I could tell she’d once been a pretty nice runabout. As I imagined Dad at the helm, Mom beside him, and a couple of kids being towed behind it, I couldn’t help but feel sad that something that had brought so much joy to its owners had come to such an ignominious end.

I was jarred out of my melancholy by a guy in overalls who told me to unload my brush and get out—others were waiting. I asked him if he’d seen other boats dropped off here, and he said yes, a few. In fact, he said, over the years he’d seen just about everything come through here, including the flying bridge off an old Chris-Craft.

“So what’ll happen to this boat?” I asked, imagining it being shredded and buried in a landfill.

“We’ll load it on a barge with the rest of this pile, tow it out into the ocean, and dump it,” he replied.

Was he putting me on? She would receive a burial at sea? Okay, it made a certain kind of sense, and it also provided a poetic epitaph. But this place couldn’t handle anything much bigger than this boat. So what happens to all those bigger boats that come to the end of their lives? Where do they go?

This article originally appeared in the September 2004 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

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