Boating is all about making memories. For the author, a 17-foot runabout provided the perfect platform to spend time with his father and spur a love of the ocean.
From canoes and rowboats to dinghies and inflatables, from runaboats and skiffs to big sportfishers, my life history can be drawn in a line of boats.
I grew up in a boating family. I was lucky to almost always have access to some sort of vessel that could get me out on the water for a little adventure. A memory. And it’s those on-water memories that I seem to cherish the most, usually because I was with a family member or a close friend and our time on boats brought us even closer.
Of all the boats I played around on, however, one stands out. It wasn’t the biggest and it wasn’t the prettiest. But I loved this boat in a way that I’ve never loved another. She was a 17-foot Glastron bowrider with dual consoles and a fold-over windshield to access the bow seating. Her hull was a cream color with an accent swoosh of glittery mustard coming to a teardrop point by the stern. It was 1980 and the world was still awash in a color palette dominated by browns and yellows. The interior had that same buttery hue on its well-worn upholstery. The sparse layout included two seats, each with forward-facing and rear-facing positions. The seats would slide in the middle and lay down flat for sunbathing and naps. The passenger console had only a glove box while the helm had a black plastic steering wheel, a tachometer, a few switches, a gas gauge and a compass. There was a small VHF mounted below. No GPS. No depth finder.
My father purchased the boat when I was five years old. My sister, who got seasick jumping in puddles, never liked the Glastron much. And when it came to my mom spending time on the boat, she could take it or leave it. That meant this boat really belonged to me and Dad.
He’d plop me down at the helm and I had to stand on the seat to see over the wheel. Sometimes I sat in his lap, but I always wanted my hands on the wheel. He taught me how to operate the throttle, read a compass, mix the fuel and two-stroke oil, tie a line on a cleat, red right return…
We kept the boat at a small marina in Clinton, Connecticut. Initially Dad let me drive her at idle up the Hammonasset River into the channel leading to Long Island Sound. Over time I gained his confidence and he’d goose the throttle. Before too long I was zipping along at wide open, running her as close to the channel markers as I could. I never hit one, but there were some close calls. The boat came with a 70-hp Johnson, but Dad repowered her with a 115. The manufacturer listed her max horsepower at 90. That says a lot about Dad. Pushing the envelope.
The boat didn’t have a name that I can recall, but if it were up to me, I’d name her Daylight. Every time I stepped on board, it was a fresh start. A new day. A new lesson. A new memory with Dad. Sometimes we’d chase bluefish. Other times we’d run to Faulkner’s Island or clear across the Sound to the north shore of Long Island. We’d beach the boat. Swim. Collect sea glass and smooth rocks.
The adventures only lasted a few years before we moved on to larger boats. There was a 36-foot convertible and then a 40-footer. Those boats afforded new adventures with more room for overnighting and venturing further afield. We’d spend weeks aboard, cruising to various ports of call like Block Island, Montauk and Martha’s Vineyard. But the whole family came along. It wasn’t just me and Dad anymore. And that was grand, but not the same.