By Bob DiChiara, as told to Capt. Bill Pike
Here, Take My Car
Years ago, my wife, Joyce, and I took our first boat, a 30-foot Sea Ray Weekender, across Long Island Sound to Connecticut. We pull into the marina and we’ve got dinner reservations in town. But it’s raining. I mean, it’s pouring.
So anyway, we’re going ashore along this narrow, rickety dock with our umbrellas, and here comes this guy toward us and he’s got an umbrella too, and a pizza pie in a box in the other hand. And, pretty soon, all three of us are passing each other on this narrow dock and he says, “Where you goin’ on a terrible night like this?”
Now, understand, neither my wife nor I know this guy from a hole in the wall—we’ve never seen him before in our lives. But, to be polite, we say we have restaurant reservations and we’re going up to use the payphone to call a taxicab.
“Oh no, wait a minute,” he says, shifting the pizza around. Then he puts the umbrella under his arm and reaches into his pocket for a set of keys. “Take these,” he says, “my car’s the new Buick at the top of the ramp.”
Can you believe it? And when we get up to the car, it’s just like he said: brand new. Thank goodness we remembered to wait long enough to see which boat he finally got into. Otherwise, we’d never have known where to return the keys! I bought two nice bottles of wine for the guy and dropped ’em off once we got back. There he was with his wife, two kids, and a dog. Hey, it was my first introduction to the beautiful people you meet when you’re boating.
A Guy Named Fred
Lemme tell you about the fellow I bought my first boat from. His name was Fred, and he came from a very, very wealthy family. He’d been a playboy with a Huckins Fairform Flyer as a young man, but when I met him he was in his late 70s. He always wore a little black cap, a shirt and tie, a blue blazer, and white pants. Always dressed to the nines. And he had this gorgeous British wife with a British accent you could cut with a knife, and they were the nicest people. Fred never drove the boat himself. Guess he figured he was too old. They hired a young man to drive em everywhere.
So okay, now I own the Sea Ray, right? And one day Fred comes by and says, “Bob, would you mind if I sat on the boat sometimes?”
“Of course not, it’s in the slip,” I tell him, “and you can sit on it any time. In fact, I know what kind of beer you like—so the refrigerator is always going to be stocked and you know where the key is.”
After that, almost every afternoon, Fred would go down to the boat with his wife and they would just sit there in the cockpit, with their cucumber sandwiches, and enjoy being together. They did it almost until the day he died.
A Freakin’ Genius!
I loved, loved, loved Joybob, my 46-foot Ocean Sunliner [a drawing of which Bob is holding in the photo above]—heck, I owned her for 18 years. And that boat loved to run. She just loved it. She ran and ran and ran.
But I had one problem, at least in the beginning. Joybob had Detroit Diesels and she’d do 2,100 rpm and get 22 knots, and it was terrific! But when I’d push ’er up to 2,200 rpm, the port engine would overheat. Drove me crazy. For two years!
I had mechanics up the wazoo on board and then I had the guys from Detroit Diesel come and they went through that engine with a fine-tooth comb. They tore it apart and put it back together. Cost me a fortune. But nothin’.
Then finally, a friend of mine who owned a boatyard over on the south shore says, “Bob, I’ve got a very good mechanic. Lemme send him over.”
Look, at this point I’ll try anything. So pretty soon the mechanic comes over. And the first thing he does is sit down on the stairway going up to my flying bridge. And he sits there and sits there. Then he says, “Your impeller—when did you put it in?”
“Two or three weeks ago,” I say. “It’s almost new.”
“Well,” he says, “I’d like to take it out.”
So I say okay, and he pulls the impeller. And then he goes back to the stairway and sits down again and starts staring at it, like it’s a crystal ball or something. He must’ve sat there for 20 or 25 minutes.
Of course, I eventually start thinking. Is this guy a nut job? Is he gonna charge me for this?
Then finally, he looks up at me and says, “The problem isn’t the engine, it’s the seacock.”
“The seacock?” I say. “The seacock?”
“Yeah,” the guy says, “You gotta haul the boat and take it out.”
And guess what—he was right! The seacock for the port engine was failing to open by about one-sixteenth of an inch—there must’ve been sand in it or something. And while the restriction had no effect at 2,100 rpm, it was just enough to cause cavitation and overheating at 2,200 rpm. How the guy figured all this out I still don’t know to this day. He wasn’t a nut job, though—he was a freakin’ genius!
Bob DiChiara is a longtime boater, a marine artist, and a World War II veteran who served as a signalman on board the ammunition ship USS Red Oak Victory for two years in the Pacific. He is a former member of the Port Washington and Huntington Yacht Clubs. Born in Brooklyn, New York, he now lives (and continues to boat) in Florida.