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What Happens to Forgotten Old Boats?

Michael Peters

Sightlines - April 2016

Left to Die

Don’t let it happen to your boat.

old boat

Despite the abundant lifestyle our beautiful beach town of Sarasota has to offer, the area is most often referred to as “God’s waiting room.” We are in fact, America’s number-one retirement city, and if you stay here long enough you will likely end up in some place named Sunset, Sunniland, or Autumn Villages. These cheerfully euphemistic names hide the truth that the game is over. Our number-one export is dead bodies being flown back home for burial.

Last weekend, my wife and I were cruising the area north of downtown, looking for commercial property. This area of Sarasota is home to a few of these old-age homes and a good number of boat-storage facilities. It’s an odd combination of developed and undeveloped land mingled together, that seems quite strange at first glance. As we weaved up and down the streets, it began to dawn on me that the two were actually quite analogous of each other. Both represented the inevitable end of once-vibrant lives and dreams.

As I looked at the boats in storage it was pretty evident that many of them would never see the water again. The well-loved ones were obvious by their placement in the yard, up front at the ready, with clean topsides and tight covers, no signs of neglect or abandonment. But the majority looked like they hadn’t been visited in years, left to die a lonely death of mildew and oxidation, uncovered and exposed to the harsh Florida sun, jammed in trailer to trailer with no hope of ever getting out. These boats would never cruise the bay again, never jump a wake or nose up to a sandbar, or hear the laughter of kids diving off their bows. Their families would never see them again. 

What should happen to boats that seem long forgotten?
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You have to wonder what happened, why were these boats abandoned? They were once the pride and joy of their owners and the center of their family’s lives. They were lusted after and sacrifices were made just to get them. They hold countless memories in their bones and are part of a family’s history, yet they have been cast aside. Its unlikely that they just got too old, because a boat that is cared for can last for generations. It takes neglect to make a boat grow old, neglect to make it die. It is a shame to see a boat that’s been given up on, left to rot in a field of dying dreams. 

So why does someone give up on their once beloved boat? Maybe they got stranded once too often aboard her. Maybe she was just too hard to start, and they gave up on her. Maybe the family got soaked the last time they went out and said, The hell with that. Maybe dad yelled at mom and the kids when the boat hit the dock and they swore never to go out again. Maybe the mechanic screwed them the last time he fixed the boat and they got disgusted with the whole thing. Maybe the kids got cars and the boat had to move out of the driveway. Maybe the kids grew up and stopped boating altogether. Maybe life just got in the way. Maybe they never meant for it to happen and they really miss the old girl. 

Our 25-foot Bertram Villam was resurrected out of a storage yard. We have had Villam in the family now for 25 of her 45 years and many of our memories are linked to her. I don’t know who owned her before, but I am sure they can’t imagine she got a second life with us. She will never see a storage yard or be abandoned as long as I am alive. She is part of our family and will probably see another paint job and a new engine in the years we have left with her. She doesn’t look like she is getting any older to me, because she is cared for. 

So if that is your boat jammed in against the fence, with the torn cover and the mildew on the deck, why not give the old girl a visit and wash her off so she isn’t embarrassed by how you treat her? Instead of shopping for a new boat, why not consider spending a little time and money on the old gal that holds all those memories? A little love towards her will do you both good.

This article originally appeared in the April 2016 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.