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Passin’ It On

When I was about the age of this little girl (her name’s Reagan and sometimes she calls me “Uncle Bill” and sometimes she calls me “Captain Bill”), a great thing happened. A neighbor who owned a Lone Star riveted-aluminum Cabin Cruiser with a humongous Johnson outboard on the back offered my family a ride on Sylvia Lake, in the foothills of the Adirondacks. We had a Lone Star as well at the time, also on Sylvia Lake, although our boat was much smaller, a mere skiff really. But with a lime-green interior and dashing, white and lime-green hullsides.

little girl at helm of Betty Jane

Anyway, Mel’s Cabin Cruiser had a steering wheel, of course.  And that steering wheel, as I recall it, had a seriously maritimey look to it—I mean, it had spokes with handles, a quadrant, and what I remember as a big brass boss in the center. And what’s more, I seem to remember it was glowingly, almost supernaturally varnished.


That’s how I felt about that wheel. It reminded me of the few pirate movies I’d had a chance to see at the Gralyn Theater in Gouverneur and somehow proffered promises I instantaneously hoped the future would someday keep.

“Want to steer the boat, son?” Mel asked while eyeing both my dad and myself. He moved aside just slightly, but ever so invitingly, and, in little more than a nanosecond, I moved in, albeit with my dad not far behind. What resulted was a brief but pivotal period of ecstasy that changed my life forever, or at least for all the years that have toodled along since.

The moral of the tale?

Like lots of folks, I like to pass good things along to others. So when Reagan asked to steer my trawler Betty Jane during a recent outing on the St. Johns River, I readily agreed and was readily rewarded.

“Uncle Bill,” she said, when I finally pried her hands off the spokes so I could do a little dockside maneuvering—I swear she’d been steering the boat for more than an hour and didn’t seem tired at all, “Today’s been the most fun day of my whole life.”

At the helm of Betty Jane

Reagan’s brother Jake is just four years old and, although he may be a tad too young to assume the skipper’s mantle, I suggested he slide in behind Betty Jane’s wheel as well.


Ol’ Jake seemed to be just about as enthusiastic about boats and boating as his sister, although he was perhaps a little shy about the whole deal. A life-changing day? Perhaps.