The ancient Polish Mariner spent 3 years when I was a kid in the garage at our house on Detroit's east side restoring an old Chris Craft runabout he and my mom decided to name "Phase One." Much of that time was spent rebuilding a "Straight Eight" marine inboard to power the boat, and he was hellbent on moving fast. When the boat was launched in 1966 on the Clinton river, I remember that Saturday as if it were yesterday.
Sunny, light breeze, and my dad wearing his captain's hat getting my 3 siblings and mom and me all settled into the cockpit before we began an ambling cruise up the Clinton River. People waved to us as we moved gracefully up the river, and when we stopped to top off the gas tanks at Zinner's boat dock, a few of the marina hands marveled at the glistening mahogany decks. Shortly after, as we got to the mouth of Lake St. Clair, he punched the throttle, and we were off. The bow took a deep dive, we all high tailed it under the bow for cover, and started screaming as buckets of water poured in "turn back... we're sinking!" Undeterred, we kept on going until what seemed like an eternity later we came into the Black river and docked at Metropolitan Beach and went ashore for ice cream. My siblings and I never really believed we would ever see shore again.
As a diehard adult sailor now, it would be easy to suggest that my first experience with power boating scarred me for life. But that would be far from the truth. Quite the contrary, it cemented for me a love of boats and the water.
It wasn't until years later when I was completely broke, two weeks after college graduation, that my dad called me from Montgomery Ward's where he worked. It seemed Wards was getting out of the boat business and they had a small sailing Sea Snark in the warehouse they wanted to get rid of. "How much would they take for it?" I had exactly $200 to my name.
My dad returned from a discussion with his inventory manager, "he says you bring in $50 and it's yours."
My first boat had one sail, and no jib for any upwind moves, and a newly fashioned rudder and tiller with some help from a tool and die guy. I loved taking that boat out on Kent Lake in the evenings, and tacking on the water just as the sun fell so that I had enough wind to make it to the dock. I have been sailing obsessed ever since.
Until of course I get in the cockpit of a power boat. Last summer, we barged out one last time with the Treanors on Lake Charlevoix before we packed up our dock gear and left for Lake Erie. As I sat in the cockpit of "In Transit II" and ate the remainder of Don's" peanut M&M's I sat back and said to myself, "I could see myself doing this." I had told Don many times before, if I had his money for gas, I'd burn mine. That's when I started calling him gMoney, and he starting calling me Sloop Dogg.
Earlier in the day, gMoney had taken us on a kidney busting mad dash across the lake which gave no consideration whatsoever to crew comfort. It was all about going super fast and cutting the water at hair raising speeds, the wind in gMoney's face like a terrier in a car on the highway, the rest of us pressed to the sides of the boat hanging on.
Giving up sails and Tres Joli for a boat that would simply ensure mad dashes around the lake? For sure. Every year we sit around in the Yacht club and jest with gMoney and the other power boaters. They go on and on about how long it takes us to get anywhere, and how we get stuck in bad weather with nowhere to go but below for hours on end. We go on and on about how much gas they burn, and count off the seconds as if they were gallons and at $4 plus realize the cost of their crimes of speed.
But the truth is, barged together, Tres Joli and In Transit II made for a perfect marriage. We had the best of both boating worlds. gMoney always had his cockpit flush with drinks and refreshments. We always had something to cook on the grill. No one ever left hungry.
We start this first season at Toledo Beach without the bellicose sounds of gMoney and Max (also known as "G2") early morning on the Dock at Northwest. We miss the sweet siren voice of Michelle asking us if she can pick up anything at Glenn's. Every morning on Lake Charlevoix the boys awoke to the sounds of the Ancient Polish Mariner on speaker phone. I would get him on my blackberry as the sun was rising and roust the boys to a chorus of the Ancient Polish Mariner singing "Oh Say can you See ... Any bed bugs on Tres Joli."
Sailing won't be the same for us, without gMoney skirting ahead of us. We will miss the arguments about which boat to take out in the afternoon, Tres Joli or In Transit II. And of course, leaving the dock without a chorus of "The Star Spangled Banner" live with the Ancient Mariner is just not the same.
But imagine the alternative. A life without such glorious choices. So we will have to plan more to see the Treanors on the lake, and they will have to give up a weekend or two in Michigan's northern heaven to slum it with us downriver. But that won't be so bad.
As I look back, it's all because of the Ancient Mariner's first lesson in boat love back in that garage on the East side. I guess I understand why he named that first Chris Craft "Phase One."