Summer vacation hell, River Queen, Sea Blitz, and St. Michaels
July 3, 2019
I recently got an email with just one question: Have I stopped writing? Well the answer is no, just too much going on to sit down and compose myself, never mind a story. Recently I decided to de-clutter my office. Going through the drawers, I found a trove of things from photos and letters and boat plans. As I finished one drawer and tried to close it, it jammed. After the third try I pulled it out and behind it was an old yellow legal pad with "James" written in the corner. How long had it been in there?
As I started reading, I realized it was the first draft of the first article that I had ever written for publication. James, my youngest son, was 2 months old and now he is 21. When I first wrote it down I just wanted to keep the the story for myself, then I decided to submit it to a regional magazine, Boca Magazine out of Boca Raton, Fl.
It finally got published after so many rewrites that I just gave up and told the editor to change whatever she wanted. This is NOT that version. This is the first and I hope you enjoy it. I had a big smile after reading it so here goes:
"The summer family vacation is a thing we could all probably live without but somehow it's a mandatory ritual passed down from father to son. Last year I drove to Maine to play with my older sons.. My son Andre was into “Extreme Biking” and led me on to a “Maine shore trail” or more accurately, a granite suicide fall.
I went over the handlebars and bounced to the bottom of the rocks. I carefully let the bike ride on top of me as to not scratch the new bike - of course. I pulled my back out so bad it took three weeks before I could walk straight.
So, this year I wanted it to be different. I trained for 6 months and when people asked, “do you race?” I would reply, "No, I am training to play with my kids!" So as a Dad you have to have the best toys because you need every advantage you can get over your kids.
Training in Florida on a mountain bike is little bit of a joke because first, everything is flat, and second, everything is paved. So, two custom carbon fiber bikes later and training like crazy, I am ready to go on summer vacation. In planning this trip, I had to read every bike magazine I could get your hands on. Then there were all the tools, cool helmets, roof racks for four bikes, then airline tickets to fly Andre down and, of course, we have to refit his bike.
Along for the trip was baby James, who was the result of last year's summer vacation and just two months old . He was a little young to start biking since he still had trouble holding up is head
Somewhere in all my reading the name Bloomington, IN, was rated in the top ten for road cycling. Born in Indiana 43 years ago I have some really great relatives there. After we locked, strapped, shoved, and crammed in our family station wagon, we are ready to leave Florida.
Heading out from West Palm Beach at 4 am we saw sunrise somewhere around Orlando where a fire was raging, Between diaper changes and fuel breaks our trip was moving along as expected. To fight off boredom we brought our laptop fitted with a GPS and Rand McNally sort of a tracking map to chart every move we were to make down the highway. Andre had a field day and with his years of experience playing video games, he was an instant pro. Soon he had us looking at satellite trajectory, data streams, and even had the computer talking! The computer would blurt out things like, “59 seconds to I-65 . Get in the right lane” - this was really something 21 years ago!
As we crossed into Southern Indiana in late afternoon, Andre told me the next exit coming up was our turn.. As the big green sign came closer it said Scottsburg. I exited, but there was no word from the computer the computer. Exhausted from the long trip I asked, “Are you sure this is it?” Andre replied, “No, I guess it’s the next one”.
I maneuvered to make a U -turn and stepped on the gas. But, something was wrong. The power steering was not working. I thought the car had stalled. Turning the key I realized it was still running but the wheels would only go straight. I thought perhaps the belt had broken. The car was now in the driveway of the Mariann Inn & Restaurant.
A man from the gas station yelled over and over “You're car is on fire!” I pushed down on the brakes to bring the car to a stop and the car burst in flames. This thick black smoke filled the front of the car like something out of a movie. Armed with only a cup of coffee I threw it on the hood and smoke bellowed out.
Andre grabbed the computer out of the front seat, and we started just grabbing stuff out of the backseat. Andre took off, heading towards the restaurant where a crowd of people come out to watch. A man from the local Scottsburg volunteer fire dept arrived on scene. “Stand Back!” he shouted. Putting on fireproof gloves, he opened the hood and now the flames shot out. The man reached into the back of his pickup truck and came out with a large fire extinguisher. He braced himself like it had 300 pounds of pressure. Spreading his legs for stability, he gripped the trigger and a little stream of CO2 trickled to the ground.
The fireman looked like a kid who had been scolded. Andre came running back to the car with two fire extinguishers and proceeded to put the fire out. I grabbed my camera out of the back of the car and took some pictures. Then the rest of the volunteer fire department started to show up. The fire was out so I went to put my camera away. I mean what else could happen? Our car that was off to the side was now going to be in the way of the big fire truck that was called. This is pretty big stuff in Scottsburg! So with the whole gang there and nothing to do, they decided to push our car into the parking lot, downhill. As I turned around, I saw our car was going faster and faster and one of the firemen jumped in and turned the wheel to the left, locking the column. He slammed on the brakes. He yelled “No Brakes!” I could have told him that.
The car jumped the curb and headed down the hill where it slammed through the fence and lunged forward, lifting the back wheels off the ground and then settled back down on all four wheels. The doors that were opened jammed forward, the muffler ripped loose, the framing bent, and the hood popped open. I think you get the idea.
I couldn’t care less about the car. I just wanted to know if my bike was okay.
The car starts smoking again and Andre and I looked at each other. “Save the bikes” must have crossed our minds simultaneously. We scrambled down the wet hill and I had the car keys in hand. I started unlocking the bikes and unstrapping them when two big firefighters came up “Here I’ll get them off.”
I looked straight at him “Don’t touch them.” They had done enough. I handed them up and Andre carried them back up the hill.. We were glad everyone was alright. What if I had not made that wrong exit? This whole thing had turned into a sideshow, with gawkers, firemen, and the police and then Phil the tow truck man.
When Phil showed up, things began to straighten out, Sort of. He pulled his rig in, pulled out a long cable and headed down the hill. He hooked the cable up to the front rings and ran the cable between the two back tires. He pulled down the lever with the big red ball on the end. The car, with its front rammed into the ground, did not move but the truck did pull it sideways and almost lifted the two side tires off the ground. Without saying a word, he eased the cable and re-positioned the truck. This time the car started slowly up the hill. We got a room at the Mariann Inn. The chief of Scottburg police walked over and patted me on the shoulder. “Well, it could be worse.” I know he was right. The only thing running through my head was an old saying my father used often. I replied to the police chief, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”
After finishing up the paperwork we went for a swim, we WERE supposed to be on vacation!
After the sun rose on beautiful Scottsburg. We decided to rent a car and drop it off back in Florida when we were done. Not so fast. Several phone calls later, we learned rental agencies only wanted to rent to the Quad state area, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky and Illinois. Only vehicle we could take all the way back to Florida was a U-haul. That didn't work for three adults and an infant. My then wife looked at me and said “Forget it. Let's buy a new car." Our old one only had liability insurance. Well of course we had paid it off - why waste money (my great idea of course). So out comes The Indianapolis Star and Louisville papers. We find a Japanese station wagon, new, in a price we can afford. They will deliver but they only have one in stock and it was some weird dark blue metal flake. Will our bike rack fit? God only knows and it was all about the bikes. Instead of finding out, I walked to the front desk and asked “Is there a car lot around”?
She knew right off, “Oh, you’re the people with the burned car!" I nodded. She pointed to the left “Just down to the light.” My then wife and I started walking for what felt forever in the heat. After more than a mile, we arrived all hot and sticky. We met George at the dealership. George was the kind of man who should have been savings lives as a doctor or something. We told him our story and he had a hard time keeping a straight face but he was a pro so he succeeded for the most part.
After finagling and wrangling, we drove off the lot with a new Ford Windstar minivan. But wait, all our bikes and junk would not fit, so back to George we went. We left him the very back seats and the roof racks that wouldn’t fit. We broke down the bikes and now we we’re back on course. Forty-five minutes later we reached our destination, Nashville, Indiana. We stayed in the Brown County State Park. We got a cabin in the park and embarked on some of the smoothest asphalt I have ever ridden on.
My first run down the mountain, I hit 33 miles per hour, wow! With all the excitement I spotted a fellow biker in his mid-fifties. I stopped to gloat on my speed and the old man touches his buttons on his computer and shows me 39.5 mph. I laughed at myself and up the mountain we went (in the back of the van). On my bike I played down tight pedaling hard, slowing only for the turns that had debris in the road. Faster and faster, my speed was climbing. 35, 37, then 39 - I was running out of hill. I had one last turn and drop. My helmet was bouncing and the air hole whistling. 41 and then I pushed to 42.5 mph. When I reached the bottom, the old man was gone
I was buzzed, my son came down right behind me. I know it is no speed record but for a guy 43 years old it sure seemed like it. But we went there for mountain biking, and my son Andre ruled in that sport. Indiana has some of the best mountain biking I have ever seen. But then again, I bike in South Florida. I had promised Andre a vacation that he would remember for a long time and I think I succeeded.
All in all, we did have a great time. Now I have 10 months to plan for my next mis-adventure vacation."
It really made me smile to find this old story, so I put it back in the same place that I found it. In a few weeks I will forget all about it again and then maybe in a year or two I will find it again and be just as delighted.
Coming back to the present, I just returned from the St. Michaels ACBS boat show in MD. It was the 37th anniversary. I brought our two models of the M27 and M30. I was hoping the show was not getting smaller and it wasn't.. We were there on Thursday when the vendors set up.
The boats started rolling in the next day. They had 37 entries. The lawn was full - not just of any boats but OLD Wooden Race Boats. From a Forest Johnson to Hydroplanes, all shapes and sizes. From 8 ft to ones tied up on a slant so they can be driven down road, tilted on their sides. These were true works of art. I was around them when I was a teen. Seeing them now, I have much more admiration for these people who own them and maintain them.
What was amazing was the young kids and their families. What they talked and asked about and their interest in boats built out of wood, that looked like they were out of a space movie. And to the Chesapeake Bay Chapter of ACBS, great job - we just need to get the word out! I can't wait see you next year, you are on a good path.
"Sea Blitz" has finally splashed! I plan to write an article on polyester clear coating's pros and cons after that experience. Lou Jezdimir has brought my old "Aurora II" to us in NC. We are going to be doing some repairs in the engine area. The M27 project is waiting, we have been a bit too busy to work on her.
We just completed a project in South Florida on the "River Queen." We took her to Cracker Boy Boat Works in Riviera Beach, Fl.. The boat is listed as having a beam of 26' and the haul out well, we were told was 27' wide. However, when the captain went to slide her in, the paddle wheel stuck. Both measurements were a bit off, apparently.
I called my old friend, Doug West, we have known each other for a long time since his Rybovich days. He watched as we hauled many large wooden boat out over the years - "Summerwind," "Honey Fitz", "SS Sophie," "America," "Justice" and so on.
Doug now runs Lauderdale Marine Center (LMC). This is a MEGA, mega yacht yard and the "River Queen," is an old fashioned wooden paddle wheel boat and doesn't quite fit LMC"s target demo. But he looked me straight in the eyes and said "If you are here and do the supervising we will haul her out for you." What a relief!
The next day at 7 a. m. Doug was there and watched. Once we were done Doug just smiled and drove off. Many boat yards in South Florida will not haul out wooden boats anymore. Either the newer haul out crews don't know how - or just don't want to deal with the complexity of doing it.
Wooden boats picked up well is not problem. Picked up wrong, then yes, problems. I'm flying back down this week to help LMC's terrific crew launch the "River Queen's" launch with LMC's terrific crew. Besides, I have to catch up with old friends.
Till next time,