The Boston Whaler Ride

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The following is an excerpt from Freedom Hall…….

“I’ll drop you off at Ropes Beach” Justin’s mother said heading straight, rather than turning as she usually did at the sharp curve on Putnam Road. With the enourmous station wagon lifting upwards as it headed down the steep decline of pavement to Ropes Beach, Justin readied himself for a quick exit.

Pulling up to the sea wall to let Justin off his mother continued her lecture from before, “I hope that you’ll be tying knots today and not going out! If they decide to go out for a boat ride, you tell them no! And don’t forget your slicker!”

“I won’t…. Sure thing” Justin answered as he stepped up onto the sea wall and jumped down into the sand that was now covered with a thin crust from the recent rain.

Justin liked how his answer was the exact inverse to her commands and he had to chuckle to himself as he said the words. He had no intention of telling them “no”.

If anything, he would be the most vocal in favor of going out on the committee boats.

As far as forgetting his slicker, Justin wore that even on sunny days most of the time. Justin loved his slicker! After all, his extremely expensive Atlantis Foul Weather Gear was about as cool as clothing could get and was more of a fashion statement than a necessity. Even if it did rain, he rarely zippered it up or ever put up the hood.

As he headed down the long stretch of beach towards the dock of the Cotuit Mosquito Yacht Club, pulling the cowl of his slicker up around his neck for affect, he could already see the group of kids gathering at the dock which to him looked very promising.

Since it was raining pretty hard, the sailing lesson would be one of two things, either knot tying in the Winney’s boathouse or if it wasn’t too bad, a Boston Whaler ride around Dead Neck and since Justin could already tie all of his knots blindfolded and behind his back, he wasn’t’ really in the mood to practice.

Justin did always like when there was a new girl signed up for sailing class for whom he could show off his knot tying skills while trying to tutor them. Unfortunately, this week there were no new cute girls in class, only the regular “Boston Witches” as he called them, that used to sneer at him and laugh at the mere mention of New Jersey or of his last name.

As he approached the dock, he could tell that today the decision was going to be for a boat ride and that if they all hurried, they could get out before the rain started to fall even heavier.

Tom Hudson, or “Rock” as he liked to be called, was at the helm of the CMYC’s brand new 17 foot Boston Whaler Montauk and behind him in tow was the second and much older Montauk that was probably one of the originals from the sixties.

Rock had obviously swum out to the mooring where the boats were kept as he was in nothing but his shorts with his long black hair slicked down over his shoulders contrasting the ear to ear smile that he had on his face.

Rock was the heartthrob of all of the teenage girls in Cotuit and probably many other places as well. He was in college up at Bates and had been winning skiff races in Cotuit since he was seven. Rock had always been interested in Justin’s sister Sarah but Sarah was not interested in Rock as he was a bit of a Cretin in her eyes. Sarah preferred the tennis players at Kings Grant over the sailors at CMYC and Rock didn’t look like he could even swing a tennis racquet, with all of his muscles bulging on top of one another and all.

Rock was nice to Justin but he was usually nice to everyone in a very jovial way and had even been known on more than a few occasions to supply beer at the moonlight races and once in a while, after a hot day of sailing class to anyone who wanted one.

“Catch the line” Rock yelled at the crowd that had now gathered at the end of the dock. With that, Justin stepped forward and caught the line that Rock had already thrown and then quickly tied it off in a double hitch around the piling of the dock where Rock was coming in.

With the grace of an ice skater, Rock pulled the boat along side of the dock, tossed another line up to Justin who tied off the stern and without missing a step, Rock launched himself off of the stern and onto the bow of the older boat as it inched its way closer and closer in slow motion.

Stopping the momentum of the boat with his hands against a piling and untying the older whaler, Rock fired up its engine and hovered about 20 feet off of the dock telling the kids to split up.Half of them were to get into the boat tied before them and the rest of them were to get ready and jump onto the boat that Rock was on as he was about to bring in for a quick boarding.

Justin knew that Rock was going to stay on the older whaler and even though Justin thought that the newer one was cooler, he knew that Rock would be more fun. After all, Rock took bigger chances and liked to “catch air”.

Justin didn’t know who was going to captain the newer whaler as the other instructor had not yet shown up. However, no matter who it was, Rock would be the most fun.

Just as Rock had finished getting the remaining kids on board of his boat, Justin looked up to see a bright orange slicker coming down the stairs from the parking lot up on Talbot’s field. He knew right away that it was Cheryl Cunningham who was incredibly cute, but by no means an aggressive captain.

Although Justin never minded spending time staring at her during sailing class, she barely noticed that Justin existed. And to Justin, the way that she always talked about her really rich boyfriend from California really got on his nerves and just about everyone else’s as well.

“Hurry Up!” Rock shouted at her as she got onto the dock. She picked up the pace to a slight jog and when she got to the boat she lowered herself down the ladder with nearly every boy fixated on her frayed cutoffs that looked as though they were ready to fall off with each step as she wiggled down and climbed on board.

“Oh well” Justin muttered to himself as he looked over at Rock who, rather than staring at Cheryl, was surveying the boat for anything that needed to be secured.

“Life Jackets!” Rock yelled out so that everyone in his boat and Cheryl’s boat could hear and almost immediately a collective moan came from the crowd.

“Put on your lifer perverters!” Justin said loudly but said it facing Tommy Sousa who was a frail little kid that Justin could tell was rather nervous. Justin loved to call them “life perverters” which always made Tommy chuckle but the girls cringe.

“You should know” Justin heard Sandy Franconi mutter loud enough for everyone to hear, but he ignored her thinking to himself that she should be wearing her life preserver around her face.

“Tie down the cooler” Rock shouted out and two of the kids quickly responded, lashing the cooler to the oar rack on the starboard side as the two boats started heading across the bay towards the Seapuit River. Seapuit was where they would wind their way from Cotuit Bay over to West Bay and then out into the Sound through the Osterville Cut.

Pressing down onto the throttle, Rock got the boat onto a plane quickly thanks to the extra weight of four kids on the bow. Although the boat was rated for 115 horsepower, the CMYC only had 70’s on the boats, not seeing the need for any extra speed, when all they did was chase prams and skiffs around the harbor all day.

With the two committee boats neck and neck racing across the bay and heading towards open water, the tiny raindrops felt like sand hitting Justin in the face as he stood alongside the center console, holding onto the side rails. To Justin this was one of the best feelings he knew; riding across Cotuit bay in inclement weather with some big adventure lying ahead.

He had done this many times before.

Justin could only imagine how his mother would be fuming if she knew they were going out. With his luck, she was parked at the Loop Beach waiting to see if they had gone out and then he would be busted for sure, but at least he would have gotten to go on his ride.

Hopefully, Justin thought, one of his sisters was keeping his mother occupied and when he got home he could tell her that they did tie knots and then watched a training film. It might just work but Justin was rarely that lucky when it came to being clandestine.

“Do you think it will be really rough?” Tommy said to Justin with a slight cracking in his voice.

“I hope so!” Justin said as he tried to see over the island and out into the Sound in hopes of seeing some whitecaps. Justin loved whitecaps.

Justin was never nervous on these trips. After all, they were never more than a few hundred yards from land, he had a lifer preserver on and the whaler was the safest boat known to man, completely unsinkable under any conditions.

The boat slowed to a more moderate pace as they entered Seapuit river where the channel winded between Dead Neck and Grand Island; Dead Neck being a bird sanctuary and Grand Island being a sanctuary of the mega rich.

Technically, Grand Island belonged to Osterville and its waterfront mansions stood stalwart in a mocking fashion overlooking the much more modest, albeit still grand, homes along the Cotuit waterfront. Justin doubted that the rich kids from Osterville were out having as much fun as they were right now. They had probably all gone to the Mall or the movies Justin thought.

As they passed the one house that Justin simply loved to go by, he was again in awe at the seaplane, the wide selection of sailboats, motor yachts and other miscellaneous water toys that were amassed on and around one of the largest docks in the area. Supposedly the man was a judge but someone in the family had long ago invented some sort of soft drink that made them wildly wealthy. Justin could only hope but always felt sad because none of the boats or other expensive toys ever seemed to move.

“When we head out of the cut, let’s go out to Bell One” Rock yelled so that everyone in both boats could hear.

“Bell One!” Justin thought to himself “That’s out there. Tommy is going to freak out!” he said quietly to himself. Bell One was almost out of sight of land and was past the big sand bar where the waves would surely be breaking if the swells were really big.

“Once we get to Bell One, we’ll head to the Loop and back in” he continued. Cheryl simply nodded but the look on her face was tentative at best.

They were almost at the cut and Justin could see that the swells in the cut were extremely rough and were breaking in all directions.

“I changed my mind, I don’t want to go” Tommy said to Justin as if Justin was in charge.

“You gotta go, Tommy, this is what builds character!” Justin said, as if he had character to spare and with that Tommy just shrunk in his spot and looked as though he was hunkering down for a really bad ride while at the same time Justin was craning his neck in anxious anticipation of the wild ride ahead. Maybe they shouldn’t be out there but Justin wasn’t going to say it.

They got to the end of Seapuit and began to turn into the cut. The waves were tossing the boats from side to side and end to end. Justin stood strong next to Rock with his sea legs keeping him steady against every motion of the boat. Rock began to lay into the throttle when all of a sudden a loud scream came from the other boat and a second later another scream came from a few of the kids on Justin’s boat.

Looking over, they could see that the fiberglass center console of the new Whaler had torn from the deck and was hanging on as if on a hinge. Without even flinching, Rock guided his Whaler over to the other boat where Cheryl was noticeably upset.

“That piece of shit!” Rock yelled out. “They don’t make Whalers like they used to!” he exclaimed as he banged his fist on the weathered wooden center console of the much older Whaler with pride.

“Who wants to come with me and who wants to go back?” he asked looking at all of the faces and knowing already by the look in each one who would come and who would go.

After about 5 minutes of switching boats in the middle of the cut, with both boats hemming and hawing as a number of the children jumped to their preferred boat, Rock waved off Cheryl and she proceeded to head back into Seapuit with many of her crew noticably relieved that they were heading back in.

“See Ya Tommy” Justin yelled out feeling happy that Tommy got what he wanted but sad that Tommy was so scared.

As for Rock’s crew, they were ready.

Seeing the center console tear from its foundation only convinced them all that the ride was going to be great. Justin had tied three ropes to the bow cleat so that he, Chat Harbuck and Franky Lloyd could all hold on as they pounded into the waves. To Justin it was like riding the back of a whale and he imagined to himself what it would have been like to have been a whaler on these very waters only a hundred or so years ago.

“We’re going for a Nantucket Sleigh Ride” he shouted to Chat who had just as big of a smile plastered across his face. “YEEE HA!” they all shouted alone and in unison as Rock laid into the gas.

The boat strained as it began to pick up speed and just as they climbed to the top of what looked to Justin like a ten foot swell, the water below the boat disappeared and they all dropped with a thud that seemed to shake the boat to it’s core. Again they climbed a swell and again they dropped into the abyss on the other side with a horrible bang.

Water was everywhere and it was hard to see even a few feet in front of the boat. However, seeing wasn’t important because they all knew the course they were on as if there was a yellow brick road painted down before them, especially Rock.

As they got farther from land and had passed over the edge of the sand bar, the crests of the waves began to lessen and the swells grew wider and wider.

As they reached the top of a swell, it was as if the boat was sitting completely atop of the wave and Rock cut back on the motor and eased the nose of the boat down into the trough of the oncoming wave.

The boat slid down the backside of the wave and then appeared to stop at the bottom between two walls of water and even though there was a strong sense of sideways motion, the engine was still pushing them forward.

Time seemed to stop for a moment as they were sitting ever so precariously between the two enormous swells that obscured any view of land. Although the adrenaline was still rushing through everyone’s veins, it suddenly became a very peaceful place to be.

Other than the sound of the motor, everyone had grown quiet as the awesome force of the sea seemed to captivate them; the swells undulating in size and height on both sides of them giving Justin an odd feeling but not one that made him at all nervous.

“Let’s all relax” Rock said as he cut the engine and sat down on the bench seat behind him. “If anyone gets swept overboard, I’m telling your parents you jumped!”

As they sat there in silence, the only noise at that point was the churning sound of the water all around them and the patter of rain on the boat. No one said anything for what seemed like an eternity as the boat remained nestled between the two waves.

Like passengers on a train, they could feel the two enormous swells carrying them along at a rather quick pace and as the boat would begin to ride up the trailing wave, gravity would surf it forward putting it right back in the middle.

“No need to waste gas” Rock said. “We could ride all the way back to shore right here if we wanted, or at least until this fucker behind us decides to break. Then we’re all in the drink!”

“This is wicked cool!” Justin said and his comment was mirrored by everyone on board with nodding heads and vacant stares.

Sitting there Justin felt an unbelievable comradery with everyone on board. There they were, where most people would think they were in danger of dying, calmly sitting and enjoying natures unimaginable power on a 17 foot boat made of fiberglass and wood.

Justin’s thoughts again went back to the days of the whalers that spent their life on the sea in conditions even worse than this and he was glad that he would be back at his house taking a nice warm shower in only an hour or two.

“Something’s wrong?” Rock blurted out! “The engine won’t start!”

“What?” said a few voices with a slightly panicked tone but not Justin. He figured they’d just ride it out and swim. Not a big deal to him.

“Only kidding” Rock said and with that the engine turned over and a plume of thick black smoke filled the air.

For the rest of the ride back Justin was calm and content with the experience that he had just had.

As they surfed in over each swell going only slightly faster than the waves, he looked out towards the Loop Beach which was approaching on the horizon.

His calm feeling went away as he thought that he saw their yellow station wagon parked behind the sea wall. Suddenly his stomach dropped worse than it had from any swell on the ride before.

But, as they approached Loop Beach and Justin was certain that his mother would be standing there, he got close enough to see the sole familiar outline of his grandfather, standing on the wall looking out with a pair of binoculars and Justin thought they must have been the rusty old pair that he had gotten when he was in the Navy serving down in Nicaragua.

His mother was nowhere in sight.

As the Whaler came bounding through the channel with everyone soaking wet but smiling triumphantly, Justin could see his grandfather waving to them. He could see him giving them all a thumbs up and with that Justin knew that even though his mother must have sent his grandfather to check on him, his grandfather would deny ever seeing them out on the water.

Justin could count on that.

2 Responses to “The Boston Whaler Ride”

  1. Brian Says:

    You are a talented writer John. Reading your excerpts from Freedom Hall brings back so many of my own memories of summering in Cotuit. Keep up the good work.

    B

  2. Suzanne Shaps Says:

    Hi John: Brings back some sweet memories of those whalers and the islands. Nicely written, too. — Suzanne

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