More than just an old powerboat

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Seasoned skipper reflects on his Seabird Supersport and the countless good times had aboard her

Seasoned skipper reflects on his Seabird Supersport and the countless good times had aboard her

George and Jeanne Wilson met as teenagers in Astoria, Queens, and were married 53 years. They had no problem with long-term relationships. Consider their boat, Spritzer. Together, they ran the same 24-foot 1971 Seabird Supersport for 35 years and were just as proud of it two years ago as the day they first bought it. (Even the best relationships must overcome rough spots, and there was that year when the Wilsons were legally divorced from Spritzer. More on that later.)

Spritzer’s pale yellow complexion radiates the same healthy glow of her youth (thanks to a coat of Imron that Wilson, a plastics expert, applied without the proper breathing protection.) Her 350-cubic-inch Chevy V-8 still cranks out about 250 hp and drives the deep-vee hull at 20 to 25 knots. And she still catches fish; although recently they have been muskies taken from GreenwoodLake, an interstate body of fresh water about eight miles from the Wilson home in Ringwood, N.J., near the New York border.

In Spritzer’s prime, which lives vividly in George Wilson’s memory, the fish were blues and sea bass, mackerel and fluke, and the boating was done in the salt water on either side of Long Island. In those days, he would sometimes head out on Long Island Sound alone, just for the fishing.

Then came the day when Jeanne told George: “You’re not going anywhere” close to the ocean. She didn’t care if somebody went with him or not. The lake, grumbled Wilson at age 77, “sucks.”

Once again, George Wilson is taking Spritzer out alone. Jeanne Wilson died a year ago of complications from a surgery, and George won’t replace her with other crew on trips on GreenwoodLake. But, ah, the memories he carries with him.

By the time George and Jeanne met, she was 13, going on 14 and he was an older and wiser 16, already a fisherman. She had not yet learned to fish, but they did share one thing in common. When George was 5, he contracted infantile paralysis, an event that drove his father out of the family. Jeanne’s father had departed as soon as she was born. His son — Jeanne’s brother — had drowned 14 months before, “and I wasn’t a boy, so he left,” she would recall.

The Wilsons met in 1949. The nuns who taught in a school behind the twin home where Wilson lived deserve some credit for matchmaking. In that home and in the back yard, the young George had 250 homing pigeons, a warren full of rabbits, a gander and a pig. It was not unusual for the pig, followed by the gander, to open the gate and trot up the city street to the A&P market, where the grocers would feed the pig carrot tops. The nuns liked to visit the animals, and during one of their excursions, young Jeanne came along.

“I knew he was going to be mine,” she said. Soon, Jeanne was joining George to play hooky and go fishing. They would take the subway to Times Square, where they would deposit their books in a locker. Then another train would take them to Coney Island, where they would walk to the head boats, usually one of two old submarine chasers. He would get seasick. She literally got cold feet. But they usually caught enough fish that, by selling them three-for-a-dollar on their return (while keeping any fluke), they could pay for the next day of fishing.

In 1952 they were married. Their first boat together was a wooden Fincraft with a 25-hp Evinrude. It was often swamped by waves washing over the transom.

Next was an 18-foot aluminum Starcraft with a bigger Evinrude. Sometimes they would launch it from a beach on Long Island.

“We did a lot of fishing out of Montauk with it, too. It was an easy boat to handle, but in rough weather, forget it. Just pound and pound and pound,” he says.

George was not yet ready to commit to this boating relationship, and his wandering eye scanned the newspaper ads for used boats.

“We wanted something we could stay on,” Wilson recalls. And there it was in the paper, a nearly new Seabird. The Wilsons drove to Connecticut and listened to the story. Spritzer had been bought new by a group of Wall Street stockbrokers just months before the market took a dive. They were willing to unload it for $5,200. George was uncertain and told Jeanne he was going to go home and think about it.

“You’re not going to think about it,” she told him. “You’re going to buy it.”

Now the Wilsons made weekly tips to Rowayton, a lovely Connecticut town on the Sound, and on the first visit to the boat they learned how she got her name. “We found bottles of wine in the compartments. There must have been 20 bottles. Every pocket was just full of wine bottles.” The bottles, empty, were discarded. The name remained.

At the time, the Wilson’s youngest child, George, was 5, while daughter Jeanne was 10, Karen was 15 and Linda was 16. The kids were already anglers and boaters. The adventures never stopped, and the boat was a great way to bond with — and to teach — the children. Occasionally, George took them out on the Sound by himself.

“I had all the kids out there fluke and blue fishing, and we got nothing all day,” George recalls. Then “one of the kids saw bunker breaking. We started bunker dunking and caught big blues. We loaded the boat up and we got back at midnight.” By then, Jeanne had called the Coast Guard.

Despite the fun times, George was not immune to the seduction of the broader beam of a bigger boat. In his case, it was a 34-foot Luhrs. Spritzer was sold, but the Wilsons discovered that their new boat had neither the quality of craftsmanship nor the sea-handling abilities of their first love. By the end of a year, they had convinced Spritzer’s new owner to sell her back to them. “I learned my lesson,” says a contrite Wilson.

Contrite, but not entirely content. George and Jeanne had made plans a year ago to shop for a trawler. On that boat, she had told him, she would consider returning to Long Island Sound.

“I’ve just got a love for the Sound and Montauk,” George said back then. It wasn’t that Spritzer was getting dumped. She would remain on the lake.

Then Jeanne entered the hospital for what appeared to be a routine abdominal operation. Something went wrong, and the doctors could not save her. But her plans with George live on. There are now seven grandchildren and two great grandchildren who need bonding and teaching as much as their parents did when they were kids.

And George Wilson has his eyes on a bigger boat — and can just taste the salt water on his lips. He planned this fall to take Spritzer to Sandy Hook, New Jersey, where he may be right now, alone, fishing.