On a stunning June morning my brother, Bobby, and I walked the marina docks together as we'd done so many times as kids on Long Beach Island, N.J.
I spotted my new boat and pointed it out. "Ah, there it is Bob."
"This one here? The blue-and-white one?" he asked.
"Yup, that's it."
"You're kidding. That's a beautiful boat, Jim. It looks like new. ... Congratulations."
The previous year I had purchased Escape, a 2004 Cruisers Yachts 280 CXi, 28-foot express cruiser, equipped with twin 225-hp Volvo Penta stern drives - a genuine beauty.
It is considerably larger than my prior boat - a 1999 Crownline 250CR with a single 260-hp Mercruiser- and so more difficult to pilot, especially when docking. The day I planned to pick up Escape, just south of Sandy Hook, N.J., I sought someone to accompany me on the trip north to my berth on the Hudson River. But I wanted Bob there not just for his help. I wanted a special person in my life to share this day.
Like some brothers we'd drifted apart through the years, he being married and busy raising a family, and me serving a stint in the Navy. After the service I attended night college while working days, then eventually worked in the city. We saw each other only at holidays and other family gatherings.
It wasn't too long after our trip aboard Escape that Bobby entered the hospital for a routine surgical procedure. While convalescing at home he became gravely ill; we nearly lost him.
But that was still ahead of us as we prepared to get under way that June day, disconnecting the power lines, checking the bilge, running the blower and warming the engines. I manned the helm as Bob tended the lines. And when we were free of the dock, I gently nudged her from the slip.
Remembering days past
While in the Navy, I served as helmsman/planesman and underseas weapons tech aboard a 292-foot Sturgeon class nuclear-powered fast-attack submarine. We conducted Cold War patrols, NATO exercises, sea trials, systems testing and weapons test firings. But now, being inexperienced with twins or a boat of this size, I was trembling. Escape was just 3 feet longer than my prior boat, but wider abeam, too, and so she seemed huge to me. We cleared the marina, entering the main channel, which was a bit tricky, so Bobby helped me spot the nun buoys. He had boated in this area often and knew the channel well. He called out the first buoy to me.
"Thanks, I see it," I said.
"This channel is well-marked, but still I missed a buoy once, hit a rock and bent my prop. But I know the right way now and I'll get you through it," he said.
It was reassuring having Bobby along with me, I thought, as we cruised while admiring the seashore homes that dotted the coastlines along the way.
We got to talking about boats and family and the old days down at the shore on Long Beach Island and all the good times we had enjoyed as kids along with our two older sisters, Joyce and Lorraine. Heck, we used to barefoot it all over that island together, swimming in the bay inlets and fishing from the wooden docks.
I still recall the scent of the creosote-soaked bulkheads that mixed with the salt air to create that wondrous aroma unique to the Jersey shore.
We recalled our annual sojourns to the boardwalk at Seaside Heights, N.J.: the cotton candy, Italian sausage and the amusement rides there like the Wild Mouse, Dive Bomber and, of course, the Himalaya. All the incredible family times in the yard behind the bungalow with my dad shucking Cherrystone clams, the adults sipping beer and us kids slurping down half shells, then washing them down with root beer, cola or birch beer. Birch beer - yuck.
"Yeah, remember us tagging along with Daddy to the fishery down by the causeway to buy a big burlap bag stuffed with fresh clams for $5?" I asked. "They'd just come out of the bay that morning."
"Yeah, but it was $10, Jim," he responded.
"Yeah ... ya think? I thought it was five. But it was darned cheap anyway."
Our father passed away when I was just 16 years old. I looked to Bobby then, and again when our mom died. Though I was a married man myself by that time, he still sheltered me. Later, he and his wife, Rosemary, supported me in the aftermath of my marital breakup. He was there in my dad's stead, while I stood proudly on deck of a just-commissioned Navy nuclear submarine and later he helped me through my ensuing transition to civilian life.
As a boy, I wanted to emulate my big brother but now, although I've enjoyed my own successes, I know I don't equal him as a husband, a father or a brother. But never mind, for ours isn't a sibling competition, but rather a true friendship, one of respect and understanding. So I'm comforted knowing that having him as my brother means that I am not alone. Wherever I may be, I need only to call upon him and he will find me just as he has time and again.
"Look Jimmy," Bob said from behind the binoculars. "Ya see that nun buoy to port, there near the shore?"
We had reached the spot in the river where Bob had his mishap.
"Well, it looks as though you would go to the left of it between the shore and the buoy, but you have to stay right."
"Are you sure? That seems wrong."
"Yes, I'm sure ... because I found out the hard way."
I trusted his direction and stayed to the right, passing through without incident. If I'd been alone I would have gone left there, possibly damaging my boat while on its maiden voyage.
"Hey, that's what big brothers are for," he said, placing his hand on my shoulder.
Getting home safely
Soon we rounded The Hook and spotted the open waters of the lower Hudson River. I tilted my drives up a bit and adjusted the trim tabs a smidge, then advanced the throttles more aggressively to bring her up on plane as I monitored the tachs and the engine synchronizer. The boat sprinted ahead, her bow rose and I struggled to bring the engines to 4,000 rpm. Initially I had difficulty synchronizing them, but finally I got the hang of it and the speedometer advanced to 25, then 30 mph and continued climbing.
"Wow, this thing is so powerful," I said.
I was trembling again; the boat was big and fast so I was concerned that she might get away from me. I eased it back and we cruised at 27 mph, then I turned and looked at my brother. He had that familiar grin upon his still-handsome face, and the reassuring feel of his arm across my shoulders was reminiscent of my dad's touch. I smiled back at him.
"This boat is unbelievable, isn't it? The engines are coasting and we're cranking 27 knots. Under ideal conditions, she may break 40."
"We're moving right along all right; this is a really nice boat," he said.
"Solid ride, too ... right? See how it cuts through this chop? We'd be getting pounded at this speed with my other boat."
Soon we had passed under the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge and approached the Statue of Liberty. We continued on past Ground Zero.
We had both been at work in the city that horrid day, me at the United Nations and he at a Brooklyn construction site where he had witnessed the towers collapse. Later, he had told me that he intended to come searching for me, but the situation rendered that impossible. I had tried to call him, too, but phone services were out. When I finally got a phone call through to my voice mail, among my family messages was the welcome one that my brother had gotten home safely.
We spotted our destination, Lincoln Harbor Marina, and discussed our plan of action.
I turned our bow toward the marina and we skimmed effortlessly across the Hudson, the Empire State Building at our backs.
I maneuvered through the marina, cut my speed to 3 mph, sounded my horn and turned the helm sharply to starboard in order to negotiate the turn toward my slip. I endeavored to dock her on the first attempt so I checked the current and flags for wind direction, then I shifted into neutral, and when my stern drifted just midway past the slip, I shifted the port engine into reverse and the starboard one into forward. My heart was pounding as I turned and looked aft, seeing Bob standing on the swim platform waiting to guide me in. Slowly, the boat began to turn.
"Good, Jim, keep it coming." Bob said. "You're looking good so far."
She continued to pivot, coming in line with the slip, then I shifted the starboard engine into reverse and she began to glide back.
The mate grabbed the rail and slipped a line onto the bow cleat.
"I've got you," he said. "Cut the power."
I shifted both throttles into neutral as Bobby jumped onto the dock to assist the mate and I turned off the ignitions. I leapt onto the dock shouting.
I was ecstatic and I slapped Bob on the back.
Later, at lunch, Bob and I concluded our voyage was a typically pleasant boating day. However, recalling it now, under the shadow of Bob's illness, it was an extraordinary day for us. During my darkest moments, fearing the loss of my only brother and my best friend, it comforted me to savor those hours.
My big brother is nearly recovered now and continues to get stronger. This spring we loaded up the boat together and made plans to share the trip downriver from Edgewater to Weehawken to reminisce some more about family, boating ... and all those things we hold dear.
James Fasino, 60, lives in Clifton, N.J. He plans to use Escape for cruising and fishing in the Hudson River, north to Croton N.Y., the East River, Atlantic Ocean and south to Sandy Hook, N.J.
This article originally appeared in the Connecticut and New York Home Waters section of the August 2010 issue.