Skip to main content

Under Way August 2007

A rising tide to carry you home

A rising tide to carry you home

They say you can’t go home again, but maybe you just have to find the right boat.

Beside the old family barn — on a section of uneven ground where I used to dribble a basketball for hours, waiting for March to break and the fish to return — sits a 13-foot Boston Whaler. She’s on her fourth or fifth engine now, maybe more. The little mahogany console is tucked safely away somewhere. She won’t see the water this year. Or next. Your guess is as good as mine as to when it will get dropped back in.

The boat could use some attention, but my brother, who’s owned it since it was new, has moved on to bigger boats and a busier life. So she sits there, forlorn and fading, perched on wooden blocks, a reminder of simpler times when brothers still lived under the same roof and spent time together on the water.

I asked Peter recently if he’d ever get rid of it — sell it or maybe just give it away to a kid, let him or her compound the hull, stick the console back in, fill up a 6-gallon gas tank, and find the same kind of adventure we did on Little Narragansett Bay and Fisher’s Island Sound in southeastern Rhode Island. Maybe, he answered, but then he thought about it for a moment longer and said he figures he’ll probably go to the grave owning it.

I understand. The boat’s been a part of the family since 1968. Those were tumultuous times for much of the country, but we were still enjoying a last bit of innocence. We were part of a loose tribe dubbed “the rat pack,” which consisted of a dozen or more kids and maybe six or eight of these little 13-footers. (Longtime Whaler dealer Connors & O’Brien Marina was our source.) We ran all over the tidal river, bays and harbors around our home.

Most everyone wound up powering them with 40-hp Mercs, which made the blue-and-white sleds fly. After all, they only weighed about 320 pounds; 40 mph on the water was fast then and is fast now. I remember the feeling of freedom that came from racing down an empty tidal river in spring; the rich smell of oil and gas in the exhaust; the hard, hard ride; the easy laughter. We probably weighed 125 pounds soaking wet back then, light enough to ski and tow-surf behind the boat.

Summers never seemed to end. I was 14 when we got the Whaler. Still a kid. I fished, surfed, sailed a little, knocked around in the Whaler as much as my brother let me, worked in a parking lot in the summer, ogled girls. The squall line of young adulthood was still over the horizon but closing fast.

Four years later I was headed to Southern California in a VW Microbus with surfboards strapped on top, searching for who knows what. It all happened pretty quickly. For a time, the pull of the waters where I spent my childhood and adolescence slackened; the tide went out and I forgot about the little boat.

I’ve been thinking about Boston Whalers recently, in part because we’ve been putting together a story on the company’s 50th anniversary (see Page 46). Looking at that little boat today I can’t help but marvel at how fast it all goes by.

When I was hunting for a boat to replace my lobster skiff several years back, I wound up on the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake, where I found myself eyeballing another forlorn Whaler, this one a 1968 Nauset. She’d certainly seen better days. A dealer had taken it in trade, and it was parked out back on a trailer. No cover. The varnish on the original mahogany console had yellowed and peeled, and there were water stains in the wood. The engine and rigging was shot, but the hull seemed solid enough, which meant she could be resuscitated.

Perhaps it was fate — more likely foolishness — but I bought her cheap and dragged her back to Connecticut, where my friend Frank Kehr and I brought her back to life. She has been busy these last four seasons, carrying another generation of family members and friends on new adventures over the same waters, sandbars and reefs that I first explored in the 13-footer.

You can’t turn back the clock, exactly, but I do think you can take what was good and lasting from an earlier time and pass it along to those you care about. If you want it badly enough, you’ll find the right boat and way to catch a flooding spring tide and ride it all the way home.

I haven’t quite come full circle, but sometimes it feels like I’m getting pretty close.

For an audio slide show on Boston Whaler go to