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Thursday, September 13, 2012


So where was I? Oh yeah- the wife and I went on our annual Fourth of July boat ride to historic Newburgh, New York. The holiday fell on a Wednesday this year, so we went the weekend before. Why can’t we always observe the Fourth of July on that Monday, so that we can take a long weekend and celebrate the birth of our nation the way our forefathers did: drunk?

We packed up the bikes and the Cookie-dog and motored up the river. We passed under the Bear Mountain Bridge, cruised by West Point and lingered near Pollepel Island, where the majestic ruins of Bannerman’s Castle dominate the landscape.

My wife noticed an inordinate amount of mud churning around the back of the boat. “Is that supposed to be there?” she asked. “Beats me- could be something down there causing that disturbance, maybe a flock of eels or something.”

Turns out it was our propeller, looking around for a rock to hit. It found one, our starboard propeller was cooked, and we had to limp into the marina at Newburgh on one engine at about one mile an hour. Finally at the Newburgh Yacht Club, we were told that because it was low tide, we wouldn’t be able to get into the slip. I assured him that whatever was on the bottom of our boat wasn’t there any more, possibly including the bottom of our boat.

By this time my wife and my dog were not speaking to me, so they communicated with me by Morse code, tapping out messages on my head with the fisherman’s gaff. Once in the slip our neighbor, kind enough to lend us the electrical cord we had forgotten, pointed to the side of the boat, where water was cascading out a small hole.

My wife saw him pointing, and, still a little on edge, politely asked, “WHAT! WHAT! WHAT! WHAT?” He said, “Your bilge pump is running.” “Is that good or bad????” “Depends,” he said. “Good that it’s running. Not so good it’s running right now.” “HOLY CRAP WE’RE TAKING ON WATER!” I yelled, and prepared to abandon ship by walking over to the vending machine. My wife accused me of going overboard, and my dog took a crap on the poop deck.

I pictured Gilligan’s boat sitting on the beach with a big hole in the bottom, and cursed myself for not thinking to bring a trunk full of money and a transistor radio. He said, “I think it’s just a puncture in your outdrive bellows- lower your propeller and you should be okay.”

Things were a little tense. I suggested we get some dinner and a few drinks, and possibly smoke some crack, and things would seem a little better with a clearer head. We went to Billy Joes’s Ribworks on Front Street, and after a couple cocktails I tried to lighten the mood with a joke or two. “Billy Joe’s Ribworks,” I said. “That’s more than I can say for our propeller.” That went over like a lead balloon. “Do you think that thing has sunk by now?” My wife asked, hopefully. “No, it’s low tide so it’s probably actually a couple inches higher than it was,” I assured her.

The next day we decided to chance the trip back to Cortlandt. We were in for a four or five-hour ride, chugging along on one engine. Even though it was sunny out, nasty weather was in the forecast, and a humongous barge was behind us. We had about 1/8 of a tank of gas, and now a headwind was picking up. I calculated that we had just enough fuel to make it to the narrowest part of the river just as the barge was positioned to overtake us before we ran out of gas in a thunderstorm.

We made it back to our marina, against the wishes of our marina.

The next day Dave and I went over to the boat to assess the damage. Ours is a “twin-screw” boat, which sounds like a hell of a lot more fun than it actually is. I said, “Dave, I think one of our twin-screws is screwed, so we’re going to need at least a screwdriver.” Dave sits in the engine compartment and looks over the motors. He calls out the names of tools and I hand them to him, like a nurse, only with more attractive shoes. “Pliers…. Phillips-head…. Hemostat….” If he asks for suction, I wonder what I would do.

The propeller was cleaned completely free of all three blades. Dave looked at the forlorn-looking item as if it was a dinosaur bone, muttering “I have never seen anything remotely like this….” Which I assume was a tribute to my thoroughness. All I could think was, thank god I wasn’t piloting a plane.

Incidentally, George Washington’s headquarters was located in Newburgh, at the Hasbrouck House, during the last days of the Revolutionary War. He announced the “cessation of hostilities,” which sounds kind of smelly, but actually just meant that the war was over. It was here also that George Washington received a letter from the officers of the army suggesting that he be installed as king of an American monarchy. Washington felt that this letter needed to be addressed, why, I don’t know, since it got to him. He quickly dispelled any such notion, replying that it would be one of “the greatest mischiefs that can befall my Country.” Plus he could make zillions of dollars on a speaking tour, and each one would have his picture on it.