hgazette.com, Haverhill, MA

October 10, 2013

Boating experiences take me adrift

By Tom Vartabedian
The Haverhill Gazette

---- — It all started with an aluminum 12-foot dingy attached to one side of a wooden dock. Parallel to it was a 35-foot cruiser with a beefed-up engine that appeared newer than the vessel to which it was attached.

The boats came with the cottage by the lake I purchased in that fall of 1970, somewhere secluded in Southern New Hampshire.

Prior to this, my boating experiences included a rubber tube I had used in the ocean and a wooden sailboat I had navigated as a 6-year-old in someone’s backyard pool. Nautical adventures and I were as distant as the tide.

I enjoyed my little boat. It came to me already named by its previous owner. He called her “Afta You,” and it’s always been ladies first in my lakeside manner. You didn’t go very fast with a 7-horse power motor, but it was good enough for puttering and fishing about. Rowing at the crack of dawn became a daily exercise ritual with me.

As for its bigger mate, I wound up selling it to a custodian at work. He was looking for a bigger boat to navigate the Merrimack River. I gave him a good price, trailer and all. He spent all winter sprucing it up, before launching it in the spring.

I was there the day he set it upon the river — before it sank, right in the middle of the Merrimack. The harbormaster came to the rescue and it cost my janitor friend more than what he paid for the boat to have it retrieved. Termites had done a number on the vessel’s wooden build.

Next came the sailboat, a modest craft I ran across in someone’s yard one day. The owner was glad to part with it and I picked it up for a token. The sailor in me graduated to a “Sunfish,” which is going on 20 years.

The children surprised me one Father’s Day with a customized red, blue and orange sail — the colors of the Armenian flag as my ethnic pride intervenes every time I set afloat.

“Time for a canoe,” one of my kids suggested. “Would be perfect for the grandchildren.”

How could I deprive them? They could have very easily suggested a Jet Ski or a cabin cruiser that would sleep six. On a lake?

I could see the look in their eyes with people water skiing and tubing. The little ones especially became envious of our neighbors. You didn’t have to be a mentalist to know what was going through their mind. Action, baby. Let’s make waves!

So I invested in a new canoe and all went well for a while, until they grew wary of it. My three boats were the beginning stages of an armada.

“Look at the Waitts,” my wife said one evening. “They have a paddle boat. Isn’t that romantic?”

“Not my speed,” I shot back. “Don’t we have enough boats without increasing our fleet? Storage problem, you know. We need room to swim.”

So we enjoyed their paddle boat from a distance and did get to try it out one day. Bailing the thing out after a rainstorm was rather troubling and I was happy the matter didn’t grow into an obsession.

What did, however, was the kayak. I had no intention of buying one until my family passed a subtle hint after seeing their numbers grow. Off we went kayak-hunting, and found a yellow 8 ½-footer. You could spot it across the lake.

A whole new world was introduced to me. Kayakers are a tight clique, unlike sail-boaters or canoeists. But something was missing. Another one.

People don’t usually go kayaking alone, the family said. Nice to have a mate along, especially with the grandchildren. We don’t want any mishaps.

They made a valid point. So off we went again, finding a companion. We settled upon a 9-footer this time, light blue, with a more comfortable seat and wider cockpit, which came in handy for a small passenger.

It’s become kayak heaven around these parts as others have come forward with their boats, and the party never stops. In fact, we’re now taking numbers to see who goes first.

People think I’m well-to-do in my retirement years with five boats. But who’s counting? It also gets to be personal. Use one and I feel the others are being neglected.

The other evening, we were sitting on the deck watching the sun go down when a pontoon boat drifted by with eight people aboard. I gave it a passing glance. My wife became hooked.

“Say, that’s my kind of boat,” she cooed. “Think of the rides we could give our guests.”

Think again!

Writer and photographer Tom Vartabedian is retired from The Haverhill Gazette. He contributes this regular column.