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Apr 18
At age 45 I decided to become a sailor.  It had attracted me since I first saw a man living on his sailboat at the 77th street boat basin in New York City, back in 1978.  I was leaving on a charter boat trip with customers up the Hudson to West Point, and the image of him having coffee on the back deck of his boat that morning stayed with me for years.  It was now 1994, and I had just bought a condo on the back bay of a South Jersey beach town — and it came with a boat slip.

I started my search for a boat by first reading every sailing magazine I could get my hands on.  This was frustrating because most of the boats they featured were ‘way’ out of my price range. I knew I wanted a boat that was 25’ to 27’ in length and something with a full cabin below deck so that I could sail some overnight’s with my wife and two kids.

I then started to attend boat shows.  The used boats at the shows were more in my price range, and I traveled from Norfolk to Mystic Seaport in search of the right one.  One day, while checking the classifieds in a local Jersey Shore newspaper, I saw a boat advertised that I just had to go see …

  For Sale: 27’ Cal Sloop. Circa 1966. One owner and used very
   gently.  Price $6,500.00 (negotiable)

This boat was now almost 30 years old, but I had heard good things about the Cal’s.  Cal was short for California. It was a boat originally manufactured on the west coast and the company was now out of business.  The brand had a real ‘cult’ following, and the boat had a reputation for being extremely sea worthy with a fixed keel, and it was noted for being good in very light air.  This boat drew over 60’’ of water, which meant that I would need at least five feet of depth (and really seven) to avoid running aground.  The bay behind my condo was full of low spots, especially at low tide, and most sailors had boats with retractable centerboards rather than fixed keels.  This allowed them to retract the boards (up) during low tide and sail in less than three feet of water. This wouldn’t be an option for me if I bought the Cal.

I was most interested in ‘blue water’ ocean sailing, so the stability of the fixed keel was very attractive to me.  I decided to travel thirty miles North to the New Jersey beach town of Mystic Island to look at the boat.  I arrived in front of a white bi-level house on a sunny Monday April afternoon at about 4:30. The letters on the mailbox said Murphy, with the ‘r’ & the ‘p’ being worn almost completely away due to the heavy salt air.

I walked to the front door and rang the buzzer.  An attractive blonde woman about ten years older than me answered the door. She asked: “Are you the one that called about the boat?”  I said that I was, and she then said that her husband would be home from work in about twenty minutes.  He worked for Resorts International Casino in Atlantic City as their head of maintenance, and he knew everything there was to know about the Cal. docked out back.  

Her name was Betty and as she offered me ice tea she started to talk about the boat.  “It was my husband’s best friend’s boat. Irv and his wife Dee Dee live next door but Irv dropped dead of a heart attack last fall.  My husband and Irv used to take the boat out through the Beach Haven Inlet into the ocean almost every night.  Irv bought the boat new back in 1967, and we moved into this house in 1968.  I can’t even begin to tell you how much fun the two of them had on that old boat.  It’s sat idle, ******* to the bulkhead since last fall, and Dee Dee couldn’t even begin to deal with selling it until her kids convinced her to move to Florida and live with them.  She offered it to my husband Ed but he said the boat would never be the same without Irv on board, and he’d rather see it go to a new owner.  Looking at it every day behind the house just brought back memories of Irv and made him sad all over again every time that he did.”

Just then Ed walked through the door leading from the garage into the house.  “Is this the new sailor I’ve been hearing about,” he said in a big friendly voice.  “That’s me I said,” as we shook hands.  ‘Give me a minute to change and I’ll be right with you.”

As Ed walked me back through the stone yard to the canal behind his house, I noticed something peculiar.  There was no dock at the end of his property.  The boat was tied directly to the sea wall itself with only three yellow and black ‘bumpers’ separating the fiberglass side of the boat from the bulkhead itself.  It was low tide now and the boats keel was sitting in at least two feet of sand and mud.  Ed explained to me that Irv used to have this small channel that they lived on, which was man made, dredged out every year.  Irv also had a dock, but it had even less water underneath it than the bulkhead behind Ed’s house.

Ed said again, “no dredging’s been done this year, and the only way to get the boat out of the small back tributary to the main artery of the bay, is to wait for high tide. The tide will bring the water level up at least six feet.  That will give the boat twenty-four inches of clearance at the bottom and allow you to take it out into the deeper (30 feet) water of the main channel.”

Ed jumped on the boat and said, “C’mon, let me show you the inside.”  As he took the padlock off the slides leading to the companionway, I noticed how motley and ***** everything was. My image of sailing was pristine boats glimmering in the sun with their main sails up and the captain and crew with drinks in their hands.  This was about as far away from that as you could get.  As Ed removed the slides, the smell hit me.  MOLD! The smell of mildew was everywhere, and I could only stay below deck for a moment or two before I had to come back up topside for air.  Ed said, “It’ll all dry out (the air) in about ten minutes, and then we can go forward and look at the V-Berth and the head in the front of the cabin.”

What had I gotten myself into, I thought?  This boat looked beyond salvageable, and I was now looking for excuses to leave. Ed then said, “Look; I know it seems bad, but it’s all cosmetic.  It’s really a fine boat, and if you’re willing to clean it up, it will look almost perfect when you’re done. Before Irv died, it was one of the best looking sailboats on the island.”

In ten more minutes we went back inside.  The damp air had been replaced with fresh air from outside, and I could now get a better look at the galley and salon.  The entire cabin was finished in a reddish brown, varnished wood, with nice trim work along the edges.  It had two single sofas in the main salon that converted into beds at night, with a stainless-steel sink, refrigerator and nice carpeting and curtains.  We then went forward.  The head was about 40’’ by 40’’ and finished in the same wood as the outer cabin.  The toilet, sink, and hand-held shower looked fine, and Ed assured me that as soon as we filled up the water tank, they would all work.

The best part for me though was the v-berth beyond.  It was behind a sold wood varnished door with a beautiful brass grab-rail that helped it open and close. It was large, with a sleeping area that would easily accommodate two people. That, combined with the other two sleeping berths in the main salon, meant that my entire family could spend the night on the boat. I was starting to get really interested!

Ed then said that Irv’s wife Dee Dee was as interested in the boat going to a good home as she was in making any money off the boat.  We walked back up to the cockpit area and sat down across from each other on each side of the tiller.  Ed said, “what do you think?” I admitted to Ed that I didn’t know much about sailboats, and that this would be my first.  He told me it was Irv’s first boat too, and he loved it so much that he never looked at another.

                   Ed Was A Pretty Good Salesman

We then walked back inside the house.  Betty had prepared chicken salad sandwiches, and we all sat out on the back deck to eat.  From here you could see the boat clearly, and its thirty-five-foot mast was now silhouetted in front of the sun that was setting behind the marsh.  It was a very pretty scene indeed.

Ed said,”Dee Dee has left it up to me to sell the boat.  I’m willing to be reasonable if you say you really want it.”  I looked out at what was once a white sailboat, covered in mold and sitting in the mud.  No matter how hard the wind blew, and there was a strong offshore breeze, it was not moving an inch.  I then said to Ed, “would it be possible to come back when the tide is up and you can take me out?”  Ed said he would be glad to, and Saturday around 2:00 p.m. would be a good time to come back. The tide would be up then.  I also asked him if between now and Saturday I could try and clean the boat up a little? This would allow me to really see what I would be buying, and at the very least we’d have a cleaner boat to take out on the water.  Ed said fine.

I spent the next four days cleaning the boat. Armed with four gallons of bleach, rubber gloves, a mask, and more rags than I could count, I started to remove the mold.  It took all week to get the boat free of the mildew and back to being white again. The cushions inside the v-berth and salon were so infested with mold that I threw them up on the stones covering Ed’s back yard. I then asked Ed if he wanted to throw them out — he said that he did.

Saturday came, and Betty had said, “make sure to get here in time for lunch.”  At 11:45 a.m. I pulled up in front of the house.  By this time, we knew each other so well that Betty just yelled down through the screen door, “Let yourself in, Ed’s down by the boat fiddling with the motor.”  The only good thing that had been done since Irv passed away last fall was that Ed had removed the motor from the boat. It was a long shaft Johnson 9.9 horsepower outboard, and he had stored it in his garage.  The motor was over twelve years old, but Ed said that Irv had taken really good care of it and that it ran great.  It was also a long shaft, which meant that the propeller was deep in the water behind the keel and would give the boat more propulsion than a regular shaft outboard would.

I yelled ‘hello’ to Ed from the deck outside the kitchen.  He shouted back, “Get down here, I want you to hear this.”  I ran down the stairs and out the back door across the stones to where Ed was sitting on the boat.  He had the twist throttle in his hand, and he was revving the motor. Just like he had said —it sounded great. Being a lifelong motorcycle and sports car enthusiast, I knew what a strong motor sounded like, and this one sounded just great to me.

“Take the throttle, Ed said,” as I jumped on board.  I revved the motor half a dozen times and then almost fell over.  The boat had just moved about twenty degrees to the starboard (right) side in the strong wind and for the first time was floating freely in the canal.  Now I really felt like I was on a boat.  Ed said, “Are you hungry, or do you wanna go sailing?”  Hoping that it wouldn’t offend Betty I said, “Let’s head out now into the deeper water.” Ed said that Betty would be just fine, and that we could eat when we got back.

As I untied the bow and stern lines, I could tell right away that Ed knew what he was doing.  After traveling less than 100 yards to the main channel leading to the bay, he put the mainsail up and we sailed from that point on.  It was two miles out to the ocean, and he skillfully maneuvered the boat, using nothing but the tiller and mainsheet.  The mainsheet is the block and pulley that is attached from the deck of the cockpit to the boom.  It allows the boom to go out and come back, which controls the speed of the boat. The tiller then allows you to change direction.  With the mainsheet in one hand and the tiller in the other, the magic of sailing was hard to describe.

I was mesmerized watching Ed work the tiller and mainsheet in perfect harmony. The outboard was now tilted back up in the cockpit and out of the water.  “For many years before he bought the motor, Irv and I would take her out, and bring her back in with nothing but the sail, One summer we had very little wind, and Irv and I got stuck out in the ocean. Twice we had to be towed back in by ‘Sea Tow.’  After that Irv broke down and bought the long-shaft Johnson.”

In about thirty minutes we passed through the ‘Great Bay,’ then the Little Egg and Beach Haven Inlets, until we were finally in the ocean.  “Only about 3016 miles straight out there, due East, and you’ll be in London,” Ed said.”  Then it hit me.  From where we were now, I could sail anywhere in the world, with nothing to stop me except my lack of experience. Experience I told myself, was something that I would quickly get. Knowing the exact mileage, said to me that both Ed and Irv had thought about that trip, and maybe had fantasized about doing it together.

    With The Tenuousness Of Life, You Never Know How Much      Time You Have

For two more hours we sailed up and down the coast in front of Long Beach Island.  I could hardly sit down in the cockpit as Ed let me do most of the sailing.  It took only thirty minutes to get the hang of using the mainsheet and tiller, and after an hour I felt like I had been sailing all my life.  Then we both heard a voice come over the radio.  Ed’s wife Betty was on channel 27 of the VHF asking if we were OK and that lunch was still there but the sandwiches were getting soggy.  Ed said we were headed back because the tide had started to go out, and we needed to be back and ******* in less than ninety minutes or we would run aground in the canal.

I sailed us back through the inlets which thankfully were calm that day and back into the main channel leading out of the bay.  Ed then took it from there.  He skillfully brought us up the rest of the channel and into the canal, and in a fairly stiff wind spun the boat 180’ around and gently slid it back into position along the sea wall behind his house.  I had all 3 fenders out and quickly jumped off the boat and up on top of the bulkhead to tie off the stern line once we were safely alongside.  I then tied off the bow-line as Ed said, “Not too tight, you have to allow for the 6-8 feet of tide that we get here every day.”

After bringing down the mainsail, and folding and zippering it safely to the boom, we locked the companionway and headed for the house.  Betty was smoking a cigarette on the back deck and said, “So how did it go boys?” Without saying a word Ed looked directly at me and for one of the few times in my life, I didn’t really know where to begin.

“My God,” I said.  “My God.”  “I’ll take that as good Betty said, as she brought the sandwiches back out from the kitchen.  “You can powerboat your whole life, but sailing is different” Ed told me.  “When sailing, you have to work with the weather and not just try to power through it.  The weather tells you everything.  In these parts, when a storm kicks up you see two sure things happen.  The powerboats are all coming in, and the sailboat’s are all headed out.  What is dangerous and unpleasant for the one, is just what the other hopes for.”

I had been a surfer as a kid and understood the logic.  When the waves got so big on the beach that the lifeguard’s closed it to swimming during a storm, the surfers all headed out.  This would not be the only similarity I would find between surfing and sailing as my odyssey continued.  I finished my lunch quickly because all I wanted to do was get back on the boat.

When I returned to the bulkhead the keel had already touched bottom and the boat was again fixed and rigidly upright in the shallow water.  I spent the afternoon on the back of the boat, and even though I knew it was bad luck, in my mind I changed her name.  She would now be called the ‘Trinity,’ because of the three who would now sail her —my daughter Melissa, my son T.C. and I.  I also thought that any protection I might get from the almighty because of the name couldn’t hurt a new sailor with still so much to learn.

                                  Trinity, It Was!

I now knew I was going to buy the boat.  I went back inside and Ed was fooling around with some fishing tackle inside his garage.  “OK Ed, how much can I buy her for?” I said.  Ed looked at me squarely and said, “You tell me what you think is fair.”  “Five thousand I said,” and without even looking up Ed said “SOLD!” I wrote the check out to Irv’s wife on the spot, and in that instant it became real. I was now a boat owner, and a future deep-water sailor.  The Atlantic Ocean had better watch out, because the Captain and crew of the Trinity were headed her way.

                 SOLD, In An Instant, It Became Real!

I couldn’t wait to get home and tell the kids the news.  They hadn’t seen much of me for the last week, and they both wanted to run right back and take the boat out.  I told them we could do it tomorrow (Sunday) and called Ed to ask him if he’d accompany us one more time on a trip out through the bay.  He said gladly, and to get to his house by 3:00 p.m. tomorrow to ‘play the tide.’  The kids could hardly sleep as they fired one question after another at me about the boat. More than anything, they wanted to know how we would get it the 45 miles from where it was docked to the boat slip behind our condo in Stone Harbor.  At dinner that night at our favorite Italian restaurant, they were already talking about the boat like it was theirs.

The next morning, they were both up at dawn, and by 8:30 we were on our way North to Mystic Island.  We had decided to stop at a marine supply store and buy a laundry list of things that mariners need ‘just in case’ aboard a boat.  At 11:15 a.m. we pulled out of the parking lot of Boaters World in Somers Point, New Jersey, and headed for Ed and Betty’s. They were both sitting in lawn chairs when we got there and surprised to see us so early.  ‘The tide’s not up for another 3 hours,” Ed said, as we walked up the drive.  I told him we knew that, but the kids wanted to spend a couple of hours on the boat before we headed out into the bay.  “Glad to have you kids,” Ed said, as he went back to reading his paper.  Betty told us that anything that we might need, other than what we just bought, is most likely in the garage.

Ed, being a professional maintenance engineer (what Betty called him), had a garage that any handyman would die for.  I’m sure we could have built an entire house on the empty lot across the street just from what Ed had hanging, and piled up, in his garage.

We walked around the side of the house and when the kids got their first look at the boat, they bolted for what they thought was a dock.  When they saw it was raw bulkhead, they looked back at me unsure of what to do.  I said, ‘jump aboard,” but be careful not to fall in, smiling to myself and knowing that the water was still less than four feet deep.  With that, my 8-year old son took a flying leap and landed dead center in the middle of the cockpit — a true sailor for sure.  My daughter then pulled the bow line tight bringing the boat closer to the sea wall and gingerly stepped on board like she had done it a thousand times before. Watching them board the boat for the first time, I knew this was the start of something really good.

Ed had already unlocked the companionway, so I stayed on dry land and just watched them for a half-hour as they explored every inch of the boat from bow to stern. “You really did a great job Dad cleaning her up.  Can we start the motor, my son asked?” I told him as soon as the tide came up another foot, we would drop the motor down into the water, and he could listen to it run.  So far this was everything I could have hoped for.  My kids loved the boat as much as I did.  I had had the local marine artist come by after I left the day before and paint the name ‘Trinity’ across the outside transom on the back of the boat. Now this boat was really ours. It’s hard to explain the thrill of finally owning your first boat. To those who can remember their first Christmas when they finally got what they had been hoping for all year —the feeling was the same.

                            It Was Finally Ours

In another hour, Ed came out. We fired up the motor with my son in charge, unzipped the mainsail, untied the lines, and we were headed back out to sea.  I’m not sure what was wider that day, the blue water vista straight in front of us or the eyes of my children as the boat bit into the wind. It was keeled over to port and carved through the choppy waters of ‘The Great Bay’ like it was finally home. For the first time in a long time the kids were speechless.  They let the wind do the talking, as the channel opened wide in front of them.

Ed let both kids take a turn at the helm. They were also amazed at how much their father had learned in the short time he had been sailing.  We stayed out for a full three hours, and then Betty again called on the VHF. “Coast Guards calling for a squall, with small craft warnings from five o’clock on.  For safety’s sake, you guy’s better head back for the dock.”  Ed and I smiled at each other, each knowing what the other was secretly thinking.  If the kids hadn’t been on board, this would have been a really fun time to ride out the storm.  Discretion though, won out over valor, and we headed West back through the bay and into the canal. Once again, Ed spun the boat around and nudged it into the sea wall like the master that he was.  This time my son was in charge of grabbing and tying off the lines, and he did it in a fashion that would make any father proud.

As we tidied up the boat, Ed said, “So when are you gonna take her South?”  “Next weekend, I said.” My business partner, who lives on his 42’ Egg Harbor in Cape May all summer and his oldest son are going to help us.  His oldest son Tony had worked on an 82’ sightseeing sailboat in Fort Lauderdale for two years, and his dad said there was little about sailing that he didn’t know.  That following Saturday couldn’t come fast enough/

                          We Counted The Minutes

The week blew by (literally), as the weather deteriorated with each day.  Saturday morning came, and the only good news (to me) was that my daughter had a gymnastic’s meet and couldn’t make the maiden voyage. The crew would be all men —my partner Tommy, his son Tony, and my son T.C. and I. We checked the tides, and it was decided that 9:30 a.m. was the perfect time to start South with the Trinity.  We left for Ed and Betty’s at 7:00 a.m. and after stopping at ‘Polly’s’ in Stone Harbor for breakfast we arrived at the boat at exactly 8:45.  It was already floating freely in the narrow canal. Not having Ed’s skill level, we decided to ‘motor’ off the bulkhead, and not put the sails up until we reached the main bay.  With a kiss to Betty and a hug from Ed, we broke a bottle of ‘Castellane Brut’ on the bulkhead and headed out of the canal.

Once in the main bay we noticed something we hadn’t seen before. We couldn’t see at all!  The buoy markers were scarcely visibly that lined both sides of the channel. We decided to go South ‘inside,’ through the Intercoastal Waterway instead of sailing outside (ocean) to Townsends Inlet where we initially decided to come in.  This meant that we would have to request at least 15 bridge openings on our way south.  This was a tricky enough procedure in a powerboat, but in a sailboat it could be a disaster in the making.  The Intercoastal Waterway was the back-bay route from Maine to Florida and offered protection that the open ocean would not guarantee. It had the mainland to its West and the barrier island you were passing to its East.  If it weren’t for the number of causeway bridges along its route, it would have been the perfect sail.

When you signaled to the bridge tender with your air horn, requesting an opening, it could sometimes take 10 or 15 minutes for him to get traffic stopped on the bridge before he could then open it up and let you through.  On Saturdays, it was worse. In three cases we waited and circled for twenty minutes before being given clear passage through the bridge.  Sailboats have the right of way over powerboats but only when they’re under sail. We had decided to take the sails down to make the boat easier to control.  By using the outboard we were just like any other powerboat waiting to get through, and often had to bob and weave around the waiting ‘stinkpots’ (powerboats) until the passage under the bridge was clear.  The mast on the Trinity was higher than even the tallest bridge, so we had to stop and signal to each one requesting an opening as we traveled slowly South.

All went reasonably well until we arrived at the main bridge entering Atlantic City. The rebuilt casino skyline hovered above the bridge like a looming monster in the fog.  This was also the bridge with the most traffic coming into town with weekend gamblers risking their mortgage money to try and break the bank.  The wind had now increased to over 30 knots.  This made staying in the same place in the water impossible. We desperately criss-crossed from side to side in the canal trying to stay in position for when the bridge opened. Larger boats blew their horns at us, as we drifted back and forth in the channel looking like a crew of drunks on New Year’s Eve.  Powerboats are able to maintain their position because they have large motors with a strong reverse gear.  Our little 9.9 Johnson did have reverse, but it didn’t have nearly enough power to back us up against the tide.

On our third pass zig-zagging across the channel and waiting for the bridge to open, it happened.  Instead of hearing the bell from the bridge tender signaling ‘all clear,’ we heard a loud “SNAP.’ Tony was at the helm, and from the front of the boat where I was standing lookout I heard him shout “OH S#!T.”  The wooden tiller had just broken off in his hand.


Tony was sitting down at the helm with over three feet of broken tiller in his left hand.  The part that still remained and was connected to the rudder was less than 12 inches long.  Tony tried with all of his might to steer the boat with the little of the tiller that was still left, but it was impossible in the strong wind.  He then tried to steer the boat by turning the outboard both left and right and gunning the motor.  This only made a small correction, and we were now headed back across the Intercoastal Waterway with the wind behind us at over thirty knots.  We were also on a collision course with the bridge.  The only question was where we would hit it, not when! We hoped and prayed it would be as far to the Eastern (Atlantic City) side as possible.  This would be away from the long line of boats that were patiently lined up and waiting for the bridge to open.

Everything on the boat now took on a different air.  Tony was screaming that he couldn’t steer, and my son came up from down below where he was staying out of the rain. With one look he knew we were in deep trouble.  It was then that my priorities completely shifted from the safety of my new (old) boat to the safety of my son and the rest of those onboard.  My partner Tommy got on the radio’s public channel and warned everyone in the area that we were out of control.  Several power boaters tried to throw us a line, but in the strong wind they couldn’t get close enough to do it safely.

We were now less than 100 feet from the bridge.  It looked like we would hit about seven pylons left of dead center in the middle of the bridge on the North side.  As we braced for impact, a small 16 ft Sea Ray with an elderly couple came close and tried to take my son off the boat.  Unfortunately, they got too close and the swirling current around the bridge piers ****** them in, and they also hit the bridge about thirty feet to our left. Thank God, they did have enough power to ‘motor’ off the twenty-foot high pier they had hit but not without doing cosmetic damage to the starboard side of their beautiful little boat. I felt terrible about this and yelled ‘THANK YOU’ across the wind and the rushing water.  They waved back, as they headed North against the tide, back up the canal.

      The Kindness Of Strangers Continues To Amaze Me!

BANG !!!  That’s the sound the boat made when it hit the bridge.  We were now sideways in the current, and the first thing to hit was not the mast but the starboard side ‘stay’ that holds the mast up.  Stays are made of very thick wire, and even though the impact was at over ten knots, the stay held secure and did not break.  We were now pinned against the North side of the bridge, with the current swirling by us, and the boat being pulled slowly through the opening between the piers.  The current was pulling the boat and forcing it to lean over with the mast pointing North. If it continued to do this, we would finally broach (turn over) and all be in the water and floating South toward the beach towns of Margate and Ventnor.  The width between the piers was over thirty feet, so there was plenty of room to **** us in and then down, as the water had now assumed command.

It was at this moment that I tied my Son to myself.  He was a good swimmer and had been on our local swim team for the past three summers, but this was no pool.  There were stories every summer of boaters who got into trouble and had to go in the water, and many times someone drowned or was never found or seen again.  The mast was now leaned over and rubbing against the inside of the bridge.  

The noise it made moving back and forth was louder than even the strong wind.  Over the noise from the mast I heard Tommy shout, “Kurt, the stay is cutting through the insulation on the main wire that is the power source to the bridge. If it gets all the way through to the inside, the whole boat will be electrified, and we’ll go up like a roman candle.”  I reluctantly looked up and he was right.  The stay looked like it was more than half-way through the heavy rubber insulation that was wrapped around the enormous cable that ran horizontally inside and under the entire span of the bridge.  I told Tommy to get on the VHF and alert the Coast Guard to what was happening.  I also considered jumping overboard with my son in my arms and tied to me hoping that someone would then pull us out of the water if we made it through the piers. I couldn’t leave though, because my partner couldn’t swim.

Even though Tommy had been a life-long boater, he had never learned to swim.  He grew up not far from the banks of the Mississippi River in Hardin Illinois and still hadn’t learned.  I couldn’t just leave him on the boat. We continued to stay trapped in between the piers as the metal wire stay worked its way back and forth across the insulated casing above.

In another fifteen minutes, two Coast Guard crews showed up in gigantic rubber boats.  Both had command towers up high and a crew of at least 8 on board.  They tried to get close enough to throw us a line but each time failed and had to motor away against the tide at full throttle to miss the bridge.  The wake from their huge twin outboards forced us even further under the bridge, and the port side rail of the Trinity was now less than a foot above the water line.

              Why Had I Changed The Name Of This Boat?

The I heard it again, BAMMM !  I looked up and saw nothing.  It all looked like it had before.  The Coast Guard boat closest to us came across on the bullhorn. “Don’t touch anything metal, you’ve cut through the insulation and are now in contact with the power source.  The boat is electrified, but if you stay still, the fiberglass and water will act as a buffer and insulation.  We can’t even touch or get near you now until the power gets turned off to the bridge.”  

We all stood in the middle of the cockpit as far away from anything metal as possible.  I reached into the left storage locker where the two plastic gas containers were and tightened the filler caps. I then threw both of them overboard.  They both floated harmlessly through the bridge where a third Coast Guard boat now retrieved them about 100 yards further down the bay.  At least now I wouldn’t have to worry about the two fifteen-gallon gas cans exploding if the electrical current ever got that far.

For a long twenty minutes we sat there huddled together as the Coast Guard kept yelling at us not to touch anything at all.  Just as I thought the boat was going under, everything seemed to go dark.  Even though it was early afternoon, the fog was so heavy that the lights on the bridge had been turned on.  Now in an instant, they were off.

                               All Lights Were Off

I saw the first Coast Guard boat turn around and then try to slowly drift our way backward. They were going to try and get us out from between the piers before we sank.  Three times they tried and three times again they failed.  Finally, two men in a large cigarette boat came flying at us. With those huge motors keeping them off the bridge, they took everyone off the Trinity, while giving me two lines to tie to both the bow and the stern. They then pulled up alongside the first large inflatable and handed the two lines to the Coast Guard crew.  After that, they backed off into the center of the channel to see what the Coast Guard would do next.

The second Coast Guard boat was now positioned beside the first with its back also facing the bridge.  They each had one of the lines tied to my boat now secured to cleats on their rear decks.  Slowly they motored forward as the Trinity emerged from its tomb inside the piers.  In less than fifteen seconds, the thirty-year boat old was free of the bridge.  With that, the Coast Guard boat holding the stern line let go and the sailboat turned around with the bow now facing the back of the first inflatable. The Captain continued to tow her until she was alongside the ‘Sea Tow’ service vessel that I hadn’t noticed until now.  The Captain on the Sea Tow rig said that he would tow the boat into Somers Point Marina.  That was the closest place he knew of that could make any sailboat repairs.

We thanked the owners of the cigarette boat and found out that they were both ex-navy seals.  ‘If they don’t die hard, some never die at all,’ and thank God for our nation’s true warriors. They dropped us off on Coast Guard Boat #1, and after spending about 10 minutes with the crew, the Captain asked me to come up on the bridge.  He had a mound of papers for me to fill out and then asked me if everyone was OK. “A little shook up,’” I said, “but we’re all basically alright.” I then asked this ‘weekend warrior’ if he had ever seen the movie ‘Top Gun.’  With his chest pushed out proudly he said that he had, and that it was one of his all-time favorites.

            ‘If They Don’t Die hard, Some Never Die At All’

I reminded him of the scene when the Coast Guard rescue team dropped into the rough waters of the Pacific to retrieve ‘Goose,’ who had just hit the canopy of his jet as he was trying to eject.  With his chest still pumped out, he said again proudly that he did. “Well, I guess that only happens in the movies, right Captain,” I said, as he turned back to his paperwork and looked away.

His crew had already told me down below that they wanted to approach the bridge broadside and take us off an hour ago but that the Captain had said no, it was too dangerous!  They also said that after his tour was over in 3 more months, no one would ever sail with him again.  He was the only one on-board without any real active-duty service, and he always shied away from doing the right thing when the weather was rough.  He had refused to go just three more miles last winter to rescue two fishermen off a sinking trawler forty miles offshore.  Both men died because he had said that the weather was just “too rough.”

                     ‘A True Weekend Only Warrior’

We all sat with the crew down below as they entertained my son and gave us hot coffee and offered medical help if needed.  Thankfully, we were all fine, but the coffee never tasted so good.  As we pulled into the marina in Somers Point, the Trinity was already there and tied to the service dock.  After all she had been through, she didn’t look any the worse for wear.  It was just then that I realized that I still hadn’t called my wife.  I could have called from the Coast Guard boat, but in the commotion of the moment, I had totally forgotten.

When I got through to her on the Marina’s pay phone, she said,  “Oh Dear God, we’ve been watching you on the news. Do you know you had the power turned off to all of Atlantic City for over an hour?”  After hanging up, I thought to myself —"I wonder what our little excursion must have cost the casino’s,” but then I thought that they probably had back up generation for something just like this, but then again —maybe not.

I asked my wife to come pick us up and noticed that my son was already down at the service dock and sitting on the back of his ‘new’ sailboat.  He said, “Dad, do you think she’ll be alright?” and I said to him, “Son, she’ll be even better than that. If she could go through what happened today and remain above water, she can go through anything — and so can you.  I’m really proud of the way you handled yourself today.”

My Son is now almost thirty years old, and we talk about that day often. The memory of hitting the bridge and surviving is something we will forever share.  As a family, we continued to sail the Trinity for many years until our interests moved to Wyoming.  We then placed the Trinity in the capable hands of our neighbor Bobby, next door, who sails her to this day.

All through those years though, and especially during the Stone Harbor Regatta over the Fourth of July weekend, there was no mistaking our crew when you saw us coming through your back basin in the ‘Parade of Ships.’  Everyone aboard was dressed in a red polo shirt, and if you happened to look at any of us from behind, you would have seen …

                               ‘The Crew Of The Trinity’  
                         FULL CONTACT SAILING ONLY!
Kurt Philip Behm
Written by
Kurt Philip Behm
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