As young newlyweds, my husband and I loved the simple ocean views, swooping gulls, and colorful kites on Ditch Plains Beach, Montauk. In August 1989, we bought a home on Long Island, and took regular vacations on the East End. As we packed up our two young boys, a cat, two dogs, and two grand pianos, I babbled on about how we would spend fun times on the water together. I dreamed of a magnificent sailboat, gliding by the sandy beach motels and rounding the Montauk lighthouse in time for a dramatic sunset.
In pursuit of this dream, all four of us took courses in boating safety and sailing. Our first family “boating incident” occurred at a car dealership when my husband asked the sales person if the model we were interested in could pull a boat. The sales person asked, “What kind of boat do you have?” My husband quietly answered, “Uh (hesitation), we don’t have a boat…yet.”
The next weekend, we surfed Newsday ads and went shopping. We brought home a well-worn 8-foot blue and white wooden rowboat. Equipped with paddles and life jackets, we took it to Satterley Landing behind Mount Sinai Harbor, a calm, safe inlet for an inaugural launch. On our first outing, the tide dragged us as far as the fishing dock, where I hopped out and pulled the skiff to shore so we wouldn’t end up in the Sound. Over time the little boat provided many adventures, mostly having to do with transporting it to and from Cedar Beach and figuring out how to tie it down so it wouldn‘t be carried away at high tide. We spent a fortune on chains, ropes and locks, and sometimes even got the boat out on the water to admire the horse-shoe crabs.
A year later, we tried again. Our sons took sailing lessons at the Setauket Yacht Club in Port Jeff Harbor. They became quite proficient at tacking and jibing but preferred to catch the wind and head straight toward Danford’s dock, turning at the last minute to avoid the behemoth Bridgeport Ferry. Dave, our older boy, continued his dare devil sailing until he clipped a magnificent yacht and received a well-deserved scolding from its owner. His blue-jay days were no longer quite as fun.
Undeterred, we set our sights on bigger fish, out at “The End.” Montauk captains sailed us out to see whales, and experience chartered fishing and schooner sunsets Dramamine made these outings tolerable and even enjoyable at times. However, we were stubborn and wanted to ‘captain’ a boat on our own. We rented a motor boat on the Lake in Montauk. All four of us climbed on board, like Gilligan and his guests. No sooner were we out in the middle of the lake, still learning how to maneuver the boat, when strong winds stirred up white caps and dark clouds moved in. The rough waters pushed us to the far side of the lake as we realized that we had little control over where we were headed. To add to our concerns, we noticed a sailboat top-sided with its lone passenger in the water. The upside-down boat was tossed in the waves and the wind, and it was clear that the man, also at the water’s mercy, was in dire straits.
Our coordinated, knowledgeable, seafaring family got to work. Jared ran and hid under the dashboard afraid we’d capsize too. “We have to pull the man on board,” I called over the wind to Manny who was huddled over against the impending storm, rationalizing how doing this would be dangerous both for us and the other boater. While we argued about what to do, our boat was blown further away from the rental cabin which had sent out a “rescue” boat, now slowly making its way across the lake.
Dave and I were able to reach over and get hold of the other boater who flopped over onto our deck, never letting go of the loose pieces of his sunfish which he still hoped to salvage. Somehow, we tethered the small sailing craft to our boat and dragged it to a nearby dock. As we approached, the rescue boat came alongside and reprimanded us for the dangerous situation we were creating by getting so close to a private dock in rough waters and taking on a stranded boater without the required experience.
Meanwhile, our passenger scooped up what he could and disappeared to shore. Obediently, we followed the rescue boat to the dock in town. All-in-all, it was an exciting family outing, but since then, we always cross the street and walk away from the rental hut when we’re in Montauk. We’re pretty sure they’ve got our names and pictures on a never-rent-again list!
Now my sons are 36 and 34 years old. One lives in Patchogue and the other in Sag Harbor. Between us we have two canoes and a kayak. I accept that my dream of a large sailboat taking us from the Great South Bay, past Ditch Plains Beach around the Montauk Lighthouse to watch the sunset is but a fantasy. That said, for the past twenty-seven years, I have taken an annual picture of our sons in front of the anchor at Gosman’s dock. Before doing so, we greet the seagulls as they snatch our French Fries. We let soft ice cream drip down our sugar cones as we walk past the wooden sailboat, and the toy store toward Gosman’s fish-market and the anchor. In town, we go to check out the Malibu Motel, where, before it was sold, we spent many summer vacations barbecuing, hanging wet beach towels from the railings, petting the owner’s friendly black poodle, Brandi, and enjoying the sandy, beachy balconies overlooking the ocean. Our family many be the worst boating team, but we all agree that the East End owns our fondest memories and happiest times together. And, by the way,
For Sale: 16-foot Old Town canoe, green. Sorry, you’ll have to supply one of your own paddles.