Written By: E. Sayre  De Castro

Doug asks me “How did you lose yours?” I lean in closer as the diesel powering his sailboat made enough noise to make it difficult to hear. We were going to New Suffolk for the race and I could see Holm’s Hill in the distance. “I lost mine in the summer of 1974 with Louise.” I tell him. We were on the water a lot that summer, I was lucky my Dad, a semi-retired Captain in the Merchant Marine decided to be the Chief Skipper for all the research vessels at the New York Ocean Science Laboratory at the old WW2 compound on Montauk’s Fort Pond Bay. There were several vessels donated or purchased that then were converted to the cause of Marine Research. One was a 1922 stern Otter Trawler. After I spent some time sanding off the lead paint and applying a finish coat, we were ready to take her out and figure how to trawl for fish. You see, the lab had extensive salt water fishes and even lobsters, and all this marine life needed their favorite food – fish. Neither my Dad nor I were fishermen but he talked to some at Montauk and figured out the fundamentals. The Otter Trawler was working on its second engine installed in the 1950’s and as we powered out from the lab, I was in a hazy stupor from being out the night before at a smoke filled nightclub that played their imitation Kiss too loud. I kept wondering how can it be that people meet each other at night clubs? There are always more guys than girls, the music so loud no one can hear each other, and the air acid with all that cigarette smoke being exhaled. However, unbeknownst to me, this would be the summer I would lose it, and now looking back it makes sense as to how events conspired to make it happen. Our first haul of fish went surprisingly well, we didn’t tangle the lines and even for this short trial, pulled up a few dozen fish in our nets. Later, my Dad and some of the scientists take the leaky vessel over to Long Island Sound to record a substantial catch. My job was to bring the old rusty Chevy Suburban to Orient Point to transfer the fish, and then drive back to the lab in Montauk. Indeed, after I filled up several large tubs with the still wiggling fish, my Dad, one other scientist, and I start to drive. I’m doing about 50 on a tree lined North Fork road. The old Suburban is creaky and struggling to move what must have been at least a ton of fish. The scientist is in the seat behind us and thankfully the road is straight. A loud, cracking sound breaks our silence and I instinctively apply the break. Except I am not breaking. In fact, it feels as if I cannot steer either. My Dad quickly figures out something is wrong and braces himself for the worse by putting his feet on the dashboard. The whole suburban screeches making horrific noises. Without control the vehicle picks a gradual vector that has us heading right into a group of well-established oaks. My Dad sees the panic in my face and there is nothing I can do as I visualize a head on with an oak and one ton of fish finishing us off from behind. Miraculously our long drawn out skid halts about ten feet from impact. Although the engine restarts, I cannot get the car to move. Apparently the frame had cracked and locked up the tires and brakes. Just as the Suburban had issues, that Otter Trawler would break down frequently too and we often had to dock at Greenport for repairs. Every other day I had to drive around to make sure the bilge pumps still worked – otherwise she wouldn’t last 48 hours afloat. One weekend I ask Robin to join me. Robin was a year younger than me and had long wavy blond hair and blue eyes. We knew each other from school and while I was way too shy to ask her out for a date, it seemed easier to ask her to keep me company on the long ride around, especially since Rick would be with us and he was the far more desirable of the two. On board we clamber below decks and check the bilge for the usual amount of water. They are all fascinated about how small the living space is with the two births wedged up in the bow with thin foam mattresses. It smells of a lifetime of fish parts, diesel, oil, and wet wood. But Robin was very curious and took it all in; commenting on the play-house galley with the single burner cook top. Although still summer, the August sun is setting earlier and a golden light begins to permeate the air. Robin opens the small door to the head and catches her reflection in an aged mirror above a sink just small enough to fit a pair of hands. As I walk by I see her reflection and she is looking at herself. Like all the other guys I am drawn into her moon shaped face and inviting eyes. Her skin picks up the golden tone and my mind’s camera records this momentary scene. We head back in my Dad’s green Ford 150 pickup truck, Robin in the middle. The thing about the Louise is that the engine required a shot of ether in the air intake to get it going, and that was my job as my Father hit the starter button. When she eventually gets going the roar of noise in her engine room was deafening. The muffler was holey and we did not get around to applying an asbestos patch until the end of the summer, so a few times a week I would be spraying the sweet smelling ether in and yelling to my Dad to “hit it.” This daytime thunderous activity was inevitably coupled with late nights at the East End night clubs that played music loud. At the clubs we were all looking for the same thing – someone to be with – and never realized it wouldn’t be found there. So the summer of 1974 was when I lost it I tell Doug. That was the summer of loud – and only now, 40 years later, do I realize that the events of those few months conspired to diminish a critical faculty.