The Boat People
Nestled on the end of the Island way past the who’s who, the old money, the grand McMansions and the beautiful people lays a haven for a little known culture that has become a part of the land and of the sea. It is unlikely that you have even noticed their presence as they blend into the scenery so innocuously.
It has been more than 20 years since I succumbed to the charms of these strange folk. I had fallen helplessly in love with one of the clan and was lured unwittingly onto the deck of his boat so aptly named Tag Team. Once in their grasp it is almost impossible to break free of the charm that has been cast. You become one of them and they become part of you. They are the boat people.
I was introduced slowly into the lifestyle so as not to tear me away from the understated glamour of the village of Montauk. Afternoon rides turned into trolling for bass. Sleeping on the boat was easier than fighting for a vacancy and grabbing breakfast at Gaviolas market was much more practical. As the years progressed I married into the boat family. They were a part of our lives and they came from virtually every walk of life. Throughout the entire year our lives began to revolve around that which bonded us.
For the boat people every season has its’ place. At the first signs of spring the sailors hoist their main sheets to catch the wind and every fisherman knows that when the forsythia is in bloom that the flounder are running. At the first thaw the race is on. It becomes a symphony as the boats await, wrapped like brand new toys in plastic, to be once again opened for the season. Year after year good old Henry Uhlein greets each of the well known faces with a wave and a smile, for he knows each one of the boat people and knows their vessels. The boat yards are bustling with men painting and sanding, shining and priming. Ships great and small prepare their grand entrance into the great Atlantic to meet her at her greatest harbor. They have waited all winter for this and have traveled from great distances.
By May most have secured their place in the harbor. Old friends reunite. The star filled nights at the harbor resemble a campsite. Here on the dock beneath the black star filled Montauk sky is a glass harbor. Late into the evening beyond the glow of distant lights from local homes you will hear rising above the chatter of crickets the sound of the boat people. At first it sounds like distant laughter , but if you set foot onto the dock you will see that they are friends and family, the very wealthy side by side with the working guy. They are all sharing the tales of the day and together they break bread, they drink and for the time they are there they forget how society has defined them . They drink in the land of Montauk and the great ocean. By the end of May comes a great celebration . It is the blessing of the fleet. On this great day the boat people come together motoring and sailing alike past the mouth of the harbor for the blessing that awaits. Both priest and rabbi await to bestow the blessing as hundreds of boats rush out to start the season. Once it is done the season has begun. The day is spent in great celebration. The boat people play in their open water and baptize each other . The water guns come out, they play like dolphins in the ocean rifts. For the remainder of the summer the boat people huddle together in their makeshift village. They become a family.
As autumn’s cool shadow descends upon the dock the boats slowly, reluctantly start to come out of the water. Although for those that remain there is still, arguably, the best fishing of the season to be had, most have started the process of securing their spot on dry dock for the winter ahead. It is a sad but brief time in the year. The millionaire business owner shakes the hand of the tile worker at the conclusion of the summer because they have shared their lives for another season in the society of the boat people. Their bond is unlike any other.