The Judith C
“Hold on!” dad said, in a calm but urgent sort of way. I took my right hand off the reel but not my eye off the tip of the fishing pole – bent hard with a sizable fish giving a good fight. I quickly grabbed the bar holding the windshield of the center console as dad gunned the throttle. I knew that we were about to be hit by yet another wave but what happened next, I wasn’t prepared for. Suddenly, I felt the plexiglass windshield crushing my knuckles as a massive wave crested and crashed into the boat. I was standing knee deep in sea water, soaked from head to toe. My fish was gone and the line was wrapped between the two engines. I was a little stunned as I’ve never seen that much water fill our boat. When I finally looked at dad who was equally soaked but slightly relieved – probably because we were both still standing and not swimming – said, “Come on! Lines up! Let’s get out of here!” We were fishing the notoriously rough Moriches Inlet but were nearly capsized if not for the quick thinking, keen eye and experienced captain that was at the helm of our 22 foot Mako – the “Judith C”. The boat was a classic center console fishing craft – no facilities, galley or bunks – just a hardcore fishing vessel. We had a couple of boats prior, but this one was the only one dad named after mom – so I knew it was a keeper. And on that summer afternoon in the Moriches Inlet, she proved her worth. Dad never bragged much but he boasted about how few boats could take on a wave that size and come through in one piece.
That was just one of the many adventures I shared with my dad and the bond for us, at the time, was that boat on the East End of Long Island. There were times of lighthearted fun as dad once showed me what happens when he placed his beer can (which was made of steel in those days) next to the boat compass. The needle came off its North heading and moved toward the can. With a big smile on his face, he proclaimed “See? That’s why you don’t drink and drive!” I remember so many incredibly exciting days. Dad could spot the splashing of fishtails hitting the surface of the water what seemed like a mile away. Suddenly, we’d be at full throttle toward the school of Bluefish feeding on smaller bait fish. He’d get the boat close enough to reach the fish with a spin rod, casting a shiny lure right in the middle of the feeding frenzy – pulling in one fish after another. It made my heart race – just like the time, while underway, a whale surfaced right alongside to take a quick look at us. I never felt so insignificant and wondered how many more were under us. Luckily, dad was always aware of the dangers on the water. One time, somewhere off the Point on a relatively calm and overcast day, he yelled “Lines up!” at my brother and me. Dad saw a fog rolling in toward us and used all the power those twin 65 HP outboards could deliver. As we sped full throttle, I watched that fog nearly engulf us as we just made the rocky inlet and safety of Lake Montauk.
Back in those days, Montauk had a rustic simplicity. Although just fourteen miles down the road from East Hampton, the two towns could not be further apart. Driving through the Hamptons just after midnight one Friday, much to my surprise, people were everywhere – strolling, socializing, window shopping – even the bakery was open for late night pastries and cappuccino. Just about twenty minutes later, Montauk was fast asleep with not a soul out or about. Off season, the town was sparse – comprised mainly of surfers and fisherman. We once had to wait until 10am on a Sunday morning for the gas station to open so we could fill up our 1967 Buick Station Wagon before heading home. Dad’s favorite restaurant was the Blue Marlin and it was there that I ordered and drank my first beer with him.
Each fall, the Tournament of the Full Moon was our final fishing expedition for the year. The two-day Striped Bass fishing tournament was hosted by the Montauk Deep Sea Club. And as the name implies, “Full Moon” means we were fishing at night – off the coast of Montauk Point, late October, windy and cold, rain or moonlight! On one late night, my brother and I were wrapped in the boat canvas trying to stay warm, half asleep when we heard the excitement of my father pulling in the largest striped bass I’d ever seen. We thought we had won the tournament but another angler had us beat by just a few pounds. It didn’t matter, mom made another delicious meal out of it so for me, dad won.
We didn’t live in Montauk year round but it’s where I grew up. It’s where dad taught us how to clean and filet the fish we caught. It’s where my parents would buy property and build a second home to spend the summers. It’s where my parents exposed my sister and three brothers to what I consider the most simple and beautiful part of Long Island. It’s the place I continue to visit and feel most at peace. It’s the place my wife and I take our four kids to experience the East End and all its natural beauty. It’s the place where I hope our kids will bring their own children and tell them all the stories about how they came to be at the East End of Long Island – how it all started with a boat named the Judith C.