Mel (4th from left) and her family aboard
Sevenwyts III when she was 16.
Mel and Tom heading down the Chesapeake
Bay on a winter day on their Gulfstar 41.
Mel in the first Chez Nous, a Tartan 27.
The sisters found this talk mildly interesting, and of course he could
hear them. They were teenage girls, after all, and this character at their
dock was quite different from the preppy sons of their parents’ friends
on the other yachts. More importantly, he was a guy whom their parents
didn’t hold in very high regard, so he created a great formula to attract their
attention. Giggling, they gathered themselves up and walked over to check
him out. They weren’t disappointed. He was every bit as scruffy as they’d
hoped. His boat was even worse. Looking like it had sunk on numerous
occasions, the stern was high, and the bow low, because of a cabin he’d
built from scrap plywood, about seven feet long, nailed and screwed to the
bow. “All the leaks in the boat must run downhill into that cabin,” joked
one of the girls’ newly arrived boyfriends. “I bet that’s where he sleeps.”
The boy quickly took care of the business of refueling. He was accus-
tomed to being different, but every once in a while, particularly at times
like this, he felt, well, a little awkward. He paid for the gas and started his
old 25-horse Evinrude, his feet slipping in the oily bilge as he pulled the
cord, much to the amusement of the kids on the dock. One of the girls
watching — she couldn’t have been more than 14, and a bit more rebel-
lious than some of the others — looked intrigued as the boy in the boat
plowed out the inlet, and she noticed that he got a good drenching as a
yacht sped in, throwing spray and wake.
Relieved to be away from the gas dock, the boy made his way out of
the marina, then opened up the throttle and sped out into the bay, feeling much more comfortable. He loved boats more than anything in the
world, and out here, this was where he fit in. His destination on this trip
was Tangier Island, a voyage that would take several days, each way. His
boat was slow, the motor old, and he had to make occasional detours up
rivers and into marinas to get gas. At $0.25 a gallon, he could ill afford it,
and he’d have to stop several times a day to pour gas from a jug into the
motor’s six-gallon tank, mixing oil, and trying not to spill it into the bilge
as the boat sloshed about in the waves. The gas in the bilge would evaporate, leaving only its smell, but the oil remained forever. His bare feet were
soaked in oil and gas and, unless he put on tennis shoes — which he did
to go into a marina store — he left a track of greasy footprints.
At night, he’d work the boat up into one of the creeks on the shore of
the bay, finding his way in through the shoals, often rowing or poling with
his motor cocked up, and anchor in the marsh. The smell of the marsh
was rich, and he loved it. Gigantic, vicious mosquitoes swarmed the small
boat, but the smell of gas and oil in the bilge, and the smoke from the
kerosene lamp in the cabin, kept most of them back in the darkness.
Some years later, after working through the summers and on weekends
in the winters, and saving his money — always to buy a bigger boat or
more equipment — the boy would progress to an 18-foot Glasspar Seafair
Sedan. It was the boat of his dreams because it was fiberglass, the first boat
he’d had that didn’t leak, or wasn’t rotting. It had comfortable bunks in the
little cabin, windows on three sides, and even a head under the V between
the bunks. There was a real wheel, a seat, a windshield, and controls with
cables running aft to the engine. The bimini and windshield actually kept
him fairly dry at the helm in the rain, and provided an area where he could
prepare gourmet Spam on a two-burner Coleman gas stove.
But the controls ran aft to that same old Evinrude. He hadn’t been
able to stump for a new engine, too. It pushed this boat much faster, but
it still gulped gas and he still had to carry the gas in jugs. As before, he’d
refill the six-gallon tank from jugs, mixing oil as the boat slopped around