By Joe Butera
I was becoming increasingly annoyed with the long wait for the club tender to return to the dock and bring me out to my boat. The dog-day heat was melting my freshly purchased ice and the launch was nowhere in sight. I dreamily gazed out at the fleet in the August haze and began to take a trip in the way-back machine of my mind. I drifted back to a sizzling day like this in the late 1950s when I was in my early teens.
My neighbors, Bud and Doris Wright, often took me sailing aboard their Herreshoff S-Boat Melody. They kept the little blue sloop on a mooring at the Port Washington Town Dock, where there was no tender service. Instead, the town provided ponderous 12-foot wooden rowboats. They were self-propelled, as in you propelled them yourself, with long, heavy wooden oars.
I recalled the complex routine that was required to get to a moored boat in those days. First, we had to wait for a rowboat to become available if none were free upon our arrival. When we finally secured a boat, we would laboriously row her out to Melody and climb aboard. We would then unlash the cockpit tarp, bail out the bilges and hoist the heavy canvas sails. The S-Boat was a 28-foot wooden sloop with a fractionally rigged jib, a huge mainsail on a long overhanging boom, and no motor.
With sails hoisted, we’d sail back to the dock, rowboat in tow. If we were lucky enough to catch someone waiting for a tender, we could just undo the line and push the boat off toward them. Otherwise I would have to swiftly jump off Melody, secure the tender to a cleat and try to hop back aboard while Bud and Doris skillfully luffed Melody off the end of the float. I remember ending up in the drink at least once while attempting the maneuver. Only after completing this arduous process could we finally commence our sail. At the end of the day, the process had to be executed in reverse.
I slowly returned to the present as the tender was finally pulling up to the dock. I hopped aboard without saying a word to the young operator, and settled down on the comfortably contoured bench seat. I felt a welcome breeze on my face as the boat powered up and sluiced through the calm water. I began to laugh quietly to myself as I thought how much easier we have it today. I’d be aboard Iwalani, my 35-foot sloop, in moments to fire up the engine and set out to find some wind before the launch returned to the dock. My annoyance now seemed silly.
When we pulled up alongside Iwalani the tender operator asked a little sheepishly, “Was it a long wait, Mr. Butera?” With visions of the 1950s still swirling through my foggy brain, I patted him on the shoulder and wistfully replied, “It’s been nearly 60 years, son.” He gave me a puzzled look before I turned to step aboard my boat.
Joe Butera is a lifelong sailor. He and his wife Pat enjoy sailing out of Northport Yacht Club in Northport, NY, where he is a Past Commodore and a member since 1973.