Labor Day Weekend 1982
For some deep rooted, mystical reason, human nature drives us to go a little farther overboard (Literally, as well as metaphorically), when we know that a particular activity that we enjoy will be coming to an end shortly. Super Bowl parties, the World Series, the last day of school (well at least it's over, that's worth celebrating) and, in this case, the end of the "official" summer season at the shore, are all examples of activities where the intensity is ratcheted up a few notches as we prepare to say a final farewell to our fun pastimes. When the prospect of the cold winter months loom large in front of us, and we know that our boats will soon be languishing under wraps for the better part of the next 6 months, we feel that primal urge to expend a little more energy to send off summer with one last blast. So it was with this notion in mind that I found myself on Labor Day weekend in the year 1982. The end of what would turn out to be my best summer to date, and probably for good while afterward. Much of the reason for the abundance of fond memories of this great summer had to do with my employment situation. I had been the (un?)lucky victim of a layoff in June (Talk about good timing!), I was still living at home, and I was easily making ends meet on my 6 month+ stipend of unemployment compensation (Thank you Ronald Reagan!). It was one of those rare opportunities in life, where a person has both ample time AND a satisfactory cash flow. Usually, unless you're independently wealthy, you're lucky if you can get one or the other. My seemingly ideal financial situation, however temporary, coupled with a bit of regression in my level of responsibility, is what set the tone for the rest of that summer. There were many weekends spent raising hell on the waters of Barnegat Bay, and the surrounding area. The beer flowed freely and there were plenty of activities which could occupy the time of guys looking to just have a little fun. But like most things in life, nothing lasts forever and after what seemed like only a few short weeks, we found ourselves coming up on the end of summer. In a few more weeks, the boat would be pulled out of the water and winterized. The weather would turn cold and depressing, and I'd have to eventually find another job. A return to the ugly realities of life is what lie ahead for me. But I wasn't thinking about that at the time. On this occasion, I was only concerned with the here and now as I found myself spending that one last carefree, irresponsible weekend down at what was then known as "Barnacle Bill's" marina, in Barnegat N.J............
........ aboard my friend Art's 26' Pacemaker:
That Saturday, we had spent a typically rowdy day on the water. Empty beer bottles were rolling around on the flying bridge. We had a full load of bottle rockets with which to shoot, and Art was showing off his prowess for making "intricate" docking maneuvers. It was a day chock full of activity to be sure. You'd have thought that with all this activity, that we'd be wound down and tired by the time night came on us. But not us, and certainly not on THIS weekend. Even as the sun was slowly heading toward its inevitable encounter with the horizon, further night time activity plans were in the works. It was soon decided that later in the evening, Art, myself, and another guy Rich (pictured below behind his own weathered and rapidly deteriorating 32' Pacemaker),
would head across Barnegat Bay to Long Beach Island and the town of Harvey Cedars, to take in the festivities at one of the local drinking establishments. What better way to end an already festive day? But not only that, we also decided to make the trip even more interesting. Rather than driving over by car, we instead decided to take the boat across the bay. And why not? The night was just about perfect for night cruising and, after all, it was to be the last hurrah of the summer season, and we wanted to involve the boat in it as much as possible. Besides, we figured that we'd be safer drunk out on the bay, than behind the wheel of a car. So when the time came, we fired up the boat's engine, cast off the dock lines and waved our goodbyes to our marina neighbors, as we headed out into the bay, hopeful that we wouldn't end up somehow marooned on an uncharted desert isle, with no Ginger or Mary anne. The journey toward our destination pretty much went off without incident (That in itself was surprising). It was just getting fully dark by the time we headed out, but we had no problem finding our way across the bay in between the various shoals and sandbars (Art would not be so lucky exactly 2 years later), finding the public dock, and then tying up. Reminding ourselves to remember where we parked, we then ambled off toward the bar a couple of blocks away. As expected, the bar was hopping, with an end of summer party already well in progress, featuring a live cover band and cheap beer. We then spent the next few hours hanging out, drinking, and listening to a local band do a fairly good rendition of some cool classic rock tunes. At one point, Rich and I tried to get Art to get up and play guitar with the band, when they wanted to do a rendition of Chuck Berry's "Johnnie B. Goode", which Art can really jam to. He almost went for it, but I guess he wasn't quite drunk enough to perform in front of such a large audience.
The party started to wind down sometime after midnight and we decided to leave the bar. I had been lamenting that I always wanted my own "official" bar beer mug, so at Art's suggestion, I pretended to be more drunk than I really was, and I was "helped" out of the door by Art and Rich, while concealing my now empty mug under my shirt (Grand theft beer mug?). Once out of sight of the bar, we abandoned our drunken facade, and laughed and stumbled back to where we tied up the boat. In the back of my mind, I half expected it to be either sunk or missing, but surprisingly, it was just as we had left it. After getting the engine running again (yet another surprise), and the lines untied, we began our journey back in the general direction of our marina. As we headed out, Rich decided to crash in the forward V-bunk and catch a few Z's. Art, meanwhile, cracked open another Bud down below in the cabin and started playing guitar, leaving me up on the flying bridge with the responsibility of navigating the bay (I was probably the most sober) back to our destination. But I was not complaining. No, quite the contrary, I sat back and began to enjoy my "task" of trying to pilot the boat across the bay without hitting anything. For once, luck was with me as it was an absolutely breathtakingly beautiful clear night out on the bay, with a nice fresh cool bay breeze brushing by my face, with ample moonlight to see by, while the mellow sounds of muffled acoustic guitar music floated magically up from the cabin. It was about as good as it ever got at night. As we crossed the half way point across the bay, I was finding my inner Zen, and I had just finished thinking to myself that "It just doesn't get any better than this", when all of a sudden my euphoric mood was shattered, and reality reasserted itself as the engine was hastily shut down from the controls in the main cabin down below. I was certainly not expecting this, to be sure, and it sure yanked me out of my peaceful, contented mood. Initially, I had pretty much expected this to be another one of Art's frequent pranks, as I certainly didn't see any icebergs looming right ahead, or any other nearby obvious navigational hazards. But as I jumped down from the flying bridge to see what was up, I realized that this time it was serious. No, we weren't sinking or anything quite that catastrophic. But it seemed that the engine had started to overheat. A fact that I could not have determined from my perch on the flying bridge since there were no gauges up there. Opening the forward engine cover and further investigation revealed that we had broken the fan belt which ran around the water pump and the alternator pulleys. Oh-oh...... Do we even have a spare? I had fleeting thoughts of being forced to "MacGyver" a belt out of a hunk of rope or a bungee cord, like I had done some years prior in a similar boating mishap on Lake Wallenpaupack. But I had doubts that this would even work (it didn't the last time). The alternative, being stranded in the middle of the bay at night, was even less desirable. Thus began the frantic search for a spare belt, aided only by the dim light from an "L" shaped military issue flashlight to see by. Meanwhile, the boat was adrift in the bay, but luckily, we were not in any immediate danger of running aground, or colliding with some other object or boat. And speaking of luck, once again, good luck was seemingly on our side as our search managed to turn up a spare belt buried somewhere in the deep recesses of the bilge. This "spare" turned out to be a thinner, somewhat ratty and frayed belt, which was also two sizes too big. Thankfully we had tools with us (If there had been any other place to keep them at the marina, we probably wouldn't have), so I attempted to jury rig fitting the longer belt, and do it with nothing more than the dim flashlight to see by. I had to take the alternator out past the end of the travel of the adjuster arm just to fit the belt, and it was still a bit loose. I tightened everything up as best as I could, but without the adjuster arm, the alternator would not have as much support and the belt could not be tightened as effectively. Having done all that I could do, I gave Art the green light and he started the engine. The belt was a bit floppy as it turned, but the engine temperature soon came down to normal. I told Art about the precarious alternator rigging and advised him to take it easy so as not to throw the belt. So what does Art do? He immediately runs the engine up to 4000 RPM, and begins to zigzag around the bay (remember it's after 2:00 in the morning by now). I was holding my breath, as I waited for what I was sure would be the inevitable ejection of the sloppily rigged belt. But somehow the belt stayed on, much to my surprise. Up until this point, Rich had managed to remain asleep, even throughout the whole overheating and belt changing ordeal. But now Art's sudden sharp turns caused him to nearly roll out of the V-berth. So after an initial string of vulgarities, Rich gets up, finds a firecracker, lights it, and then tosses it up on the flying bridge. The next thing you know, Rich and I are standing at the stern end of the boat shooting bottle rockets at Art on the bridge, while Art was dropping firecrackers down on the deck at us. This is all happening while the boat is still running relatively fast (for this boat, "fast" was probably no more than 25 or so MPH), with Art still making occasional sharp turns, and none of us being completely sober. This continued for about another half hour before we eventually ran out of fireworks, and without much in the way of further excuses, we reluctantly headed back to the marina.
We finally arrived back at our marina, and as we were backing into the slip, the Murphy gods took one last chance to take a cheap shot at us. As Art was backing down into his slip, the antenna mast, which we used for our CB radio antics, came unfastened and fell into the water. We all got a laugh out of that one. The final crowning touch was Art standing on the bow of the boat, "relieving" himself overboard, yelling, "Only in America!".
The next morning (Actually closer to afternoon), while I was in the "can" at the marina, I overheard two other guys complaining about the "idiot" who came in at 3:00 in the morning. I just smiled to myself, knowing full well that these were the same guys who thought nothing about waking the marina up at 5:30 in the morning throughout most of the summer as they ran out to be the first to the fishing holes. Paybacks are a bitch huh, fellas. Just be glad that we waited until the end of the season to do it.
And with that, the summer of 1982 passed into history............