A Christmas Story

A Christmas Story

What’s the greatest present Santa ever brought you? For me, there were a few. At age seven, the Christmas tree sheltered a huge Tonka Winnebago camper with a fold out roof/awning and an action figure family that included a pet collie. My next ultimate gift was a Crossman 760 pump action BB gun with a proper scope. And yes, my fourth grade buddies and I very nearly did shoot our eyes out. And then there was my first surfboard—a neon orange and yellow, five-foot, ten-inch G&S tri-fin, masterfully shaped by Terry Goldsmith. When my golfer dad saw its $350 price tag, he scoffed. “If you want that thing so much,” he said, “You can pay for half of it with your table bussing money and maybe Santa will come through with the rest.” I was 15. I paid half. Santa came through. It was my first proper piece of foam and fiberglass. I worshiped it.

Fast forward four decades—foam and fiberglass have again entered the Yuletide picture. Milestones come fast and furious during the middle-teenage years, and after proving to my wife and me that he was a competent aspiring captain, our 14-year-old son Fritz spent the latter part of last summer taking out our 21-foot Hydra-Sports with his friends. Two of those friends also fixed up an old 15-foot Carolina Skiff with their dad and the three of them wakesurfed, scoured our local creeks for fish and simply enjoyed the freedom a boat offers a kid. Soon, Fritz began obsessing over finding a boat of his own. Scanning Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace, Fritz probably bookmarked 50 listings. My wife Quinn and I were both noncommittal, waiting to see whether the obsession would fade. It only grew. Eventually, after showing a listing for a cool little Whaler jet boat, Fritz finally asked: “Can I please get a boat? I’ll pay for it.”

My wife is a fourth grade teacher and imminently sensible. I’m way more impulsive—sometimes stupidly so. So rather than blurting out: “Oh, sure dude!” I thought it prudent to let Quinn take the lead. She asked the right questions: We already have a boat. What’s wrong with it? “I want something smaller,” Fritz replied. “And I want something that can be my own and I can fix up.”

What kind of boat, and what sort of power? Another of Fritz’s friends has a 15-foot Whaler powered by a 90. That, Quinn said, was not happening. “A skiff,” he said. “Like 14 feet—at least 25 horsepower.”

Where did he plan to keep said boat? The driveway’s too small for two trailers. We have a floating dock, but it would need reinforcement to hold a 900-pound skiff. Was he willing to put up his own dollars and the elbow grease to make that happen? “Yes,” he said. “And can’t we just put the trailer on the side of the house?”

Well, maybe, if he’d clear out a spot for it.

With great horsepower comes great responsibility, so safety loomed large. We’ve been pretty proud, honestly, about how Fritz and his friends have approached boating. Fritz can, however, be pretty scatterbrained when it comes to planning and getting everything together—and that, frankly, was a worry. Would he wear his lanyard and PFD no matter what? Would he cast off without letting someone know where he was going? What happens when his friend wants to see who can get to Morris Island faster? What if a friend with no experience wants to drive?

“Having my own boat will make me focus,” he said. “And you know I’m the safest of all my friends.”

We couldn’t argue with that.

And then the elephant seal in the room: Money. As I said, Quinn’s a teacher. I’m a journalist who regrettably, has not yet reached Sebastian Junger status. We have a daughter in college. By any objective Power & Motoryacht reader standard, we are not rich. Quinn and I don’t make our kids pay for everything, but for things they really want, we subscribe to the notion that if you earn the money, you not only have a better idea of how many hours babysitting, mowing lawns or waiting tables that thing you want is worth, you’ll better appreciate it. “I have $900 in my account,” Fritz said. “I can earn more money and then do you think maybe some of it could be for a Christmas present?”

The ensuing mom/dad conversation ran the gamut. Would he be safe enough? Only one way to find out. Should we partner up with a neighbor and her grandson so the two of them could get a slightly nicer boat? Nope, that was too complicated. We agreed, too, that everyone, especially kids, need more hands-on hobbies and fewer screens in their lives. Fritz spends too much time on his phone, but he still maintains an admirable array of pastimes: drawing, skateboarding, snowboarding, surfing and fishing. And then we just talked about a subject that’s become even more apparent to me after signing on with Power & Motoryacht: Few things in this modern world can teach a kid a greater variety of life skills than an old boat.

First, if you can drive a boat, you can better drive a car—and Fritz will have his driver’s license soon. Stopping distances, speed judgment, turning radiuses, spatial awareness—all come that much more easily. Second is the vast array of navigation and seamanship skills that you learn from being on the water—without ever cracking open a book: channel markers, buoys, shoals, currents, ground and wind swells, anchoring, beaching, line handling. Third are survival and outdoor skills: figuring out the weather, overboard situations, hypothermia, fishing offshore or in an inshore creek. Fourth: With an older engine, you’re forced to actually learn how motors work; carburetion, ignition, electricity, water pumps, corrosion and “MacGyvering” fixes in a pinch. And then of course, there’s working with wood and composites: Mixing resins, sanding, fairing and prepping hull paints. It’s all just endless—and Quinn and I agreed, it’s all so beneficial not only to Fritz’s present, but his future.

In short, should he decide he wants to become a marine biologist, a Coastie, a marine mechanic, a fishing or local island guide, a scuba instructor, an underwater photographer, a superyacht captain or a sales rep or tech for one of Charleston’s most excellent boatbuilders, a boat is a foundational building block. You can make a living so many ways with a boat. And have fun doing it.

And all of this is why, on Christmas morning, Fritz was stunned to find a little 14-foot McKee Craft skiff he had texted me weeks earlier—tied up to our dock in the pre-dawn light. A 1992 tri-hull with a ’96 Evinrude 50, she needs a few patches here and there—and a paint job. But the young guy I bought her from for $1,600 (including Fritz’s $900) had “Han Solo’d” her into a nicely functional little Millennium Falcon. She rides beautifully, the motor purrs, and it’s just a perfect boat for Fritz to make his own.

A few minutes after the sun rose on that unseasonably warm Christmas morning, Fritz was already going through his mental checklist: Lifejackets on, gas tank filled with pre-mix, phone in waterproof case, spring wetsuit packed just in case someone went into the freezing water, trim/tilt functional, lanyard clipped and engine test fired. When we reached the deep water at the end of our creek, he juiced the throttle and the little McKee lunged forward. “Oh my gosh,” he said. “This is the best present ever.”

And he was off…

View the original article to see embedded media.

This article originally appeared in the May 2024 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

Source: https://www.powerandmotoryacht.com/at-sea/a-christmas-story

Boat Lyfe