Every May, we can count on the same things. We celebrate and observe Cinco de Mayo, Mother’s Day and Memorial Day. Spring flowers bloom, the grass grows, the sun shines and flea markets, fairs, 5K runs and outdoor festivals seem to pop up everywhere. Our weekends get filled with graduations, weddings and First Holy Communion celebrations. Our weekdays get filled with outdoor dining, May processions, school field trips and spring yard work. We resurrect our grills, summer clothes, pool rafts, patio furniture and ourselves out of hibernation. Swim clubs open, schools wrap up and many of the yearly social activities begin a summer hiatus. All of these signs of glorious May emerge, along with big boats, little boats and more boats of every type and speed imaginable.
There’s nothing like owning a boat! As any boat owner or former boat owner will tell you, cruising through a body of water on a boat can lift your stress and evaporate your worries as quickly and as easily as driving over the bridge to your favorite shore point can. Usually after months of working and prepping their boats, boat owners are eager for the season to get underway and the good times to roll. Just ask any of the boat owners who store their boats at the Ridley Township Marina — most are very eager for the brand new renovated marina to open in the next few weeks.
Owning a boat can be tons of fun and a new adventure with every launch. Whether you cruise your boat locally, launch from a nearby slip or dock on the Delaware River or not-so-locally in a bay, river or ocean in New Jersey, Delaware or Maryland or on an inland lake, being the captain of your own boat can evoke an exhilarating feeling hard to attain elsewhere or to explain to others who never experienced boat euphoria. Rowboats, pontoon boats, speed boats, cabin cruisers, cigarette boats, bass boats, fishing boats, sport fishing yachts, sail boats — there seems to be boats for every taste and budget. It’s why the boat shows at nearby convention centers each winter are so popular — almost everyone dreams of having a boat at one point in their lives.
For years, I was lucky enough to spend full summers down at the shore. I developed this crazy fascination with boat names, and I recorded the names and their back stories into a notebook. I had planned on making a “Boat Name” book in the same fashion that they have “Baby Name” books. I fantasized that people would browse through my little book when they couldn’t decide on a name for their boat. I recorded hundreds and hundreds of boat names and heard as many stories about from where those names came. Each boat had a one-of-a-kind name and a reason for the name that was just as unique. Often the boat was named after a special person or place, but mostly the names were clever, punny and humorous, reflecting the personality of the good-natured owner. I never did try to publish the book, simply because I realized that every boat owner needs a name to match their own story. This type of book could never be successful because boaters would never find a name for their craft in a book. It has to stem directly from their personal boating experience.
My husband’s first boat was named Peg, and he had the name painted in white on the side of its bow. Hey, he was smart to realize how I wouldn’t complain about him buying a boat named “Peg” or “taking Peg out” or spending countless hours “working on Peg” or “having Peg painted.” When he later downsized to a smaller boat, he called her “Little Peg.” I am not making this up! Sure, it seemed a little conceited and a slightly embarrassing at times to have a boat emblazoned with your name stored in the side yard over the winter, but I am not lying that it was also a little flattering. I often notice many boats with female names and I wonder if the names belong to a wife or girlfriend for the same exact reason of smoothing someone’s path to boat ownership.
My dad named his boat, the CJL Donut. The CJL were his initials and the Donut was because he said every boat was like a doughnut with a giant hole in its center to keep pouring in money. The CJL Donut obviously needed recurrent repairs, making it expensive to own. Boat names that I recorded were often humorous like his Donut, with names like Piece of Ship, Row vs. Wade, Grounds for Divorce, Bail Out, Berth Control, Ship Faced, What’s Up, Dock?, Seas The Day, Vitamin Sea, She Got The House, Ship For Brains, Sand Witch, Aboat Time, Marlin Mon-Row, Doctor’s Orders, The Codfather, Pier Pressure, Feeling Nauti, Cirrhosis of the River, Dock Dynasty, Yeah Buoy, Aqua Holic and so many more.
When my family owned a boat, it provided wonderful memories and afforded us special time together as a family. Our boat wasn’t big at all, but we would make big memories, crabbing, fishing, taking sunset cruises and just spending quality time together cruising the bay. We pulled the big tube behind us for the brave among us, spent time relaxing at the sand bar, tried water skiing and other boating sports and often got off the boat, took a swim in the bay to cool off and climbed back in to continue on our way!
One thing I always enjoyed about the boating life is that it’s for all ages and all types of people and families. Toddlers in life preservers can have as much fun as grandparents who need major assistance getting onto the boat. Even family dogs seem to enjoy the boat rides if they get invited. Time spent on boats, no matter their size or shape, is unbeatable quality time. I remember once being at Ocean City, N.J.’s Night in Venice and thinking, “What fun is this, watching everyone else having fun on boats? I want to be on a boat, not sitting here watching them!”
Not to generalize, but boaters always seem like they’re in good moods because they are out there enjoying themselves, far away from life’s problems and stressors, doing what they want to do. We all know how calming being around water can be in itself, so imagine how soothing being on the water is. Boaters always seem so friendly and in communion with other boaters. Whenever we had boat trouble of any kind, there was always another boater or two ready and willing to help us in a heartbeat. Boaters wave to one another when passing just about every time, without exception. They will holler over conversational questions or tips, like, “Did you catch any?” or “Try crabbing over by the islands. They seem to be running over there.”
I haven’t been boating in a few years, but I reflect back on all my personal boat expeditions with warm, happy thoughts. Most of them were spent on Barnegat Bay. Some were a little scary, like navigating Little Peg through the wake of a giant cruisers, times when we accidentally dropped crabs on the floor of the boat when missing the bushel basket or the time we dared to take our small craft across the channel near Barnegat Lighthouse (never again!). Once, we even spotted an elusive walrus that made its way into the Jersey waters. We swore we were seeing things until we read about other sightings of the out-of-towner later that week in the local newspapers.
However, most times on our boat weren’t out of the ordinary or extreme, but rather pure fun and relaxation, from floating on a tube in the sandbar and pulling traps and hand lines for Blue Claws to walking beside the boat during low tide to rake for clams or reclining across the boat seat, blanketed by the sun while reading a good book. I experienced good times on friends’ and relatives’ boats, too, even locally, like watching the fireworks on Penn’s Landing from a boat and cruising from the Ridley Township or Tinicum riverfront down to Chesapeake City.
Even larger craft, like cruise ships and party fishing boats, have major therapeutic qualities. Boating is like medicine for both physical and mental health. As any boat cruises through the water and boaters and their passengers breathe in the fresh air and absorb vitamin D from the sun, I can’t imagine anyone not feeling healthier and better than they felt before they stepped on deck.
I don’t know about you, but when I am stuck in traffic next to a good–looking boat, I start to daydream about the wind cutting through my hair, the sea splashing on my back and the sun glistening on the water before me. I start to wonder where the boat is going to launch. Then, by instinct, I start glancing in my rearview mirror, trying my best to see what the boat is named so I can learn a tidbit or two about its owner or just get a little chuckle. Just like every picture tells a story, every boat name tells an even bigger story.
Boaters, boating, the boat life — it’s a culture unto its own. Just like there’s a motorcycle culture, a RV/camper culture and a hunter-cabin-in-the-woods culture, unless you are or were ever a part of it and experienced it, you never really can relate to the nuances, pure enjoyment and feel of it. No doubt about it, boating is not a cheap hobby. Boats are a luxury item but well worth the splurge, in my opinion. I would recommend that anyone getting a boat for the first time this summer should definitely take some Coast Guard courses first to learn boating rules and regs. They’re helpful even for experienced boaters to refresh. After that, everything about the boat — or whatever floats your boat — is up to the captain.
To all the boaters out there, I have one more thing to say: best wishes for a memorable and safe summer out on the water where so many of the summer days will be a boater’s paradise. Now get those boat motors cranking … brrrrrrmmmmm … and have a boatload of summer fun!