by Capt. Jim Kalvin
Some of the most enjoyable times I’ve spent on the water have been aboard as basic a boat as you could own. One of the most memorable boats I’ve ever had was a 10’ v-hulled aluminum boat made by Sears back in the 70’s. I acquired the boat from an employee of mine, who had owned it for a long time – but rarely used it. In fact, when he brought the boat into the marina, it was six inches deep with leaves and other organic crud from sitting in his backyard for over a year. It was oxidized on the exterior, had peeling paint on the interior and was just about the ugliest boat you’d ever seen. To top it off, the engine was seized and the transom was rotten.
John had asked if he could bring it in to the shop on a Saturday so he could clean it up to sell it. I had an open-door policy with my employees and their boats, so I told him that he was welcome to use the shop however it might help him. He started by grabbing the pile of anchor line in the bow, so he could shovel out the organic material and start the process of cleaning her up. But when he lifted the pile of rope, it fell apart in his hands, and a pile of red ants – that had made a huge nest in the pile of line – exploded into view, and swarmed the interior of the boat. Needless to say, John was a little taken aback and pretty embarrassed about how far he had let the boat go. “How much are you going to ask for her?” I queried. “I don’t know – I was going to ask $700.00 with the trailer. But it isn’t looking like it’s even worth that,” he replied
We watched in amazement as the ants began searching for a new hiding place, and I blurted out, “I’ll give you $500.00 as is – I’ll do the clean-up – assuming you have a title for the boat and a registration for the trailer.” He was shocked – and a little nervous about selling a boat to his boss. He thought for a minute, and said, “you know what kind of shape it’s in – the engine doesn’t even run.” I assured him that I could plainly see the shape of the boat and that I was buying her “as-is, where is” and I expected no warranty, either expressed or implied. We shook hands and I gave him the money. He left to go home for the title and I went to work.
I towed the boat to the haul-out slip, by way of the dumpster where I shoveled out the debris that was “shovel-able” and hit her with the 4,000 psi pressure cleaner. It only took a few minutes and it blew all of the loose paint away as well as the organic smudge, ants, and grime. I pulled her back to the shop bay and gave her a long-look. She seemed to be in good structural shape other than the transom. I removed the spark plugs, filled the cylinders with Marvel Mystery Oil and started making a list.
To make a long story shorter, I brought her back to being as pristine as she could be. I put a lot of time into her over the coming weeks – buffed the aluminum back to a shine, re-painted the interior, replaced the rotten wood in the transom, and actually got the engine running. Once the basics were done, I tricked her out in my own way – with an array of rod holders on both thwarts, a spare parts kit that included anything I might need at sea, a golf umbrella, a double set of anchors, and a 20 gallon gas can that doubled as a third seat.
I took her back and forth to work – from our neighborhood in Brookside to Haldeman Creek. My confidence in the engine grew and I was soon taking her fishing along the coast. I got a good quality hand-held VHF radio and I made sure that I spared no effort in regular maintenance. I probably put a thousand miles under her hull. The kids were young then and we got out every chance we had, including taking her to the Keys with us during our summer camping trips. She was excellent for beach camping as she was stable and could navigate the backwaters at any tide. We could pick our spots on the inland side of a barrier island and have the tents up and the fire going an hour after we left the marina.
And on calm days, I would fish the rock bottom 5 miles off of Naples and folks in larger boats would give me “the look” as they were going by. I nearly always came back with a full cooler, and I never had to call for a tow. The boys cut their boating teeth with that little skiff, and – now in their 20’s and 30’s – they still talk about how much they enjoyed the time on the water with that “$500.00 boat”. I do remember one time though, when I was out with my youngest son, Jonathan, and we were fishing the buoy at the mouth of Gordon’s Pass. He was about 8 and had just caught a blue runner. I hooked the fish on my Penn 4/0, and put it over the side. A few minutes later, I noticed the rod “twitching”. Holding my breath, I gently picked it up out of the rod holder. The line went slack, and – all of a sudden – the water under the boat turned to a pale yellow, then to a light brown. It took me a few seconds to piece together what I was seeing – as I couldn’t see it all with one look. A huge Hammerhead shark had taken the bait, and had come up to the boat to see if there were any more freebies to be had. It was half again as long as the boat and as big around. Jonathan froze, and I….well, I couldn’t believe it. It started to swim off slowly, not even aware that it was hooked. I pulled my knife out, cut the line at the reel, and watched in silence as the huge tail fin passed by the full length of the boat. Jonathan smiles now and shakes his head every time we talk about that trip. It might be one of the only times in his life when he was grateful that the big one got away!