I think I learned to back a boat trailer before I actually learned to drive. My dad would give me the car keys and tell me to back the boat into the side yard, so he could reach it with the hose. We all know that he could have backed it in there himself, but he let me do it. I guess I never really realized what he was doing until many years later when I started doing the same thing to my sons.
He let me take the boat without him when I was about 16 and a half. I had to sit on a Miami phone book just to see over the dash to drive the car, but he let me do it. Several friends and I would take the boat out into Biscayne Bay and fish or dive for Florida lobsters.
The boat... Notice how it was never his boat or my boat, it was always just, the boat. Over the years my dad owned a number of boats - only the last one had a name, the Thea Rachel Marie, mostly after my mom.. If I ever talked about buying a boat, he would discourage me and tell me I could use the boat any time I wanted. It was just sort of understood that the boat belonged to the family, not to him.
The first boat he owned was one he bought in Key West. It was an old, leaking, sixteen-foot, wooden lapstrake skiff that he bought for $100. We caught a lot of fish out of that boat, mostly by trolling. It leaked so badly that you couldn't anchor and fish for more than ten or fifteen minutes without filling up with water. We would pull the anchor, run fast (as fast as that 12 horse Wizard from Western Auto would push us), and pull the drain plug in the back to let the water out.
He kept the boat tied to some mangroves about 15 miles north of Key West in a creek leading to a little tackle and bait shop called Eddie's Fish Basket. I think Eddie let him keep it there at no charge if we bought bait there. The boat leaked so badly that it sank in place with its bow tied to a mangrove branch. When we went fishing, it took at least 45 minutes to bail the water out of the submerged boat. I would fish along the mangroves for small snapper while my dad got the boat floating again. I think back and understand now why we trolled the flats for barracuda and never really bottom fished in this boat.
We, actually he, owned six more boats during his lifetime, including a Mohawk, a Squall King, a Brothers, a Thunderbird, a Seacraft, and a Boston Whaler. They were all great boats, and all progressively bigger and better. I have great memories and great stories from every one of them. But none of them were quite like the first.
He sold that first boat in Key West. I remember seeing it sitting on an old wooden trailer right off of Truman Avenue with a sign on it that said "For Sale $75". It sat there for what seemed to me an eternity, until someone finally knocked on our door. It seems they were filming a movie in Key West and wanted to rent our boat! The movie director offered to rent the boat for some scenes in the movie for $75.
My dad really wanted to sell it, but the movie studio did not want to buy it, only to rent it. So a deal was struck and the boat was made forever famous in our hearts! I don't remember what happened to the boat after the film, but I do know, I can see at least parts of it again. The film is The Rose Tattoo, for which Anna Magnani won an Oscar for best actress in 1955. If you ever saw the movie and remember a scene where Anna is holding onto the mast of a small sailboat in a driving rainstorm, you have indeed seen the boat.