A day I will never forget

no, not my wedding day - well, that too. And The boat is involved in both.

Do you remember those memes or whatever that would say "what my friends think I do, what my mom thinks I do.... what I actually do..." with supporting comical pictures of how most peoples' lives are more boring than everyone else thinks?

image credit: MasterCraft boats. My days were not like this.

image credit: MasterCraft boats. My days were not like this.

When my friends heard I was working at a marina, they pictured me out on the lake all day, wind in my ginger hair, getting sunburned and seasick from a long day on the water. Reality was more like driving a diesel forklift back and forth all over the paved yard in stifling 90 degree New England summer humidity for 9 hours straight, while my friends text me asking if I can bring beer and why am I not out on the boat with them. Then dealing with another guy who's "only here for this one week, can you save my vacation and fix my boat right now?" Not so glamorous.

Every once in a while, I had it good. I recall one postcard-perfect day in October, our service boat ran out of fuel. I wasn't rescuing anyone - just picking up a boat from a customer - so I didn't rush to call into the shop. When I finally did, I said, "yeah, I ran out of gas. No hurry." And I spent the next hour sitting in the glorious October sun in the middle of the lake with just my dog in my lap, not a soul within a mile in any direction, and no wind. That was a good day.

Or the days when I got to drive a customer's new boat before they did, whether for testing purposes, demonstration, or just because they were intimidated by their own purchase. Such was the case for the Shenoa, a $175,000 wooden boat designed to look like the iconic floating works of art that became so popular in the 1930's and 1940's. Chris Craft is probably the name most Americans think of when they see a boat like this. It turns out the grandson of Chris Smith himself (full name: Christopher Columbus Smith - does it get any more American?) started a company in the late 1970's building these boats as most others were switching entirely to fiberglass construction.

Fast forward to 2007 and this company gets an order from one of our customers for a semi-custom (24' version of their 22' design) Grand-Craft "Grand Sport" with an 8.1 liter Crusader V8 engine rated around 375 hp, V-drive transmission setup, and the cherry on top: bow thrusters. Yes, the maneuvering tool you'd find on a 200-foot ferry can be had on a small, personal boat. I suspect my whole boat is worth less than the cost of that option. True, inboards are not known for small-area maneuverability. They pull or rotate one way in reverse, and if you can't anticipate that, or if you just want to go the other way, well, sorry. But a thruster in the bow meant you could pivot the whole boat around a point near the stern with the press of a button.

Most people are quite protective of such a possession. But considering the owner was a bit hesitant even to drive it himself - our lake is shallow and rocky, it's easy to get into trouble - he didn't hesitate to loan it to me for my wedding day, as the lake-going version of the Rolls Royce with Just Married painted on the window. As we were married on a island, a boat was the only option for this endeavor. Plus the Shenoa was also equipped with an airhorn run off a dedicated compressor, so we made plenty of use of that on our post-wedding escapade. Waving like a royalty from our mahogany behemoth, blasting the airhorn at the peasants, you know.

Beyond the airhorn, this boat was equipped with more technology than was remotely reasonable on a small lake such as ours. GPS navigation - which in 2007 was a very expensive built-in unit with a touchscreen - a stereo that at the time was probably high-tech being able to read "MP3 CDs", 2-way VHF radio, dual batteries, electrically controlled remote spotlight, and tons more details I'm sure I'm forgetting, now nearly 10 years later. While you can pick up a nice condition 1940's Chris Craft for $25,000, this was for the kind of person who has an old barn on their property that was dismantled at its original location, transported, reassembled, and completely restored with things like radiant heat and spray foam insulation, only to be used as a cocktail party space once a year at Christmas.

April 28, 2013 is a day I will never forget. I didn't lose anyone close to me, I didn't sustain any kind of life-altering injury, and no kids were born in my family. But I got a text from a co-worker at 4:00 am saying only, "boathouse burned down come asap." It wasn't a joke; one of our boathouses at the marina burned completely to the ground. For a building that was nearly 30 feet high and containing about 28 boats, the highest remaining partial wall was standing only about 7 feet up when the fire was finally knocked down. And you guessed it, the Shenoa was inside.

The remains of an 8.1 liter V8 with its glorious 4" single exhaust

The remains of an 8.1 liter V8 with its glorious 4" single exhaust

Engine blocks were melted into aluminum puddles. Entire Boston Whalers were just gone, vanished without a trace. The Shenoa actually sank when the rest of the structure collapsed around it, so there was a bit left - really the rear half of the keel, including all the underwater gear (prop, rudder, driveshaft, etc) was completely unscathed by virtue of being underwater. A boat next to it sank in a similar fashion, and there was a completely untouched waterski in the ski locker. The owner took it out and kept it, I'm sure they were able to use it. That and the propellers of other boats that sank like the Shenoa were about the only survivors.

This was parked about 15 away. The fire was so hot, it started a small forest fire across the river 100 feet away.

This was parked about 15 away. The fire was so hot, it started a small forest fire across the river 100 feet away.

Many were heartbroken at the loss of their beloved watercraft, however generic they may have been. Several were uninsured and simply out of luck. Between 2007 and 2013, Grand Craft had been out of business and then re-opened with new owners, and the well-insured owner of the Shenoa just had them make another one, the Shenoa II. I haven't driven that one; I left the marina before it was delivered, but I'm curious how different it might be. And I'm a little sad that the boat with which I shared such a great memory, is gone forever.

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