My fondest childhood waterway memories involve trips out on my Dad’s tugboat on Long
Island Sound, a tidal estuary of the Atlantic Ocean, lying between Connecticut to the north and Long Island, NY to the south. My Dad, John, was a marine contractor, and his job involved
building piers and docks, dredging channels, and sinking foundations and piling for bridges. He once, famously, moved an entire house by water, pulling the scow on which it rested along the coast to its new location with his tugboat. The boat was forty-five foot long, with a six foot draft, had a black hull, cardinal red wheelhouse with lifeboat tied directly behind, old tyres hanging on the outer sides, front, and back of the boat as bumpers, a large iron anchor, and mounds of
thick rope neatly coiled on the deck, ready to secure the boat when docking.
On weekdays the tugboat, called Mirage, was a busy workhorse of a boat, but on some summer weekends, it would become the pleasure craft for our family of eight, often joined by a motley
collection of relatives and friends. We would haul coolers full of food, barbecues, folding chairs, rubber inner tubes for floating, towels, suits, and several large beach umbrellas which would
then be erected on the back deck for shade. As we cruised out onto Long Island Sound, high with excitement, my Dad navigating and steering in the wheelhouse and sounding the horn, we would pass many luxury yachts bearing stylish looking passengers, all gawping at this rugged workboat with its noisy, colorful, waving crew. Dad, beaming and with hat tipped forward like a young Humphrey Bogart in the movie African Queen, absolutely revelled in this joyful scene.
My only unpleasant memory of those excursions centered on the unavoidable trips to the toilet. This involved raising a hatch door on the back deck and descending a steep ladder into the
dark, grimy, sweltering space below deck, where a large six-cylinder diesel engine throbbed. To my nine year old eyes this appeared like a malevolent noisy beast, which roared louder
whenever my Dad increased the speed above in the wheelhouse. Sitting directly beside this
beast was a toilet, unenclosed, malodorous, and sloshing water. The movement of the boat
underway made for unsteady standing, and HERE I would have to peel down my swimsuit
(while avoiding burning myself on the hot engine), and perch on the toilet, all the while terrified that someone would suddenly fling open the hatch above, spotlighting me with bright sunlight in my embarrassing state!
Thankfully, the enjoyable aspects of our voyages outnumbered these little trials, and after a long day of cruising, swimming, digging up clams, and picnicking, we would head home, tired,
sunburned, but happy. On at least one 4th of July we were able to view fireworks at beaches all along the coast from our floating vantage point. The time that the tug became temporarily stuck on a sandbar due to the receding tide only served to heighten the excitement and drama. For me, the smells of sea-salty air, old ropes and diesel will forever summon up happy trips aboard tugboat Mirage with Captain John at the helm!