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Years ago I did “headwaters 1, 2, and 3.”

Everyone likely in the US knows the Thomas Tusser line saying that  April showers do spring May Flowers.”  Maybe someone’s already written about January cold spawning February plans, and then when March comes along, well . . . march means MOVE.  Maybe someone has a more eloquent, more Tusseresque way of expressing this.

 In my case, I bought a USA Rail Pass and activated it yesterday, am doing right now what I did decades ago with a Eurail Pass.  Maybe some of you have done one pass or the other as well.  For me, this March is mostly rail and then rental car to see places I’ve long wanted to see.

Now as I’m into my 72 lap of the sun, I’m wondering how I got where I am, how I became this person resulting from all the lefts and rights I’ve made at all the forks in the roads and intersections.  This is what I’m exploring this month:  headwaters posts looking back and rail photos looking and moving forward.  Yes, there’ll be as many boats in these posts as I notice and can get photos of.  If you don’t fancy personal reflection, sorry.

When I was 18, I was in college as a pre-med student.  I loved the idea of being a doctor–others praised me for it too.  But what did I or they know about that occupation?  In my case, nothing.  Long, painstaking bio and chem labs told me clearly that medical science was not my path.  So I became an English major, not knowing where it’d lead, but I enjoyed my humanities classmates more than my science ones.  Boats?  The only ones I’d ever been in were canoes.  I still love canoes, and I have done my share of messing around in them.  Cameras?  Digital was the thing only of sci-fi.

In my last year in college, I sent out two applications:  one to the US Navy and one to the US Peace Corps.  USN never contacted me, but USPC did, and after many application materials and tasks, invited me to train to go to Zaire.  Honestly, I had to look up where that was, since the name change from Democratic Republic of the Congo had only just been made.  Over a beer or two, I’ll tell you how myself and fellow trainees  got detained for two days in Uganda,  our first stop in Africa, and accused of being mercenaries, not an illogical accusation given what was happening in the waning days of colonialism in Southern Africa and the fact that two-thirds of our group was male, under 25, and bearers of new passports, but I digress.  I had an Instamatic and one roll of film with me, and I witnessed that Idi Amin had the same camera because I saw him take a photo of our group with one he pulled out of his jacket pocket.

A year ago, I did three long posts on my Congo River experiences in 1973, half a century ago now. You can read all that here. One day in 1974, this hospital ship–Mama Yemo--came up the Lulonga, the Congo River tributary passing the clearing where I worked.  Locals came knocking on my door, saying “your sister is here.”  This was plausible given that all my sisters were nurses, and in those days, news traveled slowly by letter.  It turns out “my sister” was a Canadian nurse, and she invited me on board for a tour of the facilities.

Obviously, no AIS existed back then, nor did the internet or cell service.  My eyes, touring the ship, must have seen a much different set of details than would have caught my eye today.  For example, the nurse and I lingered in the operating room suites but not the bridge;  we toured the pharmacy but not the engine room.  As I said, I was a different person back then.

A decade and a half later, in 1989, I had some identity as a professional, but I lived here, the last house–a camp really– on a dead end road in New Hampshire.  It was a hideout.  No, I was not doing criminal acts or being a fugitive from the law.  Everything was above board, I had a full-time job, but a) the woods and the river nearby was idyllic, and b) life was truly idyllic there, either canoeing, kayaking, hiking, and I was feeling in love.

This was my constellation of boats at the time;  I owned a canoe and the kayak, but not lobster boat Bonnie Lou, for whom I lusted.  

Of course, I’m leaving a lot out, but when my job near the NH border ended, I got a job in NYS, where I was appalled by the cost of housing.  My solution was to buy an old wooden cabin cruiser, hire someone to do some preliminary work on it, and then live on it for a year in a tidal creek in SW Long Island outside the outer boros.  The cabin cruiser–a 1965 Owens sort of like this–was cozy shelter for myself and a new love, ran on two thirsty gasoline engines, and never sank, but it took my a short time to realize that I would never restore it to the degree I imagined . . .  to Bristol fashion;  I sold the Owens and the dream to someone else, bought a fiberglass boat, and spent more time living on that tidal creek.  One thing I learned is that wooden boats are much warmer in a northern winter than metal or fiberglass ones.

I owned a small weatherproof camera at the time, good when I hiked. I have a print of the Owens, as we called it, but I can’t find that 3.5 x 5″ glossy.   Digital photography was still fairly new and I thought it’d be a fad.  No tugboats ever came through this tidal creek, and if one had, I’d be too busy sanding or painting to pay much attention. 

Eventually, I sold the fiberglass boat too, a trawler, and moved onto land.  

And we’ll pick up the story in the next Headwaters episode. 


Here was RP #12.

Jim Reilly noticed a picture of Dolphin III on this blog and wrote the following cautionary tale . . .   “I bought Dolphin III from a less than honest gentlemen up in Portsmouth, New Hampshire back in 2005.  She is a 45′  Young Brothers built in Corea, Maine. She was originally a “stick boat” used to harpoon giant bluefin and swordfish in the Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank. When I bought her she had a 25′ bow pulpit that the harpooner (stick man) would stand on to be over the fish before they ever heard the boat. That is also why there is such a high tower on her…for spotting finning sword/tuna. She is powered by a single Detroit diesel.
The original steam down from New Hampshire to Brooklyn, NY was quite a trek. My crew consisted of my father, who only came to escape my mother and sneak a few beers, and his buddy who was escaping his wife. Not exactly a “fit crew”…LOL  The first day of steaming was beautiful as we steamed through Cape Cod Bay into Sandwich, at the foot of the canal. We berthed in Sandwich over night and waited for the sun to come up. All I can say is FOG, FOG, FOG for the next three days we were socked in.  With food, beer and money running low, we headed out in the soup [and tide]. Dolphin III does about 8kts and the canal does about 6kts for a net total of 2kts…LOL.  Two kts in pea soup fog with the chart plotter not reading a course because forward speed was too slow…hair raising to say the least. It seemed like days before we emerged in Buzzards Bay. A lessoned hard learned…wait until the canal is flowing with you before shovin off…LOL.     We made Montauk by nightfall and as we were pulling into the fuel dock at the Montauk Yacht Club the steering went. We spent the next day getting funds wired to us, making repairs and hitting Liars Saloon in Montauk for a few laughs. The next morning it was blowing a gale, so we remained at the dock. By this time my fathers buddy (a true land lubber) had enough and summoned his daughter to drive east and pick him up…LOL

We set out the next morning and had flat calm seas as we cruised through the Long Island Sound. We were making good time when once again the steering gave way. We weighed anchor and attempted to make repairs. No matter what we tried, we could get no steering from her. I attempted steering with a pipe wrench on the rudder post, but knew we would never get through Hell Gate like that, so we radioed Sea Tow and were towed into Norwalk CT. A resident marine mechanic there said I was looking at $5,000 in repairs.  Me and my father sat in the cockpit, feet up on the transom and laughed at how we should change the name of the vessel to Jynxie or Jonah when a man at the dock inquired about purchasing the vessel. He was a commercial diver from Jersey and was looking for that type of vessel. I explained that the boat was going to need work and as we shared a few drinks he decided to buy the boat from me right then and there. I took a down payment and a cab home to Brooklyn. A week long trip that should have taken no more than three days and we show up with no boat…….just a typical story that is my life.
A week later the buyer met me in Brooklyn with the remainder of the payment and steamed the boat down to Barnegat Light for awhile where she was dry docked for at least a year. It looks like he is finally working her.   My father, who is very sickly now, still shakes his head and laughs at the entire trip. Last year I bought a 44′ wooden lobster boat from Maine and the trip went a lot smoother.  Sorry for the long drawn out tale. I feel like I am lying on a couch talking to a shrink about a traumatic ordeal…LOL   Next time you see the Dolphin III have a laugh and tell  your pals she’s an ex-stick boat originally from downeast Maine. Best of Luck to you.”

Jim . . . thanks much for the story.    Fotos taken last summer by Will Van Dorp.  I’ve not noticed Dolphin III in the sixth boro since then.

Anyone have a great sixth boro story, please get in touch.

To see a recap of the North River fireworks, click here, and for Queens/Bronx/East River fireworks foto’d by Mitch, click here.  In that foto, you can see three barges, each accompanied by a tug.  Anyone know which ones?   I mostly heard fireworks in what sounded like a north woods war, which must have chased all the fish into the deepest holes in the lakes.

On the way up, I sailed with Jeff Anzevino on Tide Rider and caught this view of NYS Marine Highway‘s  Margot‘s wake just after we had

circumnavigated this nameless

and peerless 1948 Chris Craft, which seemed to serve as waterside chase

crew for this hot air balloon, one of a half dozen launching from Poughkeepsie.

Later we headed to Portsmouth, where we talked to Bob Hassold (facing camera).  Interested in his 1966 tug (ex-Matinicus)?  It’s for sale.  See this article.  Bob runs a tugboat paraphernalia shop on the Portsmouth waterfront, where I found Thomas R. Flagg’s book New York Harbor Railroads in Color (a treasure for anyone interested in a “pre-truck intensive” when short-sea-shipping and cross-harbor shipping was the rule!) for less than Amazon’s price.    If you don’t know this book and are interested in the sixth boro, this IS a “must-read” book.  Tug Alley . . . it’s the most intense tug-oriented shop in the East . . . if not in the world–and I was not asked or paid to say that.

I love Portsmouth, up north in general . . . .  with its lights,



blue produce and brews,

planters painted in red-white-blue,

(actually these are Hudson River bottom feeders), and

the water.  Enjoy this gratuitous, top-feeder tugster-relaxing foto.

All fotos by Will Van Dorp, who continues gallivanting (from Puget Sound) soon.

And happy 234th . . .  read the sentiments here.

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June 2023