Expressway: The death of a much-loved powerboat

Pete Smith, then about 6 or 7

Pete Smith, then about 6 or 7 years old, with his family’s 21-foot Sea Ray power boat. (Credit: Smith family photo)

The patient died in June. We'd done all we could to save it.

We tried a new carburetor, but on our last trip out on Hempstead Harbor, the engine coughed, spat, stalled, smoked, shut down and the powerboat barely made it back to its slip. The previous trip, Sea Tow brought us home.

And so the Rolling Stone 2, a 21-foot Sea Ray, died of engine failure, two months shy of 22 years of age.


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It would have cost more to overhaul its rebuilt engine than the boat was worth. The engine needed new rings and heads. As a family, we'd had enough.

The death of a boat can be compared to the loss of a car, a beloved pet or even a family member. My wife, Lynn, and I bought the boat in August 1992 for $19,142. Our son, Pete, was 6.

Man, that boat could fly. What a feeling of power its 230-hp. MerCruiser engine gave us. It took any wave, braved any storm.

With a storm at her tail, she was reliable, strong and swift.

I'd had a boat in the family most of my life -- a tiny Lyman skiff, a yellow-wooden Thompson, and the Rolling Stone, which flipped in its Manorhaven slip during a storm in 1976. My father and I ceased being boat partners at that point, split the insurance settlement and were happy to walk away from the endless bills. I waited 16 years to get back into boats -- after Pete learned to swim.

We docked or moored the boat over the years in East Rockaway, Northport, Asharoken and Glen Cove.

Pete and I took the Power Squadron safety course, and he eventually became a better driver than me.

We caught fluke in Reynolds Channel and the back bays in southwest Nassau County, and we explored Jones and Rockaway inlets together. Then, to navigate treacherous waters near New York City, I hired a captain to drive me around to the North Shore -- but we never found a great fluking spot up there.

I did put my friend Roman in position to catch a 12-pound bluefish about six years ago just east of Hempstead Harbor. We also got stuck in a serious rainstorm together, and in Oyster Bay in 2009, we had the unforgettable experience of seeing a school of bottle-nosed dolphins. I made sunset cruises with friends on weeknights and had dinner at a Glen Cove sports bar. Other couples joined my wife and me on weekend forays into Manhasset Bay. We dropped anchor and enjoyed wine and cheese and conversation. Just being on the water was fun in itself.

Pete towed his friends in tubes and on water skis, took the boat to the East River a few times, and once took on a little water before seating one of his friends on the bow to level the boat against the current.

Now Pete is 28 and, in the absence of our boat, takes his Sea Doo water scooter from Glen Cove to the United Nations, the Statue of Liberty, New Jersey and White Plains.

Over time, expenses mounted from $5,000 to about $7,000 a year to keep the boat. We also spent $13,000 in 2007 for what amounted to a heart transplant: a rebuilt, 350-hp. engine.

So we had more tubing, more fishing trips. Then, we had a new one-piece fiberglass floor put in for $4,300 in 2009 and a new canvas top, snaps and side panels installed for $1,200 in 2010.

When I consider gasoline (about $600 a season), insurance ($346) haul-out, engine service and shrink wrap for winter storage ($1,674), the slip fee ($2,128), spring maintenance ($904) and Sea Tow's annual fee ($169) . . . I won't be sorry it's all over.

I removed all the gear and life preservers in July and reached an agreement with the yard general manager at Brewer Yacht Yard at Glen Cove in August to scuttle the boat. Workers yanked it out with a crane and said they'll salvage the fuel tank and engine for parts, which is like organ donation, I guess. The carcass might be headed for a landfill.

Now without a boat, I've had a lot of free time on my hands, especially on summer weekends when I normally would be taking trips. But I'm also relieved to be free of the cost and obligation of lining up guests. When you have a boat, you feel obligated to use it.

I feel the same way now that I did when we lost our dog Benji when he was 14, and when the engine on my black Volvo station wagon blew: There's a hole in my life. Lynn and Pete feel that way, too.

Jim Smith, a Newsday staff member, lives in Williston Park.

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