Play it forward one generation. My oldest son, Joel Jr., shares some of his experience as an "Island boy."
Though several of my friends from the Island and Downeast continue to make their living on the water, for most of the boys of my generation a boat symbolized play more than work. I got my first boat when I was 13 or 14. It was a 16ft flat bottom skiff with a 40hp outboard motor. It was built by some men on the Island--commercial fishermen--who had used it for flounder gigging. The transaction that saw the boat leave their hands so I could use it for joyriding was somewhat emblematic of the differences in the "Island boy" experiences of my father's generation as compared to mine.
Those differences aside, the boat was special to me. It was big and safe enough that I could use it to take myself and a couple of friends to the Cape, but small enough to keep me from going to the more dangerous waters offshore. More importantly, it was something I was to take care of. I was responsible for keeping it clean, making sure it had enough gas, making sure the right amount of oil was mixed with the gas, and making sure it didn't end up in a million pieces on top of a shoal somewhere between Harkers Island and Wade's Shore.
My sons, MIchael & Joel Jr. at the Landing
One of my favorite things to do with the boat was to go knee-boarding with my friends in the channel between the Island and the Straits. None of us were any good; the height of our achievements usually involved making it from our bellies to our knees without falling off, or occasionally moving off the wake behind the boat out into the calmer waters. Sometimes we tried to jump the wake as we cut back behind the boat, but that usually ended badly. Our equipment was as pitiful as our lack of skill. Our ski rope was just a piece of yellow nylon rope tied to a wooden stick. It didn't float, so if you lost your grip you had to swim back to the boat and follow the rope back out until you found the handle. I never did find out where or how we acquired the board.
We spent hours and hours riding around in circles, pulling ourselves up to our knees and then falling off. We didn't have to go home until we got low on gas or ran out of daylight...or until the outboard motor stopped working, as outboard motors are wont to do. The 40hp motor on the skiff gave me plenty of headaches, and every outboard motor I've had since has been equally frustrating. I had to call my dad more than once asking him to send someone out to tow me in. It was always an embarrassing thing to do, not least-of-all because I was the one that was supposed to be taking care of the boat, and breaking down was a sign that I had failed. The men my dad bought the boat from surely wouldn't have called for a tow, they would have popped off the cover and fixed the motor!
The embarrassment associated with breaking down was not unique to me. One summer evening I was out knee-boarding with my brother Mike and our friends Brent Gaskill and Ryan Lilley in Brent's boat. The two things I remember most from the outing are first, Brent somehow lost his shorts while trying to pull his 6 foot 5 inch frame up onto his knees, and second, we broke down. While we managed to find Brent's shorts floating in the channel, we had less luck trying to restart the motor. After what must have been a couple of hours trying to get it running, we noticed the sun beginning to set. Worried we might not get the boat started before dark, I grabbed a flare gun and got ready to signal for help from other boaters. Before I was able to shoot off a flare, Brent looked at me in disbelief and pleaded, "Joel, are you crazy? Don't shoot that, somebody might see us!"
-- Joel G. Hancock, Jr. The Penn State Dickinson School of Law