The Whaler was riding up and down the swells like a horse on a merry go round. Up and down, up and down. It was fun but also getting a little annoying. I was headed into the Harlem River by Pot Rock. Like everywhere in New England, there was history. Pot Rock’s claim to fame was that it killed 80 Revolutionary War soldiers in 1780. The were shackled in the hold of the HMS Hussar when the ship struck Pot Rock and slipped beneath the waves. I wasn’t too worried about running into Pot Rock, but the currents, riptides and breaks caused by the merging of the river with the sound made for some nasty water. Up and down, up and down.
I passed under Hell’s Gate bridge as a train crossed it. I looked up and hoped that no one would flush a toilet, what with the number of cars with bad connections to their waste tanks. I knew of people who’d gotten blue water showers as a result of this common maintenance oversight and didn’t want to join their number. I managed to get into the calm water and past the bridge intact. Air traffic thundered headed in and out of La Guardia airport and I decided that I had explored enough for one day, seeing as I was some five hours from home. I kicked the side of my gas tanks and they made the hollow bong noise of emptiness and so I started looking for a place to fuel up.
You’d think that at the crux of the Harlem and East Rivers, Long Island sound and the heavy population wedged into the area that there would be lots of places to get gas. Except there didn’t seem to be. I cruised along at about 8 knots and scanned for a logo. Flying A, Mobil, Sunoco, Shell, whatever. I wasn’t fussy. After cruising a full half hour and finding no luck, my outboard went quiet, leaving me bobbing powerless amid everything from fishing boat to tankers and cargo ships. Suck-o-rama. I switched to my first tank in hopes I had a little gas, enough to get me shoreside. Rowing a Boston Whaler is no easy task. You have to skull it from astern with a single oar. I made the connection and squeezed the priming ball and hit the ignition switch. The engine sputtered and then smoothed out. I made for a pier near Luyster Creek, abeam of Riker’s Island and awfully close to the airport. The pier wasn’t so much made for the likes of a little craft like mine, I had to tie off to a piling and climb a wooden ladder to get atop the pier. It wasn’t easy while trying to carry a six gallon fuel tank.
There was a lot of activity, what with men and trucks and forklifts buzzing this way and that. I strolled along with my gas can, pretty much ignored by the workers. I stopped a few as I walked along, asking if they knew where I could buy gas. Most said no and kept on their way, a couple said yes and gave me directions that would require a car. Not much help. After the better part of an hour, I was getting tired and my arms hurt from toting the stupid gas can. That was when I saw a guy putting gas in his pickup truck from a tank that stood on stilts next to a warehouse. I went over to him and asked if I could buy some gas, explaining my being out of gas and stuck. I got back a stream of what sounded Swedish or something and a shrug. He hung up the nozzle and hopped into the truck and drove off.
I looked around and didn’t see anyone paying attention to me, and noticing there was no lock on the nozzle, helped myself to a tankful of gas. Carrying it back to the pier was like a quarter mile and I ached from carrying about 35 pounds of sloshing gas. There was no way I could climb down to my boat with the tank, so I had to climb down without the tank, grab some line and climb back up. From the top I lowered the gas can to the Whaler and then climbed down once again. Thank god my motor was a four stroke, had I needed to mix oil with the gas for a two stroker, I’d have been up the creek without a paddle. Of course, that’s kind of where I was in a way anyhow.
Now, if I was smart, I’d have taken my ill gotten gains and booked, looking for a fuel dock at one of the marinas on the sound. But I decided to compound my crime and grab the other empty fuel tank and go back to the scene of the crime. Again there was no one about and so I grabbed the nozzle and helped myself to another six gallons. I had just hung up the nozzle and capped off the tank when I heard a horn honking in the distance. I looked up and saw the Swedish or whatever guy’s pickup racing towards me. The guy was leaning on the horn with one hand and waving out the window with the other. I grabbed the gas can and took off like a rabbit. Fortunately for me, there was a building on the pier that left a six foot width between the building and the pier. It was wide enough for a dolly or even some fork lifts, but not wide enough for a truck. I ran past the building and came to the end of the pier and stopped short. There was no time to do the rope trick again so I just dropped the tank into the water next to the boat and seeing the Swede running towards me, I jumped from the end of the pier right behind the tank.
I hit the water with hardly a splash and grabbed the gunwales of the Whaler and rolled myself aboard. I reached out and grabbed the fuel tank, it was sitting with just its handle above the surface of the water and heaved it into the boat. It’s a good thing fuel is lighter than water and floats, or my tank would be on the bottom, no use to me or even the very angry Swede yelling at me from the pier. I yanked the line loose from the piling and shoved off, my push moving the boat well enough away that of the Swede climbed down the ladder, which he was starting to do, he couldn’t reach the boat without swimming. I snapped the fuel line onto the motor and squeezed the primer, hit the ignition and was cutting a U-turn and coming up on plane as the Swede reached the bottom of the ladder. He made a bunch of hand gestures at me and was yelling away in his gibberish. I stood up and made a military salute and blasted under the Riker’s Island causeway and cut into Long Island Sound between the end of La Guardia’s runway 22. I was actually still in the East River, but at 40 knots I would be in the actual sound in ten minutes.
I heard a whop-whoop siren and looked back to note that I’d grabbed the attention of the harbor patrol. They tended to get pissy about any boats getting near their little island prison. They were behind me by a mile and I knew their boat couldn’t catch mine so I just kept my throttle wide open and curled around the island and headed towards Herman McNeil Park and then cut around to Powell Cove and and blew my way towards the Whitestone Bridge. I had worries that the Patrol might call in the Coasties, but thinking more about it, since I hadn’t landed on the prison island I doubted that they’d pursue the matter. I drifted my course over to the mainland side, passed under the Throgg’s Neck Bridge and into the sound proper.
I pulled back on the power. The swells weren’t as bad at they were before, but hopping from wave to wave wasn’t doing me or my boat any good. I made it back home at around 6:30 that evening and got my boat moored and myself into the house just in time for dinner.
I sat around later that night and realized I could have gotten myself arrested over six and a half bucks worth of gas. At 52 cents a gallon, my 12 gallons wasn’t exactly a big time theft. Still, I felt badly about it and decided that the next time I made a foray towards the big city with my boat, I’d leave an envelope with $15 in it for the Swede. Of course, that didn’t happen. It slipped my mind through the summer and by the following season, it wasn’t anything I thought about anymore.
I just happened to remember the incident when a friend of mine mentioned they’d had their car get a flat on the Throgg’s Neck Bridge, and what a pain in the butt it was. At least they had a car club they could call that got them fixed up and on their way in no time. Not exactly a service available to a fifteen year old in a Boston Whaler. But the sea is supposed to be about excitement and adventure, and I certainly had my share of each in my little powerboat.