I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. My days of working in and around marinas and boatyards, either as an employee or a customer, has provided me an abundance of writing material. Boats sinking, burning, heavy objects being lifted and shifted by heavy equipment, stray electricity, storms, heat, ice, and so on. Case in point: the above photo. The memorable quote in the above case was: “The mechanic stated he smell gasoline, and when he started the boat it just burst into flame.” Uhm….yeah. No comment. Amazingly, no one was hurt. A bit singed, perhaps, but the boat was a total loss. And then there’s the humans you find around the water. The marine environment attracts some truly unique and interesting characters, from the yard crews and office staff, to the customers, and even an occasional critter hiding in the attic. The transient pictured below was gently and humanely relocated to the nearby marshland. I could — and ultimately will — fill pages with the things I’ve seen and heard over the years. Of course, in a fictional context, names and situations will be changed, but the material I encounter is a virtual well-spring of inspiration on the behavior of humans on and around boats. Some times I have to shake my head and laugh, (or at least try to laugh,) because you simply can’t make this sh*t up. For example: the boat we found tied to the dock in the morning, half sunk, with a flooded cockpit, the forward hatch open, THE MAIN UP and the jib piled on the deck and hanging overboard. When I called the owner, he replied that he had left it that way because he “went sailing yesterday and will be going out tomorrow,” and he couldn’t, or wouldn’t, understand why leaving his boat under sail at the dock was an issue. It was a miracle it hadn’t gone over during the storm we’d had overnight, though he fully acknowledged that his cockpit drains were permanently clogged, which explained the abundance of water on the wrong side of the hull. Yet he couldn’t understood why I felt it necessary to call him on any of these matters. Maybe I’m being too picky, but behavior like that makes my head hurt. It’s something marinas deal with constantly, so we should be used to these ‘quirky’ customers. And whenever I think I’ve seen it all, like the fellow complaining that someone dinged his boat – – a bashed up center console that annually sinks, is filled with junk and quite literally has grass growing through cracks in the cockpit — that I get a call that takes the prize. Caller, sounding slightly aggravated: “Yeah. How do I figure out where I am on the river?” Me, already getting a bad feeling: “You’re calling from a boat? Are you in distress? Is there some sort of emergency?” Caller: “No. I just want to park at the restaurant for lunch. How do I find you guys?” Me: “Uhm. Charts. Navigational instruments. Do you have them aboard?” Caller: “I don’t know how to use them. Can’t you just tell me which way to go?” Deep breath. Me: “Where did you start from, and are you travelling north or south.” Caller: “I got gas but I don’t know where that was, and when I left there I made a right. I don’t know that north and south stuff.” His tone grew more irritable. “Can’t you just tell me if I should go right or left?” Wince. These are the people we share the waterways with. Another deep breath. Me: “Do you have a smart phone? Look up Google maps. That should give you a general idea.” Caller: “Oh, hey! Great! Thanks!” And when ultimately he did arrive, aided by his data plan, it was aboard a shiny new $250K boat sporting every bell and whistle, including all the latest and greatest nav instruments. No, you can’t make this sh*t up.
“A mystery in the John D. MacDonald tradition – both in its largely watery setting and tone, the novel also brings to mind Dashiell Hammett in the complexity of its plot, and even Stieg Larsson in its use of a strong young woman with an attitude as a main character. Last Exit In New Jersey is well-paced, densely-plotted story that mystery-thriller fans will enjoy immensely.”
~ Alex Austin, author of The Red Album of Asbury Park Remixed
Write On The Water