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Sixty-Something: This Once Happened When Boating Season Ended In The Hamptons

T.J. Clemente

Last week was the author's 17th time he has taken his sailboat out of the water from its slip in Three Mile Harbor in East Hampton. (Photo: Courtesy of the Author)

For all boat owners there is the first and last day you own your boat, along with the first day you put your boat back in the water, plus the day you take it out for the winter. Last week was the 17th time I have taken my sailboat out of the water from its slip in Three Mile Harbor in East Hampton. The latest I have had it taken out was December 22 and that was only because of a machinery malfunction in our boat yard.

For every boat owner the process of getting your boat ready to be taken out of the water is different. Some very rich folks have others literally do everything for them. These are the folks whose boats often get hauled out of the water the days after Labor Day in September. My boat is usually one of the first ones launched every year and one of the last to be taken out. This is because I sail a few times a week right up until the day it enters the travel lift. I like to believe I sail as often as anyone on the East End.

For sailboat owners the process usually entails taking down the sails, dismantling the boom, and in some cases taking down the mast. In the past my boat was small enough to be hauled out by a crane but now days the boatyard uses a travel lift. If one waits too long, and you take the boat out after the temperature freezes the deck of your boat can be most dangerous and icy. I remember one year when that was the case for me. But I have never fallen off my boat, ever.

I do have one story of an accident that occurred on a December 7th perhaps in 2007- 2008. My friend needed to move his 26' O'Day sailboat from the East Hampton Town dock to my marina to have his boat hauled out. As we drove from Montauk where we lived to his boat snow flurries started to fall. I was wearing a warm heavy flannel shirt, a sweater, and a ski parker, along with a wool cap.

The front railing of a sailboat is called the "pulpit." Usually that is the metal rail you use to hoist yourself safely on and off the sailboat. By design on my friend's boat, his pulpit is much higher than mine. He is 6'5" so this is not a problem for his long legs, but at 5'9" I cannot stand comfortably straddling his boat's pulpit. That plays an important part in this story.

When we arrived at East Hampton Town Dock on Three Mile Harbor Road, we left my car where we were going and his car on the street by his slip. His boat was the last one there. The snow flurries had let up to just a trickle of occasional flakes. It was still a very cold 7 degrees Fahrenheit, plus a slight breeze. We started to untie all the lines he used all summer and then proceeded for the very short ride across the narrow part of the harbor to a slip near mine where his boat would be parked for a day. It was now scheduled to be taken out of the water.

When we arrived at my marina by boat I walked to the front of the boat to step over that tall pulpit and step onto the dock to tie down the boat with the lines we had just taken off his town dock space. Slowly he pulled in. His small Mercury outboard was loud and the closer to the front I went the less he could hear me. There was a slight current so my friend was concentrating on pulling up but not crashing into the floating dock. As he approached I started to clumsily attempt to straddle the pulpit with one foot on the dock the other on the boat. He put the boat motor in neutral but he missed and put it into reverse. Slowly my legs parted as the boat moved away from the dock in a jerking manner. It felt like I was being drawn and quartered! I crashed down onto the high pulpit piping it was too late. To this day I remember standing on the bottom of the slip underwater in my winter clothes and looking up at the bottom of the boat. I could see everything clearly as I stood on the bottom. Bubble were coming out of my ski jacket.

Luckily I saw there was a ladder on that slip and I swam to it and hoisted myself out of the water as the snow squall picked up a touch. As I went up the latter I heard the strangest noises from my blackberry phone coming from one of the jacket pockets. The phone buzzed, it rang, and it loudly died with an alarm noise fading. I was really pissed off but I was even colder. Luckily my car was no more than 50 yards away. At least our prep work got that right. I ran to my car and turned on the heater. Then I proceeded to drive to Ditch Plains in Montauk only thinking "warm shower and dry clothes."

Amazingly I had to get back to the marina and prepare my boat to be taken out later that afternoon.

Now that's my best taking the boat out of the water in the Hamptons story. Hopefully it remains so as I get older.

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