Riding The Waves  

By, John B Baur THS '60

September/October, 2006

Do you remember Lundy's Dock, next to Shoals, on Great Kills Harbor?

My brother, Jim Baur '62, and I had a small runabout boat, 13 1/2  feet long,  which we kept at his dock ($40 for the entire season). I had  just graduated from P.S. 8 that previous June, and now that Tottenville High School was before me, the world  (or at least Great Kills Bay)  was my oyster.
Well, during one of those monster hurricanes (Camille?), a friend of mine (who will be identified as George D.) and I decided we would go out to the mouth of the harbor, turn the boat into a surf board, and ride one of those magnificent  waves.
The 20 horsepower Johnson motor was barely equal to the task of bucking the wind and  waves, but we made it and did indeed successfully ride what must have been an 8 to 10 foot high wave at the mouth of the harbor.  This was absolutely exhilarating, and there was no way we could leave well enough alone.
Old Man Lundy, as we affectionately called him, saw us from the end of his dock. We could not hear what he was shouting at us with all that wind, but he was shaking his fist. "George, can you hear what he is saying," I asked.

"Too much wind, I can't hear a single word," George replied.
By now the wind had increased in intensity and was every bit of 75 mph, gusting to 90. "Look how big those waves have become," George shouted to me, with just a bit of respect for the potential danger they represented.

"Don't worry, this boat can take it," I replied, and turned the boat directly into the hurricane.
The nose of the boat would tend to rise upward and it became evident that we would flip head over heels unless we could weigh down the bow of the boat. "George, you will have to go up to the front of the boat and keep the bow down, or we will never make it," I shouted. George agreed and was eager to meet the challenge. 
Once again, we reached our Mecca as young surfers ~ the mouth of Great Kills Harbor during a hurricane. Then it happened unexpectedly.  Apparently George's weight was insufficient to keep the front of the boat down.  A really big wave caught us and lifted the bow straight up into the 90 mile per hour wind. Head over heels we went. Both of us went flying right out of the boat. The boat skipped from one wave top to the next, barely touching water ~ right out of the harbor. 
Not immediately realizing that George had also been thrown from the boat, I shouted, "George, come back, turn the boat around." And guess what? There, about 30 feet away, was George, bobbing up and down, in and out of sight, shouting, "John, come back, turn the boat around."
We looked at each other in disbelief. Then we looked out of the harbor at this vanishing speck that could only be our runaway boat. "Swim to the buoy," I shouted, and motioned as best I could. We both made it to the buoy and clung to it for dear life, gasping for breath and sputtering water.
Then the most unbelievable thing happened. Miracle of miracles, the Greek wind god Poseidon had turned the boat around and it was now coming right back to us. It would be more correct to say it was coming right back at us, but neither George nor I realized that at the moment.  We both got the same idea at the same time. We would simply intercept the boat, which was skipping over the waves with the motor wide open and 90 miles of wind behind it, grab it and hop in. We could not believe our good fortune.
Then, as the boat was nearly upon us - sheer terror struck us both at the same time. We bolted in opposite directions and the boat shot right between us! I still wonder just how fast that boat was traveling. We turned to watch the boat head right for "Old Man Lundy" and his dock.  Then, a bunch of splinters (it was a wooden boat). We could not actually hear the crash, but we didn't have to.
"Wait 'til my Dad finds out about this," George said, "I will really get it."

"Old Man Lundy will tell my Dad, not yours," I replied.

"Yeah, but your Dad will telephone mine," George said. Our parents played bridge together, and we both knew that was a foregone conclusion. 
"So what do we do now," George asked, clinging to the buoy.

"Maybe I can swim to shore," I offered, "and then I will get help."

"No, don't  try it," George replied, "it's too dangerous." I knew he was right, and we were both through trying to be heroes. 
We clung on, correctly focusing our attention on the immediate problem of rescuing ourselves. How we would explain this to our parents would be deferred. Have I mentioned that Mr. Lundy (we now thought of him with new respect) had warned us both not to go out in the boat and told us the dock was closed? We said we just wanted to secure the lines, and we would not take the boat out. Unfortunately, we just could not resist the temptation. We knew our parents would hear the entire story from him.     
Fortunately, no other boats were damaged and except for a couple of  ladders, damage to the dock was minimal. The boat had actually jumped the dock and wound up on dry land.
No more boat privileges for the rest of the summer - that was a foregone conclusion. School would start soon, and the boat was damaged (it eventually was repaired and sold). We also had to help in the clean-up and repair of the dock. We actually felt privileged to be allowed to do this penance, and promised solemnly never to disobey our elders again.
Some thirty years later, while attending a holiday party at the Richmond County Yacht Club, there was "Old Man Lundy." "Did he remember," I thought to myself. As if reading my thoughts he lifted his arm, made a fist, and shook it. This time however, he was wearing a grin.

The Conclusion:

George and I (while clinging to the buoy) were picked up by a deep draft 35 foot sailboat under diesel power. We were escorted back to Old Man Lundy and his dock, and remained his "guest" until my father came and picked us up.

Not only were my boat privileges taken away for the rest of the summer, but it would be at least two years before my parents would even let me back the family car down the driveway again. They had probably guessed that I just might be contemplating, "a spin around the block." A wise decision on their part, though I felt very persecuted at the time.

Two summers later, we did buy another run-about. This time a fiberglass one. It was fully equipped with life preservers and running lights. I was given strict use and safety instructions, to which I did adhere. I had become a bit wiser and more cautious seaman.

Please email John with your comments about "Riding The Waves." Click: John.