I unsnapped the canopy on the side of the bridge, and stuck my face outside, into the pouring rain. I’m sure I laughed. The rain was coming down so hard that I wanted to feel it on my face. It was something that any normal 14 year-old-boy would do. The yellow rain coat complete with a hood, kept the rest of me dry.
The boat broke through the waves as I held on, and I was fascinated by the bow splitting the water before us. I watched again, and again, hoping that each time we crashed through the oncoming swell, it would send out a watery tumult. We were heading directly through a storm in Galveston Bay, on our way to Clear Lake, Texas.
Like any storm, there was an element of danger, and I was afraid when my father first told me we would be encountering bad weather. Because of my Dad’s love of boats, I had grown up around the water enough to know that any storm on the water could be dangerous.
When I was younger, I heard of one such storm in which one lightning bolt hit six boats all at once, catching them all on fire, sending the occupants overboard for safety. My brothers and I were fascinated by the story, and more so when the burned-out hulls were lined up in a small lot next to the marina. The point was made: all storms on the water are dangerous enough to bring disaster. Boaters needed to be cautious and on their guard.
Going through the storm with my Dad was exciting and there was a trace of fear as we approached it. But, I was with my Dad. I always felt safe when he was in control, whether he was at the helm of the Oleek, driving his car, or later in life, flying his plane. My Dad is a stickler for the pre-flight check off list, even when he was the captain of the small boats he owned.
Once the family arrived at the slip where the Oleek resided, we were responsible for unloading the car and putting things away. Dad’s self-appointed responsibility was making sure the boat was sea worthy. That always entailed him climbing below the cabin deck where the two Chrysler 440 big-block engines rested. He checked the oil, and a dozen other things, making sure that both were ready to go to sea.
It didn’t matter where the destination was, Dad worked his way meticulously through the check list. We could be taking a quick trip out into Clear Lake, or a longer journey through the Kemah Channel, out into Galveston Bay, and beyond Bolivar Point into the Gulf of Mexico, but not without him going through the list.
As far as I know, we never complained. We just knew that Dad was doing what Dad had to do to make us safe.
So as well headed into that storm on Galveston Bay, I knew that we would be fine. I trusted Dad to get us through. Therefore, wave after wave, became more of an adventure. He even let me take helm as the rain battered against the cabin and the canvas canopy keeping us dry. It was magical, turning the wheel, feeling the boat going up and down as it crashed through the waves. It was much better than anything at Astroworld, especially because it was just me and Dad.
That fact, simple as it seemed, is the reason it is one of my favorite memories of my father. The reason is that I had four brothers, who were also around, vying for his time. And he had a new wife, my step-mother Liz, who captivated his time. To be able to spend time just with him, even though I lived with him, was monumental. It was rare.
The reason Liz wasn’t on our trip across the bay was because she had to drive the car from the Galveston Yacht Basin, where we picked up the Oleek, and would meet us at the basin in Clear Lake. You can see how rare the moment was. It didn’t happen a lot, and it’s one of the reason I do cherish the afternoon.
But there is more to it than that. I now have two boys who need my time just as much as I needed my father’s time. They even need that solo time with me. I know it doesn’t have to be much. A simple game of one-on-one basketball. A walk around the lake. Listening to the silly story of the day. Who knows what they will remember from their teen years, the way I remember my day with Dad and the Oleek. The goal is, to give them plenty of opportunities for that to happen.
“Dad, can I put my face outside in the rain?”
Silly question. Silly boy. Chuckling Dad.
“Sure son, if you want to.”
My face was drenched and the moment was the best: the rain, the boat, the storm, and especially Dad.
(Note: of the pictures, the Oleek is the one above.. The first two pictures below are of the Velda R, named after my mother. The boat with the flying bridge is the Roebuck. The only other boat like this that my Dad owned was the Happy Venture, which sank.)