We actually thought of ourselves as experienced sailors. We were racing Lightnings.
There were 3 kids in each boat and with a stiff offshore wind were going like bats out of hell further and further into the Atlantic. The oldest of us was 13.
Of course we were not suppose to be out there. The boats belonged to two of the kids dads, who like all the other dads worked in the city. It was a Wednesday afternoon and the first dad would not be back until at least 7PM.
It got really fun when the wind was directly behind us and we put up the spinnakers. Not many kids our age even knew how to do that. We had been sailing for years, and we knew what to do on the water. We were real sailors.
Of course a real sailor would have looked at the sky.
We had been racing further out to see for almost two hours when Billy Brett suddenly pointed at the sky and shouted to the rest of us. We looked up and saw the sky was black. We all knew that a major lightning storm was just about to hit and we were the highest objects for 20 miles in any direction, with two metal masts just daring the lightning to hit them.
The wind and rain started five minutes later with full force.
The spinnakers were still up and when the wind started picking up and continuously changing direction the boats spun around and spinnakers dipped and began filling up with sea water. The boat I was in was being dragged under by the spinnaker. Billy Brett’s boat tossed around so much that he had been thrown out and was splashing in the ocean.
The rain was coming down hard and it felt like little needles hitting our skin. Then the lightning flashes started. The waves were getting higher and seawater was pouring into both boats. Billy was swimming as hard as he could, but the current kept pulling him further and further away from us. Billy did not have a life jacket on. None of us did.
At one point the boat bounced up on a wave and I could clearly see the skyline of New York City in the far distance. The squall was only in our area. New York was in the bright sunshine. Somewhere in those buildings our fathers were buying and selling stocks, totally unaware that their kids were about to drown.
Then I heard the throbbing of the engine. It was a big twelve cylinder Chrysler in an old solid wooden powerboat. I had seen it around the dock lots of time but never paid much attention to it. It was owned by two old guys who were a solid as their boat.
The power boat pulled up alongside Billy and one of the men leaned over the transom and lifted Billy to safety. The old guy had massive muscular arms with U.S. Navy tattoos on both forearms.
Once Billy was safely on board they brought the powerboat along side each of the sailboats. In a matter of minutes they had lowered the sails, bailed out the boats and tied them to tow behind the power boat. It was amazing to see real sailors work.
We kids were all shaking with cold and went to the hold of the power boat to get out of the rain. The boys stretched out exhausted. I went to the bow where there was a rope locker and lay down on top of piles of expertly coiled rope, and dozed off. It was one of the best feelings ever. The storm raged outside, but I was safe in the strong hold of a strong ship crewed by two strong men. It is the kind of safety that only a child can feel.
The old guys towed the Lightnings all the way back to the docks. They tied them up for us, stowed the sails ad even coiled the ropes. They never told our parents about what had happened.
Then we kids stood on the dock and waved goodby to the two old guy when they motored off in their perfectly maintained ancient wooden boat with the Chrysler diesel humming smoothly. They don’t make boats like that any more. I am not sure they make guys like that any more either.