In the 17 years I’d lived in Nashville (at the time of the event in ’07) my family and members thereof have visited about twice. So I had mixed emotions when my older brother Michael told me of his spontaneous decision to drive down to see me with his son Michael, my nephew. Michael my oldest brother, second of 5 children, was going through a bit of a divorce and decided he and his son needed some quality time away from the bullshit and a road trip to Nashville was just what the doctor ordered. For me, it was a bit ill-timed since I had been waiting for the arrival of my new old boat and I wanted to spend the entire weekend getting her settled in and ready for her new home. I was not planning on docking her and entertaining my brother and nephew who no doubt, were nowhere near as excited or obsessed about this old boat. But hey how often does this happen right? The Girl said, “Look, just chill out and enjoy your family. There’s plenty of time for the boat.” Rational thought. Reason. Turns out, my boat was scheduled to arrive on Friday, August 24. My brother, Saturday, August 25. What are the chances?
Richie, the truck driver in charge of transporting my baby safely over the high-ways and by-ways, calls me once underway to tell me all is good. “She’s riding nice and smooth. Load is level and balanced. We should roll in around 3 or 4 tomorrow afternoon,” He says. I’m elated. I have some ceremonial Champagne on ice, some Red Stripes and limes and no plans for the night but to sit on the dock and stare at her… the boat… not the girl.
Now… when your phone rings really early or really late, it’s either bad news or really good news. Usually never the latter. I had been watching the weather, traffic reports, meteoric activity and the zodiac to make sure nothing bad could possibly befall my big plans but when Richie called me this particular morning I got a weird vibe. A very bad vibe. He said, “Man, I have some bad news. Nothing like this has ever happened to me in 10 years of hauling boats.” My heart sank. The wind went out of my gut like I had just taken a shot from Mike Tyson, before the face tattoo. I’m sure I went pale as I sank into my office chair. I stared across my desk to a bag I’d packed with all my “beach bum” attire for the afternoon event. No black tie for me… uh-uh… Ragged out cammo shorts, worn t-shirt and flip flops. Smelly old flip flops. All of it about to become meaningless.
Richie told me he stopped for the night, just prior to Blacksburg, Virginia. It had been raining and got pretty bad so he pulled into a hotel, did a once over on the boat, made sure she was good and tight and retired early. He got up, hit the road and made good progress to Bristol, TN where he stopped for gas. He did another quick check and that’s when he noticed it… my hatch was gone. The companionway that enables you to enter the cabin below is covered by a sliding hatch. This hatch contains the little bronze identification plate that is like the boats birth certificate. Not only is it a crucial part of it’s history, it covers the opening to the whole salon below and it’s impossible to get another one. They don’t make them anymore! This boat was manufactured in 1970. I’d have to find a scrap one, or one from another brand of boat that would inevitably not fit right! Worse yet, I’d have to build something and ah, shit… the whole day, the event, the symbolism surrounding the boat was ruined. Dashed before she barely hit the state line.
I didn’t know what to say. I was surprisingly calm. Richie and I went back and forth with the “…are you sure’s?” and “Do you think…” but aside from his astonishment of how it could have possibly gotten out from underneath the mast and all the rigging that was lying on top of it, “I’m really sorry” is all he could come up with. He said there’s no way of knowing where it came off… It could be anywhere from Blacksburg, VA to Bristol, TN. So now, I had the image of my girl in my head. I heard her calm voice tell me to “be bigger.” I knew in my heart that nothing could be done at this point and my main goal was to not make Richie feel worse. He knew I was upset but he had no idea of the sensationalistic bullshit I attached to this day. He had no idea that I attached my whole “new chapter” to this vessel and I wasn’t going to tell him. I just wanted to make sure he was ok. There are lessons everywhere we just have to see em’. Other than make some calls to the Virginia Highway Patrol and notify them of my loss, there was little I could do. I called the Virginia Department of Transportation and told them. Maybe one of their road crews picking up garbage and dead, bloated raccoons, would find it. Telling them what to look for gave me a one in a million chance and maybe not even that. I called the Tartan factory in Ohio where they still make new, fancy, composite million dollar yachts and spoke to a guy who said, “man… I’m sorry to hear that. You could probably find someone to build one for you. It’ll cost alot.” Hm, thanks. I think I knew that.
Of course I started making phone calls, cancelling the afternoon celebration. I didn’t want anyone to witness the arrival of my “handicapped” vessel. For that meant everyone would see my “oh-so-close” attempt at something grand. No way. Don’t come. The party is cancelled. My friend Jeremy Greer refused to accept that proposal. To this day, I thank him. He said he was coming. That was that. The next call was to my brother. I tried not to sound disappointed since he’s so… well you just have to know Michael. The entire world could crash straight into his face (and has) and he’ll say something like, “Ah, it’s ok. Lotta people don’t have a face for something to crash into.” Let’s just say, he’s got a grip. A major grip on things and sometimes it pisses me off becuase I’d like to be upset and irrational but I can’t cause he’ll just start laughing at me. He’ll show me in about 5 seconds just how full of shit I am… and that… I sometimes hate. Anyway, I call him… It’s now been about 45 minutes since I got the news of my “flying hatch” and I try my best to gloss over it but I’m upset. I give him a brief account of what happened and what the hatch is, etc… but he’s not a boater and he tries to be sympathetic but he also has no idea of the sensationalistic bullshit I’ve attached… well you get the idea. Anyway, I tell him it looks like a large pizza box and it’s probably smashed by now… laying on the highway, rundown by hundreds of 18 wheelers and dashed to bits of fiberglass strands floating on the breeze. We joke for a minute and I say, “So, if you see it, stop and get the little bronze plaque. That’s really all I care about at this point.” Then I say, “So where are you guys?” Michael says, “Oh, we just passed Blacksburg, Virginia.” I almost shit my pants.
Now, this is where all that crap about karma and time and space continuum comes into play. What we perceive may not be that at all. I say to Michael, “That’s where Richie stopped for the night!” It could be anywhere between where you are and Bristol.” Michael says so very matter-of-factly “Oh, cool. We’ll find it. Don’t let this bum you out. We’ll call you later.” Do I really need to go into the probability and chance aspect of them finding the hatch? I mean really. Do I need to point out specifics such as, if the call was an hour earlier or later? Would he have forgotten to keep an eye out? Did he pass it? Is this hatch even in the realm of physical reality at this point? Did it launch itself high into the air at 70 miles an hour and off into the miles of woodlands adjacent to the Virginia highways, to be found 10 years from now when they fruitlessly try to widen the road? Did it come off in a parking lot? Did it in fact, get smashed by truck after truck into a veritable pulp of stranded glass so as not even to be recognizable as anything pertinent… ever? Do you get what I’m saying here? People… Seriously…
My phone rings about 40 minutes later. I’m leaving West Marine in Old Hickory when I answer it. It’s Michael. Acutally… when I answer, my nephew Michael says, “Uncle Chris! Guess what?” I’m not sure what’s coming but I hope he’s not being a ruthless bastard and playing a joke when I hear, “We found it! We found your hatch.” I’m searching my brain for the right words since he’s only a 13 year old kid and “fuck you!” is a little harsh… So I come up with a “your kidding? Cmon’ Michael… that’s not cool.” And I can hear my brother Michael laughing… that laugh… the one that pisses me off so much when he makes me realize I’m being an idiot. Only this time… it’s nothing but joy. They actually found my hatch… “The Flying Hatch” as we called it. Pad lock still in place. Bronze plaque held in place by two small brads, folded in half with a perfect crease from where it struck the guard rail and bounced back onto the shoulder of the highway. I kid you not.
The Flying Hatch has been rebuilt, varnished, patched and painted so you’d never know what happened. You’d never know of course, if not for the perfect crease that went unrepaired down the front of the little bronze plate and engraving that reads “Hull #466”.