Lazy Bones

Bubba Gray was having a meltdown. His wife and the business manager wanted him to accept a contract to restore an old rum runner, and Bubba was saying there was no way on earth that the cursed thing was coming into his yard. Lazy Bones had famously killed its owner, his lover, and two mobsters in the thirties when it brought Canadian whiskey into Maine harbors. It had spent thirty years in a shed, and according to Bubba, it was there the damned boat remained. His wife quietly argued that he either accepted the contract or found another way to extract the yard from eminent bankruptcy.

It wasn’t just that the Lazy Bones seemed to have been cursed. It was spectacularly cursed. On launch, the boat had rolled on its builder and crushed him. The reputation of having been christened in blood followed the boat. But an uncanny ability to disappear in fog, outrace the Coast Guard and slip into small harbors undetected had made it a money maker. The owners had wept when Prohibition got repealed.

 It seemed to drift from owner to owner, with no one holding it for more than a season. Its pattern of unfortunate accidents followed it too. It crushed one against a float in Bath. He slipped and fell into the water; the boat swelled against the float, breaking ribs, collar bones, and an arm. The wife of the next owner quietly committed suicide in the cockpit. The following day, she was found with her scarf tightly around the wheel. 

The boat did not age well; rumrunners like the Lazy Bones are not cheap to maintain. But, it’s like they always say, “if you have to ask the price, you can’t afford it.” So the boat was stowed in a shed screened behind years of old furniture, trunks, and household goods.

All this time, Lazy Bones was out of sight, but not mind. The boat was just infamous enough that it enjoyed a life in the town’s folklore. Tours of the waterfront always included retellings of the story of the Lobster racing boat Devil, and the Lazy Bones. According to rumors, these boats were seen on Halloween, racing in the harbor against low banks of clouds.

Against this background, the boat’s restoration began at Bubba Gray’s little boatyard. A canny business woman Evvie Gray charged entry to where the Lazy Bones restoration work was getting done. A natural storyteller, she wove threads of the boat’s history and lore into a powerful tale. Soon photos of her standing with the boat appeared in papers Like the Boston Globe and even the LA times. She re-did her wardrobe to be more dramatic for the Yankee Magazine spread that featured her and Lazy Bones against the background of the yard. 

It was a purely commercial decision on her part that she take the boat on a grand tour as soon as all work was done. And when a Las Vegas casino offered her a residency with Lazy Bones, it was again a purely commercial decision.

Divorce was not that common in town then. But the news that Evvie Gray was divorcing Bubba came as no surprise. Bubba was the only one genuinely surprised. The yard folded not long after; without Evvie struggling to keep it going, Bubba failed in a year. But he seemed happier just working over at Allen’s larger boat yard on the other side of the harbor.

Evvie milked the Las Vegas deal for all she could and wound up taking a position with a developer creating new concept ideas for casinos. And you can see the Lazy Bones on display at a museum of cursed and damned boats; it’s evil only latent now.

Some say that the boat’s evil caused the break up of the marriage, the closure of the boatyard, the ruin of bubba Grey, and even the fall of Evvie Gray into a ruinous Las Vegas lifestyle. All of this is open to interpretation, as is the history of the Lazy Bones. I can only comment on what I know; most of what transpired was human nature and failings.

But supernatural explanations, curses, and misfortune sell more tickets and makes the heart race on a cold dark Halloween evening.


I had zero reasons for resenting the bird that stole my fish. In truth, I hate cleaning fish. I hate fish guts. That derives from filling bait bags for lobster traps one summer when my in-laws thought it would be a great idea for me to work as a stern man for a lobsterman. That didn’t last. I had zero aptitudes for even simple things like using the gauge correctly.

In fact, I’d prefer, well, almost, applying bottom paint to a boat than filling bait bags. So when the bird stole the fish. I felt little pain. Dinner would be fish and chips at the local restaurant, and I was happier for it.

So I quickly zipped up my bag, walked into town, and had a great dinner looking out on the harbor. When asked what luck I’d had, I said, “ Zip, Zero, Zilch.” Some days are better than others.

An Inconvenient Pine

The Cap’n finished tamping his pipe, lit it, and then tersely commented- “They’re just Summer Complaints.” My wife, her mother, and Cap’n’s brother nodded in agreement. I kept quiet. Back in the old days, Summer Complaints were some of the nastier infectious diseases that came primarily in warmer weather. These days, it was an intentionally derogatory name for typecasting summer people “They’ll be gone Labor Day.” This last said between clenched jaws as he bit into his pipe stem. The Cap’n rarely showed any outward signs of upset or anger, and clenching his jaw indicated near rage. His standard was a calm exterior that hid any anger inside.

The cause was rapidly retreating southwards along Center Road towards the Cape. The reason? An argument between the Cap’n and the Bensons about their pine tree. That pine obstructed the Cap’ns view down to the cove. This pine blocked the view of Psyche, my father in laws 34-foot ketch.

I heard no more about “that damn pine” until winter. The Cap’n seemed to have a little secret smile every time the weather turned foul and the roads greasy with ice. Psyche was never hauled in winter but swung at an ice-free mooring in a channel that the tides scoured clear of ice. The Cap’n and I continuously craned our necks to see down to where the boat rode at mooring. By the end of the winter, I began to see why the Cap’n was so peeved by the tree.
Spring came, and the pine was still there. My father-in-law was fit to be tied. Once again, I was scraping off flaking bottom paint and listening to him grumble.
One Sunday at supper, it came out that he’d paid the Town’s plow operator to salt the pine down every storm. Enough salt had been spread that most of the low shrubbery around the pine appeared to be dead. But that pine seemed to be healthier for the salt applications.

By September, the Cap’n was smiling again. But, in spring, the tree was still there. Then, at dinner one evening, the Cap’n admitted that he’d had Lowell, a neighbor in the cove, drive copper boat nails into the tree. The copper was supposed to be poisonous to the tree. But instead, it bushed out and grew well that summer.

The tourist bureaus like to downplay the amount of snow the coastal area gets, and the coast indeed sees a fraction of what accumulates in inland regions. But it’s not the snow that gets you on the coast. It’s the ice storms that turn the roads into a slick mess. The term you sometimes hear is that the roads turn “greasy.” Too true. So it was one greasy night about midnight that the plow truck slowly, ponderously, slid off the road and into the pine tree that blocked the view of Psyche.
When the edition of the regional newspaper – the Coastal Register- landed in the mailbox on the Florida Panhandle, there was a celebration. The Cap’n was said to have even grabbed his wife and spun her around; the hated tree was gone.

But when the Cap’n and his wife returned from Florida, there stood the damned pine, cranked at an extreme angle, it is true, but still blocking the view of the ketch. No one had had the fortitude to tell the Cap’n. When he noticed, he almost seemed like a defeated man. Almost.
Over the summer, however, the pine gradually lost needles and died. By the beginning of August, the tree warden had cut it down. The Cap’n was victorious.
Then just before labor day, we spied the Bensons at the edge of their property. They were planting a tiny white pine where the old one had stood. When they saw us standing in a group watching, they waved at us, smiled, and pointed towards the tiny pine.
As was his practice, the Cap’n calmly reached for his pipe and tobacco pouch, then comfortably filled the pipe, tamped it down, slowly lit it, and puffed it to get it going well.

Then, he looked in my direction and said, “it should be a few years before we have to girdle it, Wes.”

A Seaman’s Primer

In my opinion life at sea is no place to learn some basics you should have learned while still ashore. You are likely to learn all your sailorly knowledge at the hands of more experienced sailors, but conduct on liberty is not something you’ll find in the Blue Jacket’s Manual or a book on navigation. Correct conduct can save you from some fearsome experiences. So, pipe down, and listen up. Here are the basic nine things you need to know:

My maritime education began at about age nine as I assisted my father on jobs aboard the large party fishing boats in New York’s Sheepshead Bay. As an engineer in the Merchant Marine, my Dad had been on several world cruises, numerous passages to China and Japan, and had survived two torpedo sinkings. He was eminently qualified to pass along a Seaman’s Primer:

  • 1.) Keep your wallet in your front pocket so it can’t be stolen. Seeing a sailor running down the street in a liberty port pursued by a pimp who had cut his wallet out of his back pocket confirmed my father’s take on this.
  • 2.) Be careful what articles and agreements you sign. Fairly obvious, but for a sailor, this one can be deadly. On my father’s first passage, the mutiny of all the crew except the engine room ingrained that in him and subsequently in me.
  • 3. The police use tattoos to identify you, and many people have the same artwork. My father had the usual eagle with fouled anchors that thousands of mariners had, so he knew.
  • 4.) Sooner or later, every sailor winds up under the tutelage of some deck ape bosun (known “affectionally” as Boats) who wants you to chip paint. So my Dad’s advice was to learn how to create a map; it looks like you are keeping busy. My father’s favorite was a map of Ireland. From personal experience, I can tell you that this does not work when deployed against older mariners who also know the trick.
  • 5.) In a bar, stay close to the exits, stick with your shipmates, don’t get into card games in the backroom, and oversee the barkeep as he pours your drink. As soon as someone gets shoved and things get loud – get out.
  • 6.) Always look like you know where you are going. Don’t dawdle. Walk with confidence.
  • 7.) Can the arrogance. Treat people politely. Most fights start because people swagger around, acting like jerks.
  • 8.) Always find out how good the cook is on any ship you think about shipping out on. On a long voyage, food is essential.
  • 9.) Different ships, different long slices. You may know that the way things got done on your last ship was the best, but crowing about it on your new ship will not make you any friends.

Well, there you have your Primer. Don’t bet forgetful of these basics, and as another old mariner of my acquaintance was fond of saying. “go ye forth, and sin no more”


It was a pain but sometimes necessary to take the Grey Menace with me when I went to work on Psyche. If the ketch was on the mooring, it was a bizarre trip in the dinghy. A large cat caterwauling loudly in the stern of a dinghy is bound to be watched by people onshore.
Actually, after a moment, he settled into watching the water and the occasional fish he’d see in the water.

He was banned from the cabin while my wife cleaned. The Menace hated brooms and despised vacuum cleaners. One he’d attack, the other he’d get subtle with and try to bite through the electrical cord. So off he’d go with me to the shop or the boat. He was barred from Spinney’s boatyard because the cat queen of the yard, Bubastis, despised the Menace. When I was off to work at Spinney’s, he’d always act as though his integrity was being besmirched, ” it’s not my fault that Boo is such a harridan. I’m easy to get along with!”

The only trouble at the boat was when she had to be alongside the float. Then the Menace insisted on jumping to the float and playing with Raygun. Raygun was Lyman’s large labrador mongrel. Raygun had an “arrangement” with the Menace. He didn’t mainly get along with the other cats at his home, but the Menace was a kindred soul with a similar orientation towards creating trouble. So off they’d go up the little ravine that sheltered a tidal creek. Near the head of the stream was the Shephard place. At Shephard’s was a sizeable disagreeable dog that loved no one but harbored great hate for Raygun and the Menace. a fun afternoon could be had by the troublemakers running about yowling and barking while taunting the beast across the safety of the ravine.

Like most unfair arrangements, this one lasted until it didn’t. Some kids in the cove had bridged the ravine with planks to reach their fort easily. But Shepherd’s dog had been in on the deal because as soon as the Menace and Raygun started up their yowling and barking, they were met by the large hound who was no longer conveniently penned on the opposing side of the ravine. A moment of silence ended with the sound of animals tearing through the woods. First came the Menace, then Raygun, and at last the Shephard’s great beast.

The cat lost no time leaping aboard the ketch and climbed the foremast. Raygun lept into the water and started circling the ketch. Lyman, his brother the Cap’n, and I came tearing out of the shop to witness the mess.

Eventually, Tom Shepard came down to collect his dog, Raygun was lured home with a fresh can of food, and the Menace was retrieved from near the top of the foremast.

The cove was a tranquil place. Not much happens. That day, the telephone lines and the post office lobby were buzzing with the big fight on Lyman’s float. Inquiries were made “over Town” at the emergency ward. Had there been any admissions? Closer to home Tom Shepard and the Cap’n got busy tearing up the plank bridge across the ravine. Raygun retired to his bed in the shop. And the Menace was restricted to quarters pending a Courts Martial for dereliction of duty.

It was the studied opinion of the Court that he be reduced in rank, restricted to quarters for a month, and get a new title: Foretop’sail cat.
He didn’t like the way we said the new title much. His ears went back every time we said it, and we did that often. Somehow it lacked the sheer threat of Grey Menace.


“Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.”

It’s not like I’d ever have picked this and other semi-Biblical quotes growing up in New York City. So, people who don’t know much of my history wonder about the odd turn of phrases I use. These verbal seasonings came from coastal Maine.
I was frequently the recipient of lectures from my father-in-law – the Cap’n. These sayings were used as capstones on discussions as though just saying ” sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof” was enough proof that whatever I had suggested was sheer idiocy and the utterances of the Cap’n Gospel. It seemed as though I could never win an argument or discussion.

By and large, it was the Cap’n making the pronouncements. But, they could slip out of the mouths of my wife, who was a faithful daughter, my mother-in-law, or another family member.
Soon, I absorbed and began to use these sayings. No longer a tyro, I could spout, “The harvest is past, the summer ended, and we are not saved,” along with the best of them.

Spring on the coast was time to haul Cap’ns 34-foot ketch, Psyche. An older wooden boat that was always behind in maintenance. Like many of us, confidence can spread into areas beyond our abilities. The Cap’n “knew” everything about seamanship. But, he had some dubious ideas on boat repair.
I’d seen him drive caulk into the leaking planks of a clinker-built hull that needed refastening; the caulk rapidly opened the seam wider. That and other mistakes lead me to question his grip on boat repair.

One spring, it came to a head when we hauled Psyche out for repairs. There wasn’t a ripple on the cove that morning, and the water was like a sheet of glass. I got to scraping the bottom right away while the Cap’n and the boatyard owner inspected the hull. The Cap’n was alerted that a through-the-hull fitting needed replacement, and he decided that this was a job we could handle. So off we went in a hectic search for a replacement.

Our search sent us to all the marine part stores in the area before winding up at his favored marine salvage. He found the right mixture of availability and price in a used, through the hull fitting that fit his budget and mindset.
I balked. While not old enough to have been used by Noah, it certainly looked to be of 1940’s vintage. Nevertheless, the Cap’n insisted that it was good enough for a few years of service. Considering his answer, I thought about the cold waters off Sequin that we frequented. The faulty marine radio that you had to slap to get it to work and the family’s safety on cruises.
So, considering all this, I readied my response to the Captain in Biblical terms he so frequently used: “Well, You can sin in haste, and repent at leisure then.”
Yes, there were repercussions for my impertinence, but the sour look on his face was worth it all, and we bought a brand new fitting.

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