I love old wooden boats. I’ve owned and maintained many of them over the years and never cease to be impressed by the craftsmanship that went into building them. Anyone can point a chopper gun at a mold and make a fiberglass boat. It takes a real carpenter to build a wooden one.
Unfortunately, they take a lot of maintenance to keep them seaworthy. Constant paint and varnishing are required to stave off dry rot. On salt water you have electrolysis of the fastenings as well as many other problems not found on freshwater lakes like Lanier.
Every year at the family marina up on the Jersey coast we had one or two old wooden boats that are 97 percent good, but the other three percent would cost more than the boat is worth to repair. Consequently, they are simply abandoned by the owners, and we have the problem of getting rid of them. Normally they would be cut up, put into a dumpster and hauled off to the county landfill.
Now I had a marvelous fireplace that I used to supplement heating the house during the winter months. It had a “Heatalator,” i.e. a metal shell surrounding the fire box with ducts running into other rooms. It put out a tremendous amount of heat and you had a cheery fire to look at. The downside is that it used lots of firewood.
Old boats make excellent fuel, being all dried hardwood such as teak, oak, or mahogany, and the bronze and copper fastenings and bottom paint make beautiful colors as they burn. Solving two problems at once, every fall, I would take my woodchoppers maul and bust up the boats that had been abandoned the previous year. This would also inspire the boat owners to get their winter storage fees in on time. Sometimes if I found an interesting piece like a bow with the registration numbers or a stern with the boat’s name I would keep it whole to burn on special occasions like when I’m having friends over for dinner. It’s quite impressive to see the bow of a boat sticking out of the fireplace. I would simply kick it in another six inches every fifteen minutes or so.
One year while I was hard at work breaking up a boat, a couple of guys came by and offered to cut it up if they could have the brass fittings. I told them sure if they cut it into fireplace lengths. They said “Great, where do you want it delivered?” I thought I’d died and gone to heaven! Not only free firewood, but free delivery and all I had to do was stack it!
This worked great for several seasons, then one year after they had delivered all the wood from our marina, they asked if I could use any more. I told them “Sure, I’ll take all you’ve got” (Silly me!)
Next week I came home from work to find my front yard covered with wood! I figured great, now I have enough to last this winter and into next. My sons and I stacked it behind the house and forgot about it, until the next week. I came home from work and the front yard was covered with wood! I was getting a funny feeling as I stacked it behind the house and, sure enough, one day the following week I came home from work and the front yard was covered with wood!
The problem was I did not know who these guys were or how to get ahold of them. Asking around neighboring marinas one of the employees said there was a marina in south Jersey that was being converted into condos and it had several eighty-five-foot fishing boats that they were cutting up.
By now I was getting desperate because it was getting close to Christmas and I had a dozen people coming to dinner. Feeling like the “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” not being able to stop what I had started, I got a piece of four by eight plywood and a can of spray paint and made a sign saying “NO MORE WOOD” in big letters. I put it on the front lawn and it did the trick. The wood stopped appearing. I left the sign there for another week or so, then four days before Christmas I figured it was safe and took it down. Yup, you guessed it. Next day the front lawn was covered with wood!
Now I was on a mission! After stacking the wood in the back yard, I drove all along the south Jersey shore until I discovered the source of the wood, found the two guys and over several rounds of drinks, explained that although I was grateful for the free wood, I had no more room to store it. They told me that they understood and wishing me a Merry Christmas, said they’d get in touch next year.