Saga Of The Larson Shark

 

Part I: Left at T’s Corner

It’s the first time I’ve been excited about the government auction website. Bruce trolls it like an online dater of heavy equipment.

1999 Ford F350/Powerstroke/Dual Wheel.”No Title” Morganton, NC; BUCKET Gallatin, TN; John Deere Bush Hog 1508 Nashville, TN; Greenhouse Frame Beaufort, SC…

You get the idea—junk. I have dragged myself into the dump truck on many occasions to ride along for the inspection of some rusted hulk, dying in the weeds, at the back of some city yard, in a distant town. I’ve rolled my eyes at Bruce’s taste in scrap.

I’ll be honest, though. He’s never bought a piece of equipment that didn’t return an investment, or that he couldn’t fix and resell for a profit. He finds what he’s looking for, researches the make and model, or he looks for a better deal somewhere else. He calls for information and more pictures, then he sets his limit and bids only to that amount. I really can’t complain, except that online government auctions seem to be his entertainment of choice lately.

After our last trip to Chincoteague, we decided we want a boat. When I think about a boat, and the coast, I think of a sixty-five foot sailboat with crisp white triangles of canvas snapping in the wind, or a fishing trawler with big nets hoisted on booms, or even a speed boat with swivel captain’s chairs and a sporty little windshield. I don’t think of a little flat-bottomed Jon boat. That’s what we’re looking for.

I’m not much of a sailor. I get motion sickness, but I can handle being on the bay or an inlet when the water and weather are calm. Besides, I’ve been informed by my husband that vomit makes good chum for fish.

What we’re looking for is a Carolina Skiff. It’s a fifteen foot, flat bottom tri-hull with bench seats and a stow away compartment for fishing equipment. The Evinrude motor on the back is a hundred-fifty horsepower. My Honda CRV is big enough to pull the trailer. It’s the perfect size boat for Big Glade Creek.

Bruce found it on the government website. It belongs to the fire department in Seaside Heights, New Jersey. The boat is even a pretty color green. Puke green. There’s no title, but that doesn’t seem to raise any red flags for Bruce, so I’m OK with it too. The price is right at three-hundred-fifty-one dollars with a little over a day to go.

I’ve made up my mind. I can ride along to New Jersey to pick up the boat if we win it without complaining. New Jersey is six hours north of us. I’ve mapped the route back. After we pay for the skiff, and hook the trailer to my car, we head due west from Seaside Heights to a place called Manchester Township. I-295 South will take us into Dover, Delaware. There, we pick up Rt. 13 South. That highway takes us right to T’s Corner and a choice—to drive home, or turn left and head ten miles due east to one of my favorite places to visit. I know exactly how to get to Chincoteague from T’s Corner.

 

Part II: Going, Going, Gone The Boat Auction

I’m sound asleep under a light cotton blanket. The air conditioner blows a sweet sixty-five degrees over the bed. Bruce pulls my big toe.

“Come on, there’s less than ten minutes to the end of the auction. Your boat’s on the line.”

I slide out from under the cover, walk to the kitchen, and lean over Bruce’s shoulder as he stares at the Mac, his finger pressing the refresh button every few seconds. The boat has been at six-hundred-one dollars for the last three hours.

“What’s your highest bid,” he asks.

“I don’t know. What’s it worth?”

“Good question. The listing says: ‘Boat with motor and trailer, no title’. I’ve had to guess at the condition from the pictures, no mention of the kind of motor it has. I think it’s a Johnson. If we get it, we’ll probably get there and find the tires on the trailer dry rotted. Who knows whether the motor even runs and exactly what condition the boat’s in.”

“Well should we even be looking at it,” I ask, watching the clock tick down to four minutes and twenty-two seconds.

“Doesn’t cost anything to look,” Bruce says in that helpful way of his.

“Did Ralph ever call you back?” I ask. Ralph was the only non-answering machine voice we found when we called to get information about the boat. He was in shipping, didn’t even know that they had a boat up for auction. He was going to see if he could ‘investigate’, and get back to us.

“Nope, never heard from Ralph.”

The clock is at a little over two minutes now. “Do you think it’s worth a thousand?”

“I don’t know. I’ve never owned a boat before.”

“We used to go out on the river in a Jon boat and I remember a canoe,” I say.

“Jon boat belonged to my daddy. Canoe belonged to the neighbor.”

“Oh,” I said.

The clock is now at one minute fifty-four seconds.

“You paying half?” Bruce asks.

“Sure,” I say.

“You got five hundred?”

“Yep, a little over.”

The clock has ticked down to twenty-seven seconds and the price of the boat is now at seven-hundred- twenty-two dollars.

“You up for a trip to New Jersey next week?”

“I’ve got three personal days and two weeks vacation left.”

Ten seconds.

Bruce types in 1000.00 and presses the ‘I agree to terms and conditions’ button. We are high bidder with three seconds left. Bruce pushes the refresh button. The screen goes blank.

“Did we win?”

“I don’t know, never had that happen before.”

He refreshes the screen again and grins.

“I think I’ll call Ralph,” he says, laughing. “Wonder if our winning bid of seven-hundred-fifty-two dollars includes shipping?”

 

Part III: The Skipper and His Little Buddy

The email declared: Congratulations! You are High Bidder.

Then in bold letters:

“Note: Failure to pay for this item as agreed to in the terms and conditions will result in a server fee of 40% of your winning bid. Promptly contact the seller to discuss terms and conditions, times and location for pickup/delivery options, etc.”

The terms and conditions box was blank.

We waited two days to receive an email with instructions from the Seaside Heights, New Jersey Fire Department. Nothing.

“I’m sending an email tonight,” Bruce said. “We’re not asking them if it’s alright to come on Friday to pick up the boat. We’re telling them we’re coming for it. If I have to stick the check under a door somewhere, we’re hitching to a boat trailer and hauling it away from there.”

He woke me at 2:22 Friday morning. “You ready to go?”

I turned over to the smell of coffee brewing and could see the light from the kitchen across the hall. I’d taken the day off for a long weekend of travel to pick up our newly purchased boat. I was sure we’d get in some actual boating too.

I hadn’t planned to start the trip quite that early though. There is no going back to sleep once Bruce and the coffee are percolating. It was too late to coax him back to bed. I groaned and pulled the covers over my head.

“Can you go without me?” I mumbled from under the sheet.

He laughed and pulled the covers off me quick, like a band aid.

I grabbed for the sheet, but my reflexes were still asleep. Curling into a ball, I muttered, “OK, OK, give me at least five minutes to wake up.”

He reached out, pulled me up to a sitting position and put the coffee cup in my hands. I sipped and watched him stuff clothes into his overnight bag. I’d packed my things the night before and put them in the car along with all the stuff from the garage he’d already packed, the toolbox, spare parts, grease gun, shop towels, bungee cords, and other things I didn’t recognize. I wondered why we needed so much stuff just to hook a trailer to the car and head to a water adventure. I shrugged; Bruce always over-prepares.

We headed out of the driveway at 2:38 a.m. and traveled north. Bruce’s goal was to miss the rush-hour traffic in DC and Baltimore. Once we got out of that area, he figured we would have, as he said smiling, “Smooth sailing.”

We set our compass on the computer generated directions, skirted the DC traffic at daybreak, and enjoyed the view from the interstate, including Baltimore harbor, the wide Susquehanna, and the Delaware River from the Memorial suspension bridge linking Delaware to New Jersey. As I peered over bridge railings to each body of water below, I imagined us in our boat, cruising along, stretched out in the sun, drinking something cold, and fishing.

We don’t leave Virginia often, so we’re used to a slower pace of navigation than what whizzes past north of us. The New Jersey turnpike turned out to be different from what we’re used to. Where we come from, you pay tolls when you enter the highway. We sat confused over the ticket we received at the toll booth. We couldn’t find an attendant to ask what to do with it.

We looked around for cops.

“Take off,” Bruce said, trying to read the fine print on the piece of paper. “If they pull us over, we’ll plead southern ignorance.”

I peeled out and checked in the rearview mirror every few seconds, and listened for a screaming siren behind me, expecting to be hauled off to some jail in New Jersey for going Bonnie and Clyde onto the toll road.

The lady at the booth who collected our $1.90 fee when we exited the turnpike laughed at our story. “Welcome to New Jersey,” she said. “Enjoy your weekend.”

We pulled into Seaside Heights under heavy fog. It’s a small coastal town with cottages, ice cream parlors, a boardwalk, and sixties era motels with names like Sea Breeze, The Neptune, and Cloud 9 Inn. We smelled the salt in the air and the wind came from the east off the Atlantic. For late June, the place looked deserted. I glanced at my watch and realized it was still too early in the morning for vacationers to be up and about.

Finding the firehouse was easy. It butted up against the police station, and public works department on Sherman Avenue. A big statue of a Dalmatian guarded the two bay doors and the large American flag was snapping overhead in the wind.

The fire chief would certainly be in his office by 8:45 a.m. Bruce walked up the steps and rang the doorbell. No one answered. I shrugged and suggested we try the police department. We walked from the street into a small hallway with a door at the end. Bruce tried to turn the knob, but the door was locked. There were two windows, one on each wall at eye level. The girl behind the one on the right sat at her desk doing paperwork. She looked up.

“Can I help you?”

“We’re looking for the Fire Chief,” Bruce said.

“Oh,” she said. “He’s probably not in. Check across the hall at the Police Department. They can page him for you.”

We peered into the thick glass window across the hall. In our town, you walk right into the police department, shake hands with the man on duty and fix yourself a cup of coffee. Here, people milled about on the other side of the glass, not paying attention to us. I pressed the doorbell next to the window. Still no one looked up.

“Must not work,” Bruce said.

“Try knocking on the glass,” I suggested.

He knocked on the thick glass, making a heavy dull sound, and still no one looked up.

“Do you think the glass is bullet proof?” I asked, excited at the prospect. I hadn’t seen anything bullet proof in my life.

“You think they’re deaf?” Bruce clipped out his frustration.

About that time, a girl moved into view from a hallway on the other side of the window and Bruce frantically waved his arms to try to capture her attention. She looked up, surprise on her face and came to ask what we needed over an intercom. Bruce explained about the boat.

“Oh yeah, the boat,” the girl said. “I’ll page Sammy for you.”

We stood for awhile and waited. Bruce kept looking at his watch, then up at the window. Finally, he went outside to smoke a cigarette and I walked to the car for some ibuprofen. The turn of events had upped my stress level.

I had expected to pull right up to the boat at the fire station, endure Bruce’s usual inspection of the equipment, hook to the trailer and head to the water. I hadn’t expected to wait. I was leaning against the car, taking deep cleansing breaths of ocean breeze, when an older gentleman wearing a white helmet puttered past me on a red moped. He stopped in front of Bruce who was leaning over the rail outside the police office.

“You here about the boat?” The man on the Moped asked.

“Yeah, are you the Chief?” Bruce answered.

The man laughed, “Nope, but if you follow me, I’ll take you to look at the boat.”

He waited for us to get in the car and pull out behind him. At the first stop light, I read “Old Guys Rule” on the back of his t-shirt. Bruce and I looked at each other, smiled and shrugged.

“If this thing is in awful shape,” Bruce said, “we’re leaving it behind, sale or no sale. They didn’t list anything about what shape it was in, didn’t return phone calls and didn’t list terms or conditions. Seems like we have an out if we need one. I hope the trailer’s not a bucket of rust or the wheels aren’t dry rotted. It might be so rough we can’t pull it.”

Now I felt like Bonnie and Clyde. Bruce would inspect, give the signal, jump into the car and I’d be the get-away driver. I hate conflict and confrontation. I’m lost without a GPS, and with my luck, we’d end up right back at the Police station where we’d be arrested for non-payment. No one we know would make the trip to New Jersey to bail us out of the brig. I prayed for an intact hull, and decent wheels with no rust on the trailer.

We crossed the bridge to Pelican Island and turned right into a neighborhood with neat yards and bay views. A couple left turns later, I spotted the boat from the auction website photos. Its bright, spring green hull screamed “Far Out”, and suddenly I wanted to don bell bottoms, a peasant shirt and let my long straight hair loose again. My index and middle fingers raised to form a peace symbol.

The “Old Guy” on the Moped, whose name coincidentally happened to be Guy, introduced himself as the treasurer of the fire department. My husband shook his hand, but didn’t stick around for pleasantries. He left the two of us standing in the street while he inspected the boat, motor and trailer.

Guy was a salesman. He obviously hadn’t been informed of the done-deal sale because he kept touting the positives to me: “Sound hull, no cracks in the windshield, decent seats,” he said. “Man offered me three hundred bucks just for the trailer not too long ago. The man who donated it said he’d put a new floor in and all the motor needs is a tune up, maybe a spark plug.”

Bruce is never so easily convinced and doesn’t take anybody’s word for condition. Guy finally got tired of watching Bruce pull aside carpet, poke around the dash, flip levers, and fiddle with the engine. He perched on the seat of his moped and gave me the skinny on the boat.

“Fella who donated it never did bring us the title to it. I’ve got his name, address, phone number and last registration for the boat and the trailer. He kept promising to bring the titles by the station, but never did. What’s the fire department gonna do with a ’72 tri-hull?” He asked.

The tires on the trailer had lost pressure and the boat had been sitting for so long, the tires had sunk into the sand. Bruce kicked the rubber, then bent down and rubbed it. “No dry rot,” he said. He picked up the tongue of the trailer and rolled the whole thing backward.

Guy was in awe. “That thing’s heavy,” he said. “Hey want to use my compressor to pump the tires?”

“Brought my own pump,” Bruce said, extricating the bicycle hand pump from the car.

“Whew, you got more stamina than me,” Guy said, watching Bruce pump the handle while tires inched fatter with air. Both tires held. Bruce’s look made me think I’d be leaving with a boat. I let out a breath just like the valve stem under the tire gauge. Things were looking up.

Bruce reached into his front shirt pocket and handed Guy the cashier’s check for seven hundred fifty-two dollars.

We were on our way now. I could feel the rock of the boat on the waves.

Guy wrote his phone number on the paperwork and said he’d be at work for awhile, but if we needed anything just to give him a call, he’d help us out anyway he could. He got in his truck and waved goodbye.

“Look,” I said. “We have a boat.”

“Yep, needs work, but nothing I can’t do myself,” Bruce said.

“Do you think we can go home via Chincoteague?” I asked.

Bruce laughed. “Not hardly,” he said. “We’re not nearly finished here.”

“Oh,” I said, disappointed.

It seemed the trailer had passed Bruce’s initial inspection, but would need its wheel bearings repacked, and its lights re-wired before we could even pull it out of Guy’s driveway. I had a sinking feeling about my weekend float. Friday was waning, we still didn’t have a road worthy boat trailer. Bruce hadn’t even begun to determine the sea worthiness of the boat.

“Let’s get to work,” Bruce said, lifting the tool box from the car.

I followed him to the tongue of the trailer where bare wires awaited his attention. “Aye, aye Skipper,” I said.

 

 

Part IV: Caveat Emptor

So much for my long romantic weekend of boating. I found out on the way back home, you cannot put a boat in Virginia waters without a valid title.

“I thought not having a title didn’t matter,” I accused, staring at the side of my husband’s face in the dark car. He’d spent the day rewiring the boat trailer, repacking the wheel bearings, adjusting the motor mount on the Evinrude and swatting the biting flies and blood sucking mosquitoes of Seaside Heights, New Jersey. It was now twenty-three hours into the trip and I was testy.

Bruce shrugged. “I didn’t think it would be a problem. I still don’t. How hard can it be to get a boat title?”

“Well according to that man at the rest stop back there, he’s glad he’s not in your shoes. He mentioned something about to Hell and back.”

We arrived home exactly twenty-four hours and twenty minutes after we left. I was so tired I didn’t care about being mad anymore. I could be mad tomorrow. I fell into bed and slept twelve hours straight.

When I woke, Bruce was gone.

I dragged myself into the kitchen and poured cold coffee into my mug. I looked out the window into the backyard. There was my husband. He had pulled the boat trailer into the grass and was stripping the inside, tossing parts and pieces into the yard. Boat seats, strips of carpet, plywood flooring, vinyl covered bumpers, a fire extinguisher, three bright orange life preservers and a long handled fishing net littered the ground. Bruce’s shirt was off. He was embroiled in serious business.

I turned away from the window, poured myself a bowl of cereal, and sat at the table, drowning my disappointment in the sweetness of Cap’n Crunch. Fatigue, hours spent in a car, not in a boat, and the realization that not having a title might mean we’d be sailing no further than the yard or driveway, put me in a rare funk. I’m not touching that boat until I’m sure we’ll be able to use it, I thought.

Bruce came in a little while later. “You want to ride with me to Ace Marine in Stuart’s Draft?” he asked. “I need to look about a new bilge pump, and some other things.”

On the way over the mountain to the boat dealership, Bruce talked non-stop about flooring, fiberglass, repair and patch kits, marine grade vinyl and indoor/outdoor carpeting. The boat needed two new car batteries, the bilge pump, some half inch pressure treated plywood, a few two by fours, and new stringers. I recognized some items, but was clueless about others. I remembered his comment about this being the only boat he’d ever owned. He sure seemed to know a whole lot more about the Larson Shark than I did. It seemed he’d given up online auctions for boating websites now.

We browsed the aisles and shelves of the store. The salespeople were outside showing brand new, sea-worthy vessels and we were able to pick up items, compare prices and talk without interruption. As we were looking at various types of anchors, a miniature dachshund came wagging his tail in our direction. His toenails clipped along the floor and he walked right up to Bruce for a head pat. “Well aren’t you the cutest one,” Bruce said, reaching down to rub the little brown dog.

“Charlie, where are you?” A woman’s voice called from the back room. She stuck her head out the door and whistled. The little dog left us, running in the direction of his master. She picked him up and noticed us alone in the showroom.

“Hi, didn’t realize anyone was in here. Anything I can help you folks with?”

“You don’t happen to know anything about titling a boat in the state of Virginia do you?” Bruce asked.

She laughed. “Do it all the time here. That’s my job. I complete the paperwork for the boat sales, get the registrations, titles, all that stuff.”

“We bought a boat in New Jersey in an online auction,” Bruce said. “How hard is it to get a title in Virginia?”

“Not hard at all. You just take the New Jersey title to the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, and have it transferred to your name.”

“We didn’t get a title with it,” I said.

The woman frowned. “No title, huh? Well that’s a whole ‘nother can of worms. If it was in Virginia, I’d know what to do, but since it’s from New Jersey, I’m not sure. Tell you what, if you can give me a few minutes, I can make a phone call for you and find out.”

Bruce thanked her as she walked back to her office, then he turned to me and grinned, as if to say, “See, no big deal, she’s gonna fix everything for us.”

I rolled my eyes.

“You got the hull number with you?” She called from the other room.

Bruce pulled the information from his pocket and took it to her. We stood just outside the door, petting Charlie, who’d come back out to visit us.

I listened as the woman began the quest on our behalf. She was transferred from one person to the next, then to someone else and again to someone else. She was put on hold and transferred again, and again. She was more patient than I would have been. If it was me, I’d have handed the phone to Bruce so he was the one pushing buttons, and repeating information over and over again.

After a good ten minutes, she hung up the phone and handed us a piece of paper. “You have to go on the New Jersey DMV website and get the D-21 form, print it off, fill it out, attach the information you have and send it to them with fifteen dollars. They will check to see if there’s a lien on the boat. If you’re lucky and there isn’t one, you get to go on to the next step. The website explains it all.”

“Wow,” Bruce said. “I never thought about liens.”

“All I can say is good luck. Glad I’m not in your shoes,” she said. “You may get the boat in the water by next summer. Sorry it’s not better news. Sounds like a lot of red tape.”

I thanked her for her time and for the information. She was the second person in two days who was glad not to be in my husband’s shoes. Bruce put down the anchor he’d picked out and we walked back to the car empty handed. “Damn,” he said.

I patted his back. “Let’s go home, look up this website and print off the form. It’s not like we stole the boat. We’ll just take this mess one step at a time.”

Bruce dropped his head. If he had been a little boy, he would have kicked the dirt with the toe of his boot. “I wanted to get her into the water on our next trip to Chincoteague,” he grumbled.

“We’ll get it straight,” I reassured him. “I’ll take care of the forms and you can concentrate of fixing up the boat. Just think, the extra time will give us a chance to do it up nice. She’ll be the prettiest ’71 Larson Shark out there when we get her into the water.”

“If we get her in the water,” he muttered.

 

Part V  A Boat, Wrapped in Red Tape

Bruce and I have spent a month in the garage, just the two of us. July and August are miserable in Virginia. Humidity hangs in the air, and we’ve had two weeks straight of temperatures in the upper nineties with no relief.  I sit in a dry-docked boat, no water lapping at the sides, no ocean breeze, no cool drink. Sweat runs down my forehead and drips into my eyes. Box fans don’t cut it.  I remove my glasses again, wipe at the salty sting, and curse the day we decided to buy a boat. How could this much work be worth it?

We have less than a week before our Chincoteague trip and not only are we still without a title, we don’t even  know whether the Evinrude outboard motor will run. It sits, attached to the end of the boat, its cover off, wires, like wild hairs, stick up in all directions.

Bruce stripped the boat when we got it home. The hull was fairly sound, but everything else needed an overhaul.  I’m no mechanic, nor am I a carpenter, and I’m certainly no boat repairwoman, but I have cleaned, scraped, sanded, and patched fiberglass, measured, cut and pieced the wood flooring, laid carpet, stapled upholstery, cursed bolts into uncooperative holes, then held parts in place while Bruce cursed the same bolts. He’s in charge and I’m the fed-up helper. We’ve barked at each other, pulled ourselves up and over the side of the vessel hundreds of times, and so far, our only reward has been a dizzying high of inhaled epoxy and fabric adhesive.

My back can’t take much more. Last night, I stretched out in the bottom of the boat, looked up into the spackled sheetrock of the garage ceiling, and grieved the loss of seven hundred fifty-two dollars spent on this sixteen foot untitled, unregistered, illegitimate watercraft.

My plan had been for Bruce do the boat repairs while I handled the paperwork involved in getting the title and registration for the boat.  I found that although I’m very efficient in collecting the evidence needed, the state of New Jersey and the state of Virginia are in no hurry to help me.

I go to the mailbox each afternoon, hold my breath, reach inside and look for that Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries envelope. Our illusive title is so close. The process began June  24th, but nothing involving the government is easy or quick.  

The state of Virginia requires that a buyer without a title (that’s stupid us), make every effort to contact the previous owner of the boat to obtain the original title. This involves sending a certified letter, return receipt requested.  If the title is not available, the former owner is asked to send his own certified letter, to us, stating that the title is lost. If the previous title-holder has been searching for his boat, he must send a letter stating that he wants it returned immediately as it’s been lost or stolen. If the past owner is dead or has moved without a forwarding address, our certified letter is required to hang around the post office for fifteen days, after which time, it is stamped as undeliverable and returned to us. Our letter was mailed July 6th. We tracked its location online and waited. The letter returned to us, unopened, undeliverable and un-signed for on July 26th

The state of Virginia also requires that the unopened certified letter, along with a copy of the letter inside the sealed envelope, the New Jersey lien-holder form, a copy of the bill of sale, copy of the cancelled check, copy of the former registration/title holder information, a notarized  Affidavit for Transfer of Watercraft Registration/Title form, all be sent to the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.  Within thirty days, if all checks out, we receive a title in the mail.  Thirty days from July 26th is August 25th.  Our vacation falls in the middle. We’re screwed.

 Bruce punches numbers into his cell phone.  He explains what we have done so far, that the papers and the check are in the mail.  “There’s no way to float this boat until we get a title?”  he asks the person on the other end at The Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.

 The nice lady directs us to Walmart, where we receive our temporary boat registration. It’s good for thirty days. The form states however, in big bold letters across the top: “This form does not constitute ownership.” 

No worries. No one, not even the two of us want to own it at this point.

 

 

 

Saga Of The Larson Shark © 2011 M Dawn Thacker. Read M Dawn’s latest on Now.readthisplease.com

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