Of the many names I’ve been called in my life – Uncle Fred has stuck with almost everyone! When I began dating my wife, she was divorced with 2 very young children. My teenage nieces often babysat the 2 little ones. My nieces called me Uncle Fred – the kids picked it up. Since then my wife’s 3 brothers and their wives have joined the group, along with their combined 11 children – and then their 33 grandchildren – and now their 9 great-grandchildren. My friends felt outnumbered, so they joined in. The kids still call me Uncle Fred – as well as DAD! – and so do their friends and in-laws. There’s little chance I’ll forget that name – but I thought I’d better write these stories down while I can still remember!

Friday, November 29, 2013


The following spring we were all working on our boats, getting them ready to go back into the water.  The TV show Sesame Street was shooting two shows at our yacht club over a weekend.  My wife heard from the club that Big Bird would be there and she and the kids came to see him.  There was one scene with Oscar the Grouch and Big Bird having a discussion on the edge of the dock.  Big Bird was to back up too far and fall into the water.  Now there were about 30 people on the dock watching.  The director told everyone to be really quiet.  There wasn’t supposed to be an audience watching so he cautioned against any sound.  He told us exactly what would happen so no one would be surprised and react with any kind of sound.   When Big Bird fell into the water, my wife let out a loud gasp! Needless to say the director said CUT a little louder than I thought was necessary.  He gave us a really dirty look and then fished Big Bird out of the water.  His costume had to dry causing a huge delay.  Oscar the Grouch did come and try to make nice-nice, but I really don’t think his heart was in it!  Big Bird wasn’t happy either! 
The next scene began with Big Bird at the helm of a large boat singing a sailing song.  We didn’t dare get too close to the filming of this one!  As the camera slowly pulls away, you see that the boat is on blocks, on land -- and it’s painted pink.  Mike was a big hit in the clubhouse bar that night.  

On the other side of City Island was a yacht building business.  They built large sailing yachts that were used in the Americas Cup races.  Next to them was a sailing school.  One day, at work, I got a call from a club member.  He said a student learning to sail had crashed into my moored boat and put a large hole in the hull.  Next day I went to see my boat, the hole was large but at least it was above the water line.  I pulled the boat out of the water and blocked it up on land.  The club was known as a “poor man’s yacht club.”  No one had a lot of money but everyone had an incredible amount of ingenuity – and everyone knew someone who could fix anything!  Most of the members were cops, firemen, or sanitation workers.  Mike worked for the subway system and I was a firefighter so we fit in well.  I asked some of the members how to fix the hole in my boat.  Some knew workers at the yacht building business.  We went over and filled plastic bags full of hard wood sawdust, mixed it with fiberglass resin, and patched the hole.  After the fiberglass hardened, I sanded it down and painted the hull.  The sailing school sent me a check for the damage – more than I spent on sawdust and fiberglass - so I made out okay.  The “poor man’s yacht club" had come through again!  

In 1976 the Tall Ships were coming into New York Harbor for the Bi-Centennial celebration.  They had to pass by City Island and under the Verrazano Bridge.  My wife and I took the kids to see the ships.  The kids loved to ride up front on the bow standing on the bunk with their heads through the open hatch.  When we got close to where the ships were, there were so many boats zipping in and out between the ships causing huge waves, it was almost impossible to navigate.  My boat was bouncing up and down so badly that water was coming over the bough and down into the hatch.  The kids got soaked and were frightened.  After the Nina passed us, we went back to the club and spent the rest of the day watching the parade of ships from the safety of our mooring.  

When we bought our next newer old home, it took an hour or two to get to the club.  The kids were getting older and it was time to sell the boat and move on. 

Sunday, November 24, 2013


I would work on my boat all winter and have it ready to be painted in the spring.  One year, the boat was ready but could not be painted until the temperature was about 55 degrees, so I was looking for a project.  On the other side of the parking lot, where my boat was up on blocks, there was a warehouse.  The business inside  made wooden blocks with the alphabet on them and toys for young children.  They made them out of a high grade oak. They had large planks delivered and then cut them down to the size they needed.  Their dumpster was full of strips of oak.  I put a whole pile of these strips in my truck and took them to the firehouse. I had built a shop in the basement of the firehouse so I could keep busy in between runs. The strips were going to become a lobster trap.  

Just outside the harbor where I was docked in Connecticut was a huge area full of rocks and an island called Rock Island just before getting into the deeper water of Long Island Sound.  I would often see lobstermen pulling up traps full of lobsters.  I decided to make one large trap instead of 3 or 4 regular size ones.  With one trap I didn’t need a license.  I built this really large trap and put 2 cement blocks in it.  

In the spring, my wife and I were going out on the boat for a week.  Our plan was to stop at Rock Island, pick up some rocks that we may need to sink the trap and throw it overboard.  When we returned from our vacation, we planned to pull the trap and hopefully take home a bunch of lobsters.  

Well, we put the trap in the water near Rock Island - but it wouldn’t sink.  We added more rocks - still wouldn’t sink.  We carefully tied the boat onto the island and filled up the back of the boat with even more rocks.  We went out to the trap and added more -- still it wouldn’t sink.  At its heaviest, it would only sink about an inch below the water. As luck would have it, the Coast Guard came by and told us we couldn’t leave the trap where it was.  It was a menace to navigation.  We spent the next hour and a half unloading the rocks and the cement blocks into the water.  We pulled the trap into the boat, my wife put a beach towel over it and declared it a coffee table for the trip. 

The first part of the week we went fishing, dug clams, and picked mussels off the large rocks in Eton’s Neck, Long Island.  We now had all the food we needed and lots of wine with us.  We decided to go to a yacht club on the Connecticut side of Long Island sound, take hot showers (which our boat lacked), and go out to a nice dinner.  The club’s restaurant was booked solid so we decided to eat on the boat.  Since we had electricity on the slip, we hooked up a small TV and put it on the lobster trap-now-table.  I started up a grill that hung outside the transom.  We grilled fish, steamed mussels, and opened raw clams while drinking wine and watching TV.  A large group of people, all dressed up and going to dinner at the club, had just come off a huge 60’ yacht.  As they passed our boat, one woman said to us “Some people really know how to live.”   I’m sure we had just as good a time, if not better, than they did! 

When we returned from our mini-vacation to our boat slip in Connecticut, my friend Mike was working on his boat.  Mike and I carried the trap on shore and placed it back on the dumpster.  

Mike’s boat was a little larger than mine and was moored close to our boat.  It was a great location but it was getting expensive to keep our boats there.  I told him that I had found a yacht club on City Island that was a lot cheaper and closer to home.  Mike was interested so we both applied.  After we were accepted into the club, we were told that we had to apply to the Coast Guard for a permit to moor our boats in the harbor.  They had a map and showed us where we could place our mooring anchor.  The anchor that was required weighed 300 lbs. and was shaped like a mushroom. Two past members of the club sold us their anchors.  We also needed 25’ of 2” heavy chain and 30’ of light chain.  Someone told us we could buy this chain in a warehouse near Fulton Fish Market.  They installed elevators and the chain they had was from old elevators.  By the time we had our anchor installed using the club’s tender boat, 

it was now late fall.  We needed to get our boats down to City Island from Connecticut and out of the water for winter storage.  The night before we were going to move our boats, it snowed.  My wife drove us to Cos Cob, CT.  Our boats were the only ones still in the water and covered with snow.  We brushed off the snow and started down Long Island Sound to City Island.  The trip took 2 ½ hours.  The sun eventually came out and it turned out to be a beautiful day.  Mike decided half way there to put the boat’s top down.  Later that day, after our boats had been hauled onto land, he went to put the top back up.  Seems it had been a little too cold when he dropped the top and his plastic rear window had cracked in half.  

We spent all winter sanding our boats, especially the bottom.  Even though we used anti-fouling paint, barnacles still grew on the bottom.  In the spring, we painted the first coat of bottom paint, which was dark red.  After it dried, we marked off the water line and painted the hull white.  Mike didn’t want to buy a new roller for the white paint – he just cleaned off the red bottom paint and rolled the hull.  It turned out pink.  95% of the boats in the club were white so Mike’s pink boat really stood out.  He liked it!  After it was launched and hooked to his mooring, it became quite a tourist attraction.  All summer, people went out of their way to sail past the 27’ PINK boat!   

Thursday, November 7, 2013


In the winter time, my friend and I would go upstate to Putnam County to go ice fishing.  Now ice fishing consists of cutting 3-4 holes in the ice using an auger, baiting the hook, and lowering the line down to the bottom of the lake. Then you hook the line to a thing called a “tip-it” which has a foot-long wire with a red flag on top.  When you see the flag standing up, you check the line to see if you caught a fish.  If so, you remove the fish, lay it on the ice, re-bait the hook and send it back down to the bottom.  If you come back about half an hour later, your fish will be frozen solid.  Not a very challenging sport, but something to do in the winter. 
The best part of ice fishing was that you went ice skating all over the lake but stayed within sight of your tip-it.  You don’t stand around and wait for a fish to bite or you could wind up frozen like your fish. 

Years later, while ice fishing on the same lake with a fireman friend of mine, I came upon a 14’ Aluminum boat frozen in the ice.  There was ice inside the boat and it was almost even with the lake ice.  We chopped the ice out of the inside of the boat with an ax and freed the boat.  When we got it up onto the ice, we found a bullet hole in the boat.  Someone must have shot at it during hunting season.  We dragged the boat to shore and tied it to a tree.

Next spring, we went back up to the lake and found the boat was still there and there were no ID numbers on it.  We dragged it up the hill and out to the road, then loaded it into my van.  When I got the boat home, I put a nut and bolt with two washers and sealed the bullet hole.  I used it for the next 5 years.

In the winter following the sinking of my boat in Peconic Bay, a friend of mine bought an 18 foot boat at the New York City Boat Show.  The Boat Show is in January, and, when it’s over, the dealers who entered their boats in the show wanted to sell them cheap.  If they couldn’t sell them, then they would have to pay the convention union workers to remove the boats from the convention floor.  Then the dealers had to take them back to their marinas and store them all winter, hoping to sell them in the spring.  

My friend got a great deal on a boat.  I made him a great deal on my 85 HP outboard motor.  He bought the motor and all the equipment with it and had it installed on his boat and used it for a good number of years.  This got me thinking about buying another boat – a larger and newer boat.  

The next boat I bought was a 25’ cabin cruiser, inboard motor, again made out of plywood.  I rented a slip on the Mianus River in Cos Cob, Connecticut.  It came with a spot on land to keep the boat during the winter.  My wife K and I rebuilt this boat and, when we were done, it looked like new.  She reupholstered all the seats in the cabin and out on the deck. She also made curtains and a canvas top to cover the deck with a sun roof over the helmsmen seats. I started to have trouble with the motor; it was a 357 Chevrolet engine.  One day, while out inspecting with the aerial truck, I found a Chevy that was all smashed up on its side and no license plates.  My crew on the truck and I disconnected the motor from the body and the transmission and used the aerial ladder hydraulics to lift the engine out.  We moved it into the back of my van.  After removing everything from the engine block, I took it to a shop to be rebuilt. While the boat was on land during the winter, I built a block and tackle over the engine compartment.  With the help of a few friends, I removed the engine out of the boat and installed the rebuilt one.  We had many years of fun on that boat.   

The kids learned to fish on that boat.  In 1976, they saw the Tall Ships come into New York Harbor from that boat.  They loved to cruise along with their heads stuck up through the hatch.  We all spent many overnight trips on that boat.  

One weekend, we were docked at a marina in Connecticut and a huge yacht pulled up next to us.  They went down into their cabin to get dressed to go to dinner in the dining room at the marina.  When they got off their boat, there we were, sitting on the back deck, watching the news on our TV, feet up, drinking wine and eating fresh clams and mussels that we had harvested hours before.  There was a fresh-caught fish cooking on the portable grill.  They stopped, smiled, and said “Wow, some people really know how to live.”  It was a great time! We used it until I retired, sold our house and boat, and moved to Florida.   

For the next 25 years, we were rarely without some type of boat!  I guess they’re in my blood.

Thursday, October 24, 2013


My first assignment as a new lieutenant was to fire headquarters.  I was an Assistant Training officer.  A Captain was in charge of the training unit.  It was our job to train small classes of new probationary firefighters.  Large classes of recruits would go to the fire academy.  A year later, the Captain retired and I ran the training and re-training unit myself.  If a large class of probationary firefighters were recruited, I would be sent to the fire academy to help with the training.  After 3 years I requested a transfer to a firehouse.  I wanted to get back to firefighting.  

I was sent to a firehouse that was built into the side of a huge rock cliff.  There was a parking driveway on the left side of the station, a small back yard, and a good sized side yard which was carved out of the rock cliff.  The firemen wanted to build a brick barbeque grill.  They showed me their plans and wanted me to ask the Captain of the house for permission.  I suggested that they first get permission to pour a cement slab.  I told the Captain that the men wanted to pour a large slab outside the kitchen door, which was on the second floor, so they could put a picnic table, chairs and a grill.  The space wasn’t usable as it was because it was too rocky.  The Captain approved. 

The men used picks and shovels to dig out the rocks and to make a flat slab.  After the slab cured, everyone chipped in and we bought a large picnic table and benches.  Now I told the Captain that the men wanted to build a brick barbeque grill.  Since they did such a good job on the slab, the Captain approved.  The firemen showed me the plans they drew up for the grill.  It was really big – about 8 feet wide.  They had a pit in the middle with a tall 6 foot chimney. On either side of the chimney were doors – on the left storage for wood – on the right storage for charcoal – and in the back was a compartment for propane tanks.  This grill could be fired up using wood, charcoal or propane.  I returned the plans and told the men that I never saw them and not to show them to the Captain.  Just build it and then see what the Captain says.  

When it was finished, the Captain loved it.  He said had he known how big it was going to be, he probably would have rejected the plans.  I told him no one told me how big it was going to be either. 

The next project the men wanted to build was a thatched roof over the whole slab.  I said NO! NO! NO!!  The taxpayers walking past the firehouse could look up and see the Tiki Bar Roof outside a firehouse and complain to the city that their tax dollars were being used to build a Tiki Bar on firehouse property.  The firefighters in the house paid for everything on the porch deck but the taxpayers didn’t know that.  I also told them that the Assistant Chief, who came to the house every morning to pick up reports, would see this Tiki Roof and we would get in trouble for building something on city property without a permit.  The firefighters agreed no more building on City property – but the barbeque and patio improved the meals and the downtime for all firefighters for years to come.