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. 

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