Back in the day, my dad and Uncle Phil co-owned the Cho-Go, a wooden Owens motorboat. Our summers were filled with day trips to and from the beaches of the Great South Bay. Each year our families grew. My mom described passing small children from the boat to the beach shore akin to the circus clown cars—it seemed like an endless stream of kids.
We fished for blowfish and snappers from the Cho-Go, jumped off the bow to show off budding diving skills and belly flops, and picnicked on the sand until dusk. Life jackets were present but always uncomfortable. They were for emergencies. Despite ongoing engine troubles, afternoon winds whipping the bay to a frenzy, and a boat loaded with sun-kissed beach bums, there was never a real emergency.
Us kids learned to stay seated when the boat was underway. Big kids could sit on the bow with one leg in the hatch. One or two little kids were allowed to pop their heads out of the hatch. We learned to tie docking lines on cleats, help haul the anchor, and take turns sitting on my dad’s or Uncle’s lap to steer the boat to our destinations. So many wonderful memories were born on the Cho-Go.
One of my favorite Cho-Go memory was water skiing. The Great South Bay is large and tends to get very choppy- unfavorable for water skiing. Ideal conditions include calm winds, a flat bay and plenty of room to whip the skier over the boat wake. Some coves offered a wind barrier, but boat traffic and channel regulations made it difficult to get in good rides. Water skiing also required a reliable boat that quickly pulled up the skier, a skipper with an innate sense to turn sharply for the best rides, and a safety crew watching the skier to cheer and report to the skipper that the skier went down. A tow rope or two and sets of water skis were always on board in case the conditions were just right for a spin.
I may have been six years old for my first water ski experience. Dad held me on his broad shoulders in the water. He slipped his feet into wide wooden water skis painted red and white. I had on an orange life jacket.
“Hold on to my head, Antonette, not my neck,” instructed Dad.
Just a few feet back to my right was Uncle Phil with my five-year-old cousin Sal on his shoulders. My little sisters and cousins sat on the boat deck, waving and calling out to us. Aunt Kay sat in the middle of the gaggle holding onto a toddler. Mom, pregnant with my youngest brother, circled the boat around us, trailing the ski ropes. Dad and Uncle Phil caught the end of the line and held onto their tow bar. The Cho-Go gently dragged us. Dad leaned back. The tips of his skis breach the surface. I held tighter to Dad’s head.
Uncle Phil shouted, “GO!”
Mom pushed the throttle forward and headed straight into the open bay. We stepped on top of the bay’s surface and ZOOMed inside the wake of the Cho-Go. My sisters and cousins cheered and waved frantically. Brave Sal waved back but I held on with two arms wrapped around Dad’s head. Dad showed off and lifted one ski out of the war. As Mom started a wide turn, we jumped the wake. Uncle Phil jumped the same side too. Woohoo! I held on tighter.
Back in the middle of the wake, Dad called to me “DUCK!” I leaned my head close to his ear as he crouched down to let Uncle Phil and Sal crossover. Another jump! Our cheering squad got louder. I let go of Dad’s head and clapped.
I am not sure how long we stayed up, but I do remember being exhilarated with fright and delight at the same time. When Dad and Uncle Phil finally tired, they simultaneously let go of their tow bars. We sank into the bay laughing and already retelling the adventure.
Eventually, I got up on my skis, a sleek fiberglass set, when I was 10 or 11. The Cho-Go was long gone, but Dad always had a motor boat running in some capacity every summer. My sister, Mary became the master skipper. I learned to jump wakes, ski with no hands, criss-cross with another skier, kick-off one ski to slalom, and ski close enough to the bulkhead to make my mother gasped and threatened my privileges. It was a lot of fun. It was also a sport I could do with the only my sisters and cousins being the competition.
My water skiing days are over now since my bones are a bit “delicate”. Besides, my gentle sailboat does not have the speed to pull me up and whip me around the bay.
Antoinette Truglio Martin is the author of Hug Everyone You Know: A Year of Community, Courage, and Cancer. The memoir is a wimpy patient’s journey through her first year of breast cancer treatment.