Not Quite the Big Yellow Taxi

By Norwood Walker

 

 

“…Crowds of men and women attired in the usual costumes, how curious you are to me!
On the ferry-boats the hundreds and hundreds that cross, returning home, are more curious to me
than you suppose,
And you that shall cross from shore to shore years hence are more to me, and more in my mediations,
Than you might suppose…”

 

 

Those lines, written by Walt Whitman in the 1850s, from one of his best-loved poems “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” could still apply to the people crossing between Manhattan and Brooklyn today.  “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” is a poem about a man taking the ferry home from Manhattan.  Whitman uses the man’s experience to argue how all humans are united in the common experience of life. Today, big yellow water taxis and ferries continue to carry people across the East River, site of Whitman’s poem.  Mr. Whitman would nod his head and say “I told you we are connected even across time,” if he were to know that a boat that once navigated the waters of the East and Hudson Rivers as a private water taxi now navigates the waters of Hyco, Mayo, and Kerr Lakes hundreds of miles south of the East River.

Randy Yarboro had wanted to buy a wooden boat and had been looking for one for a couple of years when he came across the Shuttle. Here in Randy’s own words is the story of his wooden boat.

“The Shuttle is a 26’ 1956 Chris Craft Sea Skill.  It was sold new at a marina in New Jersey, and it spent the first part of its life as a water taxi in New York City.  It was not a “formal “taxi, just a boat run by a privateer taking people across for a fee.  At some point it was sold to someone in Maryland and was kept on Deep Creek Lake in the western part of the state until I purchased it around 2006.  The boat is powered by the original Chris Craft M engine which is an 800-pound flathead inline six cylinder with a single updraft carburetor.  The engine is rated at somewhere around 130 HP but has a lot of torque (a better indicator of how fast the boat can accelerate).  Personally, I consider it to be a bit underpowered for a boat its size.  The 26’ model is the largest boat that Chris Craft makes with (a) single engine.  Anything larger has two engines and dual props.  All in all, it performs pretty well.

I had been looking to buy a wooden boat for a couple of years.  I considered a runabout type boat, and I thought them to be more attractive but not very practical for ease of use.  I started favoring the more utilitarian Sea Skiff for ease of boarding and the open cockpit design with more room to move about inside.  The boat is roomy and rides very well.  They are known for handling rough seas with the lapstrake design (planks of the hull overlap) and high freeboard (distance between the waterline and upper edge of a boat).  I also liked the stretched canvas top.  Got to have some shade.  Even on the hottest days it is very comfortable under the top with the two front windows tilted out and the breeze coming through.

Work began in 2010 with Gary Lowell of Lowell Boats in Greensboro, North Carolina, handling structural renovation with mahogany decks and planking, swim platform, and white oak steam bent ribs.  I updated the original mechanics myself, keeping the original numbers matching the engine.

She was finally ready for launch in 2012.  After some trial runs here on Person County lakes, we took the Shuttle to Smith Mountain Lake where she won Best Lapstrake in the Smith Mountain Lake Antique and Classic Boat Show.  Summers are spent on Mayo, Hyco, and Kerr Lakes.  Right now, the Shuttle is spending the winter here in Allensville, waiting for the 2019 boating season to begin.”

So even though they never met, lived in different centuries, and hundreds of miles apart Walt Whitman and Randy Yarboro share a common bond.  The river that Whitman crossed so many times and inspired him to write one of America’s most loved poems was crossed by a boat carrying passengers who might have had some of the same thoughts Whitman did on his crossing.  Randy obviously loves the boat and the time he spends on the water.  Thus, perpetuating the past. Wonder if he ever hears the whispers of Whitman in the wind reminding us of our common experiences of life.

Norwood Walker has spent much of the last 60 years in a classroom on one side of the desk or the other.  Loving to write poetry and stories in high school, his English teacher of 3 years once told him he might become a writer if he overcame his radical period. She is still waiting. He can be reached at norwoodwalker@gmail or Rainbow's End on Facebook.