Boats Gone By

My dad Peter Henkel  (1929-2001) was always a trickster: a rebellious kid, a young man with a reckless streak. A  real romantic, he fell in love with my mother the moment they met. They both loved the whole ‘Roaring Twenties’ era and so when I was about three bought a 1930 Chris Craft speedboat to restore. That boat became an obsession, a family treasure and finally a business when we moved to Harsens Island and bought a marina. A lively  community of classic boats grew up around my dad. He was instrumental in the antique runabout revival, restoring, showing, selling and building replicas of classic speedboats.

Boats Gone By  is a song written by two friends (music by Lynn Hollyfield, lyric by Carol Burbank) For a few years I kept a boat here on the Potomac River, one of his replicas.  The sound, the vibration, the smell of varnish and motor oil, the throaty sound of a big marine engine: whenever I was in that boat I felt him there with me. When the time came to sell the boat I felt another wave of grief.

Boats Gone By (click to play)

the river tends the memory
of every ship that sailed
the ones that skimmed the surface
and the ones that failed.
your father’s and his father’s 
and your brother’s and your hands
are rippled with the trails
of boats gone by
long gone by

It makes me cry every time. In that beautiful way, where I glimpse how deep my heart might be. The line about my hands, the lines in my skin like the moving waves, is just so poignant and profound. My hands and feet look like my mother’s, my father’s. Ripples through time.

Thank you, Dad, for the incredible gifts you gave me: my senses of adventure and direction, my logical mind, my twisted sense of humor, even my thinning hair!

Love you, Dad

3 thoughts on “Boats Gone By”

  1. A lovely tribute to your Dad. I’m sure he’s somewhere celebrating that he may have done a pretty good job of raising you after all. II remember your boat, Patrise, and am glad I had a chance to at least once get a ride in it. XXXX Joan

  2. Beautiful! I was just on the Potomac yesterday in our 1957 Penn Yan Captivator. It will be used as a tender to our other boat project. Bacchante. A 1922 NY Yacht, Launch, and Engine Company Gentlemen’s Yacht. (mvbacchante.wordpress.com) I could feel the movement of the boat and smell the antique boat smell. Wonderful!

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