WW II had ended in August 1945, almost all of our service men were home, the great depression was a dim memory and a new consumer economy was just beginning to heat up. Rationing of gasoline and food had ended and folks now had time to think of leisure activities.
In February of 1947, our neighbor, Dave Miller, with my Dad’s help, had just completed, in his garage, a 14’, flat bottom, skiff. The construction predated, by many years, the advent of electric powered, hand tools and this boat was completely made by hand, from the sawing of the ½” marine plywood, until the last of 4 coats of spar varnish was applied. Power for the boat was supplied by a brand new, 5 HP, Johnson Sea Horse and another of Dave’s friends had made him a crude, trailer for the boat. Dave and my Dad were going to be able to really “go after the big ones” now.
Bad weather postponed the “christening” and “shake down cruise” of the new boat until early March and the saltwater canals near Freeport, Texas were chosen. During the war, a large chemical company had built a huge plant just outside of Freeport and this effort included a series of canals that were connected to the Brazos River, that were used for moving finished product and construction equipment around the sites. The canals were 10’ to 12’ deep and offered protection during cold snaps to the many Speckled Trout, Redfish and Flounder that inhabited them.
My Dad performed the “christening”. He opened a beer, took a sip, poured a few drops on the bow and then finished it. He and Dave then headed out into the canals to find some fish and their first stop only yielded a few small ones.
Moving to a new spot, and as he said, “Playing the fool”, my Dad was sitting, facing Dave, on the small, front deck of the skiff as Dave turned into another canal. My Dad didn’t see the turn coming and piled head first into the cold, cold water! Thank goodness, he was a good swimmer and as he popped to the surface, Dave, laughing loudly, quickly came about and retrieved him.
My Dad was soaked, his watch ruined by the salt water and they faced a long trip back to the launch area. He survived the ordeal, but never liked my Mother or me bringing up this “swim” to him.
Dave went out and purchased some floating, life preserver type, seat cushions and several years later he told me, “Jon, back then I never thought about any kind of life jackets. When we crossed the flooded rivers in Italy, we were never issued any!” Dave was a Captain with Texas own 36th Infantry Division during the bloody fighting up the Italian “boot”!