Marty Graham — Part 1 —The Pirate Boat Ride

Memories of Pleasure Island- the summers of 1961 and ‘62:

Welcome aboard, mates!

I was a member of the Pirate Boat Ride for two summers- I still remember a few fragments from the spiel that started just as we left Pirate Cove in a 32 foot broad beamed boat- that held about 40 people comfortably and a record 86 when we would have to evacuate Treasure Island in a downpour. After loading the passengers, the spiel would begin:

“Welcome aboard, mates!”

“We are on our way to Captain Kidd’s Treasure Island.”

“Please keep your hands and arms inside the boat. The sharks are always looking for a handout.” (Laughter-maybe.)

“No smoking please, the smoke attracts the sharks.” (This one was a killer.)

“I’m glad to see someone sitting on the engine hatch in front of me- last time out it blew off!” (Less laughter.)

“The fishing here is pretty good. Just yesterday I caught three jellyfish: one grape, one mint and one marmalade!” (At this point it was too late to get out. )

We would then pass under a railroad trestle prior to approaching Shark Bait Shoals, our first landmark. If the operator of the boat timed things properly he could run the boat under the trestle just as the steam locomotive passed ominously overhead with a lot of clang and clatter (we could usually get one little kid to start crying in fear at this point- that was the object of the whole experience wasn’t it? To scare the daylights out of the little kids? If a child did start to cry on board the standard line was:

“This is a pirate boat, not a wailing boat!” The parents of the affected child usually did not appreciate this- when a boatload of people was laughing at the expense of their baby’s feelings. But, hey! You don’t like it, get out and walk! At this point in the narrative, I have to give proper credit to the author of this line, Bob Honnors, a graduate of the Mass. School of Optometry and fellow crew member.

“Look at that shark! Why he’s swimming so fast around that barrel, he looks like he’s standing still!”

This wasn’t exactly a scene from Jaws- the “shark” consisted of a single fin atop a steak driven into the sand- and when the water was low, the entire fin was exposed sans corpse.

At this point there was a 90-degree turn around the shoals and our destination, Treasure Island, was in sight. The approach to the dock was always a sailor’s nightmare. You had to make a 180-degree turn into the dock. If you did not make the turn with the proper speed while applying the right torque to the wheel you ended up in the weeds. They did not run on cables as a number of passengers thought.

As we entered the dock, a sailor would be standing by ready to assist in the landing.

“And there standing on the dock is Lana Turner’s brother, Stomach Turner.” (No laughter, let’s get out here.)

We had a variation on this theme that consisted of the following:

A member of the crew would arrive for the late shift and the crowd waiting in line at the dock did not know he was a regular member of the crew. This person was played to perfection by Anthony Pietrafetta (Wakefield High ‘63(?)). Anthony looked like someone who just got off the boat and was about to get on another one. The foreman would send the regular operator on a break and Anthony would appear as the ‘new man’. It went something like this:

Foreman: ‘Who are you?”

Anthony: “I’m Anthony, the new man.”

Foreman: “Have you been trained yet?”

Anthony: (looking a little worried) “No- not yet.” Foreman: “No problem. We’ll train you right now. Get in the boat.”

[At this point Anthony would be at the wheel with a boatload of assorted passengers, some amused, some skeptical and some very concerned].

Foreman: “O.K. You see that key there-that’s the ignition. Turn the key.”

[Anthony would turn the key and jump when the engine turned over.]

Foreman: “Now take the wheel- turn it left when you want to go to port ­ and right when you want to go to starboard.” [Anthony took the wheel with a slight look of increasing panic]

Anthony: “Which way is port?”

Foreman: “That way!” [pointing to the left]. “O.K. Give it some gas.”

Anthony: [Pressing the pedal with the engine revving at about 800RPM.] “It’s not going anywhere!”

[At this point a number of passengers would get up and get off in a huff.]

Foreman: “Put it in gear! Push the shift forward!” [Anthony would look for the shift.

At this point, without fail, a little kid would get up and show him where the shift was.]

Anthony:[to the kid] “Thanks!”

[Anthony would then put the engine in forward and the boat would lurch forward.]

[A goggle-eyed Anthony would proceed from the dock his body stiffened with fear- white knuckled hands gripping the wheel until he cleared the dock.]

Anthony: “I think I got it!”

Foreman: “I certainly hope so! Bye people!”

[At this point Anthony relaxed, put on a broad smile and let everyone know the joke was over.]

Anthony: “Welcome aboard, mates!” The adults appreciated this bit more so than the children- at least the ones that remained on board!

The foreman for the first year was Peter Meuse. The second year it was Paul Balzotti. I was the assistant foreman the second year at $1.20/hour. Other crew members included Eddie Burell (from Winchester), Dick Morel, Roy Shea and Richard Toth. Most of the crew were from Wakefield.

Martin C. Graham
340 Weaver Street
Larchmont, NY 10538
914 834-7671
e-mail: mcgraham@mail.med.cornell.edu


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