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Wet Dreams

Wet Dreams

After I learned to read, a favorite trip was to the library. I loved to read and would stay up late at night, long after I was supposed to be asleep, reading from the big stack of library books I’d chosen that week. Voracious reading has remained a lifelong habit. One of the first books I remember reading was “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” I’d chosen it initially because of the many detailed illustrations it contained, but I loved the story! After reading that book, which I convinced the older of my two brothers to also read, we decided to build a raft. We were totally enamored of the idea of floating down the river, free from care, camping where we wanted to, and getting far from daily chores. The two of us proceeded to nail together anything we could get our hands on. The monstrous “craft” we built in the backyard, mostly out of scrap lumber from old coal sheds that had once stood in the yard, must have weighed a ton when we finally decided the job was done. We knew we were done – we couldn’t find any more nails! It had never occurred to us that in order to use the raft on the river we’d first have to transport it the several long blocks to the water. For a short time, though, it served to fulfill a childhood dream. It was a boat, even if it was landlocked, and many a fanciful trip was made on it before an angry father took it apart and burned the wood. To our childish ears, his reason for doing so seemed unfair – he couldn’t get the station wagon into the back driveway.
That raft was probably an indicator of things to come, though. I would grow up and marry a young man who had salt water in his soul, and we would sail many thousands of blue-water miles together, raising our own children aboard various sailboats. The older of my two brothers, my “boat-building” companion, joined the U.S. Navy the day after he graduated from high school. His enlistment came during the week in which I got married. That brother spent several tours of duty in Vietnam aboard the USS Kitty Hawk, and then twenty-five years in the Delaware Air National Guard.
It had been an interesting start, attempting to replicate the watery adventures of Mark Twain’s characters, and probably laid down some never-to-be-forgotten goals in our minds. Real boat and ship building were still being practiced in the area when we were kids, and it wasn’t unusual to see a newly launched vessel going out for her initial watery trials on the Delaware River. The USS Kitty Hawk, in fact. had been laid down by the New York Shipbuilding Co. at Camden, New Jersey. She was launched at that shipyard in the early Spring of 1961. They had to flood the drydocks in which she had been “born.” It was deemed unwise to have a conventional launch whereby a ship slides stern-first or sideways down skids or “ways.” The Kitty Hawk was huge, and with a conventional slide launch, there was a risk of damaging impact with the Philadelphia shoreline on the far side of the river. When this massive war vessel went downriver on her maiden trip she had to go under the Delaware Memorial Bridge, which span wasn’t high enough. The ship had to be canted far over on one side by filling her port ballast tanks with river water. Then, lying almost on her side, she was slid successfully under the span. Members of my family were watching from the riverside as she made her way slowly downriver, on her way to active duty. After leaving the Delaware River the ship then went on to a Norfolk, Virginia, Naval shipyard to have the control tower and superstructure built on her topsides. The completed supercarrier, the last oil-fired aircraft carrier in service with the US Navy, went on to serve a long and busy life. She was decommissioned in 2009.
In the interim, Jim and I had met and married and raised a family, with many watery adventures along the way. My brother continued his love for vessels and life along watery ways by becoming a volunteer in the crew of the tallship Kalmar Nyckle, based out of Wilmington, Delaware. To this day, our separate “wet dreams” continue, some unfulfilled, but many achieved.

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