My late father was a bit of a renaissance man. A WWII veteran, a casual race-car driver, a corporate executive, a published author, and an accomplished skier, surfer, swimmer, carpenter, plumber, electrician, sailor, and boat builder. Whew! That list wears me out! He was also a music lover and enjoyed his collection of jazz records, including what he thought might be the largest Django Reinhardt collection in the state.
He served on the school board for the regional high school for many years and was an active and respected member of that organization. He really liked helping the students however he could. He was instrumental in starting up the school sailing club, which met regularly and taught interested high school students the art and skills of sailing small boats.
My father had a life-long love of boats and boating, and of the water in general. He would go sailing or rowing with friends or family whenever possible. He personally built and launched a sea-worthy 25-foot sailboat along with a half-dozen beautiful wooden rowboats and one 14-foot outboard skiff. Another thing that he did was to combine his love of boats and the water with his interest in helping and inspiring students when he made guest appearances at the high school to talk about wooden boat building. This was the beginning of a boat building club at the high school and my father donated the first wooden boat kit to this group.
Time passed and my father passed and the family lost track of this school boat building club. Then, just last week my wonderful stepmother was surprised when she got a call from the school superintendent, a family friend, with the news that the boat building club had completed construction of a wooden rowboat and it had been christened the “William D. Nelson”! (My father.)
Students, teachers, and other interested and noted Cape May locals would be gathering at the public boat-launch ramp in Cape May’s back harbor area to officially launch the boat in just a few days, on Friday morning, October 30th. So I zipped to Cape May for a few days to join my stepmother in the festivities. The weather cooperated and it was a cool but otherwise flawless fall morning when about 50 people gathered for the big event.
Our friend the superintendent said a few words which included thanking my father for his contribution and inspiration. The teacher who had actually led and worked with the student boat builders on this lengthy project also gave a short but heartfelt speech. My stepmother Meryl had the honor of christening the boat with the ceremonial champagne (no bottle-breaking, thank you – just splashing over the bow!) Then, with minimal further ado, the boat was backed into the water and floated off its trailer. A group of students and the teacher who led the effort got in and took a short row off into the back harbor, around a bit, and back. The boat floated, the students rowed, the crowd applauded, and the whole affair was pronounced a great success!
The boat itself was quite beautiful and was very tastefully painted in a version of our high school colors. A friend who I chatted with that morning and who knows more about boats than I do told me that it was a 19’ St. Ayles skiff. It really was a classy-looking vessel.
The Working Stiff