Vern & Don - Boat Trip

July 2009

It was the best of times and it was the better of times – for two Prep ’55 classmates.

Don Unger and I rejoined our efforts to sail Don’s twin turbo-charged Volvo engines, 42 foot power boat from southern Florida to Jersey City.  The trip north was successful, adventurous and constant fun.  Don was the captain for the first time when moving his boat either north or south.  He always used the services of an experienced captain before.  I, who had no experience in boating except to fall out of Tom Foley’s sailboat a few years ago (also a Prep ’55 classmate and the one from North Bergen).  I served as Don’s first mate and potentially as first bait.

Don gave me a crash course on boating.  My initial request was for the boating trot.  None was available.  Don made me memorize all the important facts and actions.  (I throw this in for Bob Esti and all the others who remember Bob Howard’s joke.)  I memorized everything on “scrap paper”.

I learned the nautical terms, how to handle a line, how to fuel the boat, how to steer the boat and how to wash down the boat each evening.  Don is an excellent captain.  He charted the course both on the Inter Coastal Waterway and the ocean.  He expertly docked the boat in some difficult situations.  The boat behaved well.  We had a problem with the guidance system and that was repaired.  We had a problem with the two starters and Don called a Volvo mechanic who guided Don through the steps to correct the problem.  One radio failed but Don had backups for everything.

The ocean and bays behaved and we only hit higher waves coming up the Jersey coast.  We cruised most times at about 25 miles per hour.  We slept on the boat each night and Don selected one outstanding restaurant after another for our evening meal during our seven-day adventure.

We kept in touch with Ray Aumack during the trip primarily for weather reports.  Ray would venture out onto his front porch in Montclair, New Jersey to check the color of the evening sky and report, “Red sky at night, sailors’ delight.”  Thanks to Ray we knew we were safe each day.

The final two hours of the trip were outstanding.  We powered into the narrows through the same waterway our parents, grandparents and other relatives sailed on their way past the Statue of Liberty to Ellis Island and to their first U.S.A. home in Hudson County.  Passing under the Verrazano Bridge was a happy experience for me.  You may be surprised to learn that I worked as an iron worker on the Verrazano Bridge for 11 days during the Christmas break when I returned to New Jersey during my first year teaching mathematics at St. Mary of The Plains College in Kansas.  I strongly suspect that I am the only iron worker to both work on the bridge and run the NYC Marathon across the bridge.  After having run across that bridge 25 consecutive years (1981 – 2005) it was pleasurable to sail under it with Don.

Don docked his beautiful Italian-built boat in the Jersey City marina not far from St. Peter’s Prep.  Don and I met 58 years ago in 1B.  He and I took every Prep class together as we switched academic tracks twice.  He is my only constant classmate at Prep and I, of course, his.  After graduation from Prep, we did not see each other until 1965 when I, as a new hire at IBM, was sent for training to the IBM Newark Education Center.  Don and John Crotty were stock brokers at Eastman Dillon in the very same Newark building.  After that we met at the five-year Prep reunions.  I cannot thank Don sufficiently for this adventure we shared.  At 70 plus years of age, adventure is still out there for all of us.  Let’s keep looking!


Vernal Piantanida

Prep ‘55