After the boys (and girls) of summer have gone

Chances are, by the time this comes out, your favorite young launch driver – ours is pictured here – will be back at school. Photo by Bob Muggleston

The title of this piece is obviously a riff on the signature line from Don Henley’s “The Boys of Summer,” a song that doesn’t get too much airplay anymore, but that all these years later (it was originally released in 1984) still affects me when I hear it. It’s the nostalgia, of course. Summers are special when you’re young. In 1984 I was still in high school, and summers back then were filled with landscaping, sailing and hanging out with friends. That line – “After the boys of summer have gone.” To me it always conjured, and still does, the image of empty lifeguard chairs on an abandoned beach (I know, very specific). What a sad sight that is to someone who’s young, because it means summer – summer jobs, summer loves, the freedom to do nothing – is over, and it’s time to go back to school.

These days I have kids of my own, and they, too, dread the start of school. They’ve even banned the summertime use of the “S” word in our house. But each year something takes place at our marina that makes the approach of “S” impossible to ignore: our regular launch drivers disappear (cue the image of the empty lifeguard chair on an abandoned beach).

My family always gets to know the young, college-aged men and women who run the launches at our marina, and it’s sad when they invariably leave in mid- to late-August, headed back to school. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with their replacements. It’s just sad to see the young folks go. The significance of their disappearance certainly isn’t lost on my kids. For me, it means another boating season here in New England is beginning to wind down.

Beyond that, we’re a little glum because we really like our launch operators. They’re a great group of young men and women: always cheerful, with a fun story to share, and professional. They’re good at what they do. As are, I’d imagine, the majority of young launch drivers at marinas throughout New England. Take this anecdote, for instance, from Bernie Wideman, who’s one of Points East magazine’s founders, which got me thinking about all this in the first place. “I remember riding in a launch in Maine on a rainy, foggy night. I couldn’t see any further than the bow of the launch,” Bernie recalls. “I certainly couldn’t see boats or moorings until we were right on top of them. The operator was a college student – short blond hair, nice smile. Everyone in the launch was wet. I told her what mooring I needed to get to – I think it may have been a friend’s boat – and wouldn’t you know she found it, in the fog.”

For some young launch operators, of course, their summer job turns into something more. In the same email, Bernie recounts a former female launch operator/dockhand at the Brewer yard in South Freeport, Maine. Turned out she was an English major at UNH. Bernie’s wife was an English professor at UNH. So the three of them chatted a bit before the summer dockhand got back to work.

After graduating from college, the launch operator took a full-time job at the yard, and, last Bernie knew, she was the yard manager.

Beyond them doing their jobs well, or watching them grow and assume new responsibilities, it’s just fun being around young people. For instance, one of the launch operators at our marina last year had a younger brother who was fond of a particular prank. Each day, when Older Brother’s name would appear on a chalkboard listing the launch drivers on duty, Younger Brother would swing by, erase the name, and replace it with a perversion of Older Brother’s name. Nothing dirty, mind you, just a not-so-subtle calling card that Younger Brother had been there. Only young people are so dedicated to such silliness, and I applaud their diligence.

By the time this issue comes out, most of the boys – and girls – of summer will be gone. The boating season is slowly beginning to wind down. If nothing else, this is a reminder that summer doesn’t last forever – that those chairs on the beach will, eventually, be empty. Be sure to go out before it’s too late and make new memories on the water.