Finding Minnie

Reunited and it feels so good: The author next to the Minifish she had as a kid, and then later, as an adult, tracked down in a neighboring state. The orange-and-white sail is original to the boat. Photo courtesy Pam Humbert

By Pam Humbert
For Points East

It’s been almost 30 years since my mom called to talk about their big move, and the fate of one of the family’s small sailboats. “There’s some interest from Barry down the road for the Minifish,” she said. Her statement gave me pause for about 30 difficult seconds. I knew the boat, which was a scaled-down version of the iconic Sunfish, would slip out of my hands if I didn’t say something right that second. The chance came and went with my silence, and then it was gone.

Fleeting thoughts of the good times I’d had sailing the Minifish came to mind in the intervening years, until one day last June I actually decided to find out what had happened to her. I picked up the phone and held it, wondering, what if? What if I did find her? What then? Did I really want her back? Then it came to me – our daughter Kaitlyn wanted a boat! This one, having been mine once, certainly would be special.

I didn’t know Barry’s last name or number, but I knew where he lived. On a lark, I called the security service responsible for watching over the community where he resided. I know, probably borderline inappropriate. But, to his credit – or maybe detriment – the gentleman who answered my call listened patiently while I introduced myself, and outlined what I was trying to do. He ended up giving me Barry’s number.

With it in hand, though, I hesitated. This is silly, I thought. After all these years, even if I do find her, she’ll probably be beyond repair. But, there’s only one way to find out. I dialed the number, and, when Barry answered, blurted out my question.

“Er, no,” he said, trying to digest the nature of my call. “I sold it quite a while ago to a family in Jersey.”

Disappointed, I asked if he remembered who it was. He did. Sort of. “Oh, well I was over at West Shore Marina,” he said, “and I got to talking to this family I met there, and, well, sold it to them.” The words “New Jersey” and “West Shore Marina” clicked together, as though puzzle pieces. “Barry,” I asked, “Did they have a sailboat about 30 feet long?”

“Well, yes, I believe they did.”

I hung up the phone in disbelief. Providence! It had to be the family that came upon us after sunset one night last summer when we were aboard our own boat, a Pearson 30 named Morgana, and ended up rafting with us. In the inky darkness we’d introduced ourselves, and became acquainted. They’d told us the story behind their boat’s name, how their sons loved to race small sailboats, and, most importantly, that they lived in New Jersey and kept their boat at West Shore Marina. It had to be them! Even better, I knew our friend, Dave, would have their phone number.

I shot Dave a text. My heartbeat quickened when Dave replied and I realized I would either find her, or reach a dead-end. Anticipating the boat’s new owner, Bob, potentially being taken aback, I tried to reign in my determination. I dialed.

“Hello, Bob? This is Pam Humbert . . . I just hung up with Barry, the gentleman you bought the Minifish from. It’s the boat I learned to sail on, and if your kids are done with it, I’d like my boat back!”

Well, so much for being gentle. I waited anxiously through the pregnant pause that followed. Bob was undoubtedly considering the pile of debris that lay atop the Minifish in the distant recesses of his yard, and the hassle of bringing it back to New York. But he said yes. Finally, arrangements were made for him to bring it to West Shore Marina. “Oh, and Bob, one final question,” I asked. “Does it still have the original orange-and-white sail?”

We picked Minnie up, hid her in the garage, and got to work wet-sanding, polishing and painting. I grappled with three things while I worked: How to prevent Kate from going into the garage; how to get her to pick out a sail (the original was rather long in the tooth) without knowing it was for her; and finally, how to orchestrate the surprise.

An idea struck me that took care of the first issue: Kate hates spiders. Laughing to myself, I shot off a text. “Kate, I just want to let you know that all of a sudden there are a ton of spiders in the garage.” Our secret was safe.

When Kate stopped by, I knew what to do about the sail. I pulled up a website that sells sails on my phone. Trying to sound spontaneous I handed the phone to her, saying, “One of my clients showed me the sails they could choose from for their Opti. Fun-looking, aren’t they?”

Kate took the phone and was drawn in by the vibrant colors. She scrolled down through a few and then stopped. “Mom,” she said handing me back the phone, “look at this blue and yellow one. It reminds me of our first boat, Little Dutch!”

I took the phone, looked at the one she’d singled out, and suppressed a victorious smile. That was easy!

Finally, the Minifish was ready to sail again. All we needed to unveil the surprise was a ruse for a family dinner. Hmmm. One of my sons, Steve, was coming back from a three-week hitch aboard a tugboat. A dinner for Steve would do the trick. I called Kate . . . .

One by one, my family arrived. Our excitement grew with each arrival until finally we were all together, and all eyes turned to me. “Kate, remember I told you I’d found something really crazy?” She nodded, eager to finally find out what it was. “Well, it was a dear old friend. Someone I haven’t seen in almost 30 years. She wants to meet you.” I looked at our son, Ryan, and gave him his cue. “Rye, is she here yet?” He rose, and slipped away to wheel the Minifish out onto the driveway, and came back giving me an affirmative nod. “OK, Kate, let’s go meet her.”

We walked out the front door, where a boat hidden under a cover was visible. Laughing, Kate exclaimed, “Spiders – there were no spiders!” Then, she noticed the orange-and-white sail lying flaked on top. Her eyes lit up as the rest fell into place. “Mom, is that the Minifish?!”

Tearing up, I answered, “It is . . . the very one.” When she went to peek under the cover I gently stopped her. “Wait, Kate.” Everyone stood quietly and watched as I symbolically rolled up the old sail. Holding it dearly I said, “The Minifish is sporting new colors, and is ready for new adventures and a new skipper – you. She’s yours, now.”

Clearly amazed, she threw off the cover. We raised the sail. “Mom, that’s the sail I liked!” When Kate stepped back to take it all in, her friend Alex presented her with a bottle of champagne.

There we were: Standing around a 40-year-old, 11-foot sailboat, unable to take our eyes off her. “So Kate,” I finally asked. “What are you going to name her?”

“Minnie,” she said. “M-i-n-n-i-e!”

Pam Humbert, a Northport/East Northport, N.Y., native who’s been boating since she was seven, is a devoted wife and mother of three grown children. She is also founder of P.K. Services, providing start-ups with the skills and services they need to help keep their sails trimmed. Pam, her husband Jim, and their family cherish the days they spend on the waters of Northport Harbor and Long Island Sound.

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