Oh, The Torment

By Obie Usategui

A moment's decision begins a life measured in boats.


Photo courtesy: Bernadette Bernon

What was the exact date when it all happened? I can't remember. I just know it was 1973. I was 28 years old. I drove into this small Texaco station to gas up my old faithful Chevy, and there she was. My eyes were drawn to a "For Sale" sign tiredly lingering on the rusted bow rail of an unbranded blue "bowrider." The sorry-looking craft was powered by a 35-hp Johnson, strikingly abused by the rigors of salt-water. Strangely enough, the combination of vessel and engine overwhelmed me, to the point that its obvious deterioration propelled in me the unaccountable desire to own it. Little did I know that this moment would become a milestone in my life — the beginning of an everlasting love for boats and the ocean that would carry me to this day.

It all boiled down to price, I guess. How much money would the station owner be willing to sell his tired craft for? And, how much would I be willing to pay, now that I'd psychologically committed to the purchase? It didn't take long to know the answers to either question as the anxiety and exhilaration of becoming a boat owner quickly caved in to the owner's selling price of $300 — a price I thought was not only reasonable but outright unbeatable. No sooner had he uttered the asking price than I told him we had a deal. There you are. I was a "boater."

And We Know What This Is Like
In the months that followed, I realized what just about every boater has gone through at one time or another in their boating lives — the realization that this hobby, my newly found pastime, while immensely rewarding in many ways, comes at a high price in terms of headaches, disappointments, and unwanted expenditures. Let's just say, it's all part of being a boater. There's no getting around it. If you have not, at some point in your boating life, been left at sea with a dead engine; run aground in a shallow spot at low tide; or been towed to port amidst complete embarrassment in front of guests; you, my friend, cannot claim, not just yet anyway, to be a boater.

Well, my newly found love turned out to be no different. More often than not, my engine wouldn't start. Or worse, it would stall as the departure marina was still in sight. A few months of continued ordeals earned my loving vessel its name: The Torment. Family and friends unanimously agreed, outings on my beloved craft were anything but safe, and I quickly found an army of mistrustful invitees declining my courteous invites to go boating with me. Ironically, the unprecedented comedy of errors, aborted outings, and strenuous days at sea brought about by The Torment had become the subject of jokes and laughter at all gatherings of friends and family. In spite of it all, believe it or not, The Torment and I become seriously attached to one another. Of all things, throughout our strenuous relationship, I learned that boat outings and life had much more in common than we sometimes care to acknowledge or even understand. Both are, in fact, nothing but a series of continued challenges.

I learned that you must fight hard for the things you really want. I learned that the only way to succeed in life as well as in boating is to experience failures while learning to overcome them. I learned that overcoming is one of man's most powerful tools in their quest for success, such as making an engine start again after many failed attempts. The roar of a restarted stalled engine is very much the sound of success. It comes with an unmatched feeling of satisfaction, of conquering, of triumph. Whether we realize it or not, we go through life, restarting our own personal engines every so often, something we've come to know as motivation. We go through life always getting ready for our next outing, our next challenge, our next objective, our next triumph.

The smell of the sea, the sound of breaking waves, the manificent ocean. My only way of sharing in the beauty of this magnificent part of nature would come exclusively by way of a boat…

Life Goes Forward
Unknown to me then, that smell of sun and saltwater had become permanently a part of my DNA. Never again was I able to fully detach from boating, from that smell of sun and saltwater. After The Torment, there would be other vessels that came and went throughout my life – a Donzi speedboat, followed by a 28-foot flybridge sports cruiser, then a 36-foot Trojan sportfisherman, followed by my pride and joy, a 46-foot Bertram with a Boston Whaler tender. I lived in a house on the water, with a dock! What more could a man of 50 want? Arguably, a lot more, as I'd find out later, when my personal life and my marriage were in shambles.

The boats owned throughout my life were, for the most part, linked to my economic situation and age. Over time, my taste for speed in the water was largely replaced by a desire for space, amenities, entertainment, and fishing. In the end, it was just about a relaxing weekend in Bimini, with dinners and friends onboard. Yes, there were my attempts at "captainhood" mastering the simple GPS, which became my guiding light for intrepid voyages. Oh my God, the unforgettable times!

Regretfully, no sooner was I on top of the world than my business life began to crumble. My once-solid plastic-manufacturing companies here and in Mexico had fallen prey to judgment errors on my part that sent my little empire spiraling down, culminating in the loss of just about everything I owned, my boat included. Lenders justly feasted on my remains.

After the collapse, I felt complete despair. These events had depleted whatever motivation was left in me. To start all over again, at 58, would be virtually impossible after the 18 years of hard work and pride I'd invested in my business. Throughout it all, though, one of the things I missed the most would not be the boat itself, but, instead, it was the smell of the sea, the sound of breaking waves, the magnificent ocean. In the end, I had the sad realization that my only means of sharing in the beauty of this magnificent part of nature would come exclusively by way of a boat, a luxury I could no longer afford.

All You Need Is Love
In the years that followed, I attempted just about every business opportunity that knocked on my door, none of which materialized to any more than hopes of days gone by. Throughout all the trials and tribulations, images of The Torment were present in my thoughts as a dream of better things to come, a reminder that man should always strive to better himself. I couldn't help but reminisce how the old wreck had served as a launching platform to a lifetime of boating fulfillment, a stepping stone to the ownership of some really inspiring vessels. I kept thinking: If I'd done it once, perhaps I could do it all over again.

Every so often, I'd my share my desire to go boating again with the newly found love of my life, Odalis. She, like many non-boaters, would invariably suggest that we rent one. To me, the thought of renting a boat was like falling in love with someone with whom you could never have a meaningful relationship. It would be a torture. I was much better off focusing on solving the economic limitations preventing me from buying a boat than I was with the thought of renting one.

And so my marriage to Odalis went on, filled with happiness and everything that couples look forward to in a great relationship. It was an unselfish desire to please each other that one day made Odalis propose that we buy a boat. She offered to do it under her name and credit, as mine had been badly trampled during my business debacle. I knew she was doing it for me, and took her offer very seriously, just as I'd always done whenever she'd made any kind of commitment to me.

Shortly thereafter, our boat search began, and we were like children waiting for Christmas Day. Odalis had insisted that we buy a new vessel, mind you, which eventually proved to be one of the wisest choices we've ever made, considering the countless trouble-free outings that followed. We made our purchase decision carefully as the boat we were about to purchase would be one of the major investments of our lives. A few months of exhaustive searching led to our purchasing Sea-Breeny, a 26-foot Sea Ray Sport Cruiser we named after Odalis' granddaughter Sabrina.

The Bliss Of Odalis Loving Boats!
Our outings in Sea-Breeny were many, each more memorable than the one before, making a true believer out of Odalis — a first-time boater herself. Her newfound love for boating became just as intense as mine, if not more. Her passion for it brought us even closer than before. Our investment in Sea-Breeny paid off handsomely as we were both rewarded, many times over, in enjoyment and good times.

After two wonderful years with Sea-Breeny, we decided to sell our small mobile-radiology business, which had thrived for five years, but with the economy the way it was back then, business was taking a turn for the worse. To Odalis, our obvious need to downsize our expenses was indelibly associated with selling the boat — a heartbreaking proposition after all the good times and joyous moments we'd had. Sea-Breeny had become a part of our lives, our marriage, our love. For me, selling her was the crushing of my soul. We may never buy another boat, I worried. The only thing left to do was to thank God for all the good times I'd enjoyed as a boater and for allowing Odalis to become a true boater, too, if for the briefest time. Sea-Breeny had become for Odalis what The Torment had been for me: the beginning of a long-lasting love of boating.

Close Your Eyes And Pretend
Our sadness turned to resignation, as we watched flocks of weekend vessels skimming along the beloved waters of Miami's Biscayne Bay. Sea-Breeny had left a void in our lives. Yet thoughts of The Torment, in its never-ending inspirational role, were there for me, and I built hope on the thought that everything in life is possible, or nothing is really impossible, if we set our minds to do it.

Our urge to find a replacement hobby led us to purchase a Harley Davidson motorcycle. In my early childhood, back in Cuba in the 1950s, these vehicles were used as part of the courting ritual. Up-and-coming teenagers in the island, the pride and joy of Cuba's elite, would use their machines, showing off to glamorous señoritas in their school buses, in exchange for a glance or a smile. In a few months, our new hobby had us cruising along the Venetian Causeway, which connects Miami's mainland with the beaches. As we were crossing the causeway on our motorcycle, Odalis tapped my shoulder, and pointed at the spectacular view of the ICW channels. She, too, felt withdrawal from the fresh smell of the sea — that forbidden fragrance, forever embedded in our souls. I said to myself, we need a boat again.

In the weeks that followed, I began to dream. I thought about how we could buy a boat we could afford and I would not, under any circumstance, entertain any financing. Realizing that the longevity of ownership for my previous boats had been, in one way or another, subjected to the ups and downs of my business career, I made up my mind that this time around, I wouldn't allow for any contingencies to affect the length of this ownership. I wanted to buy a boat we could afford, for cash.

After a prolonged search that lasted over four months, I became the proud owner of a 1990, 20-foot Regal bowrider with a 90-horse Yamaha. The boat was cosmetically immaculate. Its fiberglass and gelcoat were gleaming as though it were a new boat. A brief sea trial proved that the Yamaha was mechanically sound, and so was a meticulously upgraded trailer. This boat had been stored in a covered space and given a lot of TLC. I was ecstatic with the purchase and decided it was time to introduce the new vessel to Odalis by taking her out on Biscayne Bay.

After launching the boat for the first time at Matheson Park Marina, we cautiously followed, at the required low speeds, the many other vessels leaving the channel with us. While parading the channel, Odalis and I looked at each other grinning with the realization that we were, once again, on the water, enjoying the smell of sun and saltwater. We approached the exit of the channel with immense anticipation. The thought of opening the throttle of the Regal, which is what we named her, and letting the ocean air embrace us once again was exhilarating.

The Regal was only a bit bigger than the Boston Whaler tender on my old 46-footer. You'd think there would be a lot missing from the lost amenities once offered by the bigger crafts, but I was feeling precisely the opposite. Notwithstanding its much smaller size, there was something about the Regal that brought an unmatched enjoyment compared to the boats that came before her. It was, without doubt, the priceless realization of total ownership — that incredible pleasure of knowing that just about nothing will ever make you part with your vessel, except, perhaps, for death itself — a soothing feeling to say the least. In the confined space of a 20-foot craft, I felt the openness that no other craft has ever offered.

As the pleasant reality of boat-ownership began to sink in, I reminisced about days gone by. I thought of all the vessels I once had: Fury, Scorpio, Little Flower I, Little Flower II, Sea-Breeny… all of them had touched my life. As I now enter into my sunset years, I can offer renewed testament about how much boating has taught me and how proud I am of being a boater. Inspiration can be found in the most uninspiring and least expected events in our lives. In my case, one of the most important happened long ago, when I saw a tired "For Sale" sign on the rusted bow rail of a sorry-looking craft, The Torment, and a whole new world opened to me.

Obie Usategui is semi-retired and lives in Miami. In their spare time, he and Odalis work on the Regal and ride their motorcycle.