A View from Here

Bill's Sisson's weekly Trade Only blog

Cheap, cheerful and expendable: a winning formula for a youngster’s boat

Capt. Eric Knott has spent 35 years on the water. A native of England, he followed his father into commercial fishing in the North Sea, Irish Sea, English Channel and environs.

He is now unofficially leading another generation into a life on or around the salt. The 58-year-old Knott is a willing mentor for his grandson Peter Mottolese, as the younger leads the elder on a series of adventures around the islands in Stamford Harbor in Connecticut.

I knew immediately we had the right sea dog for dispensing more tried-and-true wisdom on the topic of kids and boats when he emailed us his grandson’s “Expedition Guide,” which you can read by clicking here.


Peter Mottolese

In an email accompanying his grandson’s tales of summer adventure, he thusly sketched his credentials and those of his shipmate:

“Twenty years commercial fishing in northern Europe, 17 as Master, 10 years cruising in 42 Grand Banks and large Fairline motoryachts and now work for a major tug company. The best fun in my life? Cruising Stamford Harbor in a 9-foot Zodiac powered by a 15-year-old single-cylinder outboard under the command of tyrannical 7-year-old. The trouble is he has now decided he wants to ‘upgrade’ to electric start!”


Capt. Knott, aka “Old Dude Pops”

I interviewed Capt. Knott on Tuesday, when he was in Louisiana doing internal safety audits on several tugs in the 100-foot range.

His advice for getting young people on the water is spot-on:

“Make it fun, make it accessible, and keep it cheap,” says Knott, a safety manager for a large U.S. tug company. “Let them take ownership of what they do. Keep it simple.”

Grandfather and grandson keep their boats at the Czescik Municipal Marina in Stamford. The Zodiac belongs to young Peter, who also has his own marina key, a nice tangible symbol of responsibility. Knott owns a 23-foot Steiger Craft.

Here’s another bit of wisdom from Knott: “It’s not the size of the boat that matters,” says Knott, no stranger to large vessels. (He holds a 200-ton Coast Guard license and held a 3,000-ton license in England). “It’s the size of the smile at the end of the day.”

When he was running a marine training center in England, Knott saw families lose their passion for the sport when they moved into larger boats that over-stretched both their budgets and their skill level.

He practices what he preaches with his grandson. “I think I paid $100 for that Zodiac four years ago,” he says. “It has to be the scruffiest boat in Stamford Harbor. What we have is cheap, cheerful and expendable. It’s not the boat you’ve got but the fun you have with it.”

Amen to that.

Knott is also instructing the youngster on safety and responsibility. Knott himself had a sea change regarding safety when the 65-foot steel crab boat he was skippering caught fire and sank in the 1970s — “before they invented safety” — chasing him and his six crew into a life raft. The crab boat carried but a single life jacket, Knott recalls.

“That was the catalyst for where I am today,” he says.

He is passing those lessons on to young Peter. “Ever since he’s been 1, he’s been coming out with me,” Knott says. “He loves it. And he’s very safety-conscious. He reminds me to put on my life jacket if I forget.”

He adds, “It sounds corny, but I try and instill in him that he can do anything he likes as long as he does it safely.” The boy uses a hand pump to keep his inflatable dry and will instruct anyone within earshot: “Bilge levels must be kept to a minimum.” Wonder where he heard that?

Peter’s father manages Riverscape Marina in the Cos Cob section of Greenwich, Conn. Eric says his grandson helped him remove canvas from the boats at that marina when Hurricane Sandy was approaching last fall. Peter wore kid’s work gloves and a hard hat and was a “big help.”

The soft-bottom Zodiac, named Zoey, takes its share of bumps and bruises as the young skipper beaches her on the harbor’s rocky islands that he is so fond of exploring.

“There’s a lot of duct tape on the boat,” Knott says with a chuckle. “My fishing heritage dictates my repairs.”

The captain is now on the lookout for something a little sturdier for young Peter. He’s thinking that a wooden skiff, 11 or 12 feet, might be just the thing — something that can take the abuse of landing on hard shores and be easily repaired.

Something cheap, cheerful and expendable. One more formula for introducing the next generation to the wonder of boats and the water.


7 comments on “Cheap, cheerful and expendable: a winning formula for a youngster’s boat

  1. Bob

    I was always taught that one should steer a tiller from the starboard side. Not sure why, but that’s what I was taught. Perhaps someone can explain it to me.

  2. Parks Masterson

    That’s great! Maybe Capt. Knott and Peter could build the next boat together. A simple stitch and glue plywood skiff is a pretty easy project and imagine how proud Peter would be when he tells people he built it himself.

  3. Mark Mowl

    When I was young Peter’s age (1972) I lived in Ft. Lauderdale, and my best friend had an old 12′ Boston Whaler with a 9.5 Johnson the we ran for countless hours. He mother joked a few years ago that during the summers she could keep us out of trouble for a week with a grand investment of $3.00 in gas. (12 gallons !!)

    Forty one years later I am still in the boat biz, and Bill is fishing every weekend with his kids. Starting kids off early works.

  4. Sunshine State

    On the sailing side an Optimist,Dyer et al opens the door for great adventure. Decades later I find myself returning to small craft.

    Delivered a 48 Motor Yacht- the new owner said he really liked the 48 but he absolutely loved the Rigid Inflatable!

  5. Bob Schroer

    When I was a dealer, back in the 60s, the owner of a then major boat builder confided in me that when he really wanted to go for an enjoyable boat ride,he dug out his 14 Ft Wolverine Wagemaker boat, molded plywood, powered by a 1953 15 HP Evinrude.

  6. Jon Luscomb

    I grew up in New England. My brother and I had a 9′ Aluminum dink with and Evinrude 3 hp on it. My dad taped a wooden mop handle on the tiller as an extention. Great times sailing New England and exploring in the dink.

    Most tiller handles are mounted on the left side of the engine, so sitting on the starboard side to steer gives the driver more room to turn the tiller…..

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