Boat Yard Tales – Kenny’s Story

As I walk down the hill from my house to our boat yard’s waterfront, I hear the distinct sound of a large helicopter getting closer and lower. It has to be a Coast Guard helicopter, I think to myself. They often scan the outer beach at Nauset, but this morning was different. After a night of rain, the rising sun casts rays through the thick morning fog.

When I reach the bottom of the hill, I notice Kenny the service manager’s car is the only one in the parking lot. As I turn toward the water, I see the fog rise from the pond’s surface. I look out to where the river meets the kettle pond. The scrub pines and fresh eelgrass are lit up in a rainbow of yellows and oranges. I feel as if I’m far away, experiencing a spring sunrise in a foreign rainforest. I scan the moored boats to ensure everything’s in order. Then, I scan the docks. I see a body laid out on the main dock, face down. It’s not moving. I pick up my pace and soon realize it’s Kenny.

I lean over him, “Kenny? Are you OK?” He’s silent. I make sure he’s breathing and give him a nudge. He starts mumbling words that I do not understand. In time, he rises to a seated position.

Every morning, before most people have even brewed their coffee, Kenny walks the docks to check on the boats. During this particular morning, Kenny experiences a bad memory. As he hears the sound of the helicopter directly above and looks at the morning sunlight pour through the dawn’s fog, he is sent back to Cantho on the Mekong River  — where he had been a gunner on a landing craft in the Vietnam War.

The sound of the helicopter triggers him. He does what he has been trained to do: Get down, and hope he’s not seen.

I have owned the boatyard for 30 years now. I have walked down this hill to the pond countless times. Many times over the years, visitors who hold a more traditional nine-to-five job will stop me to make a comment, their tone strong with envy. As I rig a boat on the dock, they’ll commonly quip: Wow, what an office! Or as I head out on the water: Not a bad way to spend your day!

I’ll confess, at times my internal response is to think of what they don’t see — the stress of making payroll, that new boat order that was just canceled, the unhappy customer who just left me a message, the Nor’easter predicted for next week with flood warnings that could wipe us out. When the day-to-day job is as real as your life depends on it, these stresses can wear you down.

But I don’t tell the envious visitor this. I nod and say, “I am lucky.” And that is the truth — to spend a lifetime building and caring for (mostly) sailboats in a picturesque setting is incredibly satisfying. Each new customer has a story to share and a friendship begins. Each new boat delivery is a small (and sometimes huge) adventure. Each new employee hired becomes a comrade. Every business has its challenges, and the stories never end. Or at least, they have not for me.

There is something about the water, the boats and the people combined that make for a daily routine that’s not routine at all. These are the stories I would like to share. Kenny’s story is the first in a series of Boat Yard Tales that we will publish from time to time.

‘Til then, sail on!

If you’re interested in hearing more about Kenny Gliden’s incredible life, check out this story by Stephanie Gould.