All Blog Posts

The Cement Boat

August 18, 2014

An excerpt from my memoir The Kid in the Kaleidoscope:



When I was a kid my dad often took me and my older brother David to the Cement Boat. Originally designed as a cargo transport in 1918, the Cement Boat missed action in World War I. She was made with a material not recognized for its floating capacity—cement—and how she managed to float is still beyond me. During the Great Depression she was run aground at Seacliff Beach near Santa Cruz and a pier constructed so people could fish from her.


We would get up long before the crack of dawn to drive through the Santa Cruz Mountains to the coast. Along the way I’d chatter nonstop and earn the nickname that would stick to me for the rest of my life.


“Dad, are we going to catch anything at the Cee-ment Boat today?


“I hope so.”


“Do you think there are any reeeaally big fish out there?”




“If I catch a marlin, can we have it stuffed like that one Mr. Simons caught in Mexico?”


“There aren’t any marlins here. We’re too close to shore and marlins like warmer water.”


“Okay, but if I do catch one, can I have it stuffed?”


“Yes, if you catch a marlin, you can have it stuffed.”


“David, did you hear that? Dad says if I catch a marlin, I can have it stuffed!”


I was ten years old and my older brother looked at me like I was bacteria. He said, “You’re an idiot.”


He was probably right. Even though the closest marlins were thousands of miles away in Mexico, it might have been easier to catch one if I’d kept my line baited and in the water. For me to catch a marlin, it would have to swim from Baja California, jump onto the Cement Boat and impale itself on my baitless hook. Still, anything was possible.


I didn’t have the patience required for fishing and when I got bored I’d count the planks in the pier. The beach snack bar was a short distance from the Cement Boat and I’m told I helped put the owner’s children through college.


We usually headed home as the sun began to set, our faces sunburned and our hands stinking from bait. Nothing major was ever caught at the Cement Boat, except once in 1962. We’d brought the new fishing gear we’d received for Christmas a few months earlier. Even Dad had gotten a new fishing pole and a shiny chrome reel.              


The day dawned without a hint that anything unusual was going to happen. We spent an uneventful morning cursing the fishless sea. After lunch, Dad decided his new reel wasn’t winding as smoothly as it should. He laid a clean cloth on the weathered deck of the Cement Boat and proceeded to methodically perform an autopsy on his reel. Before long it was in pieces, Dad carefully oiling each part.


My brother spotted it first, a darkening in the sky near the horizon. It couldn’t be clouds—there weren’t any clouds in the sky that day—and it was moving too swiftly. Birds. Thousands of them, maybe millions. And there was something more, just beneath the surface of the water. And headed directly for the Cement Boat.


A leather-faced old fisherman shouted, “It’s a school of anchovies; the gulls are following ’em.”


I hated anchovies, especially on pizza. Now we were catching them by the bucketful. The birds weren’t the only ones following the anchovies. Something else was chasing them. Suddenly the pier began to shake as a school of white sea bass squeezed tightly together as they passed beneath the pier. Fishermen who didn’t have their hands on their poles saw their gear spring into the air and arc into the ocean when the bass struck. Nearly everyone caught an amazing number of twenty-pounders that day, including me, although I needed help hauling them up. Only one fisherman didn’t catch a sea bass that day, because his reel was in pieces—Dad.


Several weeks later, we returned to the Cement Boat. Dad wanted to redeem himself. This time, instead of taking his reel apart, he just added a little oil here and there. It was another crisp morning on the California coast. Not many people were on the pier yet, just a few old Italian and Portuguese fishermen. David got things going that morning by hooking a boney rockfish. I lost interest when I noticed it wasn’t a marlin. Nothing else was caught that day. By late afternoon clouds began building, and the water was getting choppy. Dad continued to bait his hook, even though it was time to go. This was his last chance to catch something.


He checked his weights and added a few more. He squirted a bit more oil on his reel. He positioned himself for one last cast. He arched his back and, like Mighty Casey, took his swing. Dad was in the middle of his perfect cast when it happened. His hands were slippery with oil. The new rod and reel, now perfectly lubricated, catapulted from his hands and sailed through space out over the ocean. With hardly a splash, Dad’s Christmas present disappeared beneath the waves.


Dad just stood there looking out to sea. People were pointing and laughing. An old Eye-talian fisherman approached with a toothless smile and a mile of line connected to a large gaffing hook. Together he and my Dad took turns swinging the big rusty claw out toward the spot where Dad’s rod and reel sank. Miraculously, they snagged Dad’s gear from the sea bottom. Dad offered to pay the old-timer for his efforts, but the man declined.


Later, after arriving home, Dad once again took his reel completely apart to clean away the salty brine. He said it had to be done, and it had to be done right; otherwise the whole thing would corrode and turn blue. He never talked about what happened, and I learned a valuable lesson that day: not everything needs to be chatted about.


Naturally, I never took time to clean my reel and it wasn’t long before it became corroded and unusable. I never really liked fishing, especially after I caught the legendary Supertrout one summer in the Santa Cruz mountains. Folks are still talking about it, but that’s a story for another day.




Do you like to fish? What's the biggest fish you ever caught?





Too funny! I still bear psychological scars from when Mal would take my brothers and I to the "Crick" for eel fishing. Eel: Snake Fish. Ohhhhhhh.......I still shudder when I think about it.
By: Al Penwasser on August 18, 2014
Great story Steve. If I could catch something, say for instance a marlin, I'd probably enjoy fishing, but with my luck fishing is sorta like playing golf....BORING! I do enjoy eating fish, though. :)
By: Scott Park on August 18, 2014
oh, glad they could retrieve his gear! :)
By: TexWisGirl on August 18, 2014
Never had to oil or clean fishing rods that I know of in Minnesota. ?? Must be a briny sea water thing. Northerns and Muskies and such are the big fish in the freshwater lakes up here. Never caught one of those. Just big sunfish. ;)
By: Rita McGregor on August 18, 2014
Poor Dad. I thought you might say he gave up fishing. As for your question, I caught a five-pound bass in a Mississippi farm pond.
By: Snowbrush on August 18, 2014
Married to an addicted fisherman and I do have stories, forgettable, but many of them. Hubby only washes his reel with fresh water...maybe he oils it once in a blue moon.
By: Tabor on August 18, 2014
Since i feel sorry for the poor fish, i don't actually do any fishing, although i will supervise the younger cousins when they do.
By: mimi on August 18, 2014
Anything has the ability to float. All it takes is to displace one's weight in water. At that point suspension is achieved. So if you have cement, it just needs to have a shape sufficient to displace its own weight (or more) in water.
By: Michael Offutt on August 18, 2014
I always thought fishing was really boring. Plus I never wanted to deal with anything we caught anyway.
By: PT Dilloway on August 18, 2014
OH your stories make me laugh out loud! I have a fish story for ya: Growing up we always went camping in the summer- sometimes with my cousin and her family. The men always went fishing! This time I got to go fishing too and was the only one to catch a fish that day. It was barely legal- ie only 6 inches long. Mom cooked it up and we all had a bite. My portion was the crispy crunchy tail was quite delicious. Fast forward many years and I am eating another tasty trout, but for some reason that crispy crunchy tail was not good at all. I guess it's because my Mom didn't cook it and we weren't outside camping. Have a great week Stephen!
By: Kathe W. on August 18, 2014
That cement boat brings back memories. Some kids built one in Florida--rather a big one but like yours it remained tied to the pier. I am such a weenie, I can't stand spearing an innocent bait with a hook so I can tear up the mouth out of fish. Guess you can tell I don't fish. However my favorite ball team are the Marlins if that counts..
By: Akansas Patti on August 18, 2014
I went fishing once as a young child. One of my older sisters got to go along, although she had already been fishing once (one turn for each of us). That #$%&! caught a fish. I caught nothing. Unforgivable. It was nice of you to put the snack bar owner's children through college. I have paid for the education of the children of an orthodontist and a couple of vets. Love, Janie
By: Janie Junebug on August 18, 2014
Wonderful story! I, too, don't enjoy fishing and would be bored to tears.
By: Pixel Peeper on August 18, 2014
I enjoy fishing from the bank of a pond or river. None of that deep sea stuff for me. I once caught a walleye with a grasshopper at a little pond in a lake development one September afternoon. I was all by myself. Thought I'd hooked a largemouth bass, because that fish hit my bait and ran. Then he stopped. I thought I'd lost my catch, but he was just sitting on the bottom. When I reeled him in, I was shocked to see TEETH! I'd never heard of a walleye here in southeast Missouri. I thought I had snagged some prehistoric coelacanth.
By: Val on August 18, 2014
Who knew a toothless Italian fisherman would bring such good luck? I love the Santa Cruz beach. Is the cement ship still there? I don't remember seeing it, though I don't know how I could miss something so big.
By: Robyn Engel on August 18, 2014
Ahhh- what a great story! And a cement boat- wow. If a cement boat won't sink, maybe it's safe for me to swim in the ocean.
By: Shelly on August 18, 2014
I like you used to fish but not anymore. I did catch a 34 lb. lake trout in Great Bear lake!
By: red on August 18, 2014
A real feel-good story, and another fine tribute to your dad - despite never meeting him I'm sure I would have liked and respected the man. And the only time I went fishing as a child the mission had to be aborted when I managed to get my thumb impaled on the hook - never again!
By: Bryan Jones on August 19, 2014
A great tale, I did a little fishing when I was a boy, anything I caught though was more by accident than design. How can a fish snag its back on a hook...................
By: John on August 19, 2014
I'm not the fishing type, read I can think of better things to do. That said, with a cottage on a lake many hours have been spent (wasted I might add) trolling hoping to snag something. I'm really not to fussy on eating fish.
By: Daniel LaFrance on August 19, 2014
A great fish story. The largest catch for me was a five pound channel catfish on an old bamboo cane pole, the kind you used a bobber with. I was young and thought I had landed the whale that swallowed Jonah.
By: Tom Cochrun on August 19, 2014
Super Story The concept of a cement boat actually floating somehow seems unreal but there is was in 1918. I'm not much of a fisherman but my son is.
By: Eddie Bluelights on August 20, 2014
Wonderful story! Alas, back when I could go fishing, I didn't enjoy it unless I was actually catching some fish. I could sure enjoy just being out there on the water now, though.
By: Jerry E. Beuterbaugh on August 20, 2014
No, I don't have the patience, much like golf.
By: Michael Manning on August 25, 2014

Leave a Comment


Return to All Blog Posts Main Page

RSS 2.0   Atom