12 May 2016

For a 15-year-old, freedom meant outboard boating adventures

At 15 years old, I was too young for a driver’s license. So “freedom” was enjoyed via my fast outboard-powered boat. Filling three portable plastic gas tanks (imagine how cheap gas was then!) was all freedom required. That allowed 18 gallons with which to captain my Glasspar G-3 and its “Tower of Power” Mercury Marine outboard. Now for a challenging adventure…

The biggest adventure I could plan at the time was my own version of “The Great Circle Route”  a 55-60 mile excursion that would include navigating both the Barnegat Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. From my hometown on the Jersey shore, I would head south on the Bay to Barnegat Inlet, enter the Atlantic Ocean for a ride North of about 25-30 miles, and then return through the Manasquan Inlet to the Point Pleasant Canal and Barnegat Bay. I was planning to conquer this distance in a 13′ 7” fiberglass runabout that only had about 3” of freeboard at rest on its transom!

A bit more about my companion, my G-3. She was possibly the first love of my life, and I still remember her fondly today, decades later. To me she was the speedster of the early ‘60s, with anti-trip chines like an unlimited hydroplane. And like a Corvette, she was fiberglass and had a single cockpit for seating. What 15-year old wouldn’t be in love?

There was a good reason, too, why she was like a Corvette. It was actually in her lineage. Glasspar was an early fiberglass vehicle builder, founded by Bill Tritt in Santa Ana, Calif. Tritt was known for his sports cars – his Glasspar G-2 is in the Smithsonian’s collection. GM’s Design Chief, Harley Earl, even consulted with Tritt, his advice having yielded the Chevy Corvette as we know it. Tripp also designed and built sailboat spars, fiberglass components for Douglas Aircraft and fiberglass boats. Glasspar was popular during the mid-20th century and the G-3 was their hot rod!

Like most G-3s, mine came with a 40 hp outboard, which I upgraded to a 70 hp, and then to an 85 hp six-cylinder Mercury outboard. She was truly all about speed on the water and could outrun any boat on the Bay. She also responded as quickly as I could turn the steering wheel, and allowed me to run past local channel markers as close as I dared in an on-the-water game of chicken.

I felt invincible, which perhaps made me over-confident. That’s why I wasn’t concerned about embarking on this adventure without navigation charts, a compass, a radio or any gauges. (And of course those smartphones we can’t live without today – along with consumer access to GPS – which had yet to be invented.) As long as I had an electric starter on my outboard engine, I had a fully found boating rig and was good to go!

Nonetheless, this was not a completely care-free excursion and some careful planning was required. I strategically embarked on this adventure so I would not be in an outgoing tide once I reached Barnegat Inlet. That current coupled with an unfavorable strong wind would make navigating the already difficult and unruly conditions in that inlet even worse. I also changed my gas tank feeds to a fresh, full tank well before entering the Inlet. Barnegat Inlet has been notorious since 1614 when Dutch settlers named it "Barendegat," or "Inlet of the Breakers," due to its shifting channels under strong currents and weather conditions.

As for navigation, I decided that the safest route from the Bay to the Atlantic Ocean was following a local fishing boat. Then I had to keep my bow up. I had a very junior-sized runabout for these waters and the trip I was attempting. Eddies, whirlpools, waves and chop pushed my little boat around. The wriggles and shivers that they would play on my Glasspar were something I could handle as long as the bow pointed skyward.

Once through the Barnegat Inlet and into the Atlantic Ocean, my journey was a cakewalk. Surprisingly, the ocean stretch was not challenging and the north and south jetties made my return trip back via the Manasquan Inlet into the Bay like a cruise on a calm lake. My sense of accomplishment was great, even though I was disappointed realizing that the most exciting and fun part of the trip was already well behind me.

7 Reader Comments

  • 1
    Mike Trussville, Al May 18, 2016 at 16:30
    Thanks Chris. It brought back fantastic memories for me as well. I grew up in North Palm Beach, Florida. I was driving boats throughout the inter coastal waterways from 7th grade on. My prize at 15 was I somehow convince my Dad to trade the 16' tri-hull for a 16' Atlantic speed boat, powered by a 1973 Evinrude 135hp Silver Starflite engine. 70mph. Good times, growing up skiing and inter tubing.
  • 2
    Bill Long Livermore, CA May 18, 2016 at 17:45
    Like Chris Brown I also had a Glasspar G-3, a 1965 model but on mine was a 100 hp Mercury "Tower of Power". 54 mph with a speed prop. I was 25 years old instead of 15 but the thrill of a water borne hot rod was just as exciting. Ahh those were great times!!
  • 3
    Norb Michigan's Thumb May 18, 2016 at 18:30
    Great story! Reminds me of my younger days enjoying time on a G-3 Glasspar, as we called it, on Lake St. Clair in Michigan. I was 14 when my Grandpa bought my aunt, who was 3 years older than me, one to use on the lake. We nephews and nieces had lots of fun going on boat rides and water skiing for 2 years until she decided college and boys were more her thing. Grandpa sold it and bought himself a 1967 CrisCraft Roamer; 37' long with an all steel hull powered by 2 big block 427 Chevy's - but that's a whole other story!
  • 4
    Randy Pedersen Salina, Ks May 19, 2016 at 00:07
    My father got us started boating in the mid 50's with a little 12' Aristocraft plywood boat and a Mercury Mark 35 engine. To this day that little boat gave me some of the greatest memories growing up along with its replacement a 1959 Red Fish with a Mercury Mark 78a engine. When dad would let me behind the wheel I was the king of the lake. That Red Fish had tall fins like a late 50's Chrysler product and we used that boat nearly every weekend it was possible to put it on the lake and some that were not. I remember my dad and some of his friends broke ice for about 50 feet late in February one year so they could say they were the first to go skiing on lake Kanopolis that year. With no wet suits they did not ski to long lol. He also put a power prop on the Merc and managed to pull 10 skiers up one year, they started with 12 and had to drop 2 to get them up. It was a great time to grow up and to be boating with brands like Glaspar, Featherlite, Alumacraft, Lone Star, Glastron and the great wood boats, Yellow Jacket, Aristocraft and Lyman just to name a few.
  • 5
    Kenneth Sack Manhattan Kansas May 20, 2016 at 18:00
    Quite a few people built their boats from kits or from scratch in the 40,s and 50,s, they used marine mahogany plywood with stain and varnish. A variety of engines in the 5 t0 15hp sizes were popular. I still have one of the boats that dad built in the basement and the 5hp Sea King motor used with it. Our local museum has pictures of races and picnics in the 50,s at the river. The boats were small, 8 to 12 feet long and some of the smaller ones were quite fast with a lite person. It seems like almost anyone could build a boat with some woodworking talent and many were just fishing boats.
  • 6
    Gary Hansville,Wa May 20, 2016 at 11:00
    Had one on lake Washington in high school. I called it the the corvette of ski boats way back in 69. It had a 55 merc 4 cyl the size of a 150hp today and NO neutral! There's a guy in Kitsap Co on Puget Sound that has restored at least 3 to perfection. I stop by his Marina at least once a year to get my G-3 fix
  • 7
    Guy Bay City, Michigan May 29, 2016 at 12:27
    Dad bought one in white for my brother's high school graduation and my 8th grade graduation in 1961. His real motivation though was to have it as a dingy to tow behind our 45' Chris Craft on summer cruises to Canada's North Channel and Georgian Bay. It towed beautifully and was terrific for our many excursions among the islands of McGregor Bay and Bae Finn. I recall some scary moments too. One was when I was acting foolish and raced toward a bridge abutment to Manitoulin Island knowing the boat turned on a dime and I could redirect at the last instant. What I was too naive to realize was the the boat would slide sideways when turned sharply. When I made my turn the boat continued on sideways toward the massive cement wall. Fortunately I had the wherewithal to know enough to turn it back toward the abutment to pull out of the slide and save my skull and our beloved Glasspar. We had her for many years, but eventually switched to a unsinkable 13' Boston Whaler. We still maintain the cruiser 58 years after her purchase.

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