This picture was sent by Norm Blizard, who wrote this month’s ezine article, The Hopedale Pond Fleet. Norm wrote the following about it: “Here is my daughter Christie’s artist rendering of the Fleet (or what it might have looked like) by Rustic Bridge. Names are: Bottom row: Richard Sullivan, Tom Reed, Bill Reed (deceased): Top row: Bob Abbruzzese; Norm (Chris) Blizard, Glen Cameron, George Tower.”
Fifty years ago – January 1972 – The first scientific hand-held calculator (HP-35) is introduced (price $395 – Inflation calculator says that would equal $2626 now.)
Queen Margrethe II of Denmark succeeds her father, King Frederick IX, on the throne of Denmark, the first Queen of Denmark since 1412 and the first Danish monarch not named Frederick or Christian since 1513.
Christian K. Nelson patents the Eskimo Pie ice cream bar.
The Hopedale Pond Fleet
By Norm Blizard, with memories from Tom Reed and Richard Sullivan.
The Fleet was Tom’s brainchild. Given a boat and the Hopedale Pond as water, a Fleet of boats on the water is inevitable if you have enough kids and enough boats.
Who was in the fleet? – anyone who had a boat or could lay claim on one. Tom started with a canoe worth $50 (not a fortune even back in the 1960s). It was wooden with canvas, about 18 feet in length, originally green, repainted black with white trim. Black is Tom’s favorite color and may have been the inspiration for Blutarsky’s black tank in “Animal House” (1978).
Quickly realizing that a Fleet needed a larger command vessel, Tom searched for a suitable craft. He found a submerged 16 foot wooden planked “scow” and with help of his parents dredged it to shore.
Sully recalls that the scow was found by us down by the Hopedale dam abandoned. We made paddles and paddled like hell from shore to shore. It leaked badly so it was hauled to Tom’s house and we all used oakum, impregnated rope to slow down the leaks. Then it filled with water to let it swell over the winter. This expert workmanship made it seaworthy (sort of).
For those of you unfamiliar with “scows” these are flat bottom boats with square ends and usually used as barges to haul rubbish. It was an appropriate command craft, and painted black with white trim. It had a 1.5 hp motor which set the pace for the rest of the fleet. Slow but maneuverable.
The Fleet launched from Tom’s dad’s garage area on the Lake Street peninsula. Most of the Fleet was moored offshore, but in the elements, and had the potential to sink. Frequent bailing was required to keep them afloat.
Tom’s Scow was always the lead boat, since he was the self-declared Commodore. As a signal of his command, he wore an old police hat which resembled a captain’s hat. Not sure where he obtained it but he told me it had an afterlife once retired from the Fleet.
Glenn Cameron had a 14-foot boat, 15 hp. He became the Destroyer of the Fleet, fast and elusive.
Richard Sullivan (Sully) had a ten-foot rowboat painted white with green trim, appropriate for his Irish heritage. Sully was in the best physical shape since he ran cross country and also rowed everywhere on the Pond.
I had a refurbished 12-foot blue and white wooden “speedboat” with dry rot in the hull, overly caulked but it frequently leaked and a 10 hp antique Firestone motor. It was on the verge of retirement but lasted four summers. Lilly pad clogged my prop frequently. I also frequently hit a number of rocks which often sheared prop pins, forcing me to row back to home port.
George Tower and Bob Abbruzzese (aka Abby then, now Abba) came along but did not have boats. They provided able crews to the Scow and Destroyer.
John Guglielmi was also part of the crew but I’m not sure of his role. I will have to ask his brother Jay.
Others would come along for rides (not sure of all the names). A few of the girls in our class braved the unknown and came with us. I remember Kathy Daige and Mary Tomaso specifically braved riding in my boat.
The Fleet period lasted 3-4 summers, when we were ages 11-15, from 1960-1964, before we got driver’s licenses and became more dangerous to society. This paralleled our time in the Hopedale Boy Scout troop. That’s another story.
A Fleet tour started in the late morning through the afternoon, just cruising around the pond and engaging in water fights, making landing parties to new areas, and generally horsing around.
Tom was lead boat as the Commodore and Sully brought up the rear to keep all of us on pace. If we slacked off, he would splash us with his oars. Or just randomly.
Some of the boats were high draft so could navigate anywhere, but deep draft boats were confined to the open areas and channels. This gave a good advantage during water fights.
The Fleet had to follow the narrow channel under the Commodore’s careful navigation past all known rocks (some we discovered the hard way) and up to Fisherman’s Island and the Rustic Bridge. It was a 30 minute trip. Sometime beyond, once all the way to Rt 140 Upton. We camped on the island more than a few times.
One large rock off Fisherman’s Island was named Sullivan’s Island. Sully made a successful landing on it (chasing off the nesting duck) and placed his foot on it, and like Columbus claimed it as his own and for Ireland.
Some expeditions included searching for mud turtles and painted turtles. These are probably protected wildlife now but fun to catch and release. Tom doesn’t remember the snapping turtle capture. I do. I remember Tom caught a giant snapping turtle with his bare hands, greatly impressing me with his bravery and chilling me from any further swimming or skinny dipping in the pond near the islands. (I may have over-exaggerated its size or his bravery). No fingers were lost in this endeavor.
At any time, a water battle would commence when one boat felt it had competitive advantage over the others, and could soak a boat with impunity and then try to escape dry. Most of us got wet eventually. All the boats were equipped with bailing buckets since they all leaked.
I recall our water fights in the middle of the night which brought out the squad car spotlights of Chet Sanborn’s troops because of all the noise we made. It’s surprising none of us drowned; we had no life jackets back then. This is a credit to the lifesaving skills we developed at Hopedale Pond and Boy Scouts. I don’t think kids can do this anymore in the era of Helicopter Parents. We would all have to be tracked by GPS and in constant chats with our parents on smartphones. Our parents never sent out search parties; they knew where we were and who we were with. It was a different time (I think for the better). And throughout all the summers, no one ever got hurt or drowned.
Much later the Draper dam was breached and Hopedale Pond was drained to reveal all the navigation impediments we mostly avoided. There were a lot of stumps, rocks and impediments that were present under the water and could have easily caused a calamity at sea.
It was a good time, and mostly kept us out of trouble at that age. No electronic games or cellphones in that era. If you wanted to play, you did it outside and had to be creative.
At the end of the summer of 1964 the Fleet was retired as we moved to driver’s licenses and cars. No formal Naval decommissioning ceremonies but I am sure the neighborhoods around Hopedale Pond were relieved.
Tom traded his black and white boat for black and white Chevy.
Someone found Tom’s scow abandoned and must have tried to refurbish it. The canoe went to North Carolina with Tom’s parents. Other boats were sold off or retired or abandoned. I don’t recall what happened to mine. I think I sold it for $100 with the motor to buy a Lambretta 50cc motor scooter.
Folks nowadays may consider the early 1960s a better time than today; the era of Ozzie and Harriet, Beatles, and baby boomers. But its likely we were just young and oblivious to the tumult around us – beginning of Vietnam war, assassination of JFK, growing civil rights and anti-government protests, etc. Today the challenges to young people are different but hopefully kids have time to learn to be kids and not fast tracked into young adults. The legacy of the Fleet period is that it provided us with a safe space to grow into adulthood without all the challenges of social media, social distancing, pandemics…. Looking back, Hopedale Pond and the Fleet was a cherished time.
For more stories from that era, see Michael Connelly’s memories of his four years in Hopedale.
Below – Fleet members meet by Hopedale Pond a few years after the events of the story above. Okay, quite a few. Norm wrote, “George and Glenn were not able to make the walk around the pond. Walkers included TR, Sully, Abba and me.”