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Norwalk Boat Owner Takes His Chances

Tommy Szabo visited his boat for 10 minutes Tuesday, just long enough to tighten the tarp that he hopes will keep it from sinking in a snowdrift. He'd like to take it out of the water, but he didn't have time.

Time is an issue for Szabo, who is very hard to catch up with. He says he is an informal contractor and has two young children as well as two grown children and grandkids. He says he is also opening a restaurant on Block Island and working on a cookbook. "I've been very busy," he said.

Even so, he found time to keep his boat from becoming a Christmas blizzard victim. Szabo thought the 20-foot Grady White would be fine in its berth at the Ishoda Yacht Club. But Norwalk got 18 inches, and Szabo got a phone call that his boat was on the verge of sinking.

Szabo says he went to work to save his boat but wondered why everyone was staring out the windows as he baled his boat on his hands and knees on the snowy dock. But no matter how much he baled, the boat sunk lower in the water. "I would turn around and it would be full again," he said. "This went on for 24 hours until I finally realized there was just too much weight in the stern of the boat where there was a bilge pump that wasn't operating." Consequently the scuppers – little holes that allow water to drain – were underwater.

After "a tremendous amount of frustration" he got the boat above the water line. "By then, I had already gone through nine pairs of pants, and I felt like had frostbite, and it was just horrible," he said. "Now I know what those guys on the clam boats go through. ... I've got 50 mph winds the first day here, and I'm trying so desperately to throw this water out, and the water's getting on the dock and the dock is freezing, it's a sheet of ice, and my knees are frozen. ... It was awful and, in retrospect, now I know why everybody's staring at me through the windows."

Szabo knows most people have their boats out of the water by now, but he usually leaves his boats on the water year-round. Nevertheless, he was ready to get the Grady White out. But the battery was dead. So he couldn't motor it over to the ramp.

He would have taken it out Friday, but he needed to meet his business partner on Block Island to work on the restaurant. Szabo put in a new battery, so the engine starts. But his kids announced Monday they needed to get science projects done for school. "For the science fair, no less," he said. "Not just a little project."

So Tuesday, even though the trailer was nearby, the boat stayed in the water. He checked to make sure the bilges were empty, and then he tightened the tarp and propped it up in the center. "I just pull the tarp. I don't have to shovel the boat — the snow is on top of the tarp," he said. "That's the concept. Whether or not it works remains to be seen."

The National Weather Service predicts up to two feet of snow to fall on the boat.

Does your busy lifestyle keep you from doing things you know you should do? Have you got any blizzard stories you'd like to share?

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