Monday, December 20, 2010

Merry Christmas and a Free Boat

"Son, I want you to take a ride with me.  There's something I want to show you."  These were the words said to me some time in the Summer of 2004 shortly after I returned from studying in Spain.  For those of you that know Richard Hickman, I'm sure that your imagination is running wild as to all of the possibilities, but he's my Dad.  Some of my earliest memories are of me going on rides with my Dad to deliver oil, find a Christmas tree, shovel out church member's drive way, or go and look at a car for sale on the side of the road.  However, whenever we crossed the bridge on 13 N and headed into the city, I knew exactly were we were going... The junk yard.

"Aaron, I wanted to get you something special and important.  Graduating from the Naval Academy is important.  It's important to our family and I'm very proud of you.  I was doing a job and the owner just wanted it gone, and I knew that this was for you.  Its not in the best shape, but we can go get some tires and get the trailer fixed today and then we'll be able to bring it home and work on it at home."  It was my first sailboat.  We were going to fix it together.  After all, we had two years before the Navy would call me away from home for the second time.  I could pursue my Master's in Mechanical Engineering by day and fix a boat by night and on weekends.  Sure I hadn't been sailing but once or twice since Plebe Summer, but It'll be just like riding a bike.

"Dad, the house we want is on the water.  If the owner accepts our offer, I'll be able to launch my sailboat from my back-yard!  I know its a long shot, but it was a long shot that we even found this house to begin with.  Anyway, how is the boat?" I asked cautiously.  "Aaron, its gone."  My heart sank.  This wasn't just a silly crappy boat that my Dad had picked up for free and stored at his friends junk yard.  This was a gift from my Dad.  This was a dream of ours that wouldn't be realized.  "The boat got vandalized and we ended up scrapping it."

So in my first 6 years of boat ownership I earned a Master's Degree in Mechanical Engineering, started my own business, started and lead worship at Saturday Night Alive (a worship service geared toward college aged students), dated my wife for a year, moved to Charleston, SC, completed Naval Nuclear Power Training, proposed to my wife after a year of dating long distance, moved to Groton, CT, completed the Submarine Officers Basic Course, married my wife, moved to Georgia, went to sea on the USS Tennessee, moved to Chesapeake, VA, qualified in Submarines, re-fueled a Naval Reactor at Norfolk Naval Shipyard, qualifed as a Naval Nuclear Engineer Officer, got shore duty orders to stay in Norfolk, decided to buy a house, found a house, bought a house, moved into our house, and many other things.  At no time did I set sail on my boat.  Funny huh?

"Aaron, I know I've been calling you a lot by mistake recently, but this time It's for real.  I'm planning a sailing trip to the Bahamas with Whitney, J.D., and a few other people.  We want to pre-stage the boat and Norfolk looks like it would be a great place.  Can we come see you?  It'll be the week after Thanksgiving."  Nearly 15 years earlier, Dr. Mark Plaster took two 13 year old kids to sail the Bahamas.  Logan and I had the time of our young lives.  "Do you have room for a few stow-aways?"  I replied.  Man I would love to be sailing the Bahama's.  I was made for adventure, right?  I've found my Princess and she longs to be caught up in an adventure, right?  I mean isn't that what the experts are saying?  "Doc, any time you are in Norfolk, we would love to have you."

After helping shuttle Mark and J.D. to West Marine for supplies, we met back up with our respective princesses and had dinner.  From dinner it was back to work and the "Night Shift" for me.  However this night shift was different.  My dream was re-kindled.  What was I to do?  "Hey sir, what you up to tonight?" said the quartermaster.  "Well ET1 Jones, I'm actually really excited cause some friends of mine are sailing to the Bahamas.  They stopped over in Norfolk to say hi and they are staying the night at our house rather than freezing on the boat tonight.  Take a look at this... they have a GPS that transmits posits via the internet to this website.  How cool is that."

"You know sir, I would really love to do something like that.  I mean that is my dream.  Retire.  Buy a boat.  Sail around the islands of Greece."  It was a good thing there wasn't much going on in the Submarine Force that night because the quartemaster and I were fully engrossed in our dream.  From there the search was on.  The deal was that if either of us found a boat, whatever the condition, we would help eachother however possible.  Only one minor problem... How do I convince Lynsey.

Now to the men that are reading this, I'm going to tell you the secret.  It's actually quite simple.  Tell your wife what you want, let her set the terms and conditions, and then keep to the terms that she set.  "Aaron, the only way I realistically see us getting a boat is if it's free and it doesn't make me throw up.  Spending $500 or $1000 isn't in our financial plan even if its Christmas.  Also, we are committed time wise in other areas of our life.  The last thing we need is another distraction.  If we want to get out of the Navy in two years, there are plenty of things that take priority over spending money on a boat."  I tell you what guys, that was pure music to my ears!  I needed a free boat, that was in decent enough condition that I could be sailing with relatively minimal work.  That meant that the boat had to be seaworthy as is.  Also, not being truck owners, the boat would probably have to be in the water already.  The search was on.

Talk about a burning desire, I was on ebay, craigslist, local classified ads, boat angel ministries... I even called local marinas to see if they had any abandoned boats.  I knew that if I was willing to do the work and exercise my faith through action and patience, I couldn't lose.  The same thing had happened for Lynsey and I when it came to finding, buying, and financing our home.  In fact, the same thing was true when it came to finding Lynsey.  I guess all I am really doing is comfirming the principles of success in that they work in all areas of life.

Then the day came.  Wednesday, December 8th, Mr. Hoover's son posted the following: "1972 Fiberglass 28' Newport Sailboat. In water at Norfolk Yacht CC in Norfolk, VA. Owner will donate to first person to move boat. Owner has title. Sail boat is in good conditon. Needs sail and outboard motor."  Could this be it.  I mean, I don't have an outboard, I haven't spoken with either of my neighbors about using their docks.  It was free so I called.  But Aaron you work the next three days.  Surely it won't last.  So I called Alex Jones.  "Are you really in man.  I mean its there, its free, it floats... The guy says that he was planning on restoring it cause he's restored about 30 boats in past, but he recently had surgery.  He just doesn't want to pay the dock fees anymore."

"Sir, I am in."

"Ok, here's the plan.  I'm on watch the next three mornings.  Lynsey is going to check this boat out tomorrow before she goes to work.  If she doesn't puke, we're gonna take it.  He just wants it gone and doesn't want to have to show it to a bunch of people.  Are you free Sunday after Church?  I think that's the only window of opportunity I have... Great... Ok, I'm off to borrow an outboard motor."

"Valentin, how are you? I have a strange request, but do you think I can borrow  your outboard motor?"  Valentin is my late 50's Bulgarian neighbor.  He lives across the water in my back yard and this was the first time I had driven over to his house.  He's a US Citizen now, but growing up as a Christian in a Communist country has given him tremedous perspective.  And I thought I was just there to borrow an outboard motor.  We connected as neighbors, fellow believers, and big dreamers!  "You're name is Aaron like the brother of Moses.  That's how I remember you.  Its too cold to be out so yes you can borrow my motor."  Valentin's daughter in France had just had a baby and we looked at dozens of pictures before I left.

At this point, it was all over but the shouting.  Lynsey agreed to check the boat out the next morning.  She called me at work and said she gave the guy a $25 check to pay for the dock fees for 4 days.  The guy then said that he would tell all callers that the boat was gone.  We went to Lynsey's company's Christmas Party Saturday night and much to my surprise, everyone already new we had a boat.  I told everyone I was excited like I was getting ready for a blind date.  Either way I was sure to be blown away the next day.

God had several more serendipities in store for me before we got back home with the boat.  Again, here I am thinking this is all about me and Lynsey, and Sunday morning my neighbor that moved out a few months back shows up.  He had come back to make preps for his new tennants.  I approached him to ask about keeping the boat at his dock.  He said yes and then we talk about what was going on in his life for the next 30 mins.  It was awesome to connnect with him and continue to build that friendship.  Some will call in a coincidence, I just believe that God wanted me to be a kind and listening ear and He used a silly boat to get me out of the house.

So there will be pictures posted soon and another blog detailing our maiden voyage.  For now, my Christmas wish for all of you is that your dreams and goals would be made alive during this season.  Pursue them with a burning desire and exercise your faith knowing that God wouldn't give you a dream or a vision or a passion without a ways and means to fullfil it.

Merry Christmas


  1. What a wonderful story! I so wish we were there to see your excitement in person - this is a story you will tell and retell and never lose the twinkle in your eye. I love it! I'm beyond happy for you and I can't stop laughing at Lynsey's terms: "It has to be free; it can't make me puke" - classic! Hahahahaha! Isn't it incredible how things fall into place? I've been thinking about that so much this Christmas season... so many people adhere to the phrase "seeing is believing" but time and again in my life, I've realized that "BELIEVING is SEEING"... that if you believe in God and His goodness and have faith in His plans for us, only then can you see His many, many blessings for us - great and small - in our lives. Only then can one really see how He works tirelessly to comfort and guide us - to reward and encourage us to live as we should. It is only because we believe that He works always in our lives that we can see how something like a boat is so much more than a boat or a home sale is so much more than a home sale or that a date is more than a date and a chance encounter is more than that. It is beautiful. Thanks so much for sharing and I am desperately looking forward to reading more on your new blog!

  2. I've now read this blog for the second time at 4am ish when I've woke up in middle of the night...I guess it's like my "bedtime story" although, like last night I'm wide awake now. I guess the story was too exciting!