What's the biggest mistake you ever made in life?
My answer is, I gave into a lifelong dream and bought a boat.
When I landed my first job, the first thing I did after I saved some money was to buy my own car. Then I wanted to buy a boat.
I still recall the day I was riding with my dad and saw a bright red boat with a for sale sign sitting on a lawn. It listed $500 as the asking price.
"Dad, I can afford to buy that boat," I said.
I will never forget his answer.
"Daughter, anyone can buy a boat," he said. "But not everyone can afford to maintain it. That's the expensive part of boat ownership."
He said a boat owner either has to be a good mechanic, or, be able to pay through the nose because boats always need work.
I was 19 when we had that conversation. It was one we repeated through the years. But every time I told him I wanted a boat, he reminded me I wasn't a candidate for one.
"Marry someone with a boat or someone who will buy you one," he said.
I love to fish, thanks to my dad, but I never fell in love with a fisherman. Instead, I fell for an academic type who liked to read and take photos. No fishing boat for me.
Fast forward to decades later when I retired and moved to Florida. What do I see everywhere I look in southwest Florida? Boats! All kind of boats. With the Gulf of Mexico along with all our rivers, bays and waterways, almost every driveway seems to have a boat.
When I met David, I was excited when he told me he was a true outdoorsman. He had lived on a sailboat for seven years, he said. That's my kind of man, I figured.
When David and I got married, I brought up the idea of buying a boat. His house is on a deep-water canal with its own dock. Perfect for a little boat.
David wanted to buy a sailboat, claiming he knows a lot about sailboats but little about powerboats.
One day while we were sitting on the lanai in front of the empty dock, I said if I got a powerboat I already had picked the epitaph for my tombstone:
She died happy.
"If you want a power boat that much," said David, "we'll just have to get one."
When I talked about wanting a boat, what I had in mind was a small fishing boat, a put-put with an outboard motor.
Based on his past experience, David's idea of what a boat should be is one that we could live on for days or weeks. He said we could travel to Key West or Sanibel then stay at a marina for a few days.
It sounded romantic.
When we answered a newspaper ad for a 1999 30' Bayliner, complete with a big kitchen and sleeping quarters, those romantic dreams multiplied. I did something stupid when I saw that boat. I forgot my father's warning. Telling myself I would rather spend money on a used boat than on a nursing home later, I bought the boat.
Whenever we tried to use the boat, it wouldn't go. That meant calling a marine mechanic then shelling out big bucks to have the boat fixed.
The next time we tried to take the boat out, it wouldn't go again. We had to keep the mechanic on speed dial.
The only time we seemed to get a boat ride was when we broke down miles from home and had to be pulled by Sea Tow.
Soon, I changed my tombstone epitaph to read: She died broke.
We believed if we fixed one more thing, if we just put a bit more money in the boat, it would work.
Two years later I had to admit my dad was right. I could buy a boat but I couldn't afford to keep it.
I sold the boat, taking a whale of a loss with more zeros than I have the stomach to calculate.
Ever since, I've been beating myself up for my stupidity. Buying the boat was the dumbest mistake of my life.
That led me to question my friends, asking them what was the dumbest mistake they ever made.
"Believing my boyfriend of 13 years was going to marry me some day," said one friend. When her longtime boyfriend died suddenly, she was shocked to read his obituary. It said his loving wife, Kathleen, survived him. He had lied when he claimed to be divorced.
Another friend said her biggest mistake was staying married to an abusive guy for 20 years.
"Marrying my first wife," said one male friend in answer to my question. Actually, several people gave that same answer.
It was interesting to note no one mentioned dumb financial decisions. Obviously, the mistakes that bother us most are not our financial mistakes.
Thinking about that, I'm counting my blessings and trying not to beat myself up for wasting all that money on a boat.
In time, maybe it will be like childbirth. Maybe I'll remember only the pleasure and forget the pain of owning the boat.
Those little fishing boats still make me look at them with longing. But I hope I learned my lesson about boat ownership.