Today on the Tilikum Crossing, I watched a fire department boat cut the anchors and haul away two "ghost" boats. There are dozens of these boats—some inhabited, some not—all along the banks of the Willamette. What is the fate of these boats? —Damn the Torpedoes

I sense a note of wistful longing in your letter that suggests you think you may be just a phone call away from a free boat. Before you get carried away with fantasies of cavorting on the poop deck of your very own cutter-rigged sloop, allow me to pour cold seawater on your nautical dreams.

The good news is that each of these ghost vessels has a story to tell—stories as wide-ranging and varied as the sea itself! The bad news is that almost all those stories begin with someone like you saying, "Hey, free boat!" and end with a rudderless hulk moldering in the shallows.

You see, Torpedoes, boats are like children: Any asshole can have one, it's taking care of them that kills you. Like children, even the good ones cost a fortune to maintain, and if—as is likely—yours turns out to be one of the shitty ones, you can pretty much kiss your retirement goodbye.

Like irresponsible parents, people who take on watercraft they can't afford to look after have a tendency to just walk away, leaving the state holding the bag.

Here the analogy begins to break down, since you can't carve up derelict children and cart the parts off to be recycled (to my mother's undying chagrin). Nevertheless, that's the likely fate of the boats you're describing.

The Oregon State Marine Board delegates the responsibility for dealing with abandoned and derelict vessels, or ADVs, to various enforcement agencies. Portland Fire & Rescue is not one of these agencies unless the vessel poses a navigational hazard, as happened to be the case with the boats you saw.

It doesn't really matter which agency is hauling those ADVs off, though; they'd all rather destroy them than give you one.

Removing a single ADV can cost the state thousands (or even tens of thousands) of dollars. The last thing they need is for some yahoo to put the damned thing back in the water only to wander off when he gets distracted by some small, shiny object. Save us all some trouble; restrict your cavorting to the dock.

Questions? Send them to dr.know@wweek.com.