The U.S. Coast Guard officers patrolling Panama City Beach’s Grand Lagoon in Florida late this past August didn’t realize what was in store when they stopped a brand-new Boston Whaler 130 Super Sport for a spot inspection. The boat’s captain, 84-year-old Delores “Deon” Neighbors, and her 93-year-old first mate, Dot Vines, were only 10 minutes into their maiden voyage of their boat, and they didn’t appreciate the interruption.
“They just looked at us and grinned,” Neighbors says. “I guess they thought two old women like us shouldn’t be out there on the water in the first place.”
Neighbors and Vines have been getting into grand adventures together for 70 years. By the time the duo from Birmingham, Alabama, met in a softball league in 1949, Neighbors was already an old hand on the water. When she was 12, a family friend trained her to race his Feather Craft boat with a 10 hp Mercury motor. “I was winning races—it felt wonderful to beat the guys,” she says.
“The guys” represented Johnson Motor Co., who were none too happy she was besting their product. “They got me voted out of the racing club on the grounds I wasn’t 16 yet,” she says.
Some of the ladies’ fondest memories from the earlier years of their friendship are of their time spent together at Lake Martin, about 90 miles southeast of Birmingham. “My husband, Richard, and I had a little cabin on Lake Martin and kept a small aluminum boat,” Neighbors recalls. “Dot and her husband, Louis, would come down to visit. That’s where I taught her to water-ski.”
Neighbors also shared her lifelong passion for fishing with Vines, who became her housemate after their husbands passed away. “My favorite part of fishing is when Deon catches the fish and cooks them,” Vines says with a laugh. “We eat very well.”
Vines has benefited frequently from her best friend’s skill with the rod and reel and accompanied her on fishing outings to the pier in Panama City Beach, where they caught king mackerel, pompano, blackfin tuna and redfish. But as much as Neighbors enjoyed the pier, as well as fishing expeditions on a friend’s boat, she missed having her own fishing boat. She’d long had her eye on a Boston Whaler.
“I’ve always liked them for their stability,” she says. “Dot and I are both small. We didn’t want to worry that when you stand up on one side, the boat would flip you over. Boston Whalers are the safest boat I could think of—they’re unsinkable. When they redesigned the front of the boat, I was ready to buy.”
Neighbors reached out to MarineMax in Buford, Georgia, to dial in her specs. The 13-foot Boston Whaler 130 Super Sport was the one. She appreciated how the redesigned, modified-V hull would cut down on the spray coming off the bow. The dimensions felt comfortable, with a 5-foot-10-inch beam and deeper interior.
“The depth of this little boat caught my eye,” she says. “So many boats are too shallow. With this one, my bottom half and Dot’s are completely in the boat—that’s really nice.”
She added GPS navigation and a fish finder. “I already know how to fish and where to fish,” she says, “but I don’t know a thing about this technology, so I’ll have to figure that out.”
Even though the boat’s cooler and stowage make it easy to entertain on board, Neighbors and Vines have no plans to do so. “Dot and I decided to get a 13-foot boat because we didn’t want a bunch of folks joining us,” she says. “You can’t fish with a bunch of folks in the boat.”
Another benefit of the 130 Super Sport became apparent when Neighbors and Vines towed the boat with their Acura RDX on the three-hour drive from the dealership home to Birmingham, through Atlanta traffic. “When you’re towing the boat on the interstate, you don’t even know it’s back there,” she says. “You just forget it’s there. It’s beautifully trailered and well-balanced.”
The duo wasted no time getting on the water. They headed to Panama City, put in at the lagoon above Capt. Anderson’s Marina, and opened up the 40 hp Mercury four-stroke outboard. “I never open a motor up all the way; I don’t think it’s good for the motor,” Neighbors says. “But I wanted to crack that throttle a bit and see what the boat could do. It was a ‘wow’ moment. I told Dot, ‘This damn thing will fly.’”
Soon after, the Coast Guard intervened.
“I was annoyed,” Neighbors says. “But it was a hoot.”