Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
The weekend after the Fourth of July was hardly less busy than the one before, since there were a lot of people around using the holiday to stretch out a couple days of vacation, but the weekend after that one things were a little more like normal.
The sun was getting low and the activity was slowing down on Saturday evening when I heard Barb call to me from the snack bar deck: “Hey, Jake!” she yelled, “Come on up here a minute! Someone wants to talk to you.”
Oh, shit, I thought. That didn’t seem like it could be anything good. Maybe Lisa had shown up again, or maybe it was my parents. Or, maybe even worse, Brittany. Well, I was going to have to face them sooner or later, so I decided now was as good a time as any and get it over with. Susie ought to be around, I thought. Maybe we can make the trick work again. I turned to Wayne and said, “Shouldn’t be anything you can’t handle down here for a few minutes,” and started up to the snack bar.
When I walked into the snack bar I was relieved to not find any of my family or Brittany there, which took a load off my mind. However, I was a little surprised to see Nate and Rachel sitting at a table, along with Barb. That was a little on the unusual side; while most mornings they stopped off for breakfast and sandwiches to take on the boat, I didn’t recall ever seeing them there in the evening – and to top it off, without their boat. “Hey, what’s happening?” I asked.
“Something interesting has come up,” Nate said. “How would you like the opportunity to have a few days off, do something a little different, and still make a few bucks?”
“Sounds like it has potential. What do you have in mind?”
“To make a long story short, there’s a boat up in the harbor that needs to be delivered,” he said. “It’s a sailboat, a twenty-six-foot International Folkboat.”
“I hate to say this, but I have no idea what you’re talking about, and I don’t know anything about sailing. The one time I was on a sailboat was with a bunch of kids on a small lake down near home, and to be honest we had more beer with us than was good for us.”
“I didn’t think you knew anything about sailing,” he said. “But that doesn’t really matter. Just to make things clear, a Folkboat is an old-fashioned full-keel boat. They’re not real fast compared to modern boats, but they’re tough boats that will handle almost anything in the way of bad weather, especially anything you’d come across on these lakes. A lot of them were wood, though this one happens to be fiberglass, and it has a small inboard diesel engine. People have taken some hellaciously long ocean voyages in them, and in fact I think this one was actually sailed to here from Sweden. The guy who owns it brought it up here back before Memorial Day, but then he had a heart attack. He needs to have it taken home. Well, his wife does, as he’s not good. They think they can do better on selling it at home than they can here.”
“I’m still pretty well lost,” I admitted.
“Don’t worry about it. I’m not expecting you to do this by yourself, but an extra set of hands is going to be needed.”
“Well, so long as I’m with someone who knows what they’re doing, I ought to be all right then,” I said, knowing that Nate delivered boats to various places for people from time to time. “So when do we do this?”
“That’s the problem,” Nate smiled. “There’s no way I can get out of here in the next couple weeks at the earliest, and the guy’s wife wants this done yesterday, of course. Apparently she has a possible buyer on the hook. I can’t do it in the foreseeable future, since I’ve got too many charters scheduled. I figure you and Rachel should be able to handle it all right.”
“Rachel?” I said. “Are you sure?”
“Sure.” I’d answered Nate but Rachel was the one who responded with a big grin, and my head snapped around, looking at her. “It ought to be fun. I’ve done a lot of sailing, just not this year. It’d be fun to take a long trip, and this looks like it might be my only chance to get away this summer.”
“Yeah,” I said, shaking my head. “But you and me, by ourselves? I mean, well, it might not look very good.” I glanced back at Nate to see a big grin on his face.
“You’re probably right,” he said. “But you’re not going to be seeing a lot of people on this trip. It’s going to be a long haul, and you’re not going to have time to dink around.”
“Yeah, but . . . ” I protested.
“You think people will see it as a party boat and you’re messing around with a fifteen-year-old girl, right?”
“Look, I don’t see it as a problem if you don’t. First, I trust Rachel. You should know that by now. Second, I’ve come to trust you, both from seeing you work the boat, and from when you threw that young idiot off the dock, so I know you respect her. Third, the boat has a tiller, and it’s going to have to be steered every inch of the way, so there won’t be enough free hands for the two of you to be messing around anyway. And fourth . . . ”
“If I did something,” I finished for him, “I’d be trying to see if I could swim from the middle of the big lake with ten yards of anchor chain wrapped around my neck.”
“Something like that,” he said after a laugh. “You get the picture. Look, I know what’s been going on with you and Debby and Barb’s girls, and I also know that they’re the ones who have been the instigators, not you, right?”
“Well, yeah, pretty much,” I admitted, a little sheepishly.
“Add it all up. I don’t have any problems with it if Rachel doesn’t. It was her idea as much as mine.”
“Well, all right, I guess,” I said, still feeling a little dubious about the situation. Rachel was a good kid, something of a friend, and I had been impressed with her seamanship and her maturity – but she was still a fifteen-year-old girl. “Where do we have to take this boat?”
“Clysterman Marine in Sandusky, Ohio. It shows on the harbor chart, and it shouldn’t be hard to find.”
“Sandusky, Ohio! That’s got to be a good four hundred miles.”
“Probably pretty close to that, although I haven’t plotted it out to be sure,” Nate agreed. “Maybe even more than that. I doubt you’re going to average five knots, so it’s going to be every bit of four days, and probably longer. That’s if you keep going all night, and only stop to fuel up. I figure you can motor if the wind is down, so you might have to stop for fuel. The weather looks good for the next few days, so you shouldn’t have to stop for it.”
I glanced at Rachel, who had a big grin. “I just want to make sure,” I said. “You’re OK with this?”
“Yeah, sure,” she said. “This is going to be fun, and you’re going to get to learn a little about sailing. I think you’re going to like it.”
“That was my thought too,” Nate added. “It’s a little different from working a big power boat like the Chinook, but you’ll learn things, and I think you’ll get some valuable experience. What’s more, I know you have plenty of experience standing night watches in the Navy, and that’s one thing you’ve got over Rachel. To be honest, she sleeps like the teenager she is, which means that it takes dynamite to get her out of bed. If you did this just running days it could take you a couple weeks, and I can’t have her gone that long. It’s going to be hard enough having the both of you gone that long as it is.”
“Well, at least I know how to stand a watch,” I replied, a little less dubious about the whole thing. “How do we get back?”
“I’ll call down to Clysterman and have someone set up to give you a ride to a bus station. When you get as close to here as you can, give a call and someone will come pick you up. You’ll just have to work that part of it out. That’s another reason I want you along with Rachel. There’s some real creeps around bus stations and on inter-city buses, and you ought to be able to keep them off her. I’m actually more worried about that part of it than I am anything about the sailing. A girl her age alone around places like that could be an easy target for some of those people.”
“Well, I’ll grant you that,” I said. “I took a couple long bus rides while I was in the Navy, and I saw some people I wouldn’t trust as far as I could throw a fit.”
“Right. So you’re OK with it?”
“I guess I am if you and Rachel are,” I said. “So when do we get started?”
“I really need Rachel with me on the charter we’ve got tomorrow,” Nate replied. “And I know you’re going to be busy here. The best thing would be for you to get going early Monday morning, or at least as early as I can get Rachel out of bed. That ought to get you back here Friday sometime if everything goes all right and you have any kind of luck with buses.”
“That’s if everything goes right,” I said. “There’s a good chance that something won’t.”
“Yeah, but you just have to take it like it comes,” he said with a shrug. “I’m not going to worry about it very much if it takes an extra day or so, but I’d appreciate a call when you get into Sandusky so I know you made it that far.”
“Of course we’ll do that,” I told him. “Just out of curiosity, what are you going to do for crew while we’re gone?”
“The best I can. I’ve got a couple small charters I can get away with going by myself. Barb has crewed for me lots of times. She said she can handle it a couple days, and maybe with any kind of luck we can talk Susie into helping out if Barb can’t.”
“She’s done it,” Barb put in. “She doesn’t like it but she’s willing to do it to help out. Annette, no way. She takes showers ’cause she gets seasick in a bathtub.”
“Well, Sam did too,” Nate said, shaking his head. “I guess that’s to be expected.” There was something in Nate’s words that made me think that there was more to them than what he had said, but I didn’t get to wonder about it as he went on. “Anyway, Rachel and I went over and looked at the boat after we got in this afternoon. It’s in good shape, and you shouldn’t have much problem with it. The engine starts with one push of the starter, and at least the guy left it with the tanks full, so unless you have to motor a lot you shouldn’t have to stop for fuel. It’s got a small galley with an alcohol stove, so there shouldn’t be any problem with food.”
“We are going to have to take some, though,” Rachel pointed out. “We can grab some canned stew and like that, food that just needs warming up rather than takes any real cooking. Debby said she’d make up some sandwiches and stuff for us, and we can take a cooler full of ice and pop and stuff, so we ought to be able to get along on that for four days.”
“You’d better throw in a loaf of bread and a big jar of peanut butter in case it takes you longer than you think,” Barb suggested. “You could stretch it out for a couple more days on that if you had to.”
“Take a couple changes of clothes, and your pea jacket in case it gets cool,” Nate suggested. “Maybe some shorts or swim trunks too. This isn’t supposed to be a pleasure cruise. You’re going so you can get there. I can make do without Rachel for a few days, and Jake, Barb said she can make do without you that long, but neither of us are going to want you to be gone any longer than necessary.”
“Well, all right,” I said, warming to the idea. This would be something different. I’d spent a lot of days at sea, of course, but in a twenty-six-foot boat with a fifteen-year-old girl sailing it? I’d never have believed it a few months before. Hell, even a few minutes before!
We talked over a few more of the details, like we’d get together in the snack bar before it was usually open, then Nate would take Rachel and I down to the boat and get us going. When it seemed like we had all the bases covered, Nate and Rachel headed for home, and I started to go back down to the fuel dock. I had seen several boats come through, and figured that Wayne would need a hand by now.
Before I got out the door, Barb stopped me. “Hey, thanks for going along on that,” she said. “I thought about going myself, but I really shouldn’t be away that long just in case something happens. Nate and Marge and Rachel mean an awful lot to me, and with Marge not doing well Nate’s having to do a lot more juggling around than is good for him or the business. Don’t worry about being on the boat with Rachel; she knows what she’s doing on a boat.”
“I pretty well figured that part of it out, even though I haven’t seen her on a sailboat,” I replied. “But that wasn’t the part that had me concerned.”
“You mean the part that she’s a young girl?” Barb said through a grin. “I’m not worried. She’s got her head screwed firmly onto her shoulders, a lot more so than Susie or Annette did at that age. I’ll tell you what, I wouldn’t have trusted either of them alone on a boat for a trip that long with a guy at that age. Well, maybe Annette, she’d have been hanging over the side barfing so much that she’d never have thought about sex.”
“You know, that’s the part I still can’t quite understand,” I told her. “I mean, it’s no damn secret around here about what I do with Debby and Susie and Annette. In fact, sometimes it seems almost like a spectator sport. I don’t know how you put up with it, and I don’t know why Nate would trust me alone on a boat with his teeny-bopper daughter for four or five days.”
“As far as Rachel goes, everything Nate said applies. As far as Debby and my girls, it’s more of a case of the devil you know over the devil you don’t. I don’t worry about my girls when they’re with you, since I know you’ve got a good head on your shoulders and you’re not playing favorites. I worry a hell of a lot about what they can get into down at college when I can’t keep an eye on them. But all of you are over eighteen, so I guess I have to let them go sometime.”
“Well, I worry about it anyway.”
“Don’t let the worry overwhelm you, or it can really screw up your life,” she replied seriously. “Just plan on being your normal self and don’t let anything happen you don’t think should happen. And have a good time. You ought to learn something.”
I was up well before sunrise a day and a half later, long before we normally opened the snack bar. I didn’t want to get Debby up early, so I went to the kitchen and started to get ready to serve breakfast when Nate and Rachel showed up. They made it in just about as soon as the grill was hot, so I made us all some bacon and hash browns and eggs. Breakfast went quickly. Soon I threw my seabag into Nate’s car, and Nate took us down to the harbor.
I hadn’t had the time the day before to go down and look at the boat, and in fact I wouldn’t have known what to look for. It was a sailboat, of course, and I thought maybe I’d remembered it coming into the harbor earlier in the summer, though I couldn’t be sure. It was a relatively small boat, a lot smaller than the Chinook III, and seemed to be in good shape. I noticed the name Mary Sue lettered across the stern, along with the registry port, Sandusky, Ohio.
Like most sailboats that size, it had a small cockpit in back, with seats and a foot well. There was a big tiller on the rudder that stuck most of the way out over the cockpit. I was a little surprised when I opened the hatch and looked inside the cabin. There wasn’t anything like enough headroom to stand up. I suppose there was room enough to sleep four, though those four would have to be pretty good friends.
The three of us spent some time getting the boat ready to go. Well, Nate and Rachel did, while I mostly stood around in general confusion, helping out where I could while they did the real work of taking the sail covers off and things like that. Rachel stowed a couple bags of food below, and then did a few other things I didn’t really understand, until finally it seemed like there wasn’t anything else to do.
“You might as well get going,” Nate said, just as it looked like the sun was coming up. “It’s not like you’ve got all day.”
“I’ll get the engine started, Dad,” Rachel said, looking like she knew what she was doing. “We’ll let it warm up a bit before we get going.” She pressed a button on a small console mounted on the front of one of the seats, and I heard the little diesel engine under the cockpit floor come to life with a rumble. It coughed a couple times, then settled down to an idle.
“You kids just take it easy,” Nate said over the sound of the engine. “This boat isn’t fast but you’re going to get there eventually. Jake, you help Rachel out where you can. She’s going to have to be the skipper, so you’ll just have to do what she tells you.”
“I more or less figured that,” I said. “I could maybe, with luck, get this boat across the harbor so long as I didn’t have to fiddle with the sails, but I’d be lost after that.”
“I’ll tell you that I really doubt that you’re going to be able to say that a week from now.”
“I hope not,” I agreed.
“OK, Dad,” Rachel said. “I guess I’ve got the engine warmed up enough. You can take the lines off now.”
“All right,” he said, untying the line to the bow. He tossed it on the deck, then went back to get the stern line. In a moment, it landed on deck too. I went forward along the narrow deck on the side of the cabin, coiled up the bow line, and as soon as I was back in the cockpit with the coiled rope Rachel pulled the lever to put the prop into reverse.
“Bye, Dad,” she called as we backed out of the slip. “See you in a few days.”
“Good enough,” he replied. “You kids take care and have fun.”
Rachel backed the boat up several lengths, then put the tiller over to turn us to one side. Once the bow was around far enough, she changed to forward, swung the tiller the other way and opened the throttle a bit. We looked at the dock, where Nate was watching us leave. I could still hardly believe he was letting me take off in a boat along with his daughter for what could be up to a week!
I coiled up the stern line and plopped down on the seat across from Rachel. “Well,” I said, “we’re on our way.”
“Yeah, this is going to be fun,” she said with a wide grin. “I’ve done a lot of sailing, but I’ve never been on a full keel boat before. It’ll be a little different than the others I’ve handled.”
“You haven’t been out on this boat?” I asked.
“No, just on it a couple times with Dad when we were checking it out for this trip. No big deal. I know where everything is, and we shouldn’t have any problems. It’s just that it’s going to handle a little different than I’m used to. I can feel right now that it needs a lot of rudder at low speeds, but it ought to be different when we get moving. With the long keel this thing has, it’s not built to turn. I’m going to take it slow for now, since there’ll still be people sleeping around here.”
Partway across the harbor, we were away from the slip area, so she slowly brought the throttle all the way forward. The engine was making more noise, and we were moving noticeably faster, although I thought it was less than a fast walk. “Not real fast with the motor,” I commented.
“No, it’s not like the Chinook with the big diesels,” she agreed. “This boat is meant to sail, not to run under power, so we want to have the sails up whenever there’s wind enough to do us any good. That probably won’t be for a while yet. We’ll shut the motor off while we’re sailing, since there’s no point in burning any more fuel than we have to.”
“Whatever you think,” I told her. “You’re the one running this show. All I know about sailing is what I’ve read in books.”
“You’ll pick it up pretty fast, I think. At least you’ve seemed to pick up what goes on with Dad’s boat pretty fast so far, and a lot of it is the same thing. Why don’t you come back here and steer this a little while we’re inside, so you can get the feel for it. Just point it toward the center of the channel.”
“Might as well,” I told her as I took the tiller from her. “I’m probably going to have to steer it a lot on this trip.”
“Yeah, pretty much,” she said, leaning back and putting her hands behind her head. “This is going to be pretty neat. I’ve been out overnight a couple times before, but never a run as long as this one. I’m just glad that Dad’s letting us make this trip. I can use the money for clothes for school, and this is going to be a real break for me. There’s no better way I can think of to take a break.”
“Yeah, me too,” I agreed. “Working the fuel dock is all right for a job, but this ought to be something special.”
We motored on down the channel. In a way, it was new to me – while I’d been down to the big lake from the Channel Stop several times, I’d never been up to the harbor on the water. We went around a small bend, then another one, and all of a sudden we were coming up on the Channel Stop. It looked strange from this angle on the water. As I watched, the front door of the snack bar opened. Debby and Barb came out to wave at us as we passed, and pretty soon they were behind us.