Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
A few minutes later I was steering the Mary Sue out between the breakwaters. We passed the automatic light and headed on out into the big lake. It was pretty calm out there, with only a few tiny waves and a long, slow swell.
“Boy, not a breath of wind,” Rachel commented from the far side of the cockpit. “I guess we’d better plan on motoring for a while. Let’s get a ways offshore before we get on course. We really don’t want to run real close in.”
“Whatever you say, Rachel,” I said. “You’re the old pro on this one, and I’m just the new guy.”
“I don’t think you’re going to be the new guy for long,” she said seriously. “And like Dad said, there’s a few things you have experience with that I don’t, so maybe we’re going to teach each other a little.”
We motored on for a while, the boat moving slightly in the small swells. It wasn’t rolling as much as I thought it would, and I realized that the heavy iron keel underneath the boat was responsible for that. After perhaps half an hour, Rachel told me to change course to head where we were going, and gave me a compass course to work with. Other than the fact that I was a lot closer to the water than on the Chinook III and working with a tiller, rather than a wheel, it was pretty much the same thing. However, I expected it was going to be different when we got the sails up.
We rode along, talking about nothing in particular, and mostly fishing for suitable topics at that; there were long stretches when we didn’t have much to say. “Hey, Jake,” she said after a while, “would you like some coffee?”
“I’d love some,” I said. “I had a quick cup back at the snack bar, but that really wasn’t enough to hold me.”
“I could stand a cup, too. I’ll go make some. I’m not much of a cook, but I know how to run an alcohol stove, and I actually can make coffee,” she said. “Maybe you ought to look over my shoulder so you can see how to use the stove. It’s not hard.”
She went down the open hatchway into the tiny cabin. The stove was right by the hatchway, and the headroom was so low her head was actually poking out the hatch as she worked at the stove. It really did seem pretty simple to use, and before long she had the percolator going. “Not a bad little boat,” she said while we were waiting for the coffee. “A little primitive, but that’s kind of nice. There’s nothing much that could break on a long voyage. I think it would be neat to take a long trip in a boat like this, maybe even an ocean crossing.”
“You sure seem to like being out on the water,” I commented.
“Yeah, I do. I was brought up with it, so that has something to do with it, I guess.” She got a big grin on her face and added, “There are kids at school who think it’s a big deal to get out with a jet ski or something like that. I can just imagine what some of them are going to say when they find out that Dad let me do a four hundred-mile sailboat delivery.”
“Maybe it won’t be such a big surprise,” I said. “After all, the way everybody around here seems to talk about everybody else, it’s got to be pretty well known that you spend the summers working on your dad’s boat.”
“I suppose,” she said with a sigh. “I guess a lot of people take it for granted. Of course, there are always dorks like Darryl who think that no one else can do anything better than they can. It sure was neat when you threw him off the dock.”
“He shouldn’t have been talking like that,” I said. “He’ll probably keep at it though until he really gets someone mad and they knock some sense into him.” I was trying to watch my language around Rachel. I’d gotten pretty sloppy around the girls, since they tended to be a little foul-mouthed like college kids often are. But, I was thoroughly aware that no matter how competent Rachel was, she was still fifteen and her tender ears shouldn’t have to hear that kind of thing.
“The sooner, the better. At least I only have to put up with him for another couple years, and I’ll be out of school. With any kind of luck, after that he’ll be in jail where he belongs.”
“You know,” I said, “we’ve talked a fair amount at one time or another, but I don’t think we’ve ever discussed what you want to do when you get out of school.”
“Pretty much what I’m doing now,” she said, matter of factly. “Working with my dad on the boat. Maybe someday, I can have a charter boat of my own. Dad gets enough calls for charters that he has to turn some business down, so maybe there’s room for another one.”
“I don’t think so. It wouldn’t do me much good. Oh, there might be a few things I could pick up, but I can pick them up in other ways, too. I mean, you take Susie and Annette. Annette at least has some idea of what she wants to do, which is to be a writer and teach English in some high school, but Susie is just trying to get a degree and has no idea what she wants to do with it. You didn’t go to college, did you?”
“No, I went into the Navy right out of high school. I’ve given some thought to going to college sooner or later, but I guess I’m like Susie in that. I don’t have any idea of what I’d do after I got there, and that makes it seem pretty pointless.”
By that time the percolator was going pretty good, and I could smell the aroma of the coffee coming up from below. Rachel went back down the hatch, turned the stove off, and poured the coffee into spill-proof cups. “You like yours black, right?”
“I got used to it that way in the Navy.”
“I can’t handle it black,” she said. “I have to load mine up with cream and sugar.” Typical teenager, I thought as she handed a cup up to me, and then came back up to the cockpit carrying one for her.
As the motor pushed us along we just sat in the cockpit for a while, enjoying the peaceful morning and talked lazily about one thing or another. Rachel was pleasant to talk to. While she may have been a competent sailor, she was still a kid, and had a high school kid’s view of things, which wasn’t necessarily the same as the real world. We’d both finished our coffee and put the cups back below before a little breeze sprang up on the starboard side. “I guess we might as well think about getting some sail up,” she said. “Turn us into the breeze and hold it there, and I’ll get them up. Once we get a little breeze, I’ll start to show you how to handle them.”
“Like I said, you’re running this show. I don’t have any idea of what needs doing.”
“No problem, that’s what you’re here for,” she replied. “OK, look. One hard-and-fast rule, even when it’s as calm as it is now. If you get on deck outside the cockpit, you have a life jacket on, and have a safety line tied on, so if you fall overboard you’re not going to get away from the boat. I’m not even going to try to get away without it, since if I fell overboard you don’t know enough about handling the boat to get back to me. Just cut the engine and pull me in if it happens, OK?”
“That’ll be fine,” I said. “Just don’t fall overboard. Get set, then I’ll turn us into the wind.”
It only took her a couple minutes to get her life vest on, with a line attached to it tied to a cleat near the cockpit. There were lines tied around the sail to keep it on the boom, and she untied them with the comment, “This boat is so old-fashioned it doesn’t even have lazy jacks for reefing. Nothing wrong with that, I guess.”
She got set to step up onto the deck, and when she told me to I turned the boat to starboard. From the narrow deck on the side of the cabin she untied the rest of the sail, then scrambled up the narrow deck to the mast, just in front of the cabin, and soon was running the mainsail up the mast. It flopped around a little in the breeze as she went onto the foredeck to deal with the jib, which had been bent onto the forestay before we left the slip. There were a couple ropes on it to keep it from billowing out. She untied them and back at the mast pulled on the rope to raise that sail. The whole thing only took her two or three minutes, and then she was back in the cockpit, pulling off her life jacket. “All right,” she said. “We’re pretty well sheeted in already, so turn back to port and get us on course. I’ll deal with the sheets once we get there.”
I did as I was told, while she fiddled with the lines running to the sails. Just from watching her, and from the books I had read, I had some idea what she was doing, but actually doing it was a little different than reading about it. Before too long we were on course, with the sails full, and the boat heeling a little from the pressure.
“That’s more like it,” she said. “Now we’re sailing. We might as well cut the motor and save some fuel. We might not move along as fast for a while, but the wind is going to pick up.” She told me how to cut the motor, and the noise from it died away. While we weren’t going very fast, even to my untrained hands the boat had seemed to come alive with the sails up and the motor off. It was very quiet, with only a little whisper of the wind through the sails and some lapping sounds of the water on the hull.
We sailed along for a while, just enjoying it, and then she said, “I might as well show you the basics of how to handle the sails while the wind is still fairly light.”
That was fine with me, and we spent much of the next hour sailing various courses, so she could show me how to set the sails for any of them. She showed me how to tack the boat so we could run more or less into the wind, and how to set it up to run downwind. It actually made a lot of sense, but it clearly was going to involve some practice to set the boat up for various conditions. Just how much or how little to make an adjustment was at least a little a bit intuitive, and it had to be changed as the wind changed and our course changed.
“Things are going to be a little different when the wind picks up, but in some ways it’s easier then, rather than harder,” Rachel told me. “Like you’ll get a better idea of how to sheet in the main and the jib when the main is being back-winded. Don’t worry, it’ll come in time, and I’m just going to let you get the feel of it. If you’re doing anything wrong I’ll try to point it out, but doing it is the best way to learn.”
She was right. The wind picked up slowly as the morning went along. It was blowing a steady breeze now. The boat had some heel on it, and was rolling around a little in the light cross waves, which were also picking up a little as time went on. We were moving along a lot faster now than the motor had pushed us, leaving a wake behind us as we headed down the lake. The Mary Sue had really come alive now, showing the stuff she was built for, and I found myself enjoying the ride, working the boat and the wind, while glorying in the beautiful day. This was not a bit like being out on the ocean in the Navy, not one bit – this was fun!
Rachel apparently thought so, too. “This is what it’s supposed to be like,” she said. “There are faster boats, but this one is pretty solid, and we’re going to get there sooner or later, so let’s just enjoy the trip,” she grinned.
It had been cool when we left in the morning, cool enough for sweat shirts and jeans, but as the morning wore on they started to be too much. Before noon we had the sweat shirts off, and not long after that Rachel disappeared below for a few minutes, coming back wearing a pair of cutoff short shorts. I let her run the boat for a few minutes while I went below and changed into shorts myself, no easy project as low as the ceiling was, but I was soon back at the tiller, gaining confidence in both the boat and myself.
We were far enough out that a big lake freighter soon passed us. “Just hold your course when the wake hits us,” she told me. “That’ll give us an idea of how this thing is going to ride in bigger waves.” The wake looked pretty big as it came up on us, but when it washed under us the boat rode up and down on it in a stable fashion. That was enough to tell me that the boat could handle it.
“You know, I’m really enjoying this,” I told Rachel.
“I am, too. I could see having a boat like this someday. I’m beginning to think that four or five days is going to be too short. The only problem is that if we stayed out longer we’d be running out of food. Speaking of which, are you up for a drink and a sandwich?”
“Yeah,” I said, glancing up at the sun, which was pretty high in the sky by now. “It’s got to be chow time somewhere in the world.”
Once again Rachel went below, and this time came back up with food. “Hope you don’t mind tuna salad,” she said. “Debby said it probably wouldn’t keep too well, so we ought to eat it now.”
The wind picked up more after we ate, and we were storming along now, or at least it seemed like it. In reality we couldn’t have been going much more than five or six knots, judging by the way the landmarks passed on the distant shore. Rachel peeled off her T-shirt, revealing a conservative bikini top, and took a quick nap over on the other cockpit seat. It actually made me feel good that she dared to sleep while I was running the boat.
She didn’t sleep for long, though. When she woke up, she went below, I presume to use the head, then came back up and relieved me on the tiller for a while. I took the opportunity to take a little nap myself on the leeward cockpit seat, though I don’t think I slept much. However, when I came to Rachel was steering the boat, just as happy as a clam. She sure enjoyed this, I could tell.
As the afternoon wore on, Rachel said that we needed to alter course offshore a ways, so we’d be well out when night came, and that we might as well do it while we had some wind to do it with. I would say at that point we’d been running two or three miles offshore, and as the wind died out that evening we were probably twice that.
Supper that evening was canned stew, not bad, not good, but food, even if it tasted better when eaten offshore. I was the one who cooked it, such as it was. The alcohol stove wasn’t quite as easy to use as Rachel made it look when she made coffee with it earlier, but there were obviously tricks to using it that I didn’t know yet.
As the sun dipped toward the horizon the wind died out more and more. We were still sailing, if very slowly, but both of us seemed reluctant to suggest that we turn on the diesel. Finally we did, although Rachel said we should just sheet the sails in tight to cut down on the rolling in the swell remaining from the wind of the day.
“I think maybe we ought to think about one of us getting some sleep, or else one of us is going to fall asleep at the tiller,” I finally suggested. “In the Navy we usually did four-hour watches, but we don’t have to do it that way if you don’t want to.”
“It doesn’t matter to me,” she said. “Tell you what. Why don’t you go grab a nap, and I’ll wake you up at midnight? Then you can get me up at four, and I’ll grab a nap in the morning.”
“I don’t mind taking the midwatch. I know I can stay awake for that. But maybe I’ll make a thermos of coffee before I sack out. That way we can have something to sip on to stay awake.”
While the coffee was brewing, I pulled my pants and sweatshirt back on. It didn’t seem cool enough to unroll my sleeping bag, so I decided to just sleep in my clothes, which would make things simpler when I had to get up. When the coffee was finished, I put it in the thermos, and handed it up to her, along with a spill-proof cup and enough sugar and creamer to hold her. “See you at midnight,” I said, and then spread out in the quarter berth, the one right next to the hatch and across from the stove.
It had been a long day, and I didn’t have much trouble falling asleep. It had been a satisfying day, and I felt like I’d learned a lot.
Midnight came quickly. Soon I felt Rachel shaking my shoulder to wake me up. I took a minute or so to pull myself together, then went up on deck and poured myself a mug of coffee. “So, how’s it going?” I asked.
“Pretty quiet,” she said. “We’re just motoring along nicely, maybe two or three knots. We’re past Thunder Bay Island, so I changed the compass course to 145 degrees. That’ll take us more offshore until we run into the Thumb, hopefully sometime tomorrow evening. A lake freighter went by a while ago, but he didn’t get close. There’s another one up ahead, but I doubt he’s going to get very close either. And, I’ll tell you that I’m ready to get some sleep. It’s been a struggle to stay awake the last hour or so.”
“No problem,” I told her. “Go get some sleep. I’ll call you at four.”
“Call me sooner if you need help with anything,” she said. “Don’t be afraid to call if you need me.” In a minute she was down below, getting into the quarter berth I had just vacated.
Most of the swell had died out now. The boat just sat there as the little motor pushed us along slowly. I poured a cup of coffee from the thermos and just sat back in the cockpit, one hand lightly on the tiller. Back when I had been in the Navy I had spent a few midwatches as a lookout with an officer who was something of an astronomy buff, and he’d showed me a bit about the night sky. I looked off to the south and identified the teapot of Sagittarius throwing its starry steam of Milky Way across the sky. Off to the right I could see part of Scorpio setting on the horizon, both of them a lot lower in the sky than they’d been in the Indian Ocean. I picked out a few more constellations I knew overhead, like Cygnus and Lyra and Hercules, familiar friends from those days, and bright in a way that you rarely saw from land.
Even on a busy Navy ship midwatches tend to be quiet times, times to be by yourself, times to think, times to haul out your thoughts and inspect them. I’d had my doubts about making this trip with a young teenage girl, but she really knew her stuff, and I found that I was enjoying myself immensely. This wasn’t something I’d want to do all the time, but it was sure fun to do for a change, and I hoped that somehow I’d have the chance to do it again.
But then, I’d mostly enjoyed myself the last few months, a lot more than I would have dreamed when I realized just how bad Brittany had stabbed me in the back. Saying the hell with her and taking off had been the right thing to do, I thought, I’d had experiences and made friends of people I never would have even known otherwise. The hell of it was that this was going to come to an end all too soon, and I had no idea what I was going to do when it ended. At least I’d have some money in my pocket, and I hadn’t had to dip into the savings I’d put back when I’d been in the Navy, looking forward to making a life with Brittany. I wondered what she was doing now, and realized that I didn’t really care.
I’d told Susie back on Memorial Day weekend that Brittany had represented the future to me, a life together. Now, she was gone, and that particular future was gone with her. And, good riddance, I assured myself. I’d been a fool to pin so many hopes on her without a commitment, what with being gone as much as I was. At least I’d found out in time to keep it from being a worse disaster than it already was.
There had to be another future out there, and it most likely was something I hadn’t seen yet. I could see that I still wanted a future with someone, but it didn’t seem quite as imperative as it had been even a month before. It could wait till the time was right, I decided.
The hours rolled on, and soon enough my coffee was cold before I drank it all. I kept steering the Mary Sue on to the south, letting the thoughts roll around in my mind as I watched the slow march of the stars across the sky. I was content with myself for now, and now was all I could ask for. The future could take care of itself, whenever it happened.