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Winchester Harbor book cover

Winchester Harbor
Book One of the Full Sails Series
Wes Boyd
©2011, ©2013

Chapter 13

It was a little bit tempting to let our watch system go to hell right from the beginning, since I knew Rachel hadn’t had much sleep the day before. But, after thinking about it I realized that keeping watches was one reason Nate had sent me along on this trip in the first place. I actually gave her a few minutes extra sleep just to be nice before I let the tiller go for a minute, ducked down the hatch, and shook her shoulder to try to wake her up.

Either it must have been because we were at sea, or else Nate had been telling stories, because she came awake quickly. “Huh?” she said. “Is something wrong?”

“Everything is just fine, but it’s time to change the watch.”

“Oh, yeah, I guess it is,” she said and yawned. “How warm is the coffee?”

“All gone,” I told her. “I’ll stay on the tiller while you make some more.”

“Yeah, guess that would be a good idea.” She yawned again and twisted to slide out of the quarter berth.

I went back topside. It was still totally dark out there, and the stars were still bright overhead. Cygnus was off in the northwest now, and Capricorn was setting. There was only the loom of some distant skyglow from coastal towns to indicate where the shore might be.

In a few minutes Rachel came topside, carrying a coffee mug. She’d put on a jacket. “So, what’s happening?” she asked.

“Still plugging along at two or three knots or something like that, so I’d guess we must have put on ten more miles, give or take,” I told her. “No change on the course. A couple of times I saw the lights on what must have been lake freighters, but they were pretty far off. In other words, quiet, and no change. See you in the morning.”

I went back to the quarter berth, and was soon asleep. The next thing I knew there was light coming in the hatch, and the sun was obviously up. I glanced at my watch – not quite seven, which was later than I usually got up, so my internal clock must have been pushing me. I thought about trying to get back to sleep for a few minutes, but then realized that Rachel must have not gotten much sleep the night before, so I rolled out, used the head, and went topside. “How’s it going?” I asked.

“Really, no change,” she replied. “Same course, same everything.”

“Head below and get some sleep. You probably need it.”

“Yeah, I felt like nodding off a few times before the sun came up, but I knew I shouldn’t do it,” she admitted. “It was a hell of a sunrise, though.”

“Happens like that out at sea,” I smiled. “Get some sleep. I’ll call you if anything comes up I can’t handle.”

“Talked me into it.” She yawned as she stood up. “There’s some coffee left, but it’s all loaded up so I can stand it, and it’s getting cold. Why don’t you dump it? I’ll make you a fresh thermos before I sack out.”

“Good enough,” I replied. “Maybe you could hand me up a sandwich, too.”

It probably took her fifteen minutes before she’d accomplished all that and was in the quarter berth, out like a light. We continued on south with the motor puttering, putting out a small wake on the glassy sea. I dug out the chart to try to do a little navigation. Assuming we’d stayed on course and our guess on the speed was correct, we were coming up opposite Harrisville, and were maybe ten miles out into Lake Huron. Close enough for now, I thought. A long way to go, though.

In a couple of hours a breeze began to come up – not very fast, but it filled the sails a little, and noticeably helped with the speed. It picked up fairly quickly, and soon it was pushing us along enough that I really doubted that the motor was adding a hell of a lot. I thought about calling Rachel to ask if I should shut it off, but decided she needed her sleep, so I shut it off, glad to not hear it for a while.

The wind continued to pick up to the point where it was as strong or stronger than it had been the day before. The Mary Sue was moving right along now, and I pretty well had to stay at the tiller full time – when motoring in the calm the night before it had been possible to leave it for a few seconds.

It was probably pushing eleven before Rachel woke up and stuck her head out of the hatch. “Hey, we’re moving right along,” she commented, without mentioning the fact that I’d shut off the engine.

“Yeah, it’s been like this the last couple hours,” I said. “I don’t want to guess the speed, but it has to be faster than yesterday.”

“Hey, great,” she smiled. “At this rate we ought to be spotting the Thumb well before dark. I didn’t really want to have to come up on it without some daylight.”

“Yeah, something like that,” I agreed. “I looked at the chart, and I’d guess maybe six hours, or something like that.”

“Great! Do you need to sleep some more?”

“Naw, I’m good, but I could stand a break on the steering.”

“Well, let me get some shorts on and I’ll be right up,” she replied, disappearing back into the cabin.

In a few minutes she was on the tiller, and I was sitting on the seat next to her, mostly because it was a more comfortable place to sit with the boat heeling as much as it was. There was still no hint of land, and it was a glorious day to sail – we could have been out on the ocean somewhere.

Mostly, we just sat and talked for a while. I learned a bit about her background, things I hadn’t necessarily known. Her dad had taken her out on the fishing boat from an early age, and when she was older they bought an old open-cockpit sailboat where she really learned to sail, first around the harbor, but later out on the lake when the conditions were right. It had been a big day in her life when Nate let her go out on the big lake by herself. Occasionally she’d been able to have rides on bigger boats, and sometimes crewed on modern cruisers.

Other things weren’t as happy. Even though she was a pretty girl she tended to be set apart from kids her age in school, mostly because of her passion for being on the water and being out on the fishing boat as much as she had been. That, added to the fact that she was a very good student, set her apart from the other kids, who were more tied up in kid things. She didn’t do sports or cheerleading or clubs in school, or anything like that; she’d really rather be at home, out on the Chinook or her little sailboat. In the winter, when things were frozen up and too cold to be out there anyway, she helped her father in his shop, where he did major rebuild work on boats for customers. Sometimes a boat could take a whole winter to finish. She’d get off the bus after school, change her clothes, and be wallowing around in the bilges of some boat, often as not doing something grubby in a place that it was hard for Nate to reach. That was what she would rather be doing.

The thing that had her most concerned, though, was her mother, Marge. Rachel could remember when her mother had gone out on the fishing boat with her father, but her health had been failing the last few years, a heart condition that resisted treatment and surgery. “She has more bad days than she has good,” Rachel said sadly. “And it’s just slowly getting worse. Dad and I are worried sick about her most of the time. She tries to hang on, but it’s not helping. Barb comes over to help out when she can. She was over helping a lot in the winter, but she can’t get away in the summer like she can in the winter. She tells us that she thinks Mom is going to be all right, but I know better than that. I’m afraid we’re going to lose her before too long.”

“That’s got to be tough,” I said. “I can tell you love your mother, and I’ll bet you do everything you can to help out.”

“I do,” she said and sighed. “I mean, I know kids my age who are really brats to their parents, and brats to each other, as well. I can’t do that, because I don’t want to add anything to her troubles.”

“There’s one thing you should be proud of,” I told her. “She has to know that she’s raised a tough, competent, and mature young lady for a daughter. I know I’m awful impressed with you, and I’ll bet she is, too.”

“Yeah, I think so, too. But damn it, it’s not fair. She put a lot of work into raising Mike and me, and I don’t think she’s going to be able to enjoy it.”

“Rachel, unfortunately, one of the facts of life is that life is not fair. I know that’s a hell of a thing to say, but it’s true. The only thing I can say is that I know other kids who have gotten it in the neck worse than you have. You have a mom and dad you love, you’re doing things you like to do, and you’re doing the best you can to help out.”

“Yeah, I suppose,” she said with another sigh. “Dad is doing the best he can to hang on. At least I can help him out by crewing for him, and that saves him a few bucks, more he can put toward the medical bills. He’s actually had a pretty good season, but the damn doctors just keep eating it all up. He’s pretty worried about it, and there’s not much I can do that I’m not doing already.”

“Hey, at least he knows that you’re supporting him and your mom,” I said, trying to be helpful. “You just said it yourself – there are a lot of kids your age who would be so self-centered that they make real pains in the ass of themselves to their parents. It may be the hard way, but you’ve either grown past that stage or missed it altogether. I know it’s going to be tough at times, but I think you’re doing the right thing. Just keep on doing it.”

“Thanks, Jake,” she said. “I think I’m doing the right thing, but it’s good to hear someone else tell me they think I am, too. I’m just afraid I’m going to lose her before too long, and it’s not going to be the same after she goes. I mean, I was a lot younger when Sam died, and I know Barb had a heck of a time getting over it. I’m pretty sure it’s not going to be easy for me, either.”

“There’s no way it’s going to be easy,” I told her. “I don’t think Barb is all the way over losing Sam yet, and it’s been years. You’d know better than I would. But the point is that no matter the loss that Barb feels, she’s picked herself up and carried on. While I’m sure you’re going to be sad if your mom goes, I’ll bet she hopes that you’ll pick yourself up and carry on the best you can.”

“Thanks, Jake. I keep trying to think something like that, but it’s really hard sometimes. At least I know you understand what I mean.”

“Maybe not understand as much as you think, Rachel, but I’m always ready to listen if you need me to.”

Of course, I talked about myself, too. I tried to keep it more to such adventures as I had in the Navy, rather than getting involved with all of the bad times I’d had when Brittany had betrayed me. There were things there that I didn’t really want to tell her. As it turned out, she already knew a lot of the story, since she’d spent a lot of time talking with Barb, and quite a bit of time talking with Debby, Susie, and Annette. I guess the gossip went around more than I thought it had. It became clear to me that Rachel had heard the story about Annette getting buried in the sand and having her feet tickled, and the little act that Susie and I had pulled on Lisa. I was pretty sure she’d heard more than that, and I have to admit I wondered just how much she’d heard about some of the other things that I’d done with the girls, but I didn’t really want to ask her to find out.

“You’ve been good for them, Jake. All three of them are happier than they were last summer, and they have nothing but good things to say about you. I just hope I can find a guy like you some day.”

“Oh, I’m sure you will,” I told her. “A girl as cute as you are isn’t going to go unnoticed when you’re a bit older. There are some things that you think aren’t working well for you right now, like not being popular in school, but they won’t matter for anything as soon as you’re out of school. If nothing else, the customers you and your dad take out on the boat, well, some of them are pretty rich, and you don’t know what’s going to happen.”

“Yeah, I suppose,” she said in a pensive tone. “The hell of it is that most guys I’m likely to find aren’t going to be real cool with me working on the lake with my Dad. They’ll probably want me to move down to some damn city, and I won’t see any body of water larger than a bathtub. I’d hate that, I really would.”

“You could change your mind in a few years,” I pointed out. “Your time has yet to come, and there’s no point in getting in a rush about it. Even if you are a great sailor and a great fisherman, the bottom line is that you are still fifteen, so you’ve got some time to work on it. In that time, your perspectives could change, and change quite a lot. Don’t be in too big a hurry to grow up. Most kids your age are, and they make mistakes along the way – sometimes huge ones.”

“I see it all the time. That’s one of the things I really hate about school. Some of the girls my age are so boy crazy it isn’t funny, like it’s the only thing in their life. That’s part of the reason I’m not popular, since I see there are other things besides boys. It would be nice to have a boyfriend and do some of that other high school romance stuff I see. But, with my mother not well and having to help Dad out whenever I can, I don’t have the time for it, and I’m not sure how bad I want it anyway. Let’s face it, I’d rather be out here sailing and enjoying myself than in the back seat of a car with some boy who only wants to grope me before he goes even further.”

“Well, you have a point there,” I agreed. “There are all too many guys your age where doing that is all they can think about, and I speak from experience because I was one of them at that age, too. Most guys grow out of it. I like to think I did.”

“I don’t think Darryl is ever going to grow out of it,” she said after a snicker. “And if that’s the kind of jerks that boys my age are, then I don’t want to have anything to do with them. I can wait, I guess.”

“Don’t worry,” I told her. “The right guy is going to come along sooner or later, and there’s no point in rushing it. I know that three or four years seems like a long time to you, and really, it is. But I spent four years in the Navy. It seemed like forever when I was a boot, but really it went pretty fast, and I learned a lot from it. In fact, I’m still slowly figuring out how much I learned that I didn’t realize at the time.”

“I suppose you’re right,” she smiled. “You know, Jake, I’m glad Dad and I thought of asking you to come on this trip. You’re quiet, you’re competent, and you’re not all full of yourself. You’re also easy to talk to, and you listen to me and understand things that Dad and Mom and Barb don’t, or often even Debby and Susie and Annette. I like that. You’re a good guy to be with, and I really like it.”

*   *   *

Later on in the afternoon we started to see the Thumb come out of the haze ahead of the boat and to starboard. At first it was just a hint of land, but it grew closer steadily as we continued running along to the south. The wind began to die out when we were a few miles out from Harbor Beach, but it settled down to a light shore breeze that kept up for a while. We changed course slightly to the south, with the idea of staying two or three miles offshore through the night.

Our speed fell off significantly with the dying breeze, but with the sails we were still moving along about as fast as the motor would push us. We left it off and decided to try to milk the wind for all it was worth, at least partly because it was more enjoyable to sail rather than hear the noise. We’d both checked the fuel tank over the course of the day, and while we were sure we’d have enough to get us through another night of running, we were clearly going to have to stop some place and tank up.

The breeze continued blowing gently all night, though we were just ghosting along. There were enough houses with lights that we had a pretty good idea where the shore was. We edged into it a little closer to stay out of the main steamer lane, and kept our eyes open for lake freighters. Both Rachel and I saw one or two on each of our watches, but we had enough clearance that we didn’t have to alter course to avoid them.

When morning came we were still a few miles out from Port Huron and the St. Clair River. It was another couple hours before we were done with Lake Huron and got into the river proper. As soon as we found a likely marina, we dropped the sails for the first time since leaving Winchester, and motored into a marina to top off the tank with diesel fuel. It was only a quick stop, and we couldn’t have been next to the fueling dock for fifteen minutes before we were on our way again.

We decided to take the main channel down the river east of Harsen’s Island – it’s a little more direct and therefore easier to sail, and there’s some current that would push us along, though we had to keep our eyes out for ships and avoid them when necessary. By early afternoon we were out on Lake St. Clair, which is pretty shallow and loaded with pleasure craft of all kinds, some of which were totally ignorant of rights of way and the rules of the road. The breeze was just enough for us to not want to run the motor.

As the light began to fail we were getting into the Detroit River. Now, the breeze failed us completely, and although we left the sails up we were running on the diesel once again. Of course, we had to keep our eyes open for ship traffic, although the pleasure boat traffic died out to next to nothing on this weekday night. In theory we were keeping watches, but we both stayed up late to watch the big city as it went slowly past. Once we were past the factories at River Rouge, we decided to go ahead and change off on our watches, and when morning came we were just past Gross Ile and getting into Lake Erie.

By now we knew we were running ahead of schedule, and that we’d be pulling into Sandusky during the day sometime. The wind picked up enough for us to kill the motor, and it veered around to the north enough that we were running almost dead downwind. Over the course of the trip Rachel had noticed a sail bag for a spinnaker, along with the gear to fly it. She’d only done it a few times, and I’d never even seen one. I stayed back in the cockpit and steered while she did the rigging that was needed. It took a while, but soon the big sail was ballooned out in front of us and we were moving right along, though it didn’t seem like it since we were headed downwind.

Once the spinnaker was flying it was easier to control. We had lunch at the helm, and it was warm and still enough that, after a lunch out of cans heated on the alcohol stove, Rachel lay out in the sun for a while on the far cockpit seat in a relatively modest bikini. Once again, it was a thoroughly pleasant afternoon, and we went past the ferries and boat traffic of the Lake Erie Islands as the day went onward. Only when we rounded the Marblehead Peninsula and headed into Sandusky Bay, checking out the roller coasters in Cedar Point, did we drop the spinnaker and bag it up.

The sailing was so much fun that we kept going until we were very close to the marina where we were taking the boat. We waited until the last possible minute to drop the sails and start the motor; Rachel let me handle the boat while she hopped up on the dock to deal with the lines.

It was hard to shut the motor off and know that the trip was over. We’d made darn good time, at least according to her. It had been a good trip and it was sad to know it was over. I knew I could have kept going like that for a while, and Rachel said she could have gone on farther, too, but we’d done what we’d set out to do.

It took a while to get everything on the Mary Sue cleaned up and put away. We soon had our stuff all in our seabags and sitting on the dock. We took one last look around the boat and knew it was time to go.

As we stood there, a little disheartened by the trip being over with, Rachel put one arm around me, and I gave her little kiss on the lips, a “just between friends” kind of thing. “Hey, thanks Jake,” she smiled. “That was a great trip. Maybe we can do it again some time.”

“You made a great boat buddy,” I said as I hugged her back. “Who knows? Maybe we will.”

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