Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
Nate and I usually didn’t have much time to talk when we were out with fishing parties. The customers came first after all. Mostly I stayed up on the flying bridge and ran the boat while he dealt with the fishing, though sometimes we’d switch around, especially when we were looking for fish. While we had come to be pretty good friends, the fact that he usually picked me up at the Channel Stop in the morning and dropped me off in the evenings meant that we only rarely got to sit around and talk about other things.
One morning along toward the end of October a storm blew in bad enough to cancel that day’s fishing party, but Nate showed up at the Channel Stop anyway, if a little later than normal. Since nothing much was happening, I went over to have a cup of coffee and sit with him for a while.
It turned out he’d come over because he wanted to talk to me. “Hey, Jake, I had something come up I thought you might be interested in.”
“Could be. What’s up?”
“We’ve only got a few more days and the fishing season will be over with. I’ve had a couple calls from a guy who would like me to do a boat delivery for him as soon as I can. You know as well as I do that the weather is getting snotty this time of year and will be getting snottier, but it can still be done. It’s a big boat, a fifty-five-foot trawler yacht, and the only way I can handle it is if I get an extra set of hands.”
“Sure, I’m up for it,” I told him. “I really enjoyed that trip I made with Rachel and wouldn’t mind doing another one like it again some time.”
“I figured you’d say that. And it’s not like you’re doing anything else, anyway. I’ll call the guy back and tell him he’s got a deal, so long as we can leave after the first of the month. He’s willing to pay me a pot load of money for this delivery, and considering everything I don’t want to turn it down.”
“Fine with me. I’ve only got one question. Where are we taking this boat?”
“Tarpon Springs, Florida,” he said with a grin. “The boat isn’t here. It’s in Mackinaw City. It’s too late in the year to go down the New York State Barge Canal and down the Intracoastal, so we’d have to go down Lake Michigan and then down the Mississippi. It’d be quicker if we could take the Tennessee-Tombigbee, but it’s not open all the way yet.”
“That’s just a bit longer than going down to Sandusky,” I said, impressed. “That’d be a heck of a trip.”
“I think so,” he said. “And I’ve never done most of it, either. I was across the Mississippi on a bridge once, years ago. It’s going to be a long trip, and we’re not going to want to run much more than ten knots or it’s going to eat fuel like crazy. I haven’t even tried to plot it out yet, but we probably won’t want to run nights on the Mississippi and the Gulf Intracoastal. So, we’re probably talking about something over two weeks, give or take. Maybe more if we catch bad weather, and there’s a good chance of that this time of year.”
“Sounds like a winner to me,” I told him, then thought of some of the hassles he was facing. “Look, I’ll go with you, on one condition.”
“I’m just going on this trip for the fun of it, for the sake of making the trip,” I told him. “I won’t go as a paid hand. This is going to be too much fun, and although I know you haven’t said much about it, I know you can use the money. Just pay for my food and the trip back.”
“Jake, you don’t have to do that.”
“Yeah, but I want to. This is going to be a dream trip, one that I’d never have gotten to do any other way. Hell, I remember reading Mark Twain’s Life on the Mississippi, and now I get to see it for real.”
On Saturday morning a few days later Rachel drove us to Mackinaw City. Nate hadn’t even seen the boat yet, though it was reported to be in good condition. The big power cruiser didn’t have a planing hull, which is why it was so slow, but it was clear that it had been built for comfort, rather than speed, and clearly cost a lot of money. It was named the Harvest Time and was very nicely done inside, and had an enclosed pilothouse, which would be nice on the cold, windy days we knew we were going to be facing. It had just about every navigational gadget on the market, and even a full set of fairly new charts for the whole trip – apparently the guy had contemplated making the trip in the near future.
The three of us checked the boat over pretty carefully and couldn’t find anything wrong. We ran the boat over to the fuel dock a short ways away and started pumping diesel. It was a lot of pumping, since the boat had big tanks.
Before too long we were about as ready to go as we were going to get. “Wow,” Rachel said, “I sure wish I were going with you two.”
“I wish you were going with us, honey,” Nate said. “This would be a heck of a trip for you. But you’d be out of school too long. I’m sorry kid, but that’s the way it is. Maybe something like this will come up another time.”
“Yeah, well, but still,” she said with a pout. “You two have a good time, and Jake, bring my dad back safe to me. Dad, you do the same thing for Jake.”
“We will,” Nate promised. “We’re not planning on being gone any longer than we have to. We’ll be back long before Thanksgiving, for sure.”
Nate got the diesels warming up, while Rachel hung around the pilothouse with us. It would have been nice to take her along, since I knew from experience that she’d be good company on a trip like this, and probably would have learned more than she would sitting around school, but things were what they were. Finally Nate told her, “Honey, we really have to go. Could you get the lines?”
“Yeah, Dad, I guess,” she said sadly. She went out and climbed onto the dock, while I went forward to pull the bow line in and coil it up. In another minute the stern line was on board, and Nate was backing the Harvest Time away from the dock, while Rachel stood on shore, sadly waving goodbye. We watched her waving at us until we turned out of the harbor and were out of sight.
Mackinaw City doesn’t have much of a harbor, and we were soon out on the lake. As advertised, the boat wasn’t fast – not as fast as the familiar and much smaller Chinook III – so it was clear right from the beginning that we were going to be out a while.
“I think we’d better keep moving the best we can until we get off the lake,” Nate said as we went under the Mackinac Bridge and out onto Lake Michigan. “The weather is supposed to be pretty good, but no matter what the reports say it can go to hell in a hurry this time of year. When the Edmund Fitzgerald went down a few years ago, they didn’t have a hell of a lot of warning, either.”
“No point in overdoing it,” I agreed.
“The days are short,” Nate went on, “but if we go all night, we should off the lake by tomorrow night. Once we’re on the canal, I don’t think we have to worry quite as much about the weather. Once we’re off the lake I don’t think we want to try to run nights, but we’re going to want to run from daylight to dark. Until then, I think we’d better keep watches. Four on and four off good enough for you?”
“I did it for years, I can handle it. I just don’t want to have to do anything too cute by myself after dark if I can help it.”
“Shouldn’t have to,” he replied. “I’ll work it out so you don’t have to do anything much but hold your course and watch out for lake freighters. There’s not going to be much in the way of recreational traffic even if the weather is nice.”
It didn’t quite work out that way. I was on watch after dark when we passed Frankfort and had to alter course a few degrees to the south, but that was no big deal as the light was clearly abeam. We changed watches not long after that.
The way things worked out I had the midwatch – midnight to four AM – and while things were smooth when the watch changed, the wind was starting to pick up a bit. I’d been out in worse conditions on the Chinook III. It was no problem holding course, even though the waves were picking up a bit, and pretty much on the beam, which meant we were rolling a lot. When Nate came on at four in the morning, it was a lot rougher than it had been at midnight, and there were no signs of it getting better anytime soon.
I went down to my bunk – the Harvest Time was big enough that Nate and I had taken separate rooms, and I settled down to get some sleep. However, I didn’t get much because the boat was bouncing around pretty bad, and one of the things the Harvest Time didn’t have was bunk boards to keep from rolling out of bed in bad seas. Or, if it did have any I didn’t find them, which amounted to the same thing: no way to stay in bed, so no sleep.
Finally, I said the hell with it and went back up to the pilothouse, mostly for lack of anything better to do. “I’ve been keeping an ear on the weather radio,” Nate told me, “and it’s supposed to get worse before it gets better. I don’t know about you, but while I think this boat can handle the weather I don’t think we’re in all that damn big a hurry. What would you think if we found a place to pull in and sit this crap out? It probably won’t eat up more than a day or two, and we’ve got the time to kill if we have to.”
“You don’t have to sell me on it, Nate,” I told him. “You’re running this thing, and I’m not crazy about being out in this crap, either.”
“Talked me into it,” he said. “Saugatuck isn’t too far ahead, and that’s probably as good a place to sit this one out as any.”
The storm continued to build, and the ride was getting worse and worse, though it improved considerably as we turned downwind to run into the harbor at Saugatuck. The waves were crashing over the jetties, which made going down the channel in the pre-dawn darkness an adventure, but once we were inside the harbor things settled down to nearly placid, though the wind was still blowing pretty hard. From what we could see the dockside slips were nearly deserted, so we found a likely one and pulled in. In the high wind it was still a handful to get the lines on the docking posts, but before long we had them tripled up and were sitting safely.
We’d been hurried, and I hadn’t taken the time to put on foul weather gear when we went to tie up the Harvest Time, and the way it was raining and blowing I was soaked to the skin when I got back on board. “I don’t know about you,” I told Nate, “but I think I’m going to get on some dry clothes, then go take a nap.”
“I’m planning on being asleep before you,” he replied. “Cripe, I’m bushed. We probably should have just stayed offshore with the bow into this stuff until dawn came, but we made it. That’s what it’s like to get caught out, Jake. I think that’s going to be the last of the night-running for this trip. We won’t be able to do much more of it anyway. No point in pushing our luck.”
For a few minutes after lying down I could hear the roar of the wind around us, but it didn’t take me long to fall asleep.
Both Nate and I slept later than we normally would have, at least partly since we’d both been up a lot over the night. It was probably around eight-thirty when we finally got up, yawning and scratching and glad to be inside and not out on the lake. From the pilothouse windows we could see it was still blowing pretty hard out there, and the weather reports indicated it would go on most of the day. However, we could also see a small restaurant was open not far off, just across the street from the marina.
“The heck with cooking,” Nate said. “We’re going to be killing the day here, let’s put on some foul-weather gear and go get some breakfast. It’ll give us something to do.”
My foul-weather gear wasn’t as good as Nate’s or the stuff I’d had in the Navy, but I didn’t get too wet as we made it to the restaurant. We both had good breakfasts and lingered over second cups of coffee, then thirds, until even that got boring. Nate called home and talked to Barb, since Marge was sleeping, as she often did. He reported that we were weathered in, but would probably be on the move the next day.
After a while we decided to just get out and poke around a little bit, to see what there was to be seen. Saugatuck, I’d found out, was pretty busy as a tourist and boater town in the summer, but this late in the fall it seemed dead and not much was open. We finally wound up back across the street in the marina, talking with Phil, the guy who ran the place. He didn’t seem to have much to do, either, so our showing up was welcome even if we weren’t spending money other than on slippage fees.
The talk ranged over a number of issues, mostly involving boating and fishing. It proved that Saugatuck had good salmon fishing, and with the closing of the season things were pretty well dead around there, just like they were up in Winchester Harbor. While there were bigger boats in the charter fishing business, Nate was of the opinion that the Chinook III was about right for the business he had, and that a bigger boat would just be more expensive without providing any more income. Phil agreed that might be true, but a lot of the fishing people in that area had their own boats, and something the size of Nate’s boat would probably be overkill here.
“Got a boat in the shed out back you might like to take a look at,” Phil said. “It might be your boat is even a little on the big side. This one out back was new this summer, but the guy who owns it managed to ram it into the breakwater, so it needs a little fiberglass work. It really is set up nice, and you might learn something.”
“Always worth taking a look,” Nate agreed. I could sense he wasn’t all that interested, but it was something to do. We went out back and looked over the boat, which was a little smaller than the Chinook III, but looked to be fairly efficiently set up. My impression, though, was that it wouldn’t be able to handle the number of customers that Nate’s boat could.
I more or less hung around the edge of the discussion, just looking things over. There were some interesting boats in there, all of them needing repairs of some kind or other. A couple of them were sailboats about the size of the Mary Sue. I gave those more of an inspection than I did the power boats. While I only had those few days of experience sailing, for some reason it interested me more than the power cruisers.
My attention was really drawn by a little boat over in the corner of the shed. It sat on a lightweight trailer and was mostly in pieces. I could see that there were parts still in a package. The deck and cabin top was just set on top of the hull, and not quite square; it hadn’t even been fastened down. It was a few feet shorter than the Mary Sue, though about as wide, but was obviously a lot lighter since it was able to sit on a single-axle trailer. I’m not sure why, but it really drew my curiosity; soon I was peeking inside and looking it over, trying to figure the thing out.
Finally, I went back over to Nate and Phil and asked, “Hey, what’s the deal on that little boat on the trailer in the corner?”
“Oh that?” Phil said with a snort. “It’s a Parabellum 21, or at least it will be if it ever gets done. There’s a guy here in town who bought it a couple years ago, and you see how far he’s gotten with it. It’s just taking up space, though at least he’s paying me rental to let it sit there. As far as I can tell, he’s pretty much lost interest in it.”
Mostly from the lack of anything else to do, the three of us walked over to get a better look at it. “OK, the deal on this is that it’s supposed to be a cheap kit boat that’s easy to build and light enough to keep on a trailer,” Phil explained. “They got the cheap-and-light part of it pretty good, and as far as I can tell it wouldn’t be any great trick to finish putting it together. The problem is that unless a person did a good job on it they’d wind up with a piece of shit. Take your time and do it right, and it’d be a pretty reasonable boat to sail on inland lakes, or maybe out in the big lake if things were fairly calm.”
“A person could get in over their heads with it pretty easily if they didn’t know what they were doing,” Nate said.
“Yeah, that’s true,” Phil agreed. “You’d want to be careful with it, but like I said, with some care taken in building, it could be a pretty good little boat for what it is. The brochure says it’s supposed to sleep four, but I’d think they’d have to be four very good friends. It’s got a lift-up top on the cabin, so that’d make for a little more room inside, so I suppose that it would be all right for a night or two.”
“It still looks like it’d be pretty tight,” I said, mentally comparing it to the interior of the Mary Sue, which wasn’t very much bigger and had been close quarters for Rachel and me, even with only one of us below at a time.
“I guess it’s all in what a person wants,” Phil said with a shrug. “I’d guess there’s maybe a hundred hours worth of work to do on it, maybe two hundred, but I don’t see the guy getting to it this winter. If someone came along with the right offer I think he’d be glad to have it out of his hair. He might even be willing to let go of it for a lot less than he’s got in it.”
We talked about the boat a little bit more, with both Phil and Nate pointing out some things that really had been done a little too cheaply. The fittings, for example, were obviously the cheapest things that could be bought, not the best, though the factory fiberglass work seemed to be fairly good. “That’s one thing the Parabellum people got right,” Phil said.
Eventually our interest in the boat wound down – we didn’t have much anyway. We looked around the boat shed a little more, looking at this and that, but it was clear that Phil was getting antsy. Soon Nate and I realized that he wanted to close up and head home for the rest of a wet, stormy day. We thanked Phil for letting us hang around on such a crappy day, and he said he’d been glad to have us there. It would have been pretty boring if we hadn’t shown up.