Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
It was a slow afternoon. Nate and I went back over to the little restaurant for lunch, and hung around drinking coffee until the place was closing up in the middle of the afternoon. After that, there wasn’t much to do but head back over to the Harvest Time, where we spread out in the saloon with the charts and pilot books for most of the rest of the trip and went over them one by one. We did some plotting and reviewed the river markers and rules of the road, since they were a little different from what we were used to on the Great Lakes. Nate also had me work out the course for a dead-reckoning run straight to Chicago, which gave me the chance to do some practical work on a skill I’d only known through books.
We were still pretty tired from not having a full night of sleep the night before, so we turned in early and spent the night getting some quality sack time.
It was barely threatening to get light when we woke up to discover there were stars shining overhead and the storm had blown itself out. The water in the harbor was dead calm, and there wasn’t a breath of air stirring. We didn’t waste much time getting going, since we wanted to make up some of the time we’d lost the day before. Nate said that since he’d brought the Harvest Time in I could take her out, so within minutes I was steering her between the breakwaters and out into the lake, which we found had just slight residual swells from the storm the day before. The weather reports seemed to indicate that it was going to stay nice, and we hoped it would, but we’d already had one lesson this trip on what they were worth.
I set the direct course to Chicago that we’d worked out the day before, while Nate went down to the galley to get going on breakfast, which proved to be canned chicken stew and coffee – not the normal thing you’d think of for breakfast, but it hit the spot.
The direct course across the southern end of the lake saved us a few hours. We got to Chicago after a crossing that was so smooth, you could have almost said we were crossing a lake, but then, we were. We swung in behind the breakwater at Navy Pier, found a place to top off the thirsty tanks of the Harvest Time, and started down the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal. It was interesting to run right down through the heart of the city. Parts of it weren’t bad, though a city hardly ever puts its best face on the waterfront, and once we got out of the downtown section it got quite a bit grubbier. We had just enough clearance to get under the lowest fixed bridge downtown by holding the radio antennas down, but we made it through.
A few miles down the canal we came to the first lock we’d pass through on the trip; I had never been through a lock, and Nate had only a couple times, on the Cheboygan River. He said that first lock was a lot bigger than the one on the Cheboygan, but the principles were the same. At each lock we had to have fenders out on one side of the Harvest Time, and each of us threw a mooring line to a dock hand, who cleated it on one side of the lock. We then paid the line out as they let the water out of the lock, so we could descend to the lower level of the river beyond. Fortunately we didn’t have any other boats with us in that first lock, since we both needed a little practice at what we were doing. It must have looked like a real Chinese fire drill. Later, we’d often have tugs and barges and other boats with us in the locks, so we were glad we’d made our mistakes alone the first time around.
There’s a speed limit on parts of the canal section. That, plus the need to go through several more locks, plus stopping around dark every night meant that it took us three full days to get down to the Mississippi. If there had been a couple more of us along, or if we had any familiarity with the route, we might have tried to run after dark more than we did. Usually we managed to find a place that was a little out of the way to tie up, but a lot of the facilities for boats our size were closed for the winter. The one big city, Peoria, Illinois, we hit right in the middle of the day and didn’t do us any good. There was only one of those nights where we were at a place where Nate could phone home and report in on our progress.
We had hoped to make it down to the Mississippi the last night on the canal system, but we came up short by a few miles. We decided we didn’t want our first introduction to the river to be in the dark, so we found a good place in an out-of-the-way spot a few miles above the Mississippi to tie up for the evening. It was still early, so we had a good dinner from cans, settled down in the main saloon of the boat to have a beer and review our charts for the following day.
“Hey, Jake,” Nate said as we got settled in. “I’ve got something I’ve been meaning to ask you. From what Barb has said, I get the idea you’re planning on staying around Winchester for the winter”
“Well, yeah,” I said, not knowing how much Barb had talked to him about the business of helping out in the boat shed as a way to keep him busy and to keep him from worrying about Marge so much.
“Does that mean you’re planning on being around next summer, too?”
“I guess. I really hadn’t thought about it much, but it’d be a little silly to hang around not doing much of anything all winter, then take off in the summer when it’s busy, wouldn’t it?”
“Well, yeah. Anyway, I’ve got a couple ideas I’ve been thinking about the last few days, and maybe I ought to run them by you before I make a decision as you might factor in on it a bit. I know you and I haven’t talked about it very much, but you know Marge ain’t doing too good, don’t you?”
“Yeah, Barb has told me quite a bit. I mean in general terms, not anything specific.”
“I’d guess you get the general idea,” he said. “Anyway, I can see it coming to the point where the next time fishing season rolls around I may not be able to spend a hell of a lot of time on the business. That’s been worrying me a lot, since I really don’t want to have to cancel customers if I can help it. I’m going to need the money too bad, and anything I screw up this year could louse up future years.”
“I can see that, but at least you’ve got Rachel to back you up. Between the two of you, you ought to be able to make it work somehow.”
“It would be nice if it would.” He stopped and sighed. “But it won’t. The problem is that Rachel is only sixteen. Now, I know she can handle the job, but the Coast Guard says that she has to be twenty-one to get the six-passenger license she needs to be able to run the boat. They call it a ‘six-pack’ license.”
“I could see how that could be a problem.”
“Look, here’s what I’ve been thinking,” he said. “You’re twenty-two, right?”
“Twenty-three as of a month ago.”
“Doesn’t matter. I don’t think you’d have a hell of a lot of problems qualifying for a six-pack ticket. The only possible clinker is that you have to have ninety days sea time in the past year, which even with taking this trip you don’t come anywhere near. But I seem to recall you said you were out at sea until shortly before you got out, so we can maybe count your Navy time. If we did it that way, we’d have to do it before, when, February?”
“Last part of February,” I said. “But you said it: I’m really not qualified to handle the Chinook III.”
“No, but Rachel is, even if she’s not old enough. What I’m thinking is that you would be the official captain and she would actually be in charge of things. It strikes me as a little awkward, but the two of you have worked together enough that I think you could make it work if we have to do it at all. I don’t know about that part of it, we’re just going to have to wait and see.”
“Well, yeah,” I agreed. “It would probably work in a pinch. What’s involved in getting this license, anyway?”
“Actually, not a whole hell of a lot. There’s a class you have to take. It’d be something like six sessions, starting at the end of the month. I don’t doubt that you could pass it right now because you pretty well know everything that it covers, but still it’d probably be best if you didn’t fall asleep in the class. After that, there’s a bunch of paperwork, but nothing too bad, and a medical, which is pretty simple. I mean, like they check to see if your heart is beating and if you have any blood pressure, nothing serious.”
It didn’t take me much thinking. “Might as well take the class,” I said. “It might even be worth the effort, and it’d give me something to do over the winter.”
“That’s the other thing I’ve been wanting to talk to you about. Look, I know Barb cooked up that deal for you to come over and help me out in the boat shed. I really appreciate her thinking about it, but the truth of the matter is that there’s barely enough work lined up out there for me to do this winter by myself, let alone the two of us. I wanted to keep the schedule light so if Marge had to go into the hospital again I wouldn’t have anything hanging over me. That’s part of the reason I was reluctant to take this trip, and if things turn bad you still might wind up delivering this thing by yourself.”
“Nate, I don’t know that I’m up for that,” I told him. “I really don’t have enough experience.”
“It probably won’t happen,” he said. “And every day we get on down the river is a day closer to being done with the trip, and you’ll know more about doing it as we go along. I’m just saying it could happen, which is why I want to press on and get this over with, so we can get back. But that’s beside the point. You know that little boat we looked at back up in Saugatuck? The Parabellum 21, I think it was.”
“That was it. The idea crossed my mind that I might want to look into getting a boat like that sometime. I learned just enough on the Mary Sue with Rachel last summer to think that I’d like to know more about sailing.”
“You’ve said it more than once, and Rachel told me that you really got hooked on that trip, so that might not be a bad idea. That little piece of plastic really ain’t a big-water boat by any stretch of the imagination, but you can learn a lot on it, and do it pretty cheap. What’s more, it ain’t gonna cost you any slippage fees to keep the boat on the trailer. If you do that and leave it down at my place, you can leave the mast up so you could be on the water and sailing in fifteen minutes. Hell, Barb might let you keep it tied up at the end of the dock there at the Channel Stop, at least in the spring and fall. As far as that goes, I could probably change the Chinook’s moorings around and there’d be space for it at my dock.”
“I hadn’t thought about that part of it,” I admitted. “But yeah, that might work. The problem is that I don’t have a place to work on it or the tools to finish it.”
“Like I just said, there’s not going to be much going on in the shed this winter, and there’s plenty of room in it. I can help you with the tough parts, and you could learn quite a bit about working on boats. That would give me more to do if Marge doesn’t go into the hospital, which I pray to God she doesn’t.”
“Nate, you’re getting close to talking me into this. The problem is that I don’t have that kind of money.”
“I don’t know a damn thing more about it than you do,” he replied, “But I do recall reading somewhere that the boat ain’t very expensive to begin with. The way Phil talked back up there in Saugatuck, the guy may be willing to let it go for a lot less than he paid for it. I’m just guessing, but I wouldn’t be surprised that it would be for less than those checks of mine you’ve been holding onto and not cashing.”
Just about then I began to realize that Barb and I weren’t putting a thing over on Nate. Not a thing. “I did that for a reason, Nate. You know as well as I do that the time could come that you could really use that money. It’s not very much money in the grand scheme of things, and it’s no big skin off my ass if I were to just hold onto them and never cash them at all.”
“It’s not that big a deal,” he said. “First, you’re making this trip for free, and I really ought to be paying you for that, too, especially with what I’m getting paid to do this delivery. Besides, you hanging onto those checks is fucking up my bookkeeping, and my accountant is going to be all over my ass in a couple of months if I don’t do something about it. It’s a business expense, after all.”
“Well, OK,” I said reluctantly. “Maybe I could just turn them into cash to balance your books, and hang onto the cash if you need it for something.”
“Having you available to run the Chinook with Rachel is going to balance off a lot of that,” he said. “I could stand to lose a hell of a lot more money real quick if I don’t have a captain to go with her on the boat. Besides, Rachel loves to go sailing, and it really irked her ass that I didn’t have something for her to go out and putter around on last summer. She about shit her panties in sheer happiness when the deal with that Folkboat came along and I said she could deliver it if we could get you to go along with her. I don’t think you’ll have time to be using that little boat all that much, and I doubt you’d mind if she were to borrow it now and then.”
“Well, no,” I agreed. “In fact, there might be times I’d go with her. I sure learned a lot about sailing on the Mary Sue with her last summer. She’s a lot of fun to go sailing with, at least if fish aren’t involved.”
“Yeah, she does tend to get a little serious about that, but that’s good for the customers. What with the shape her mom is in, she needs to have something she likes to do to take her mind off it, too. She told me about that little discussion you had with her on the Mary Sue, and I think that helped her out a lot. Along with that, I know of two or three people who might like to rent it for an afternoon now and then. I wouldn’t send anyone your way that I wasn’t pretty sure could handle it, and it’d sort of have to be under the table, but you might be able to make a few bucks at it that way.”
“Something to think about,” I agreed, and raised another troubling point. “But even if I stay around next summer, the time is going to come sooner or later when I’m going to have to move on, and a boat is going to be a pain in the ass to have to move with.”
“So sell it if that happens. If you can buy it at a reasonable price you’re about dead sure to be able to get your money out of it. In fact, if you do a good job building it and take care of it, there’s a good chance you can make a profit on the deal even after having fun on it for a season or two.”
I rolled the whole thing over in my mind for a minute. Right at the moment it seemed pretty good, but I figured there would be some unexpected surprises in the deal. However, there seemed to be some interesting advantages to it, too, not the least of which that I could learn quite a bit about sailing.
“It sounds interesting,” I admitted finally. “And it’s definitely worth thinking about. But the whole deal hinges on how bad that guy really wants to get rid of his boat, and that’s the one thing we don’t know.”
“True,” he agreed. “But I do have Phil’s phone number there in Saugatuck, and I’ll bet he can find out right quick if we give him a call. We’re going to have to fuel up tomorrow, and we could call him then. We’ve got to find a phone to check in at home, anyway.”
“All right,” I said. “You’re on for the deal about the six-pack license, and I’ll certainly think about that deal with the boat. That’s going to have to depend on the money, of course.”
We were under way at first light the next morning, as usual, well before dawn. Along in the middle of the morning we stopped for fuel at St. Louis. While I was fueling the boat Nate made his normal call home and found that nothing much had changed and everything was still about as all right as it was likely to be. After that, he called Phil in Saugatuck about the boat. Phil told him that as far as he knew the guy hadn’t been thinking about selling it real hard, but that he’d get in contact with him and see what he said.
After the relative constriction of the Sanitary and Ship Canal, which is less than thirty miles long, the short section of Des Plaines River and much longer and even larger Illinois River were easier. The Mississippi River, over three hundred river miles southwest of Chicago, was big and wide, almost like a lake, though a pretty crooked lake, and one that had a lot of current in spots. However, this lake also had some big barge tows on it, sometimes a dozen or more pushed by one towboat. It seemed to me like they would be awful unwieldy, and we always gave the tows a wide berth. Some of them could kick up huge wakes, but as long as we had room to take the waves head on things went all right.
It’s about six hundred miles between St. Louis and New Orleans as the crow flies, but nearly twice that on the river, around a thousand and sixty miles. Even with the help of the current we never managed over two hundred miles a day, so it took us six full days and then some to make New Orleans, running from early morning to late evening. It was good that we had big tanks in the Harvest Time because we needed them – places to get fuel on the Lower Mississippi are few and far between, and we didn’t miss one of them. We stopped at a place we’d been told about in southern Missouri and didn’t find the next fuel stop for over four hundred miles, so we were darn glad we’d made the stop.
Since we were still in a hurry, we didn’t stop in New Orleans other than to top off the tanks again and call home, of course. Everything was still acceptable there. We tried to get back with Phil in Saugatuck, but he was apparently out of the office. Fortunately, there were more good places to stop along the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway, and there were many stretches where we could run at our best speed, so it only took us two days to get to Carrabelle, Florida, the end of the waterway.
At Carrabelle, we tried to call Phil again, and this time we got through to him. Yes, the guy was interested in selling the Parabellum, but he wasn’t sure on a price. He said we ought to make an offer on the boat, but right at the moment Nate and I weren’t sure what to offer, so we said we’d think it over and call him back.
It’s 160 miles from Carrabelle to Tarpon Springs, and normally boaters either hug the shore or go right across. In this boat we didn’t have any problem with the straight-across trip, and the weather reports were for fairly calm, so we got going well before dawn the next morning and made it in to our final stop as the day was waning. Tarpon Springs is a tourist town with some good restaurants, so we found a good fish dinner to celebrate our making the delivery trip with no major problems. It was too late to call Phil back that night, so we cleaned up the boat and prepared to hit the road the next morning. In the course of that, we called Phil back and offered a price on the Parabellum that seemed low to us, but at least left us some room to negotiate, and said we’d call him back when we got home.
There was a guy hanging around the marina who was willing to run us over to Tampa International Airport for a couple of twenty dollar bills, and late that afternoon we were on our way back to Michigan. I hadn’t seen much of Florida, but that wasn’t what we had come for, and Nate was anxious to get home. It had been a good trip, and I made up my mind that sooner or later I was going to come back and see something of what we had missed. In fact, I thought it would be fun to take a boat on that trip sometime, though it was clear that it would have to be a boat bigger than the Parabellum – it was something to think about for the future.
We landed at Detroit Metro and changed planes for a flight to Alpena, the closest to Winchester we could get by commercial airliner, where Rachel met us to take us back home. Nate and I had agreed that we’d make a big point of how long and dull and miserable the trip had been, just to keep her from envying us too much, and it didn’t faze her in the slightest. She still would have liked to have been with us, and I would have liked to have had her along. She was a cute kid, and a lot of fun to be around, but it just would not have worked out and that was that.
She got real enthused when she heard that we’d been talking about my buying the Parabellum. “Wow!” she said, “that would be so neat! We could have a lot of fun sailing it around even if we didn’t go much of anywhere with it. You would let me use it, wouldn’t you Jake?”
“Hey, settle down,” I told her. “It’s not a done deal yet, and even if I do buy it, the boat is still mostly in pieces. There’s no way we’re going to be able to go sailing before spring, and the ice in the lakes is going to have a major say as to exactly when.”
“Yeah, but still, maybe I can help you work on it some.”
“Could be,” I agreed. “It’s going to be a long, cold winter, and it’ll be something to do.”
Before too long, I was back in the motel room in Winchester. It was cold right then, and there was snow on the ground, though Barb said it was probably too early for it to stick. It seemed a hell of a lot colder than Florida, and I was really having second thoughts about my deciding to stay in Winchester for the winter.
What with it being the weekend, it was Monday before I could call Phil down in Saugatuck. “It turns out you should have offered even less money. He jumped on your offer so fast it wasn’t funny. I think I heard the grunting in the background from his wife twisting his arm.”
“OK,” I told him. “I guess we’ve got a deal. I’ll have to see what’s happening around here, but I ought to be down later in the week to pick it up.”
I spent the night wondering a little what I had done. Up to this point I’d been pretty footloose, with only a few belongings to call my own, far less than what I could have packed in my old Pontiac. Having this boat was going to put a little different spin on my life. Whatever happened, I’d have to take it into consideration as well.