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

Chapter 26

Summer seemed to go past with a rush, not like the long, dull days of winter. It was probably at least partly because I was so busy almost all the time. It was all the usual things around the Channel Stop, made a little tougher by the fact that Barb wasn’t around to fill in very often. She was still spending much of her time with Marge, who even to my eye seemed to be steadily sinking. I tried to step in and fill the holes left by her absence, and everything seemed to get done somehow.

One day not long after Rachel and I had taken the Pixie out to Gull Island, when Nate was at breakfast with his fishing party, he got me off to the side. “Look,” he said, “I know this is coming at a tough time, but I’m going to need you to go out on the Chinook some in the next few days.”

“You’re right,” I replied. “I’m not sure how I’m going to be able to get away from this place long enough to do it.”

“I talked it over with Barb. She thinks that Laura and Annette and Wayne are willing to work enough extra hours to cover you. The thing of it is that Mike’s coming home for a couple weeks, and I want to spend some time with him. It won’t be every day, but between you, Rachel, and me we ought to be able to work it out.”

I’d heard about Mike ever since I’d known Nate and his family, but never met him. He was Rachel’s older brother, about Susie’s age. He was an aviation ordnance man on the Ranger – what we’d called an “ordie” or a “red shirt” back in my days on the Kennedy. The ordies wore red shirts on the flight deck to show what job they were doing. Fortunately, I’d never done much on the flight deck, and never when flight operations were going on – it could be a scary and dangerous place, so I’d been just as happy to be elsewhere. I knew that the Ranger had been on deployment in the Western Pacific all the time I’d been in Winchester Harbor, so I hadn’t had any opportunity to meet the guy. Now, it looked like they were going to be in Bremerton, Washington for a while and he could come home for a short visit.

“That’s great,” I said, knowing that Marge had been wanting to see him. “In that case, I’ll be glad to help out where I can. We’ll make things work around here.”

A few days later Rachel and I took the Chinook III out with a party so Nate could drive down to Detroit Metro and pick his son up. Mike proved to be a rather solid guy, with more than a taste of Navy about him, and while I didn’t see him a lot over the next couple weeks, when we did get together we had plenty of Navy stories to exchange. Some other stories, too. He and Susie had been more or less boyfriend and girlfriend while in high school, though they’d drifted apart when she went to college and he went into the Navy. We didn’t get into much detail on those stories, obviously.

In spite of being Nate’s son, Mike wasn’t at all interested in fishing. Like Rachel, he’d grown up with it, but he’d also developed a hankering to get away from home and do something different with his life, like a lot of small-town kids – like me, for that matter. He seemed to have spent enough time riding around on the Chinook III to hold him, and in fact only went out once in the two weeks he was home.

Most of the time it was Rachel and me running the boat, although Nate went out with her on the weekend when we were really busy at the Channel Stop. Again, it worked pretty well with the two of us, and we usually limited out with fish, so customers were happy even though Nate wasn’t along.

The Fourth of July weekend rolled around while Mike was still at home. This year, since I wasn’t quite as busy with things at the Channel Stop, I was a little more aware of the activities up at the harbor; the previous Fourth of July weekend I hadn’t had time to pay any attention.

I think to this point I’ve sort of indicated that most of the people going through Winchester Harbor were transients, and that wasn’t the case. While most of the slips were kept open for transients and had a three-day limit, a handful of people rented slip space up at the harbor for the summer. Some of them just lived aboard their boats all summer, the ones with boats large enough, but there were others who had cottages nearby and just kept their boats there. I’d gotten to know many of both when they stopped off at the Channel Stop for fuel or food.

Some of the activists among the summer people had organized a small Fourth of July festival many years before and kept it an annual tradition. It was no big deal, a boat parade, a group cookout, and a collection for fireworks, which were touched off from an old pontoon raft in the middle of the harbor. It so happened that Rachel and I had to take the fishing boat out with a party that morning, but as luck had it we limited out early and were back by mid-afternoon.

There was a line of boats waiting to get up to the fuel dock at the Channel Stop when we went by, but fortunately we didn’t have to stop. We’d topped off in the morning. Up around the bend, the harbor was as full as I’d ever seen it; every slip was full, and on the outer slips there were boats tied up two and three deep. There were also boats anchored out in the harbor since there was no more room at the slips. There was even one boat tied up at Nate’s dock, and Rachel and I really had to wiggle the Chinook III to get it up to its normal space. Barb came out of Nate’s house to help us in.

“Jeez,” I told Barb as soon as we had the customers off the boat. “Maybe I’d better get back to the Channel Stop and help Wayne out on the fueling dock. He has to be going crazy.”

“No, don’t worry about it,” she replied. “Mike was getting a little bored sitting around here, so he volunteered to help Wayne get through the rush. Why don’t you stick around, watch the boat parade, and have some barbecue? It’s pretty good!”

“I guess I shouldn’t have to be talked into an evening off. Rachel, my boat buddy, would you like me to buy you some dinner?”

“Talked me into it,” she grinned. “I missed it last year. We were out late trying to keep the customers from getting skunked.”

Still wearing our “Winchester Harbor Fishing Charters” polo shirts and baseball caps, Rachel and I hit the food line at just about the right time, and piled our paper plates high with pulled pork, potato salad, and baked beans. Since there wasn’t any place to sit, we carried them over to the Chinook III and sat down in the cockpit to eat. It was damn good food, and we both ate too much.

Just about that time the boat parade was starting, so we threw the trash and leftovers in the trash bag on board, got some soft drinks from the cooler, and climbed up on the flying bridge and plopped down in the captain’s chairs for a better view.

The boat parade wasn’t regular boats. Everybody saw those come and go all the time. This was all small boats, decorated up in one goofy way or another, and it was clear that some people had put a lot of work into them.

One guy had an old wood kayak that he’d painted gray, and built a sort of a miniature replica of a battleship’s superstructure fore and aft of the cockpit. It even had scale-sized sixteen-inch guns, although these were made out of wooden dowels. On the bow the number “63” was painted, and he’d used foam or something to fair out the stern, where tiny letters read “Missouri”. It really looked good!

There was an older couple who just about had him beat. They’d taken an old canoe, mounted three stub masts on it, and turned it into a full-rigged sailing ship, with all the square sails, along with the jibs and spankers, even studding sails flying from the main yards. It didn’t just look the part, it really sailed, although not very fast, and when they hit the upwind leg they had to use their canoe paddles to help it get upwind. It must have taken them hours to build it, cut the sails and rig them, and run all the lines needed to control the sails, none of which could have been much bigger than a few square feet.

There were some other prime examples of people having fun out there, but in my opinion those were the two best ones; I was darn glad I didn’t have to be a judge on the contest, because there were some tough choices to be made.

The boat parade was winding down, and finally Rachel and I were just sitting back in the captain’s chairs enjoying ourselves. I was beginning to feel a little guilty about leaving Wayne and Mike on the fuel dock and was about to suggest once again that I should go over and relieve them, when I heard someone call out, “Jake!” in a familiar voice. “I didn’t know if you’d be here or not!”

I looked down to see Lisa standing there, arm and arm with Greg, the guy who had been running the party boat with Brittany aboard when they’d stopped by on Memorial Day weekend.

“Lisa!” I yelled down. “What are you doing here?”

“Oh, Greg and I wanted to get away from his folks for a couple days, and they let us bring the boat over here. We pulled in this morning.”

“We were lucky to find a slip,” Greg announced. “This place is packed. Is this your boat? Nice!”

“No, I’m just the part-time crew and even more part-time fill-in skipper,” I told him. “It’s actually Rachel’s dad’s boat.” I nodded to Rachel to indicate I was talking about her, and explained, “Rachel, this is my sister, Lisa.”

“Oh, yeah,” Rachel said to Lisa a little exuberantly. “Jake has told me all about you.” I’m afraid I had told Rachel a few things about her that weren’t very nice, and I hoped she could be diplomatic.

“You guys want to sit down?” I asked. “We can go down to the cockpit; there’s seats there.”

“Sure,” Greg said. “I always wanted to see how you guys rigged for fishing.”

The four of us were soon sitting down in the cockpit. Rachel offered some more cold drinks from the cooler, and we spent some time explaining how we set up for deep-water fishing. Lisa was mildly curious, while Greg seemed pretty interested. “I’ve thought about trying to do some of this some time,” he said. “But I really don’t have any idea of where to start.”

“The best way to start is to get a charter with someone like Nate,” I said. “They’ll have a boat like this with all the gear that’s needed, and will know what to do.”

“That might be fun,” Greg said. “Any chance we could ride along tomorrow, just to see what it’s like?”

“I don’t know,” Rachel said. “There’s limited room on the boat, and it would depend on whether we’re booked up, or what. I don’t know how full we are for tomorrow. I could go ask Dad, though.”

“Lisa, honey?” Greg asked. “Would you be up for it?”

“Are you going tomorrow, Jake?” she said.

“As far as I know it’s going to be Rachel and me again tomorrow,” I told her. “Nate’s son is home on leave and his wife is in bad shape, so it’s pretty much been Rachel and me running the boat the last few days.”

“I guess I wouldn’t mind,” Lisa said. “It’d give me a little more time to spend with Jake. We really need to spend a little time repairing some stuff that’s come apart over the last year or so. Greg, you know all about that.”

“It wouldn’t be just a joyride. There are times we’ll be working pretty hard, and you’d just have to stay out of the way.”

“I can do that if I have to,” Lisa agreed.

“Then Rachel,” Greg said, “why don’t you ask your dad for me?”

“Yeah, sure,” she said, then climbed on the dock and took off toward the house.

“Interesting kid,” Lisa said as Rachel got out of earshot. “Cute, too. Is she your new girlfriend?”

“No, just a friend and a co-worker,” I told her. “She’s a little young for me. Don’t let her fool you though. She’s been around boats and fishing since she was a toddler, and she’s forgotten more about this stuff than I’ll ever know.”

“Then how come you’re the skipper, at least part-time, and she isn’t?”

“She’s not old enough,” I said. “You have to be twenty-one to get the license it takes to run one of these things with customers, and she’s only sixteen. Well, seventeen in a few days. So, what happens is that she really runs things and I just steer the boat and carry the license. It was a little awkward at first, but we manage to make it work.”

“Like I said, interesting kid,” Lisa said. “She’s not exactly what you think of when you say ‘sixteen,’ is she?”

“Well, in some ways she is, but only when she’s not on the boat,” I told her. “I’ve got a little sailboat sitting up at the dock at the Channel Stop. She’s mostly been the one to teach me how to sail it. Well, her dad some too, but mostly her.”

“I saw that,” Greg said. “A little Parabellum. I always thought they were a little cheap and cheesy.”

“Well, they are,” I told him, “although that one is built a little better than most. It’s not really a cruising boat, just a day sailer, and it’s a pretty good one for that. The farthest I’ve been with it is one day when Rachel and I took it to a little island up the coast. The neat thing about it is that with the centerboard, you can run it right up on the beach if the waves aren’t too high. It’s a good boat for what it is and if you respect its limits.”

Rachel came back presently. “I talked to Dad,” she reported as she settled into one of the cockpit seats again. “We’ve only got a party of two scheduled for tomorrow though a third guy may show up and may not. He says it’d be all right if you come along, but if you go for free you can’t fish and have to stay out of the way.”

“I suppose we can manage that, can’t we honey?” Greg said.

“Yeah, we ought to,” Lisa replied. “I wouldn’t mind going out for a ride and spending some time with Jake, but I’m really not all that interested in fishing.”

“OK,” Greg said. “I guess we’ll go.”

“Good enough,” I told them. “Set your alarm early, because we’ll be leaving at six-thirty. You’ll want to wear something a little warm for the morning, but you ought to be boater enough to know that. We’ll stop at the Channel Stop for breakfast, pick up some sack lunches, then get out and get fishing.”

“Wow,” he said. “You guys start early.”

“Have to, sometimes it takes all day. We got lucky today or we’d still be out there.” Changing the subject, I asked, “So, Lisa, how long are you up here for?”

“A while yet,” she said. “I’m not real sure. After that trip last spring Greg and I got a little interested in each other and we went out a few times. Then, when my summer job fell through he invited me up to his folks’ place for a while. I’ve been up there for about a week and a half now. They’ve got a real nice place, lots of room, and a nice view of the lake.”

Interesting, I thought without saying anything. His folks obviously have money – they’d have to if they have a big summer cottage and a boat as big as Greg had taken north the last two years. If Lisa managed to snare this guy she was really going to have grabbed the brass ring, and I didn’t want to do anything to piss it up for her.

A little to my surprise, we spent the next two or three hours just sitting in the cockpit and talking, and it was both pleasant and pretty interesting talk. I told the long version of the story of Nate and me delivering the Harvest Time to Florida, and somehow Rachel and I managed to tell the story of our delivering the Mary Sue to Sandusky without actually revealing that we’d been the only two on board. Eventually it got to be dark enough for the fireworks, so we climbed up onto the flying bridge to watch them. When the last burst flickered out, we got off the boat. Rachel went into her house, and I walked Lisa and Greg back to his boat. There was little doubt about what he and Lisa would be doing in a very short while, and I wished them well. As I walked back to my car to go back to my room, I realized that Lisa and I managed to repair some of the damage that had been done over the past year and a half – at least possibly since the word “Brittany” hadn’t come up, even once.

That word did come up the next day, when we were out on the Chinook III. Lisa really didn’t have much more than a mild curiosity about the fishing, and spent most of the day up on the flying bridge with me to keep out of the way, while Greg stayed in the cockpit watching the action, asking questions and learning what he could.

After it warmed up, Lisa got rid of her sweat shirt and sweat pants, revealing a really tiny print string bikini as daring as any I’d seen on any teenybopper boat girl. Damn, I thought, I’ve got a good-looking sister! Greg sure got lucky on that! I explained what I was doing, and gave her a little description of what was going on down in the cockpit. She said she actually found it interesting, in its way, and a lot more complicated than just dropping a hook in the water.

We got lucky early and boated a couple lake trout, but things went flat and we had to go looking, with the rig down and both Rachel and I keeping an eye on the fish finder. We went a couple hours without seeing anything worth taking a second pass at, and just trolled along mindlessly while I thought about how unlikely it was that Lisa and I would find ourselves together like this. Finally, I couldn’t take it any longer, and had to raise the evil subject: “So, Lisa,” I said. “What’s up with Brittany?”

“I don’t know,” she sighed. “I haven’t seen her since the trip on Memorial Day, and if she’s been home, her folks haven’t said so. What went wrong with you two, anyway?”

“We had a long talk,” I explained. “And we decided that we’d just grown too far apart, and that our interests didn’t coincide like they used to.”

“But what happened?” she asked. “She came back to the boat just as we were getting up, and she just went to her room and cried. And I don’t mean just a little, it was cry, cry, cry. We all heard it. What did you do to her, Jake?”

“I only did what she asked,” I replied honestly. “As far as feeling sorry about what came out of it, well, I understand. She once represented a lot of dreams to me, and I was sad when I realized they were gone. It must have hit her all at once, since she wasn’t crying when I left her at the boat. We wished each other well, and even kissed goodbye.”

“She must have held off until she knew you were gone,” Lisa commented. “You must have been really mean to her.”

“I don’t think I was,” I told her. “Like I said, we didn’t do anything she didn’t want to do, and then afterward we agreed rationally, like adults, that it wasn’t going to work out between us after all. I hope we parted at least a little bit friends. Until what you said just now, I thought that was what we’d done.” I was not about to explain what really happened that night in my room; if Lisa wanted to know so bad, she could ask Brittany. If she could find her, that was. “So, what happened after that?”

“Honest to God, Jake, I don’t know,” she said. “There was this guy on the boat, a friend of Greg’s, who was invited along at the last minute to even up the guys and girls, although he and Brittany hadn’t done anything. After a while he couldn’t take the crying anymore and went into her room. All I can say is that we didn’t see either of them until we got in that evening and we were putting the boat away. They were, uh, pretty cuddly. There were a couple cars set up to take us back home, and she and this guy, Adam, I think his name was – Greg would know – were in the other car. I haven’t seen or heard anything from her since. All I know is that she called her folks and told them she was going to be staying with a friend for a while. They thought maybe it was you, but I had to tell them it wasn’t.”

“Good,” I said. “Maybe it was someone who was a better fit for her than I was,” I replied.

“Yeah, maybe,” she sighed. “But damn it, Jake, you should have been the one to be with her. The two of you were made for each other, and when the two of you broke up you both missed a bet.”

“I don’t think so,” I replied. “Brittany and I learned that we had our differences, and they were going to be too big to overcome. It wasn’t easy coming to that conclusion, Lisa. In fact, it was pretty hard. But I can see now that it was for the best. If you see Brittany again, maybe she can explain it to you a little better than I can.”

All of a sudden I saw a couple fish on the fish finder. I swung around and yelled down to the cockpit, “A couple coming up pretty quick, about seventy feet.”

“Great, we’ll be ready,” Rachel yelled back. “Greg, help me get the bombs down about ten more feet.”

I kept the boat heading straight, occasionally glancing back at the cockpit and the rods, and all of a sudden the cry went up, “Fish on!” We were a while getting it aboard, and I had to turn the stern this way and that because the fish seemed to be all over the lake. After we’d boated it, the subject of Brittany didn’t come up between Lisa and me again.

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