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

Chapter 28

We had to hustle around to get the Chinook III reloaded so Rachel and I could take customers out fishing the next day. There were a lot of hands who offered to pitch in to help out but only a limited number knew where everything had to go, and I wasn’t one of them, at least on some gear.

Eventually everything got done so Rachel and the boat were ready for the morning. We had an adequate day if not a great one. The day after that Nate decided he ought to get back in the saddle, so he and Rachel took the boat out, leaving me to work at the Channel Stop.

It was beginning to be time that I threw at least a little attention at the place. Both Annette and Wayne were getting set to go back to college. This was their last week at home, and they had packing and other getting ready to do, so they couldn’t work as much as they had done all summer. For a while there, I was back to being the utility infielder around the place.

Toward the end of the week Nate and Rachel had a day without customers scheduled, and it didn’t take Rachel long to corner me about taking her out on the Pixie again. Barb said that she wasn’t so busy that she couldn’t handle some of the work now that Marge was gone, and Nate even told her that he’d come over and help out on the fuel dock if it got busier than expected.

It was a nice warm day, though we were now past the peak heat of the summer. It wasn’t blowing very hard, so Rachel and I decided to drop the idea of sailing down the coast and just make another run out to Gull Island. It was a fairly slow trip, and we were glad to nose the boat up on shore, put a line out, and get out for a while. Like the other time, we spread out on the sand with the cooler close at hand, and Rachel pulled off her T-shirt and shorts to reveal that same dark one-piece sort of bikini she’d worn earlier in the year.

Even though we’d been out on the Chinook III several times, we hadn’t had much chance to talk about her mother. She’d clearly been down about it, but seemed to be getting over it. Now, we got a chance to talk a little more, without the pressure of having something else we had to be doing.

“Actually, I’m starting to be a little relieved,” she said – she wasn’t lying on the sand, but sitting up cross-legged facing me so we could talk eye to eye. “Mom was so sick for so long I’m sort of glad it’s over with, but still, I’m going to miss her a lot.”

“Of course you are,” I told her. “What would be bad is if you didn’t miss her.”

“Yeah, I think I can see that,” she replied. “We got to talk quite a bit in the last days. She knew she didn’t have long, and she told me a lot of things, some of which I hadn’t known before, and some of which I probably shouldn’t tell you. But she said she was happy with what I’d become and what I wanted to do. I just don’t want to mess up the things she told me to do now that she’s gone.”

We stayed there on the beach at Gull Island for several hours, mostly with her talking about her mother and some of the things she’d done, that they’d done together. I could see that it was good for her to be talking this stuff out, and I was willing to be a good listener. By the time she wound down and we and realized we needed to be heading back, I got the impression she’d made peace with a lot of things.

The wind had veered and come up a little while we were sitting on the island, just talking and having our lunches. When we got on the water it was almost a straight downwind shot to get back to Winchester Harbor. We’d only broken out the spinnaker a few times over the summer, mostly in fairly light winds. This wasn’t exactly a howler, but Rachel took the tiller while I took the front deck, and fumbled around to get it flying. When I did, I went back and joined her in the cockpit, and we had a joyous run back home. We dropped the spinnaker outside the breakwater, but were able to sail right up to the dock. It was a great day for our last full-day run of the summer, and I think it helped Rachel out a lot.

It was the last time we were able to get out in the Pixie for a full day because Rachel had to go back to school the first of the week. She really didn’t want to go – she would rather have been out with her father – but one of the things she’d told me that afternoon was that her mother had made her promise to finish school, and that was that. I know she wasn’t very happy to have to head to school the following Monday, because I saw her go as Nate and I were getting the customers onto the Chinook III about that time, but she went, and she made the best of it.

The next few days were crazy. I had to go out with Nate every day that week, what with Rachel not being available, but with Wayne and Annette gone, they were very short-handed at the Channel Stop. I always headed over there as soon as I got off the boat, and sometimes worked until ten or eleven before getting a few hours sleep, then having to do it all over again. While it tired me out, I made the best of it because I knew the slow days weren’t very far off now.

Like the previous year, the Labor Day weekend was busy. There were a lot of people taking their boats south, either from Winchester Harbor or from places farther north. Once again, like the year before, the only reason we managed to make it through the weekend was that Wayne came back up to work the three days, this time bringing Annette with him. Over that weekend Annette and I got together one last time before we’d have to take a long break, and this winter, I knew Debby wouldn’t be here to keep me company on the slow evenings. I knew I was going to miss that, but she and John appeared to be very happy, and I didn’t want to mess with that.

The Labor Day rush of southbound boats continued on into the following week, although it wasn’t as bad as the weekend had been and slowed down considerably as the days passed. Fairly suddenly – if anything, more suddenly than the year before, for no good reason – the fuel dock business dwindled down. I wasn’t there to see it, since I was out in the Chinook III with Nate again.

Nate seemed to have pulled himself together pretty well following Marge’s death. Like Rachel, he had known it was coming and had at least prepared himself for it, but he admitted one time that it got awful lonely around the house, even with Rachel there. For so long the two of them – and Barb – had put a great deal of time into taking care of her, and now that constant was gone, too.

On Monday morning a week after Labor Day, we were sitting at the breakfast table in the Channel Stop when Nate asked me, “Would you be up for doing a boat delivery? I had a call last night from a guy who wants his Cal 30 taken down to Chicago for the winter. Waukegan, actually. Same difference.”

“Sure, I’m up for it,” I told him. “When do we leave?”

“There ain’t gonna be any ‘we’ about it,” he said. “The fall fishing is picking up and I’m scheduled tight. It’s not anything you can’t handle.”

“Maybe,” I said. “But I’m not that experienced with that big a sailboat. In fact, I’ve never been on a sailboat that big.”

“No big deal,” he said. “The way you handle the Pixie this will be a piece of cake. There’s some ways it’s going to handle pretty much the same, but bigger is all. You can just use the regular sails. You don’t have to mess around with the jennies and stuff.”

“Well, I suppose Rachel and I can handle it.”

“Rachel can’t go either,” he said. “She’s got school, you know that.”

“Nate,” I said, “I can’t single-hand a boat that big. I mean, I can do it if I motored all the way, but there’s no way I can steer and handle the sails all at once. Maybe someone who knew something about it could handle it, but I’m still awful green to be doing it. Besides, who’s going to be on the boat with you?”

“We can work something out about that. I can solo the Chinook if I have to, and if you take off over the weekend, Rachel will be with me. Besides, Barb used to do it, and she can come along with me and help.”

“That still leaves the question of me single-handing a boat that big,” I replied. “Maybe you could do it, and I could deal with the Chinook.”

“That’s a possibility,” he said. “But to tell you the truth, I don’t want to do it solo, either. I hate to tell the guy I can’t do it, since it’s a pretty good chunk of money. You might as well have it as someone we don’t know.”

“Yeah, a few more bucks would be nice to have when it gets slow,” I agreed.

“Hey,” Debby said, butting into the conversation, “why not take John? They’ve been working him at the golf course every day all summer, and it would be nice for him to have an excuse to get away for a while.”

“Crap, Debby,” I said, “I don’t want to take John away from you that long. If I had Nate or Rachel with me, we could be three or four days. If I take someone as inexperienced as John, we ought to lay up in a harbor somewhere every night, and there’s a week shot in the ass.”

“It would be all right with me,” she said. “Just so long as you don’t keep him much longer than that. We’ve got to get ready for the wedding.”

“I don’t know how much getting ready there’s going to be on his part,” Nate smiled. “As I recall, the main thing the groom has to do is to show up in a suit, on time, and reasonably sober. Not all the way, but reasonably.”

“That’s just the point,” Debby said. “If you were to get him out of here for a few days, he’d have that much less time to fret about the details. At least, I wouldn’t have to put up with it.”

“Go give him a call,” I told her. “If he’s up for it, I can take off as soon as Nate will let me.”

A couple days later, John, Nate, and I were up at the harbor, getting the Cal 30 ready to go. It was not in absolutely top condition – not beat up – just dirty and a little weathered from most of a summer of disuse. It was a nice boat in its way, fast and lightweight if a little short on amenities, but John and I figured we could handle that.

Since John had less experience at sea than I did when Rachel and I took the Mary Sue to Sandusky, and stronger weather was predicted a few days off, we decided to not sail all night. The first night out we anchored out in Garden Island Harbor, partway across Lake Michigan. We got back under way well before first light, motoring until it got light, and headed on across the lake to the Wisconsin shore, mostly because we knew stronger winds were coming and we wouldn’t have to deal with the bigger waves on the Michigan side. We anchored out again that night in Bailey’s Harbor on the Door Peninsula, and the next morning started down the western side of the lake a few miles offshore.

The wind picked up all day and it got rougher. Though we were bouncing right along, by the time we got to Manitowoc toward the end of the day we’d had all we wanted, so we ducked into the harbor, found a slip, closed up the boat, and found a bar. We sat there drinking until later than we should have, and went back to the boat to find that it was rough even inside the harbor. Although we were safe, it was a night I didn’t really want to experience again anytime soon.

It was still blowing hard the next day and we decided to just sit tight. We went out for breakfast to settle our stomachs as much as anything else, poked around town a bit, then had lunch and went back to the boat, where we spent the afternoon sitting around shooting the bull.

We spent a major portion of our time talking about Debby. Now, it was no secret from John what Debby and I had been doing right up until he came home and she took up with him, but that afternoon he admitted to feeling a little guilty about taking her away from me.

“Don’t feel guilty, for Christ’s sakes,” I told him. “Hardly a night went by that she didn’t say that she was waiting for you to get home. I always knew if and when you and Karen ever broke up, I was history as far as she was concerned. I always accepted that, and I was happy when it happened. I think you’re a lucky guy to have her. I just wish I could be as lucky.”

“I realize that,” he said. “I know it’s hard on you. I know you didn’t have much hope for Brittany, hell, you’d given up on her, but it’s got to be hard to watch Debby and me.”

“Don’t worry about it,” I told him. “I’ll survive. I guess my time just hasn’t come yet.”

“It’s good to know you feel that way. And there’s something I’ve been wanting to ask you. It turns out my best friend from high school isn’t going to be able to make it for the wedding, and neither is my college roomie. Is there any way you could see your way clear to being my best man?”

“See my way clear?” I smiled. “Hell, I’d be honored. Debby is about the best friend I’ve had since I got here. I couldn’t be happier to do it.”

“Christ, and I thought you’d be pissed at the question,” he said. “Jake, sometimes you’re too nice a guy for your own good.”

It got a little beery in the bar that night, as well, but when it was over with any reservations John and I may have had about each other had been blown . . . well, drank away.

Our heads were a little big when we motored the Cal 30 out of the harbor the next morning, but it wasn’t all that bad since the core of the storm had passed and the wind had died down considerably. Once we were out of the harbor, John steered while I got the sails up, and we went roaring down the Wisconsin shoreline. We raced right along past Milwaukee, but couldn’t quite make it in that evening, so we anchored after dark in North Bay, near Racine, and the next morning made it into the marina at Waukegan, where we dropped off the boat.

In our eagerness to make the trip we hadn’t given a lot of thought about how to get back. It would have been possible but expensive to fly, and would have used up a lot of what we’d made by doing the delivery in the first place. We had a long talk with a guy in the marina, and wound up taking the commuter railroad into Chicago, and then another commuter train on the old South Shore line to South Bend, which was starting to get into my neck of the woods. We agreed that it would have been nice to stop and see Susie, but we figured she’d be at work and was still a little new on the job to get away. Besides, she’d be at the wedding, which wasn’t far off.

When we’d changed trains at the downtown station in Chicago, I’d had the good idea to call my dad at work. We got into South Bend late, but Dad was waiting for us, and he took us back to Wychbold for the night. On the way, Dad and I caught up on family gossip a little, while John napped in the back seat.

It proved that Carolyn had dumped the religious guy in Fort Wayne. She complained that her knees hurt her from praying so much and finally found herself praying to be rid of him. I thought that was a good move. I hadn’t ever met the guy but hadn’t thought much of what I’d heard about him, either. She was still kicking around looking for a guy she could click with, but if she’d made any progress the news hadn’t filtered as far as Wychbold.

Julie, my youngest sister, was now a senior in high school and was looking at colleges, though she hadn’t made up her mind where to go. However, Dad reported that Lisa seemed pretty serious about the guy she was going with – Greg, that is – though from the way he talked he didn’t seem to be aware that Lisa had spent at least a good part of the summer living with him. She wasn’t home very much, since she always seemed to be going to Ann Arbor to see him on the weekends he didn’t come to Kalamazoo.

Dad hadn’t heard much of anything about Brittany, except for the fact that she wasn’t home much either and was getting real serious about some guy from the Detroit area – Adam, I presumed, but again wasn’t willing to explain how I knew that, so I said nothing.

John and I had considered hitchhiking back to Winchester Harbor the next day – it was a little simpler and safer than trying to hitchhike from the Chicago area – but the weather was crappy and Dad had some time off coming, so he was willing to drive us back. It was the first time he’d been to Winchester Harbor, and said that if I was still there the next summer maybe he’d have to bring Mom up for a visit.

What with everything, John and I made it back to Winchester Harbor in plenty of time for the wedding after a successful and relatively relaxing, if slightly adventurous trip. I didn’t own a suit; well, I did, still down in my closet in Wychbold, but I hadn’t worn it in years and it was too small for me, so I wound up renting a tux like John did.

The wedding was the following Saturday, out at the golf course clubhouse, as planned. It was a bright and clear day with a nice breeze blowing. It would have been a nice day to take the Pixie out if there hadn’t been something better to do. It turned out to be a larger wedding than I had expected. I’d thought that Debby and John would have just a few close friends, but there were a lot of the regulars from the Channel Stop there along with a lot of golfers, most of whom I didn’t know, even on sight.

Susie and Annette were there. It was the first time I’d seen Susie in months, and she looked very nice. Nate and Rachel were there, along with Barb and everyone else from the Channel Stop – it was closed for the day, except for the fuel dock; Wayne had come up from college to run it for the weekend. Debby hadn’t seen her mother in years, and in fact had no idea where she could be, and her father was long dead, but there were at least some distant relatives of hers present. John’s father and mother seemed to be very happy that things had worked out this way.

Debby looked about as nice as I had ever seen her, in a floor-length wedding gown. It was strapless, and whatever brassiere she wore did a heroic job at keeping her breasts from popping right out of it. She was still showing a lot of cleavage, and looked radiant. Barb got tagged with the honors of giving her away, and Susie was the bridesmaid. The wedding was outdoors, actually on the practice putting green, with the trees starting to turn the colors of autumn. I mostly just had to stand there and watch as the ceremony was held, but I thought it was a pretty good one, not that I’m any expert on weddings.

The reception was held inside the clubhouse, and it was pretty good, too. Here I did have to make a stupid little speech about John. Since I really didn’t know him that well, I just make a couple jokes about the boat delivery we’d just made. I also said that I’d been under flat orders from Debby to not only have him back in time for the wedding, but to make damn sure he made it back at all.

There was some socializing after the formal part of the reception, and I got a chance to talk with Susie for a bit. It turned out that she was working in some kind of an office job, I really wasn’t clear what, something to do with trading commodities. She seemed happy with it, though she admitted to feeling some pressure and being rushed at times, something she’d been trained for pretty well by working summers at the Channel Stop. She liked the apartment she had, and she was getting along pretty well with her new roommate, Melanie. She’d been dating some, but nothing serious, and she didn’t seem very anxious about trying to put something together with anyone just yet.

Eventually, the reception wound down. John and Debby headed off to spend a couple nights at a hotel on Mackinac Island. It was just to be a stopgap honeymoon, since they planned on taking off once the season was over in Winchester Harbor but had no idea where as yet. It sounded to me like a perfectly good excuse to get out of winter for a while.

Susie and I wound up spending the night together, which we hadn’t done since May, and the next morning she got in her car and drove back to Chicago. Since John and Debby had yet to settle the deal on their house, the day after that they were back in their room in the Channel Stop, as if nothing had changed – but a great deal had.

I couldn’t exactly put my finger on it, but somehow now, more than ever, I felt I was on the outside looking in.

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