Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
Things settled down after John and Debby’s wedding. The season was running down anyway; traffic at the Channel Stop dwindled as September changed into October. The leaves turned color, which is always beautiful in a largely wooded area like that around Winchester Harbor, but then they began to fall, which just told us winter wasn’t far away.
As before, I was mostly out on the Chinook III weekdays in October with Nate. On the weekends Rachel went with him. While the fishing was generally good, as it usually is in the fall, the weather could have been much better. We had to cancel some days before we even got started because it was just too damn rough out there; storms blew in three different times when Nate and I were out on the lake, causing us to head for shore before it got even worse. A couple of those times were about the roughest rides I ever had on the Chinook III.
Nate and Rachel seemed to be bearing up pretty well following Marge’s death, at least from what I could see. We didn’t talk about it much. Her long illness had been a burden on them as well as a lot of other people. Now it was lifted, but even the loss of the burden left something of a hole in their lives. Barb actually still spent quite a bit of time with the two, especially with Nate, to try to help keep them upbeat. This wasn’t surprising, since they’d been lifelong friends, and Barb had carried a lot of the load, especially in Marge’s last few months.
I really wasn’t in a very good mood all month long. In fact, I was downright depressed, although I don’t think I realized it at the time. Marge’s death and the effect on my friends had a little to do with it, but the season drawing to a close had more. Things were slowing down at the Channel Stop and as soon as the month ended the fishing season would, too. It looked like it was going to be a long, slow, boring winter, and it didn’t look like there was going to be much for me to do.
In fact, it didn’t look like there was going to be much for me to do the following summer, either. After all, much of the fishing I’d done that year with Nate had been because Rachel wasn’t available, mostly due to school. I was strictly the second team and I knew it. With her due to graduate from high school the next spring, most of the need for me on the boat would be gone. There would still be work for me at the Channel Stop, but it wasn’t going to be the same thing. It would be dull without the fishing, and though they could pay well, boat deliveries didn’t happen often enough for me to stick around for just them.
On top of that, I was feeling lonely. A year before Debby had been a huge friend. We’d been close, and even though she hadn’t come to my room in the evening all that often, it had filled a big hole in my life. Now that she was married, that solace was gone. Even though she and John were still living next door to me and she was still a friend, it was so different that there was no comparison. In the early part of the month she and John closed a deal on a small house in the village. It needed quite a bit of work, and they spent most of their evenings over there doing what they could to get ready to move in. I went over to help on occasion, but I also knew they needed time to themselves, so didn’t do it very often.
On top of that, Susie was long gone, and while Annette would be back for another summer, because of her interests there wasn’t quite the close relationship that I’d had with her older sister.
Hell, it even looked like Barb was gone from my bed, too. While we never talked about it, she’d never come back to my bed after the girls had come home from school in the spring, not that she’d been there very often even to start. She and Nate had been good friends for many years, and they were spending a lot of time together, so I figured that had something to do with it.
Even having Brittany definitely out of my life had an effect on me. Although it had been a year and a half since I’d written her off, up until our meeting six months earlier she’d at least represented a possibility in my mind. Then, we’d definitely proved that wasn’t going to work, either, leaving a hole that there seemed to be no possibility of filling anytime soon.
I was still a little curious about Brittany, and figured that I’d hear something about her after Lisa went back to school. But, the weeks went by and I heard nothing. Whether that meant Lisa wasn’t hearing anything or had chosen not to tell me, I couldn’t say, but no news was simply no news.
Things got even worse when November started and the fishing season came to a close. The day after that, I went down to Nate’s and we spent the day getting the Chinook III out of the water and stripping it down to winterize it. That project actually lasted several days, along with some of the seasonal maintenance the boat needed, but a lot of it would have to wait till spring. Nate informed me that he didn’t have any big boat maintenance projects lined up for the winter, and even he was wondering a little about what he was going to be doing. He had a list of things that needed to be done around the house, things that he hadn’t wanted to tie into with Marge in the house feeling poorly. Now he could get on them, but that wasn’t going to keep him busy all winter, either.
The final straw came a few days later. It had been a cold, clear, calm night, but I didn’t think much about it until I drove down to Nate’s house to help him piddle around with the Chinook III some more for lack of anything better to do. When I got down to where I could see the harbor, it had a thin skin of ice on it. Winter wasn’t far away now, and the Pixie was still tied up at the dock at the Channel Stop.
Fortunately it warmed up and a breeze came up so the ice didn’t last long, but it was clear that much worse was to come. Nate drove me back down to the Channel Stop; I fired up the kicker on the Pixie and motored back up to the boat launch. Nate and I put her on the trailer, took the mast down, gave her an inspection and a general going over, and got her ready for the winter.
The Pixie had been the first boat on the water in Winchester Harbor back in the spring, and it was close to being the last one out in the fall. I hadn’t used her as much as I would have liked, but she had given me virtually no problems and hadn’t leaked a drop. Now I wouldn’t even have her available to help me eat up a little free time.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized that there was no point in staying around Winchester Harbor any longer, at least for the winter. It was time to get out of there for a while.
I gave some thought to going back to Wychbold for the winter, but there was no good reason to do that. My friends there had pretty well moved on with their lives. I’d learned that when I’d been at home for a few weeks a year and a half before, and there was no reason to think things would have gotten any better.
It was too bad, I thought, that Nate and I didn’t have a boat to deliver to Florida like we’d done the year before. I’d thought at the time that it would have been nice to spend some time there after the delivery, but the potential of buying the Parabellum kit in Saugatuck had made me anxious to get back north. I was complaining about this to John over breakfast at the Channel Stop one morning a couple of days later, and he was the one who suggested, “Why don’t you just take the Pixie down to Florida and hang out until it gets warm here again? You could get in a lot of good sailing down there and it wouldn’t cost you anything for rent.”
To be honest, I thought of a number of reasons why not, starting with the fact that the Pixie’s cabin was awful tight to live in for months on end. It really was small, and while the boat had been advertised as “sleeps four” I’d always felt that the four would have to be pretty tiny. Maybe a couple with a kid or two for a weekend might be able to make it work, but four adults? Forget it.
On the other hand, I thought, it was more roomy than living in a berthing space crammed with a bunch of other sailors snoring and farting, and it had much more storage space than the simple half locker I’d had aboard the ships I’d spent any time on. Pretty soon, the idea started to make a good deal of sense.
On top of that, I had the money to do it. In fact, even with buying the Pixie I’d managed to save most of what I’d earned from Nate and from the Channel Stop over the summer. I even had a little left over from the year before, so it wasn’t as if I had to work for a while, especially if I lived cheaply on the boat.
I thought about it the rest of the morning while I piddled around the Channel Stop. After lunch I drove down to Nate’s and ran the idea past him. “No reason you couldn’t do it,” was his opinion. “It might be a little close quarters, but it probably wouldn’t be too bad if it was just you. The hell of it is, Rachel is going to be so jealous of you for getting to do something like that you’d better not tell her before you leave. You might get down there, get the boat in the water, open the cabin hatch and find out she’d stowed away on you.”
“Yeah, or just come right out and kill me,” I agreed.
Barb was there – she often was – and said it would probably be just as well if I took off for the winter. She could probably find enough work for me to be able to cover my room and board for the next few months, but things would be so slow that there wouldn’t be anything else. She said I’d be welcome if I came back in the spring, though.
By the next morning I knew I was going to do it. If there had been any reason to stay around Winchester Harbor during the winter I probably would have stayed, but there wasn’t anything I could think of to keep me from going. After breakfast, I went back down to Nate’s and told him that I’d made up my mind, We took off the tarps we’d planned to leave on the Pixie all winter and tied things down better for long distance trailering.
Nate had several suggestions for me and gave me a few items of gear that would be useful. He told me that Florida might not be all that warm in the coldest months of winter, though if I got far enough down in the state, I probably wouldn’t be seeing very much in the way of freezing temperatures. It was good advice, and I decided to pack a little more warmly than I’d planned.
That afternoon, I went back up to the Channel Stop and packed up everything in my room and loaded it into the car, not that I’d accumulated very much in my year and a half of living there. When you live aboard a ship, you learn to not get loaded down with a lot of extra stuff, and I suppose the habit carried over.
To tell the truth, when I loaded up the car, I pretty well figured that it was not very likely that I’d ever be coming back. What with everything, I had no reason not to believe that my time and my luck at Winchester Harbor had run out, and it was time to be moving on.
I was leaving the place with a couple skills I hadn’t had when I first arrived there. I was actually a little doubtful that my six-pack license would be enough to get me a job running a boat in Florida, but it might help to get me into a crew position, perhaps on a charter fishing boat. Beyond that, I probably could handle being a short-order cook in a diner or something thanks to what Barb and Debby had taught me. I planned on keeping my eyes open while I was down there, and if I could find a new place to light for a while I might stay. Maybe the prospects for finding some girl would be better, too.
The next morning I had a final breakfast at the Channel Stop. Barb was there, and told me to keep in touch, and I promised to do that. When I was done there I went down to Nate’s, hooked up the Pixie, and hit the road. Just to be on the safe side, I stopped a few miles out and looked in the cabin, but it was clear that Rachel hadn’t stowed away.
My first stop was Wychbold. I unloaded a lot of my stuff from the car, just to make space, and loaded a few things from the attic, like a couple sleeping bags and some other camping gear, a couple of old pots and pans, and that sort of thing. There was an alcohol stove in the Pixie that had come with the boat, and it had never been out of the box. I bought a few other things at the K-Mart in Bolivar – water jugs, a little electric heater and an extension cord so I could use it to keep warm if I happened to be in a slip with a power connection, and things like that. I found a good deal on some canned foods like soups and stews, and loaded up a fair amount.
My folks and Julie seemed to think I had to be crazy to take off to Florida and live in a boat that small for the winter. But, I have to say that each one of them came to me at one time or another and told me they thought it would be an adventure that would be a lot of fun.
Of course, I asked after both Lisa and Brittany while I was there, and no one had much to add over what I’d heard when I’d been there a couple months before, on the way back from delivering the Cal 30 with John. Lisa was spending as much time as she could with Greg, and very little at home, though there had been some phone calls. Everybody agreed it looked pretty serious though there had been no rings involved yet. No one had much to add about Brittany. My folks knew from her folks that she was still on campus but spending a lot of time with Adam, but Lisa hadn’t said anything about her.
After only a couple days there wasn’t much left to do. It was still almost two weeks to Thanksgiving, with the Christmas holidays still a month further off. There was no good reason to stick around that long. I’d gotten out of the habit of family holidays in the years I’d been gone, anyway. Finally, there was nothing to do but to get on the road.
While my car was adequate for towing the Pixie – it was one of those big old monsters with a healthy V-8, after all – I could tell the boat was behind me, so I was in no hurry. I took three full days to drive to Florida, stopping in motels each night and occasionally doing a little tourist stuff during the day. I had no plans of where to go, but since I had been to Tarpon Springs the year before and at least knew the place a little, I decided to head there.
I found a marina with a long-term car park, though located a ways away, made arrangements to leave the car and trailer there, bought some charts and sailing guides, some stove alcohol, and a couple other odds and ends like that. The guy I talked to in the marina was a little surprised that I wasn’t just weekending and that I actually planned on living aboard a boat as small as a Parabellum 21, but he said he supposed it could be done if I was crazy enough.
I spent some time getting the Pixie set up, loading most everything from my car into the boat in the process. While I was pretty sure I could get the mast up by myself, I shanghaied a couple guys from the marina to give me a hand for a few minutes, then spent some time tuning the rig and bending on the sails. Since I really hadn’t brought much with me, I managed to find places to put everything aboard, gave things one final check, then launched the boat and tied her to a nearby dock for the first taste she ever had of salt water.###
Satisfied that I was as ready as I could be, I drove the car and trailer over to the long-term parking lot, locked it up tight, and hoofed it back over to the marina, where I got on the Pixie, fired up the kicker, and got on my way.
The Pixie and I didn’t sail far that first day, just out of the harbor and into the lee of a rather wild island a couple miles offshore, where I put down the anchor for the night. It had been a long day and I’d done a lot, and as it turned out I still had a lot to do.
Up till that time, I’d never spent a night on the Pixie, and for that matter up until maybe a week before I had never even intended to. It turned out there were plenty of little details I needed to work out, and a few things I’d forgotten. For example, while I had the alcohol stove and a gallon of stove alcohol, I’d forgotten to get a funnel to get the fuel from one to the other. It took some figuring out but I managed to work out a method, then discovered it’s much better to light an alcohol stove with matches, rather than a Zippo – that cost me the hair on the back of my fingers. It was getting very late by the time I could eat a can of stew and drink a cup of coffee.
The Pixie had a pop-top that, when raised, gave me a foot or so more room in the cabin. It was still not enough to stand upright, but enough to be more comfortable. The only thing was that I’d never opened it since Nate and I had tested it while we’d been putting the boat together almost a year before. It did make things more habitable but was a pain in the neck to use, so I rarely bothered – something else learned.
That night it happened to be colder than I had been expecting, so I was glad I’d thrown in the extra sleeping bag. It got chilly in the cabin before morning, but the alcohol stove warming coffee and a can of spaghetti for breakfast made it almost comfortable. It was along in the morning before I got out into the still-cool morning air, spread out a couple charts in the cockpit, and tried to figure out what to do next.
One of the reasons I’d decided to go to Tarpon Springs, besides having been there before, was that I knew it was the head of the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway. That meant there would be plenty of places inside to go, and likely many places I could anchor out like I’d done that night. Considering the chill of the night and Nate’s advice that it would be warmer to the south, I decided to work my way southward in hopes of finding something a little more comfortable. But, I decided I was in no hurry, either; it wasn’t as cold as the weather we’d been having at Winchester Harbor, after all.
For no particular reason I more or less gave a pass on Tampa Bay and sailed right by to head south for warmer conditions. After all, I thought, South Florida means warm, warm means beaches, beaches means girls in bikinis, and that was reason enough. Maybe I could find someone interesting, since I hadn’t done too well at that in Winchester Harbor, at least not for the long term.
After several days I was off the inlet into Fort Myers, where the Intracoastal turns inland to cross Lake Okeechobee. I pulled into a marina to top off the fuel and the fresh water in the plastic jugs, and only then did I realize it was Thanksgiving Day. I thought maybe I ought to call home and wish everyone well and report on how the trip was going, so I found a pay phone and reported in. Everybody was fine, and I told them I was having a great time. I was just about to head back to the Pixie when it struck me that if my friends in Winchester Harbor were doing the holiday the same way as last year, then they all ought to be around the Channel Stop right then, so I called there too.
Barb answered the phone, and I told her much the same thing as I’d told my parents: I was fine and having a good time, and while the Pixie might be small for a live-aboard boat I was learning to manage it. We talked for a couple minutes, and then she said someone wanted to talk to me.
I heard the phone being handed over, and the next thing I heard was Rachel’s voice: “Jake, you bastard!” she said, in a tone such that I couldn’t tell if she was joking or not. She wasn’t the kind of person who used that kind of language, at least not with me.
“What?” I asked innocently, just about sure what her problem was.
“I ought to strangle you for taking off with the Pixie and going to Florida for the winter!” she replied, and I still couldn’t tell if she was really mad or what. “You know I’d love to be on that trip with you.”
“What?” I said, deciding to try to humor her. “You want to be jammed into a tiny boat, freezing your butt off, when you could be in a nice, warm school?”
I half expected to hear a “fuck you” come back at me, but she said, “You know damn well I’d love it, rather than being bored to death in school. Why didn’t you take me with you? At least you could have told me you were going! How am I supposed to be able to sit in school when I’m thinking of you down there having a ball in Florida?”
It was clearly time for the heavy guns. “Because you have to be in school,” I told her. “That’s what your mother wanted, after all.”
“Yeah, I guess,” she replied, obviously deflated. “But you better come back next spring so we can go somewhere in the Pixie. After I get out of school, you’d better not be leaving me behind like that again!”