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

Chapter 31

Having Danielle on board had eaten into my water supply pretty badly, and filling her canteens for her hike pretty well ended it. I was down to drinking warm soda pop, since we’d also finished off the ice. That meant I had to figure on stopping at the first good place, which happened to be Edgewater, south of New Smyrna Beach. The gas for the kicker was getting low, so I topped that off, too.

By then I was a little tired of eating my own cooking, coming from cans such as it was, filled out a couple times by some of her freeze-dried food, which was even worse. It proved there was a small restaurant not far from the marina, so I walked over there and ordered a steak. It turned out they had to thaw it out, and while I was sitting there waiting the thought happened to cross my mind that I hadn’t called home in a couple months.

Since it was the middle of the day no one was at home, but while I was at the pay phone I figured I might as well call Barb at the Channel Stop, just to see what was happening up there. Barb wasn’t there, but Debby was. “Barb’s over at Nate’s, as usual,” Debby told me. “You can try her over there.” Debby went on to say that she and John were still getting along just fine and getting their house in shape, that the snow was still pretty deep, and that while there had been some signs of thawing it really hadn’t taken hold yet. Right at that time, staying in Florida still seemed like a good idea to me.

I called over to Nate’s house anyway, mostly to ask what was going on. “Things have changed a little,” she reported. “Are you figuring on being back this summer?”

I told her that I honestly hadn’t made up my mind, but I wouldn’t mind doing it. I hadn’t been able to find a job in Florida, not that I’d been looking very hard.

“Well, if you want to come back, you’d be welcome,” she offered. “Like I said, things are a little different now than when you left. I’m guessing Nate won’t have you working on the boat as much, but I could sure use you at the Channel Stop when things get busier. That’ll be a month or so yet, you know how it works.”

“It’s something to think about,” I admitted. “Living on the Pixie is fine, but after a while it starts getting a little old.”

We talked about it a little, not coming to any conclusions either way; I told her I’d think about it, and call her back to let her know one way or the other.

I finished the phone call and went back to my table; it was nice to eat at a table while sitting on a chair. I hadn’t done much of that in a while, although I usually stopped at a restaurant or a bar when I happened to be off the boat close to one, but I hadn’t been able to while Danielle was with me.

I thought about Barb asking me back for quite a while, and thought about it more while I ate my steak, which wasn’t very good. While I wasn’t at the end of my financial reserves, they were dwindling. If I went back to Winchester Harbor, at least I knew I had a job and a very cheap place to stay, so I could build them up again.

While living aboard the Pixie for what had now been over three months had been just fine, I realized that what I’d told Barb was right. It was starting to get a little old, even though I’d had a lot of fun, far and away the best vacation I’d ever had. The idea had worked perfectly; I’d done a lot of sailing, covered a lot of Florida, and turned my back on winter.

What’s more, I’d had several fun days with two very different girls, neither of which I would have cared to spend a life with, but both of whom had been interesting to get to know. They had added a lot of spice to what had been a very good winter.

When I added it all up in my mind, I was more than satisfied. If I had been in a permanent job or a serious relationship I wouldn’t have been able to do any of it. As it was, I’d taken advantage of a seasonal job and a chance to live cheap to have what in many ways was a pretty good adventure. What’s more, if I didn’t have a permanent job or a serious relationship in another year, there was no reason I couldn’t just do it again – especially if I had worked over the summer to refill my financial tanks.

Granted, I’d covered a lot of Florida’s coastline, but I knew I’d missed a lot, too. There was another hundred miles or so of Intracoastal to the north before it ran out of the state, and there were some rivers that the Pixie could investigate since she had such a shallow draft. If all else failed, there was the Gulf Intracoastal to the west, if I was willing to put up with slightly cooler temperatures. Granted, Nate and I had covered some of that in the Harvest Time but our only stops were to fill the tanks. Beyond that, there was Louisiana and Texas, too.

If I went back to Winchester Harbor to work for the summer, I could do this again next winter. Hell, I could do it for several winters if I felt like it!

Although the Pixie was a little snug to live aboard, I’d done it successfully and learned some of the tricks. There were a few things I might change to do it another winter, but only a few, like getting a better compass, more water jugs, and perhaps a window-screened hatch for the warm buggy nights – and there had been some.

It didn’t take any thought when I looked at it that way. I finished my steak, ordered some cherry pie for dessert, and went back to the pay phone to call Barb and tell her I’d be back.

“No big rush,” she said. “It’s still winter up here, and it’s probably going to be the first of April before there’s much business, and by then Nate will want you on the Chinook III for a couple months.”

“If there’s no big rush,” I told her, “I’m not going to hurry. I’ll try to be back before the end of March so I can get settled in a little before the fishing season opens.”

“Good,” she said. “Rachel will be happy to see you. You’d damn well better be ready to tell her some good stories about your winter.”

“Oh, I’ve got one or two,” I said with a smile I knew she could hear, while making a mental note to not get into the subjects of Melissa and Danielle with her. After all, she was still a kid. She didn’t need to know about that stuff.

I suppose I still could have gone up to Daytona Beach – it wasn’t that far – but when I got out on the Pixie the boat seemed to want to go the other way and I didn’t disagree. I ran the kicker for a while until we got out into the more open part of Mosquito Lagoon, but there was a nice breeze blowing and I sailed the rest of the way down to the Haulover Channel to the Indian River. Soon I found a good place to anchor for the night, and began to think about the trip back.

If I’d been in a hurry, the logical thing would have been to hitch a ride over to the car and trailer at Tarpon Springs, probably less than a hundred miles, then drive back and load up Pixie. With any kind of luck I could do it in a day. But, I was in no hurry to get back to the ice and snow country.

I knew I’d have to go down the Intracoastal to Stuart, but there I’d have a choice between taking the canals across the state through Lake Okeechobee, or going around the southern tip of the mainland and back up the west shore. The latter route was a fair amount longer, and I’d done it before coming this way. The inland route would at least involve something new, even though much of the trip would have to be made under power. I couldn’t make my mind up just then, but decided to wait till I got down to Stuart to see what I thought then.

As I was on my way south, another advantage to going back crossed my mind: Annette would most likely be home for the summer. After Danielle, Annette’s compulsive writing, general spaciness, and kinkiness seemed pretty reasonable in comparison. We still probably couldn’t work out anything permanent, but at least she could be some companionship and occasional fuck buddy for the summer. I found myself looking forward to seeing her again.

I spent several days getting down to Stuart, taking the time to look into a few places I’d missed going north. At the marina in Stuart, I spent some time talking to a couple guys, and they said the inland route was no problem, it was used all the time, and that there were plenty of places to get fuel along the way. Eventually, the combination of the new country and not having to go through the crowded area around Miami won; I’d take the inland route. I still bought an extra gas can to use as a reserve, and in the morning fired up the kicker and headed for Lake Okeechobee.

I’d seen alligators on the trip before, especially when I’d been on fresher water, but they were just about all over the place on the canal, and on two separate occasions I rammed one lightly. I wasn’t going fast enough to hurt them and hit them an angle anyway. I got out onto the shallow waters of the lake to discover a good northwest wind blowing. With the seldom-used jennie up, I just about flew across the lake.

On the windward side of the lake, I found a good place to anchor for the night, topped off the fuel the next morning and was on my way again. I topped off the fuel again at a marina at a small town about halfway to Fort Myers, found another good place to spend the night, this time tied to a snag out in the river, and was back on water big enough to sail on the next afternoon. After three more days of poking around and one of doing a pretty hard sail, I tied up in about the same place off Tarpon Springs where I’d spent the first night out almost four months before.

It had been a great trip, and I was already making plans for next year. I felt very confident in my little boat now, and had a much better idea of its limitations. I was very satisfied with the whole winter. This definitely had potential for the future!

In fact, the only down side I could see about the trip was that I’d been alone much of the time, and it would often have been nice to have a companion. Rachel would have loved being on this trip, I thought. It was too bad she’d been in school, or for that matter, really too young to take along anyway. Maybe another year, I thought – or maybe not. Friends though we were, Nate might get really upset if I were to take off to Florida with his young daughter. A trip like that wouldn’t be like the one we’d taken on the Mary Sue. It could be done, I thought, but the two of us in a cabin as small as the Pixie’s could easily get awkward at times.

There wasn’t any breeze the next morning, so I fired up the Evinrude one last time for the run into the marina at Tarpon Springs. The guy at the dock didn’t remember me, and was a little surprised to find that I’d been out cruising in something as tiny and as cheesy as a Parabellum 21. When he found out I’d been clear down to Key West with it, and then as far north as Cape Kennedy, he didn’t even begin to believe me.

It took much of the day to get my stuff off the Pixie and into my car, get the boat loaded on the trailer, the mast down, and everything tied down. As the day wound down I was looking for a motel along the Interstate, the first time in four months that I would sleep in a bed that wasn’t afloat. I felt good about my little boat. Though it had seemed like a bit of a reach at the time I bought her, it had really paid off for me. Just the cost of rent saved over the winter would have gone a long way toward paying for her, and I still had her for when I wanted to go on a future adventure.

Once again I took my time on the drive, if for no more reason than that big old Pontiac of mine sucked fuel like there was no tomorrow when I had the Pixie on tow. I’ll bet I burned ten times the gas through it on the trip home than I ran through the Evinrude all winter. I didn’t stop as often for tourist-type stuff, so made it back to Wychbold in about two and a half days.

The folks and Julie were glad to see me back. While I’d been sending them cards and the occasional brief letter, I hadn’t talked to them since Christmas. They hadn’t sent me any mail as there was no sure place to send it to, but that was all right by me.

We spent most of an evening with me telling stories of the trip, and showing a few of the photos I’d taken with the cheap little camera I took with me. Fortunately, I’d already gone through them and taken out the shots of Sharon and Melissa in their brief bikinis down in the Keys, and the couple that had been taken of Danielle and me the day we visited Playalinda Beach. There were, after all, some things that I was just as happy my folks and my little sister didn’t know about.

It turned out that I’d just missed Lisa. She’d stopped off with Greg on their way back from Daytona Beach only a couple days before. Mom and Dad were proud to report that she was wearing a brand new engagement ring!

According to Mom, no wedding date had been set yet, and it wasn’t likely to be for a while. Although Lisa would be graduating in the spring, Greg still had another year of work to do on his master’s degree, and the general idea was that they wanted to get that out of the way first. I was a little surprised that Mom was pretty casual about admitting that Lisa was planning on joining Greg in his apartment in Ann Arbor right after she graduated, and that they planned to spend the summer up north like they had last year. Apparently a lot had gotten back to the folks that I hadn’t been aware of.

The big news, though, was that Brittany had gotten married!

Mom said that it came as a total surprise to everyone, her parents included. They didn’t even know about it until the day it happened, and apparently neither did his folks. They’d had it all set up ahead of time, and it had been a very small wedding in a judge’s chambers in Angola, Indiana, where there was no waiting period. She’d married Adam, the guy Lisa said had been on Greg’s boat in the spring; I didn’t remember him, and wasn’t even sure I’d seen him when they’d stopped at the fuel dock.

Mom understood that Brittany had managed to wrap up her schooling early and graduated in the winter semester. According to her, Brittany and Adam were living up in the Detroit area, but she wasn’t sure about the details since there was some bad blood between Brittany and her mother over the whole affair, and they didn’t talk to each other very much. That wasn’t surprising. Though I hadn’t been directly involved I was certainly aware that her mother had been planning a big, lavish wedding for their only daughter ever since she’d been a little girl, the kind she’d always dreamed of and never had. To have a tiny surprise wedding to a guy they’d never met prior to the wedding had to really have taken the wind out of Brittany’s mother’s sails.

Maybe, I thought, Brittany had come to resent her mother’s plans and meddling on the subject and had decided on the nearly secret ceremony as a way to avoid all the hassles. I could understand that since I’d heard Brittany complain about it now and then, back in our high school years. In any case, if my meeting with Brittany last summer hadn’t settled the issue between us once and for all, it was settled now, and really, it was only an item of curiosity to me.

Since I’d missed Lisa, I at least called her up in her dorm room and had a long talk with her. There had been some bad blood between us for a while, but we seemed to be over it.

“Greg and I had a really great time at Daytona Beach,” she reported. “But it was so crowded that you couldn’t believe it, and there were drunks everywhere you turned. But we had a good hotel room, and one night Greg took me to a nice restaurant, a place where the spring break crowd doesn’t go very much, and that was where he proposed to me. It was all very romantic, and of course I said yes.”

“I’m sorry I missed you,” I told her. “I was down at Edgewater, not all that far south of there, back at the end of last month, and I had plans to come up and see what the spring break crowd was like. Maybe I would have run into you.”

“And probably not,” she sighed. “Like I said, Jake, you wouldn’t believe the crowds. It was just people everywhere, most of them showing a lot of skin and drunker than you could imagine. I’ve been there before and I didn’t think it was that bad, but this time I didn’t go down there to party, so it was a lot different.”

After a while the topic worked around to Brittany’s wedding. “I don’t know anything more about it than Mom does, and maybe less,” she said. “I hardly saw Brittany at all last semester, and then when we did see each other we never talked about anything serious. About all I knew was that she was still seeing Adam and they were getting pretty close to each other.”

“I guess they must have been,” I replied. I wasn’t very curious anyway, and Lisa didn’t seem to have much to add to what I already knew.

“Well, yeah,” she said. “Jake, the wedding was as big a surprise to me as it was to everybody else. I mean, I heard about it from Mom, for God’s sakes. I haven’t seen Brittany since Christmas, since she was done with school and all. I don’t even know where she and Adam are living.”

“Well, so long as she’s happy,” I said. “I don’t think she would have been happy with me, at least knowing what I know now. Maybe this Adam guy will work out better for her. So, Mom says you’re moving in with Greg.”

“Moving back in, actually,” she laughed. “I mean, hell, we lived together all last summer, and last year I spent most of my weekends at his place in Ann Arbor as it was. Greg has one more year in grad school, and after that we’re not sure where we’re going to be, although we hope to stay in this general area. Mom was a hell of a lot cooler about the idea of the two of us living together without getting married than I ever dreamed she would be.”

“It helps if you’re grown up a little,” I told her. “Now if it was Julie who announced she was going to be living with her boyfriend, I’d be surprised if she didn’t get a little different reaction.”

“Yeah, I suppose you’re right,” Lisa said. “But I guess it’s all going to work out for the best. So, you’re going back to Winchester Harbor for the summer?”

“For the summer, anyway. If my plans all work out, I may be going back to Florida with the boat again next winter, but that’s still a long way off and a lot could happen. Are you and Greg going to be taking his dad’s boat north again?”

“That’s the plan at this point. This time it’s not going to be a party trip, since a lot of the kids who were on those trips have gotten out of school and scattered here and there. At the moment it looks like it’s going to be just one more couple, so it should be a little different this time. Less party hearty and more intimate, if you know what I mean. That’s fine with me. I don’t really care for being drunk and seasick at the same time.”

“No shit,” I replied. “I haven’t done that, but being out on a rough day with a hangover is no fun either. Are you going to be on about the same schedule?”

“No, we’re not going to wait for Memorial Day weekend, but take the boat up right after we get out of school. That way we can spend a little more time up north by ourselves. Greg really needs the break since they’ve been working his butt off in grad school.”

“You’re going to stop by Winchester Harbor, I presume?”

“Of course,” she laughed. “Hell, it’s about the only place we see each other anymore.”

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