Spearfish Lake Tales
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A day or so later I finished loading my stuff from the house into the Pontiac. I left most of the extra boating gear, sleeping bags and that kind of thing aboard the Pixie, since there was a chance I might want to use it over the summer.
After the winter I’d had I was willing to be a little bolder about getting out with the little boat, and thought it might be fun to plan a longer trip. The North Channel of Lake Huron or the wild and rocky shoreline of the east shore of Georgian Bay offered plenty of possibilities for a short trip, especially if I trailered the boat into Canada to avoid customs hassles.
Nate might even be willing to let Rachel go along on a trip of a few days like that, I thought, if we could manage to get free long enough. It might make up for some of the disappointment she’d apparently felt at being left behind over the winter.
As busy as we had been the previous summers, it didn’t seem likely that I would be able to get away like that, with or without Rachel, but there was always the possibility. There was no point in worrying about it since there was a good chance it wouldn’t come off, but kicking it around in my mind helped to pass some of the hours on the road.
It was early in the afternoon when I pulled into the parking lot of the Channel Stop. There was still a lot of snow on the ground, but it was sloppy and the puddles here and there indicated that some melting had been going on. The channel was still full of ice, but it was dark and ugly, with potholes here and there. A little more of the warmer weather and it would soon be open water. From the glimpse I got of the harbor it was still frozen solid, but even that didn’t look like it would be the case much longer.
It was early enough that the snack bar was still open, so I went inside. “Well, look what the cat drug in,” I heard Debby say before I even got all the way in the door. Apparently she was there by herself. “How was your winter, stranger?”
“Warmer than here, if the snow all around tells me anything,” I replied. “Did you tell John to go take a hike yet so I could marry you?”
“Not a chance,” she said. “It’s working out even better than I ever dreamed. The only thing is that I’d sort of hoped to be pregnant by now, but getting that way is harder than I thought it would be.”
“It might be just as well,” I told her, now holding her in a big hug. “Holding off a little gives you some time to get settled in a little.”
“Yeah, I tell myself that every month when it becomes apparent that I haven’t caught,” she laughed, then changed the subject as we broke the hug, which had been just one between old friends, after all. “So, did you have a good time?”
“Better than I expected. I didn’t do anything spectacular. I mostly just hung out a lot and saw some scenery. Everything went fine. Is Barb around?”
“No, she’s down at Nate’s,” Debby replied. “She’s down there more often than not anymore. She’s in here every day, at least for a little, but then I look up and she’s gone, but I’m always pretty sure where she’s gone to. I’ll give a call down there. She’s been wondering when you might get in.”
“She told me not to hurry, so I didn’t,” I said as Debby was dialing the phone. “In fact, I’m probably back a little earlier than I expected.”
A few minutes later Barb and Nate walked in. Debby had hit it right on the nose, of course. We exchanged the same sort of greetings I’d had with Debby, then sat down at a table to talk for a spell. Debby brought us all cups of coffee, then joined us.
“So,” Nate said after I got a little storytelling done. “How did the Pixie work for you this winter? I couldn’t believe you’d live in that tiny cabin this long.”
“Just fine,” I told him. “It took me a little while to get used to it, but once I figured everything out it worked just fine. In fact, I only rarely put the pop top up, since I was used to living with it down.”
“Good deal,” he said. “I guess you know Rachel wasn’t real happy about you sneaking out on her, but I’m glad you did. She at least needed to finish high school, but boy, was she ever in a snit for a while there. She was getting a little hard to live with until it mostly blew over, and I’m not sure she’s all the way over it yet.”
“I’m sure you must have heard it, but she sure chewed my ass when I called here at Thanksgiving,” I replied. “I actually felt a little sorry for her, because she would’ve had a great time on that trip. So, what’s been happening around here this winter?”
“Not really a whole lot,” Barb said. “Like I told you on the phone the other day, things have changed around here a little this winter, but the way things have worked out, Nate and I figure that between us we ought to be able to keep you busy most of the time.”
“So what’s changed?”
“Well, the biggest thing that’s going to affect you,” Barb said, “is that Debby wants to cut her hours back.”
“It was a little out of hand, especially last summer,” Debby said. “I mean, in the winters I work eight hours a day and that’s fine, but in the summers it gets to be twelve hours, or even more, sometimes as much as fifteen. Now, back before John came back to me that was fine, since I didn’t have much else to do anyway, but I don’t want to keep up that kind of schedule another summer. It was bad enough last year.”
“I know,” I replied. There had been many days that I’d gotten off the Chinook III after a day of fishing and gone in to relieve her in the kitchen so she could go be with John. The only thing that kept things reasonable was that John was putting in long hours at the golf course, too, but I still knew there had been times that things had been pretty hard. “Sometimes I wondered how you managed it.”
“With difficulty. But now I have a husband and a house to keep up, so I don’t want to have to work those kinds of hours anymore. We still have a lot we have to do on the house, and if we’re going to get everything done we need to do this summer with John working at the golf course, we have to find the time somewhere.”
“I’m still planning on working Debby quite a bit,” Barb said. “In fact, maybe even more than she wants, but everything isn’t all the way worked out yet, and I’m sure there are going to be busy times when she’s going to be working more than she wants to. But I’m going to want you to take up some of the slack in the kitchen along with everything else, at least on days when you’re not out on the boat.”
“I’m a little surprised to hear that,” I said. “Nate, I figured that it was going to be pretty much you and Rachel on the Chinook, at least after she gets out of school.”
“Yeah, pretty much,” he agreed. “I’m going to want you with me most days until she gets out of school, sure. But I got to thinking about it over the winter, and I realized I was getting a little tired of that seven-days-a-week crap week after week. I’ve done it for years, and after this long it sometimes gets more than a little old. I’ll admit that maybe a little of the reason I’ve been out so much the last couple years was so I could get out of the house and not have to watch Marge in so much difficulty.”
“I never thought about it in quite that way,” I told him, “but since you mention it, I can see how you could have felt that way.”
“Maybe it wasn’t all the way the right thing to do,” he nodded. “But especially since I had Barb helping me last year, I could do it, so I did. Besides, I really needed the money to take care of her, and I’m still paying bills on her. But like I said, I’m thinking now I need a little breather. You and Barb and I are going to have to work out the details, but after Rachel gets out of school, I’m figuring on having you out with her at least a couple days a week. That way I can sit back, relax, and maybe hang out around here some for the sake of doing something different.”
Hearing that was something of a relief. I hadn’t been looking forward to standing on the fuel dock day after day watching Nate and Rachel heading out with a party of customers. I’d figured I was going to miss that. At least this would get me out some of the time. Working on the Chinook III really was work and sometimes darn tough work, but it also was often fun and interesting – especially when the customers brought back a boatload of fish – a lot more interesting than standing out on the fuel dock getting sunburned and dizzy from diesel fumes. Working on the fuel dock had its compensations, such as checking out the teenybopper boater girls in their tiny bikinis, but that wasn’t enough to make the difference.
“It’s a little complicated and we’ll probably have to work the kinks out,” Barb said. “But if Nate is going to take a day off every now and then we think Rachel will want to as well. I’m going to go out with him some of the time so we can occasionally give her a breather.”
“It sounds good,” Nate said. “But you have to figure that the moment she gets a day off Rachel is going to be bugging Jake to take her out on the Pixie.”
“There is that,” Barb said in concession, “not that I’m hearing Jake complaining about it, though.” She turned back to me and added, “That’s another thing that is going to change a little. In the past, Marge used to handle the scheduling, the phone calls and such for the charter business. She could do that even when she wasn’t feeling up to doing much else. After she got real bad, and then died, I sort of took it over. We’re going to switch the phone line over here, and if I’m not here whoever is can at least be sort of an answering machine. We’re not sure how it’s going to work but we have to give it a try, since no one is going to be available to sit around Nate’s house all day.”
“Yeah,” I agreed. “I hadn’t even thought about that part of it.”
“It’s all part of the deal, and it’s an important one,” Nate said. “This is the best answer we can think of to handle the problem. We still have to work out some of the details, though.”
“I’m still a little unclear how we’re going to handle the hours and who does what in the kitchen,” Barb added. “Part of that is going to depend on John’s hours at the golf course, so we’ll have to work that out as we go along.”
“It sounds like I’m not going to have to worry about being busy.”
“No, I don’t think that’s going to be an issue, either,” Barb replied. “To top it off, there’s a list of maintenance chores that have accumulated, big and little. Nate and I have been pecking away at them as we can, and we’ve already got things like the spring cleaning of the motel rooms done, but there’s plenty more to do.”
“And that includes getting the Chinook ready to start fishing in a couple weeks,” he said. “Barb and I have been piddling with that, too, but the weather hasn’t always been as nice as it’s been today. You and I are going to have to work on that whenever we can. I’m thinking we’re going to want her on the water not long after the ice goes out. Do you have anything that needs to get done on the Pixie? I saw you brought her up here rather than leaving her down at the boat shed.”
“That’s because I’ve got some stuff in her I need to unload up here,” I told him. “I figured on getting her down there as soon as I have her unloaded. There’s nothing really that needs work, but I figure she can stand a good inspection just on general principles, and maybe a good wash down in fresh water. I probably should have done it in Florida, but I just didn’t think about it.”
“No big rush,” he said. “There’s supposed to be a couple crappy days coming along, so I suppose we can stick her in the boat shed and get that taken care of before things get busy.”
We sat around talking for a while, and had another cup of coffee or two while Debby made me up a burger and an order of fries. I told a few Florida stories, and we got caught up on some other things. Finally I decided there was no point in wasting the fairly good weather, so went out and started unloading the Pixie into my room – the same one I had lived in for the past two summers and the previous winter. I even still had the key on my key ring. I’d forgotten to take it off when I left the previous fall.
I got done with the stuff in the Pixie – there wasn’t much that needed to go in my room – buttoned her up, and took her down to the boat shed, then came back and started in on unloading the car. It was pretty much the same stuff I’d taken to Wychbold with me in the fall, so I had a good idea of where things had to go. I was just coming out from dumping a load on the bed when a blur came out of nowhere and wrapped her arms around me.
“Jake!” Rachel cried. “It’s so good to have you back! I saw the Pixie down at the boat shed when I came home from school and figured you had to be here.”
“You’re not mad at me anymore?” I managed to say through a grin, glad to be back with my boating buddy. I’d missed her about as much as I’d missed anything else while I’d been gone.
“Oh, I’m still a little mad and wish you would have taken me along. I was really afraid you weren’t going to come back at all! But now that you’re back it’s hard to be mad at you anymore. So how was the trip? I want you to tell me everything!”
“Tell you what,” I said. “I’ve got a few more loads to take in, and then while I’m putting stuff away I can tell you about the trip.”
“You’re going to make me wait that long?” she said with a mock pout. “Well, I guess if I have to. Let’s get hauling!”
I spent the next couple hours telling her the whole story – well, with some exceptions, like Melissa and Danielle, of course – and she found it just absolutely thrilling. She would really have enjoyed the experience, I thought. It really had been too bad I couldn’t take her with me, but with her age and her being in school it had been out of the question. Once again the thought crossed my mind that I might be able to talk Nate into letting her go with me on a longer trip sometime, even though it seemed nearly impossible because of her being so young. I could tell I was going to have one hell of a time sneaking off on her another winter, though.
Over the next few days I settled back into life in Winchester Harbor. As Nate had predicted, the weather turned scummy for a couple days, and we used the time to go through the Pixie thoroughly, although we didn’t find much wrong that needed fixing, and nothing major.
I told him about the lousy compass. He took one look at it and said, “Christ, I gave you that piece of shit? I don’t know what I was thinking!” In minutes it had been replaced with a much better one – in fact, a brand new one straight from the box. It had sat around on his work bench for years without being used.
I told him that the one real problem I’d run into was that the boat had no electrical system except for what was needed for the running lights; I didn’t use them much, but had to carry a supply of D-cell batteries with me, just in case. I didn’t really need that much more of an electrical system, but a small light inside and a marine band radio would have often been useful, along with a more reliable system for the lights. The problem was that the way I operated, there was no opportunity to charge a battery.
We didn’t solve that one all at once, but later in the summer a little horse trading got done, along with a little cash to sweeten the deal. Not long after that the Pixie had a solar cell array on the cabin top, a battery and a somewhat used but still working marine band radio just inside the hatchway. If I went to Florida in the winter again – which still seemed pretty likely – I was going to be able to be even more independent than the first trip.
When the weather turned nice again we turned back to the Chinook III. As Nate had said, the work on her was pretty well along, but there was still a lot to be done. Slowly the list dwindled over the next few days as we started to get things under control.
Over the course of the next week or ten days, the ice went out of the harbor. Once again, the Pixie was the first boat of the summer to float on the lake, but the next day the Chinook III went back into the water, a big job as always. We turned to loading things that had been taken off for the winter, which was much easier done while the boat was in the water than it was while it was sitting on the cradle. We managed to have everything done by the time the fishing season rolled around.
When I wasn’t busy working on the boats at Nate’s, I was working on things up at the Channel Stop, as well as getting used to working in the kitchen again. I wasn’t a bad hand in the kitchen by any means, but it took a little while to remember how things were done. Soon, though, I was getting things back to a science, though I wouldn’t put a great deal of time in at the grill until Rachel got out of school and I wouldn’t be needed on the boat quite as much.
Debby was no longer living in the motel room as she had for years. In fact, she’d left last fall while I was still living there since she and John had moved in together, but I still thought of the room next to mine as “Debby’s room.” After some discussion with Barb I took the time to repaint and redecorate it, to try to remove some of the aura Debby had somehow seemed to leave behind. It was only a partial success, and I often had to remember that Debby wasn’t right next door.
When the first of the month came, so did fishing season. Nate had charters scheduled virtually every day. For whatever reason, it didn’t look like he was going to have the slack time he’d had in previous years, not that he’d had all that much of it then. Most of the time he’d been scheduled every day, and usually only weather or cancellations had given him a day off.
We lost several fishing days in April due to crappy weather – sometimes stormy, but sometimes just a steady rain that took the fun out of fishing for the customers. On those days, Nate and I often worked on projects up at the Channel Stop. I knew, of course, that Nate and Barb had been good friends clear back to Kindergarten days, so it wasn’t surprising that he was often working with us, or that occasionally she left me behind so she could go out on the boat with Nate.
I only slowly came to the realization that Nate and Barb were being a little more than just good friends, or even involved with each other’s businesses. I mean, very little was said, but I just got the idea from watching them that it had occurred to both of them that they were lifelong friends, and now he was a widower and she was a widow. Although they were being a little discreet about it, probably out of respect for Marge, and perhaps Rachel’s sensibilities, it seemed to me as if there was a little more fire burning there than there was smoke.
That, I thought, might have been what Barb had really been talking about when she’d told me on the phone that things were changing around there. If that was what was going on, I thought, I didn’t have any problem with it. In fact, it made a whole lot of practical sense to me.
In addition to the fishing, other things perked up around Winchester Harbor in April. We started to see the earliest of the summer residents returning, and the earliest of the annual migration of boats from their wintering places down the lake, or just downstate, having been brought in on trailers. Action picked up at the fuel dock a little, though still sometimes only one or two boats a day, and hardly ever more than half a dozen. It was still early though. Busier times were sure to come.