Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
NOTE: There are a number of sailing, Canadian, and Newfoundland terms in this book. For the benefit of readers who are not familiar with them, a glossary has been included.
St. John’s, Newfoundland, is the end of the road for North America. There’s nothing between there and Europe but Atlantic Ocean, except for a pair of barren, rocky headlands that protect the town’s small harbor. Technically speaking, Newfoundland is actually an island off the coast of the continent but still part of it, much as Tasmania is part of Australia, or Britain part of Europe, though few Englishmen would admit to that heresy.
It’s a place that’s just a little out of step with the rest of North America, indeed, the rest of the world; for instance, it has its own time zone, a half-hour different from the mainland, rather than an hour difference like just about anywhere else would be. Most Newfoundlanders seem to prefer it that way, if for no more reason than to preserve their independence and confuse everyone else; they take pride in marching to a slightly offbeat drummer.
St. John’s is the largest town on the island, but it’s only small to mid-sized as cities go; the sea is still a major presence in the lives of the people, and the harbor is the only reason St. John’s exists at all.
Though Europeans came early to the rocky, rugged pre-Cambrian shores of the island, in five hundred years of permanent occupation they’ve had relatively little impact on the wildness of the place; people still huddle to the sea since the land is largely inhospitable to them. Not that the sea is necessarily hospitable, though many Newfoundlanders wring their existence from it directly or indirectly; the weather can be brutal, especially when winter storms batter the island as they often do.
Even in the summer the weather is often less than ideal; on this cool June morning Mary O’Leary was wearing a quilted vest over a flannel shirt as she worked on the fuel dock at Ambrose Marine not far from the center of the city, such as it was. A chill breeze was blowing in off the ocean, adding to the normal salty tang of the air. It was not a very busy morning, so her eye was caught by a small sloop of around twenty-five feet or so. The sails were down, and it was coming toward her under power of the engine, with only one person visible on board.
Though sail-powered fishing vessels were a much less common sight in Newfoundland than they once had been, they were still to be seen, but Mary could see this was not a fish boat, especially not with the self-steering vane it had mounted on the rudder. It was a yacht, or at least a sail cruiser, and such craft only rarely visited the harbor; Newfoundland was not a place that most yachties thought of as cruising grounds.
Out on the sailboat, Matt Caldwell wasn’t thinking of St. John’s as a place to go cruising either. His mind was far away, thinking of other things. The stop at the fuel dock was one of the last items on a list of things that had to be done before he started out to accomplish one of his probably impossible-to-complete list of dreams.
Past the dock, Matt threw the tiller far over to swing the long-keeled boat about, to be able to come up to the fuel dock more or less into the wind. With practiced skill he brought the small diesel engine under the cockpit floor to a near-idle so he could let the boat creep up to the dock. He timed it so the boat came to a standstill only inches away from the pilings and noticed the big red-haired girl standing on the edge of the pier looking down at him. He tossed a mooring line to her; she grabbed the free end and quickly threw it around a handy post, then after he shut the engine down, she went forward to take a similar line thrown from the bow.
“Ye be needin’ some diesel, b’y?” she said in a friendly tone.
“Not much,” the slender, dark-haired young man replied. “Only about ten gallons, at a guess.”
“Aye,” she smiled, used to the much larger volumes that went into the fishing boats that normally stopped there. “I’ll be gettin’ the eyedropper for ye, b’y.”
“I’m sorry I won’t be needing much,” Matt grinned at her sassy joke. “But I want to top the tank off before I get going.”
“I’ll be gettin’ the small hose, then,” she said. “Ten liters or ten thousand, it’s all money to Sean.”
In a moment she squatted down and handed the small hose nozzle down to him– a much bigger one would have been used for a big boat. He had the cap off the tank and was waiting for it. “Can ye handle that, b’y?” she asked.
“I ought to be able to,” he replied as she stood up to watch him get the nozzle into the tank. “I’ve spent a lot of time working a fuel dock myself.”
“Have ye, now?” she smiled, and stepped down the pier for a little better angle to watch; it was then she saw the boat’s name lettered in script across the stern: Mary Sue. The port of registry was in smaller letters of sans-serif type: Winchester Harbor, Michigan. “Aw, ye named yer boat for me, did ye, b’y?” she laughed. “That’s sweet a’ ye!”
“Well, no,” he grinned back, somehow touched by her infectious attitude. “The name came with the boat, but I might have named it after you if I’d known you.”
“An’ where might ye be headin’ wit’ that little craft?” she smiled.
Matt decided he might as well tell her the truth. It wouldn’t matter if he did; it was too late for anything to go wrong now. “Ireland, Scotland, and Norway,” he told her.
“Aye, that’s a right smart trip,” she laughed. “Would ye take me wit’ ye, b’y?”
“Well, of course,” he teased back. He tore his eyes away from the fueling hose long enough to take a glance at her. She was no movie star, but had a bright, ruddy freckle-filled face surrounded by a cascade of curly red hair. With that vest on there was no telling about her shape, but her legs revealed that she wasn’t overweight, either. She was not one of the skinny tits-on-a-stick girls his mother would have liked to see him get serious about either. The worst anyone could call her was “solid.” He got a big grin on his face and added, “I’d be willing to sail anywhere with a pretty girl like you.”
“Aw, my,” she laughed. “Ain’t you talkin’ sweet? I think I’ll take ye up on it, b’y.”
The conversation was cut off by the sound of the fuel rising in the tank; soon it was almost full. Good enough, he thought; it was best if it wasn’t filled to the cap, anyway. He shut the hose off, put the cap back on, and handed the hose back to her. “Is it all right if I tie up here for an hour or so?” he asked. “I have a couple things I have to do before I get going.”
“Best ye not tie up here,” she said. “But if ye want ta tie up down the pier a ways so ye don’t block tha’ pumps, Sean ain’t gonna mind if it’s but an hour or thereabouts. Ye don’t want to be much longer than that or the tide’ll be turnin’, b’y. I’ll get your lines if ye want ta motor on down.”
“Good enough. I wanted to be sailing on the tide, anyway,” he said, pushing the button on the panel to start the diesel. In a minute or two, the two of them had the Mary Sue tied up to dock posts fifty yards away from the fuel hoses. At least there was a ladder there so he could climb up onto the high pier; he clambered up it to where she was waiting.
Up on the pier he realized that he wasn’t much taller than she was, and her thick hair probably made her seem taller. She still had a big grin on her face; what a happy-go-lucky girl she is, he thought. She’s so full of shit it has to be running out her ears, if I could see her ears in all that hair. “Thank you, Mary,” he smiled. “Do I pay you, or go inside?”
“Aw, ye could pay me, but now that you’re up here ye might’s well pay Sean direct,” she laughed. “I got ta talk to ta him, anyway.”
He followed her to a small office not far away. Inside there was an overweight fiftyish man, his going-gray hair almost lost in a sea of baldness. Mary politely told him the fuel amount, 18.2 liters, and Matt handed his credit card to the man. The numbers were quickly run, but then Mary told the man with another teasing grin, “Sean, I’ll be leavin’ now ta get my gear. This Yank is takin’ me ta Ireland in his little sloop.”
“Well, you be havin’ a good trip Mary,” he laughed. “See ye when ye get back.”
Matt and Mary went out the door together. As he headed toward Water Street, she turned to him and said, “All right, b’y, don’cha be leavin’ without me. I’ll be back with my gear right smart.” Before he could say anything, she turned and went the other way, back to the office, he guessed.
You know, he thought absently as he walked on, it would be fun to take her with me. Mom is going to have a shit fit when she finds out about this anyway, and she’d really have one if I were to bring a girl like her home! After all the little princesses she’s tried to shove down my throat, it would serve her right. He shook his head and thought it was a shame that it wouldn’t happen.
Matt didn’t have a great deal he needed to buy– a small plastic funnel, some batteries, a few other odds and ends. He soon found a store that looked like it would handle such things and managed to collect what he needed.
On the way to pay the clerk, he found one last thing he needed: a rack of postcards. He found one with a nice shot of a fishing trawler bucking its bow into a big storm wave, the spray crashing up to halfway bury the boat. Perfect, he thought, and added that to his small stack of purchases. He thought about using his credit card again, but decided against it; he only had a few loonies on him and wouldn’t need them again anytime soon. Might as well use them up now, he thought.
Purchase made, he moved on down the counter, pulled a pen from his pocket, and wrote a quick message in a small, legible script on the back of the postcard: Mom and Dad– I changed my mind. I think I’m going to check out the French bikinis in the land Mom is named for instead. I’ll write again in a few weeks after I make it across. – Matt.
Crap, he thought as he finished writing the brief message and the address. I can’t even quite tell them the truth now, but at least I shouldn’t have Mom waiting for me in Ireland if I give her a little false trail to follow. “Hey,” he asked the clerk, who seemed none too busy, “You wouldn’t happen to have stamps here, would you?”
“’Fraid not, b’y,” she smiled. “Canada Post would na’ like it if we did. You’ll have ta go up to tha’ post office for tha’. Go ’bout two blocks up; it’s on your left.”
Even though Matt was mildly irritated with the bureaucracy involved, it was a pleasant walk, one that gave him a little of the flavor of the isolated town. He had to wait out a brief line, but soon made it up to the postal clerk. “I need to mail this,” he said to the heavy-set woman. “The slowest way possible.”
“So you chose Canada Post to do it?” she grinned, showing that not everyone in St. John’s spoke with a Newfie accent so thick it could be cut with a knife. She glanced at the address and added, “Should be three or four days, probably.”
“That’s fine,” he replied. “Just so I’m way out at sea when they get it.”
In only a minute he’d paid for the stamp, and the card was on its way. He walked out the door of the post office, grinning as he imagined the nuclear explosion the card would set off when it arrived. He was partway back to the Mary Sue in unaccustomed good spirits when he noticed a sale price on Jamaican rum; a small bottle might be welcome at sea, and would just about use up the Canadian money he had on him. He ducked inside the shop and added to his collection.
As Matt got back to the Mary Sue he realized that he’d used up most of the hour he’d told Mary he’d be tied up alongside the pier. That was fine, he thought; there wasn’t anything else he needed to do on shore. He climbed down the ladder to the Mary Sue and went below to stow away the few items he’d purchased. It was low in the cabin; nowhere was the ceiling less than a foot shorter than he was, so getting around was awkward, even though he was used to it by now. The main part of the cabin was so small he’d have more room if he lived in a minivan.
He was just finding a good place for the bottle of rum when he heard a “thump” out on the deck, followed by a second. The first gave him a start, and the second made him curious, so he stuck his head out of the companionway, finding a couple of seabags lying in the cockpit. He looked up to see Mary climbing off the ladder and stepping onto the deck.
Oh shit! She was serious!
Now what the hell do I do? “Mary,” he said. “I thought you were kidding!”
“Naw, b’y” she grinned. “Where I come from we never kid around about goin’ to sea.”
He let out a sigh, his mind working furiously. This was a totally unexpected turn of events! But then, he remembered his thoughts from earlier: she could be a lot of fun to have on this trip. While he was used to being alone, three to four weeks of it was not the most pleasant prospect. And his mother would really shit a brick if she were to find out about it! That made the idea seem better and better.
What the hell.
“OK, a couple questions,” he started, both surprised and amused. “You know anything about sailing?”
“I can hand, reef, an’ steer,” she grinned. “When I was still small I started helpin’ every now an’ again on my cousin’s bummer, out of Blanche Tickle on tha’ South Shore.”
“That’s South Shore talk for a small schooner,” she replied. “It weren’t much bigger than this. I ain’t been under sail for a while, but I’ve worked now an’ again on cod boats an’ such since, so I know wha’ ta do a’ sea.”
That was better than he’d expected; much better, although as he thought about it, working around a fuel dock she’d about have to know something about boats, so perhaps he shouldn’t be surprised.
“Good enough,” he smiled. “Now, the big question. We’re going to Ireland. Do you have a passport?”
“Aye,” she grinned. “Couple years ago I thought I might be on a boat goin’ to Iceland so I had ta get one. Didn’t make the trip but figured it was worth havin’. Anythin’ else?”
“Yeah,” he grinned. “Stow your gear below while I start warming up the engine, then you can climb up and cast off the lines.”