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Blanche Tickle Girl
Book Two of the Full Sails series
Wes Boyd
©2012, ©2014

Chapter 2

Jesus H. Christ on a crooked crutch, Matt thought as he ran up the throttle and pointed the Mary Sue out into the harbor while Mary stood on the foredeck, hanking up the mooring line in a seaman-like manner. I’ve got to be out of my fucking mind to take a girl I’ve only exchanged a couple hundred words with on a trip like this! He shook his head for a moment and realized that she’d have to be about as far out of her mind to take off on a voyage across the Atlantic with a guy she’d only just met, too. At least they had that much in common.

“What ye want done with this line, b’y?” she called to him over the racket of the engine.

“Bring it back here and I’ll stow it in the lazarette,” he called back. “We’re not going to be needing it for a while.”

She walked sure-footedly down the narrow deck to the cockpit. Though the waves in the harbor were small and the Mary Sue wasn’t moving very much, he could tell from her movements that she knew what she was doing with a boat underfoot. He took the hank of rope from her, and put it in the locker aft of the cockpit with the stern line that he’d hanked up in a similar manner.

“Nice boat ye have here, b’y,” she commented as she leaned up against the boom, still with the mainsail bungee-corded around it. “Looks a little familiar from the lines, but I can’t quite put a mind to it.”

“It’s an old-fashioned design, that’s for sure,” he said. “But then, it’s nearly forty years old. It’s what they call an ‘International Folkboat,’ which is a fiberglass knock-off from the original wooden Folkboat design from back in the forties. This one was built in Sweden in 1970.”

“Well kept. Ye have it long?”

“Not quite four years,” he smiled. “Believe me, it wasn’t this nice when I found it. I wanted a boat I knew I could cross an ocean with. Folkboats have made a lot of ocean crossings over the years.”

“An’ ye were plannin’ on settin’ out for Ireland by yourself?”

“Well, I was until maybe five minutes ago. That’s why I was in St. John’s in the first place.”

“’Cause it’s the closest place to Ireland on this side of the pond?”

“Partly,” he admitted. “The big reason is that the steamer lanes from New York to the English Channel are the busiest in the world. Going from here to Ireland takes me north of them. I can’t stay awake all the time to keep a lookout, so that cuts down the chances of my being run over when I’m asleep.”

“Good thinkin’ b’y. Ye think we can trade off watches at keepin’ a lookout, eh?”

“Something like that,” he grinned. “To tell you the truth, I hadn’t quite thought it out that far. Having you with me is something of a surprise, you know.”

She looked down to avoid meeting his eyes. “I hope ye ain’t thinkin’ I’m ruinin’ somethin’ for ye b’y,” she said softly.

“Not a chance,” he replied. “I’ll stick with what I said when you asked the first time, which is that I’d sail anywhere with a pretty girl like you. I’d much rather do that than go solo.”

She looked back up at him again and laughed, “Aw, now you’re bein’ sweet again. I bet you must know hundreds of girls that’d like to go with you on this jaunt.”

“No, I only know of one,” he said. “And she’s going with me. Let’s get some sails up and get out of here.”

“Fine with me, b’y,” she said in obvious relief. “Ye want me ta get the foredeck?”

“Not now,” he told her. “This boat is rigged as a single-hander. That means the sheets and halyards run back so I can do most of the sail handling from here. I have to get out on the foredeck to change headsails, but since I have a roller reefing jib I shouldn’t have to do that too often. We’ll have to get out there if we want to put up the storm jib, but I doubt we’ll use it very much.”

She watched as he went through the process of removing a bungee cord that fastened the mainsail to the boom, then pulled on the halyard to raise the sail. Once it was up, he pulled on the sheet until the sail was drawing a little, then stuck the sheet into a clamp cleat. That done, he pulled on another line to unroll the jib that was wrapped around a separate stay set behind the forestay. There was some adjustment on the sheets that was more or less familiar to her, and very soon the Mary Sue was sailing along with a noticeable heel, about as close to being into the wind as the boat could manage.

“And that’s that,” he said when he had the boat sailing along. “I might as well shut the motor down now. No point in wasting the fuel.” He reached down and flipped a switch; in seconds the engine died.

“Aye,” she grinned, feeling the light breeze as the boat moved along placidly. “Might’s well not give Sean more money than ye have ta. Ye really have this boat set up nice.”

“It took a bit of doing,” he said, keeping a hand lightly on the tiller that stuck out over much of the cockpit. “Uncle Jake and I spent a lot of time working everything out. We wanted to keep everything pretty simple, effective, foolproof, and as close to unbreakable as possible. On top of that, we wanted to make things so I don’t need too much strength to operate stuff.”

“You’ve done well, b’y,” she nodded, sitting down on the leeward cockpit seat and twisting around to put her feet on the seat for comfort against the heel of the boat. “But ye look like a healthy lad, so why should ye be worried for your strength?”

“Mostly because I’m not very strong,” he explained as he glanced out to see how far they were from where he would have to turn to sail out of the harbor. There was a ways to go yet, so expanded on his statement. “I’m reasonably healthy now, but I came down with leukemia when I was eleven, and I barely survived it. I wouldn’t have if it hadn’t been for Uncle Jake. Unfortunately, that was a time when I should have been a growing boy. It took a lot out of me, and there’s a lot of ways I never caught up, so I’ve had to learn to live around it.”

“Well, I’m glad ye did, b’y,” she grinned, “Else I’d not be goin’ ta Ireland with ye.”

“That makes two of us,” he laughed. “I think having you with me is going to make it a lot better trip than it would have been by myself. I didn’t take you away from anything, did I?”

“Naw, b’y,” she shook her head. “Exceptin’ maybe away from St. John’s, an’ I’m fine with that. I’m an outport girl at heart, an’ I don’t much like the big city. I was only workin’ for Sean to fill in for someone takin’ the mornin’ off, so you came along at a good time.”

“Is it going to cause you any trouble to take off like this?”

“Naw, not really, b’y. I’ve been roomin’ with Widow O’Kelly like I do now an’ again. She knows sometimes I don’t get a lot a’ warnin’ when I go ta sea. I left her a note, an’ it’ll be all right by her.”

“Do you go to sea a lot?”

“Not as much as I’d like ta,” she shook her head. “Usually ye have ta be related to someone to get a regular job, so I mostly fill in here an’ there when someone’s needed. I manage to get along.”

“What do your folks think about that?”

“They don’t,” she shook her head. “Pap, he died at sea years ago when I was but a wee girl. Mam, she didn’t last long after that. My cousin Alfred took me in down ta Blanche Tickle till I was mostly grown, but then he lost his wind an’ died, too. I was just out of grade eleven, an’ while I got a couple more distant cousins down there, I figured it was time I didn’t sponge on them anymore, b’y. So I’ve been workin’ here and about since. I get along, usually, an’ Widow O’Kelly has been nice enough to let me slide now and again when I’m short of loonies an’ lookin’ for work.”

Boy, Matt thought. Orphaned, school dropout, working odd jobs to survive– but still happy-go-lucky and cheerful! She sure isn’t much like one of those stuck-up little princesses Mom would love to stick me with! In fact, they’re about as far from her as you can get. “It’s good to know you can get along,” he said, realizing that he couldn’t think of anything much else to say.

“Aw, most times I do,” she said. “It gets a bit tight now and again, but then somethin’ always seems ta come along. How about you? What’re your folks goin’ ta think about you takin’ a voyage like this, b’y?”

“Mom will be lucky if she doesn’t have a heart attack when she finds out about it,” he laughed. “She doesn’t like my being where she can’t supervise me, and didn’t want me going off sailing this summer at all. I told her I was going to spend the summer messing around on the East Coast to celebrate graduating from college.”

“She doesn’t know ye are doin’ this?” Mary smiled. “’At’ll have her in a tizzy when she finds out, won’t it, b’y?”

“Unless she has some sort of tracking device mounted on this boat, which is very unlikely, she has no idea,” Matt replied with a mischievous smile. “The last letter I sent her was from Quebec, and I mentioned I was headed to St. John.”

“That’s in New Brunswick,” she pointed out. “St. John’s is here in Newfoundland.”

“I know that,” he laughed, “But I doubt she does. Anyway, just before we left, I sent her a post card that hinted I was going to France without coming right out and saying it.”

Mary broke out in a huge laugh. “An’ we’re goin’ ta Ireland instead. I think I can see a rousin’ fight comin’ when ye see her again, b’y. How’s about your father?”

“To the extent that he cares, which isn’t much,” Matt replied somberly, “he’ll take his attitude from hers. He’s usually too wrapped up in his business to care very much about me directly.”

“He doesn’t care about ye?”

“Not really,” Matt shrugged. “The leukemia is involved, and I pretty much understand why he feels like he does. Uncle Jake has been more my father the last several years than my father has.” And that was even truer than what I just said, he thought. But I don’t need to get into that with her right now. Maybe out at sea sometime; it’ll make a good sea story.

“How about that Uncle Jake a’ yours? What’s he goin’ ta think?”

“That’s a different story,” Matt grinned, even the thought taking away the brief somber feelings brought on by her reminders of his parents. “I don’t want to say it was his idea, but he’s more or less responsible for me being here and has covered up for me with my folks every inch of the way. He already knows he’s going to catch hell from Mom for letting me take what she thinks is his boat. It never was his, but we’ve, well, we’ve sort of let Mom think so.”

“Ye know, b’y, I think I hear a story there.”

“Oh, yeah, there is,” he grinned. “A pretty good one, too. But let’s save it for later; I think it’s getting about time to turn to head out of the harbor.”

Mary twisted to look around at the familiar landmarks before she said, “Aye, ’tis. Ye can skew ta starboard anytime now.”

The turn was easily made, just moving the tiller a bit, and letting out the sheets to sail most efficiently with the wind nearly abeam. The steep, treeless hills to either side of the harbor entrance began to slip past them; only open water was in front. “Well,” he said. “I guess that means we’re on our way, but I guess we’d better get outside before I set the self-steering. It could get a little flaky the way the wind varies in this close.”

“I seen ye had it, but that’s one thing I don’t know much about,” she said.

“Pretty simple to use,” he told her. “Just so you know, you let the vane swing freely until you get on course and get everything trimmed, then throw the lever to engage it. Sometimes it takes a little adjustment. It works pretty good on the wind, but it leaves something to be desired if it’s off the wind, unless it’s blowing pretty hard. If we’re off the wind in light airs, we’re just going to have to sit here and steer.”

“Well, that’ll make life easier, b’y,” she grinned. “Steerin’ watch an’ watch gets a little dull after a bit.”

“I about have to have it for single-handing,” he shrugged. “Otherwise I’d be steering all the damn time.”

“Might be so,” she said. “An’ that’d be a lot of steerin’ for ye to do by yourself. How far is it ta Ireland, b’y?”

“About two thousand miles,” he said as he nervously made an adjustment to the jib sheet. It probably wouldn’t make any difference, but he felt like he should be doing something besides just casually steering for the harbor entrance. “But I’m not planning on going direct, It’ll probably take three to four weeks if everything goes well. What I was thinking about doing is head more or less northeast out of here. That ought to let me stay away from the Grand Banks. I’m told it’s pretty busy with fishing boats. I didn’t want to go through the place on self-steering while I was taking a nap. I figured I could relax a little after I got a couple hundred miles northeast.”

“Good thinkin’, b’y,” she nodded, shifting her position slightly to adapt to the different heel of the boat. “’Tis not exactly like a Saturday night on Water Street in St. John’s, but there are a good many of them out there. But ye might’s well know that it’s goin’ ta be busy doin’ it your way, too. There’ll be a lot of fishin’ boats crossin’ our path goin’ to and from the Banks from outports on up the coast.”

“You’re probably right,” he replied. After taking a moment to think about it he added, “You’re bound to know more about it than I would. I guess that means we want to stand topside lookout watches tonight.”

“Aye,” she told him, glancing back quickly to see the town growing more distant off the stern of the Mary Sue. “The nights ain’t long this time a’ year, but they still can get dark. Worse, some a’ them boats ain’t good about keepin’ lights on. Sometimes they just don’t, and sometimes they don’t want others to know where they’ve been. Either way b’y, that means we’re goin’ ta have ta keep a good lookout.”

“We can handle that. After all, if I’d been by myself I’d figured on more or less going all night and easing off after a couple days.”

“Might not want ta do that, either,” she shook her head. “Soon as we get outa the harbor we’ll have ta keep our eyes peeled for icebergs b’y. They won’t be havin’ lights and won’t be easy to see in the dark.”

“Just as well we’re going to be out there this time of the year. We’ll have about fifteen hours of full daylight or more, and the twilight should be pretty long. It’s about as far north as when I did Lake Superior last year.”

“Aye, but we can expect some fog, too. There’ll be times it’ll be thick as the hairs on a cat’s back.”

“I was expecting that,” he told her; the Grand Banks and beyond were notorious for fog. “I guess I’m just as glad I have you with me. What with everything, maybe we’d better think about standing heel-and-toe topside watches, at least until we’re beyond the iceberg zone.”

“Aye,” she nodded. “We should be past the worst of both the icebergs and the fishing boats in the first few days. Pity we have ta take the risk, but it would be no better ta the south.”

“I knew it was going to be a risk to try to make this crossing by myself, but hell, in life everything is a risk, and you have to take some chances sometime. That’s especially true in mine, but I have to live with it. It would be nice to have radar, but we don’t have the power to run it without running the engine a lot. Besides, it’s a gadget that can break, and I try not to depend on them if I can avoid it.”

“Just askin’,” she said. “But this is the first time you’ve tried to cross the ocean, isn’t it, b’y?”

“Yeah, first time for it,” he admitted. “But I’ve sailed this boat a lot over the last three summers. I single-handed it across Lake Superior and back, and the length of Lake Michigan last summer. Then, I came here more or less direct from Quebec. I pulled in a couple places to sleep on the St. Lawrence. The last one was Mont St. Pierre on the Gaspé, then I went straight to Channel-Port aux Basques on the other end of the island. That’s my longest trip on salt water, but I figured it would make for a good tune-up. I think it did, although I got a little sleepy a couple times. I think I got more tired the time I went upwind across Lake Superior, though.”

“Well, good, b’y,” she replied. “Even if ye ain’t been on the open ocean before ye still ain’t exactly a beginner, an’ ye seem like ye know what you’re doin’.”

“Well, I hope so,” he nodded. “There’s a lot new to me, but I’ve had a lot of practice and tried to get ready every way I could.”

“Ye come up along the South Shore then, b’y?” she grinned, changing the subject a little. “Ye must have sailed right by Blanche Tickle.”

“Well, I was pretty far offshore. I don’t remember seeing it on the map. I only stopped once, at St. Pierre. I could see there were some places that would have been interesting to poke around, but I’ve been pretty anxious to get going on this, so I only spent two nights in St. John’s. I spent most of yesterday buying groceries .”

“Ye know, this is probably a stupid question an’ I’m probably a fool for askin’ it now, but we do have grub enough to get us to Ireland, don’t we, b’y? I mean, since ye weren’t plannin’ on me bein’ with ye?”

“Oh, yeah,” he said, noticing a fishing boat coming into the harbor, and noting it would pass well clear of them so long as they stayed on course. “If I was by myself there’d be enough for about four months, though a month of that would be more or less emergency rations. Since it should only take us three or four weeks to get across we should have plenty, although I’m afraid it’s mostly in cans and I hope you like corned beef and Spam. We’re going to be a little light on fresh water, but if we’re careful we still should have plenty.”

“Aye, ’tis that way on the fishin’ boats, too,” she nodded. “I was startin’ to wonder if I was goin’ ta have ta go jiggin’ for cod, since I didn’t bring hooks or line with me. Ye know how to navigate an’ all offshore all right, b’y?”

“I’m no great expert with sextant and tables, although I’ve used them as much as I can,” he replied. “Of course, I’m not going to worry about it too much since there are three separate GPS receivers aboard to check against. We ought to be able to find Ireland without too much difficulty.”

“Y’know, if gettin’ ready counts for anythin’, I think we’re goin’ ta do just fine,” she smiled. “An’ y’know, it just struck me that I’ve another stupid question I forgot to ask. I don’t know your name, b’y.”

“Matt,” he grinned. “Matt Caldwell at your service, ma’am.”

“Pleased ta meet ye, Matt,” she laughed. “I’m Mary Sue O’Leary, should ye want ta know. I think we’re goin’ ta have a fun time gettin’ ta know each other ’tween here an’ Ireland.”

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To be continued . . .

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