Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
Because of the danger, they didn’t get any closer to the iceberg. Soon it was on their beam, and then slipping aft and steadily shrinking behind them. After a while they changed back to their original course, and it proved that the wind had shifted still more, so they didn’t have to jibe again.
It had been getting warm in the cockpit even before they’d sailed past the iceberg; the sun was beating down on them heavily, and the light breeze they felt on them as they headed downwind wasn’t doing much to cool them off. As the iceberg became nothing more than a tiny white dot far astern, both Matt and Mary had stripped off their outer clothes and were down to just wearing T-shirts and jeans. “This,” Matt said. “Is not exactly what I think of when I think ‘North Atlantic.’ I mean, that sort of means gray skies and storms to me.”
“’Tis often just that, b’y. Ye learn ta enjoy a nice day when ye get one. Odds are we’ll be seein’ some of what you’re thinkin’ about ’fore we get ta Ireland.”
“While I wouldn’t mind avoiding really bad weather, I’d almost feel like we were cheating if we did,” Matt shrugged. “I’ve sailed this thing in some fairly rough weather on the Great Lakes, but I doubt it’s anything like as rough as we can run into out here. While I’m not exactly hoping for bad weather, it’ll be something else I wouldn’t experience if I weren’t out here in the first place.”
“An’ how many people would be wantin’ to do that, b’y?” she grinned. “Ye were talkin’ yesterday about how ye’d made up your mind to not be lettin’ experiences slip past ye. I take it your Uncle Jake had somethin’ ta do with ye decidin’ ta do this.”
“Well, yeah,” he replied, resigning himself to having to pick up the story he’d started the day before. Now was as good a time as any. “You remember me mentioning my promise to Laurel to not let the chances to do things slip past me. Well, it sounds pretty good but it wasn’t all that easy to do. I think the other thing that came out of the experience with Laurel is that I had to make up my mind to go looking for experiences, rather than just sitting back and letting them come to me.”
“Ye mean like goin’ to the prom, an’ then takin’ ye ta bed afterwards?”
“Exactly,” Matt nodded, trying to figure out how to pick up the story. He paused for a moment, then made up his mind. “Although the lesson was a while sinking in. Laurel’s funeral was on a Friday, and my high school graduation was the following Sunday. It wasn’t the happiest day for me, since her death was still on my mind pretty hard, although I was glad to be getting out of high school. It hadn’t been the happiest experience in the world for me, and I was a year late in graduating, but at least I was going to be able to go off and do something else. In one sense of the word I was looking forward to going to college, and in another sense it was about the last thing I wanted to do.”
“Because it would keep you from doing other things you wanted to do, right b’y?”
“That’s a pretty fair description,” he agreed. “Although right at that moment I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I had a few ideas, but nothing you could honestly call plans. Now, Mary, I think I told you my folks aren’t what I think of as rich, but they’re not hurting by any stretch of the imagination. They’re reasonably well off, and they’ve never had to worry about where the next meal is coming from. The thing of it is that they’re not adventurous people, and not ones to take much of a risk, which probably has something to do with why I’ve been at odds with them about a lot of things, including this trip. My grandfather on my dad’s side is what I think of as rich. I don’t know how much he’s worth and I doubt if he knows exactly, either. He owns most of the auto parts manufacturing company my father works for, and he’s all business. I’m sure my dad got most of his being wrapped up in his business and not being very adventurous in a personal sense from him. Like dad, my grandfather’s business is his life, but I think he’s not totally happy about it, like dad is.”
“You’re saying that he wishes he’d done a few other things in his life? I think I understand that a little, although it’s not somethin’ I’ve had much contact with, b’y.”
“Yeah, I think so,” Matt nodded, realizing that there was a social gap of understanding that he needed to make clear. “And to be honest, my grandfather is old enough that he can look back and see a lot of missed opportunities, although that wasn’t something I really understood at the time I graduated from high school. I mean, I can’t ever remember him taking a vacation since it might take him away from his life. He still isn’t retired since I don’t think he has any idea of what he would do if he did retire. I grant you, he’s built a good life for himself and his family out of it, but there hasn’t been much stopping and smelling the roses along the way. When you get right down to it, that’s what he’s wanted.”
“I’ve known fisher folk like that, b’y. Comes the time they could slow down and take it easy a little and they don’t know what else to do even if they can.”
“That’s my grandfather,” Matt smiled; at least she understood that much of it. “Anyway, to get back to the story, we had a little party at the house after my graduation. Cake, champagne, a few friends, and at that more my folk’s friends than mine, and my grandfather, who surprised the hell out of me by giving me a check for twenty-five thousand dollars. He told me to go buy a new car with it to take to college. Of course, I thanked him up and down for it, but a little later I got him off to the side and had a little talk with him. I told him I didn’t think it was a good idea to go out and buy a new car since it would just run the risk of getting beat up by being parked outside in a college town. Then I asked him if he would mind if I bought a cheap car and saved the rest of the money for something else.”
“Something like gaining a few experiences?” she smirked.
“I hadn’t thought it through that far at the time,” he said. “But that was how it worked out. I take it you like riding around in my high school graduation present?”
“That was where you got the money to do this, then?”
“Partly. Some of it came later, but that was the seed for this boat and this trip. Well, anyway, he was just a little impressed at my wanting to be conservative with my money, and said it would be fine with him. He also said it might be handy for me to have a little money to have some fun with while I was in college. So the next day I went out and bought a ten-year-old Chevy Cavalier for under two thousand dollars. It could have been in better shape, but it proved to be a reliable car, and I still have it. So I went back home, packed up my stuff, and headed off to Uncle Jake’s for the summer.”
“So what did your folks think about that?”
“Good question,” Matt shrugged. “Dad, I think he agreed with my grandfather and was happy with my saving a buck where I could. I honestly think Mom would rather I’d had a new car so I could impress the kind of girls she wanted me to date, either around home or when I went to college. I think she was looking forward to the day that she’d have some grandchildren and wanted to push me in that direction, even though it wasn’t likely to happen soon. In any case, she didn’t come out and say it, but it was no secret what she was thinking. It still isn’t, for that matter. Some things don’t change.”
Mary glanced at him for a moment, thinking about his statement before saying, “I take it she doesn’t think the same way as you do, I mean, about the disease and you’re looking for new experiences?”
“No, she doesn’t,” Matt sighed. “Look, to her the leukemia was just a bad dream from long ago. It’s in the past now, and it’s something that’s not quite real to her. To her, I’ve been cured and will live happily ever after and all that shit. Maybe it’s just that she looks on the bright side of things while I have to look at realities, but it’s at the root of most of the problems we’ve had. She wasn’t real crazy about my going on this trip, and by that I mean the trip she thinks I’m on, just cruising down the East Coast for the summer, not out to cross the Atlantic. I’m pretty sure she’s looking on the bright side and hoping I’ll meet some nice, rich yachtie-type girl. That would make my sailing worthwhile for her.”
“I’m sorry,” she grinned. “I don’t think I’m quite the kind of girl your mother was hopin’ you’d meet.”
“Doesn’t bother me,” he laughed. “What she’s hoping for and what I was hoping for are two different things. But let’s not get into that. Getting back to the days after my high school graduation, well, that wasn’t exactly what I was thinking about. I’ll admit that my promise to Laurel was more on my mind than anything else, and that was mostly what I thought about as I drove up to Uncle Jake’s. I don’t want to say the money was burning a hole in my pocket, but it was a factor I hadn’t considered before, not that I’d given a hell of a lot of thought to much besides going to college.”
“So you got up to your Uncle Jake’s, and he changed your thinking,” she grinned.
“Well, yes, but not all at once. The nice thing with Uncle Jake is that I can sit down and talk with him without having to get hung up on my folk’s preconceptions. Remember, he sees me in quite a different way than my mother and father. So I laid the whole problem out in front of him, and we talked it around on several different occasions, sometimes a little, and sometimes a lot. His advice to me was to make a list of the things that I might like to do over the next few years, then sort of sit down and review them for, well, practicality. Things I could accomplish, rather than just things that would be nice to try. Now, that point is probably where all those sea stories he hooked me on got involved. I could go over all the ins and outs of my thinking over the period of a couple months, but why bother? What finally washed out of everything was that taking a nice long cruise, probably crossing an ocean or two in the process was right near the top of the list, both for being something I could accomplish and something I really wanted to do.”
“And this was four years ago? What took ye so long, b’y?”
“Lots of things,” he shrugged. “There were two big things. The first was that I really wasn’t much of a sailor at that point. Oh, I could handle one of the charter fishing boats, and I could mess around in a daysailer on calm water on a nice day, and I’d even been out on Uncle Jake and Aunt Rachel’s cruising sailboat a bit. But that was all. I didn’t have the kind of knowledge and hadn’t had near the experience I knew I would need to be able to start out on a trip like this.
“The second thing is that I was pretty well committed to going to college. Well after I thought about it the two sort of dovetailed, and I realized that I could use the time I spent in going to college to do other things besides just go to college. Like I said, all this took a while to work out, and I was working at my job with him along with other things at the same time. Toward the end of the summer, we’d worked out the idea that the thing to do was to get a boat that would be up for a voyage like this. I could spend the next three summers getting experienced with it, and making sure it was in shape to take off.”
“And so you wound up with this boat, did ye b’y?” she laughed. “It starts to make a bit of sense, now.”
“Well, yeah, but nothing was quite that simple. At that point I didn’t know exactly what I was looking for, although a Folkboat was always high on the list. I knew it would have to be fiberglass, since most of the wood ones are getting pretty old and ratty by now, and a wood boat takes more maintenance than a ’glass boat anyway. They have a good reputation as being tough seaboats, they are small enough to handle by myself, and a few other things. A Folkboat wasn’t the only thing on the list, though, and I was really in no big hurry. After all, the season was ending and I had to start college.”
She nodded her head and smiled, and he continued with the story. “The summer soon came to an end, and I was off to school, the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. It’s not the easiest school to get into, they have a minority admissions program that makes it difficult for better-prepared white students to get accepted, but my grandad was an alumnus, and if an alumnus makes big enough donations, well, there are ways. So there was a pretty solid investment in my going there, although I wasn’t exactly enthusiastic about it. Still, it was probably a good idea for me in the long run since I had to spend the time to get ready for the trip.
“Freshman year was a hassle and there are a lot of interesting things to do in a town like Ann Arbor. I’d already spent a year there in the hospital and the only thing I’d ever seen of the town was through a car window. I had to work at my studies, but if I avoided some of the distractions it left me lots of time to look for a boat. Ann Arbor is a convenient place to live if you’re looking for boats, since there are a lot of them on Lake St. Clair and the western end of Lake Erie. I was also looking as far west as Chicago and Milwaukee, and as far east as Buffalo and Toronto, so I knew I’d turn up something sometime. This wasn’t all just looking at boating magazines and on the Internet, either. I looked at a lot of boats, and I think I hit every boatyard within a hundred miles of Ann Arbor, but I didn’t see anything that really rang my bell.”
“So how did ye find this boat?”
“It was on one of those days I was rambling around boatyards because I didn’t have anything else to do,” he shrugged. “I happened to stop off in a boatyard in Sandusky, Ohio, down on western Lake Erie. I was asking around the dealers, of course, but I was also looking at bulletin boards here and there. Well, that day I happened to ask a dealer about Folkboats, and he said there was a fiberglass one there in the yard, sitting up on stands, that he thought the owner might be willing to sell it if he was approached right. It was November and the weather was crappy, but we went out to look at this boat, and well, it looked like it was a hit even though it looked a little raggedy. It had been out of the water and under a tarp for a couple years, but from what little I could see, it looked like it might be a possible. Since I hadn’t found much in the way of likely boats so far, I figured it might be worth a second look. The dealer was able to give me the name and number of the guy who owned it, and I gave him a call.”
Matt went on to explain that the boat’s owner lived inland, and was not easy to get on the phone. It was the middle of the week before he was able to catch up with the man, who said that he wasn’t anxious to sell the boat but he’d give it some thought. A week or so more went by, until Matt got a phone call from the owner, who invited Matt to come down to his home and talk about it.
“So the next weekend I drove down there,” Matt explained. “Sid, the guy who owned the boat, was old as hell. I mean, he was in his eighties, and he’d owned the boat since it was new. He’d had a lot of good times in it, even though it had cost him a wife.”
“I think I smell a story here,” Mary laughed.
“Oh, yeah,” Matt said. “It seems that Sid had been a widower, and he and his first wife had a good time sailing it. Then, she died, and he got married again. His second wife, well, she wasn’t much of a sailor. She’d rather sit and watch TV, so she was forever bugging him to sell it so he wouldn’t be dragging her off to go sailing. Then he had a heart attack and was laid up for a while, so she put the boat up for sale in hopes she could be rid of it before he caught on to what she was doing. To make a long story short, he caught her at it and got rid of her instead. Eventually he found a third wife, and she enjoyed sailing as much as he did, but then she’d died a couple years before and he was in no shape to continue getting out with it. It still had a lot of sentimental value, and that was why he didn’t want to sell it. Hell, we must have spent a couple hours going through photo albums of trips he’d made with the boat. He’d had time for taking lots of pictures, he’d owned her something over thirty years.”
“But you managed to talk him into sellin’ it to you?”
“Well, yeah, but it took a while, and I had to explain what I wanted to do with it, which is what we’re doing. That sort of put him over the top, it was the sort of thing that he’d always dreamed of doing but had never had the combination of the time or the health to consider it. Needless to say, it was another object lesson for me, too. Then, he offered to knock quite a bit off the price if I’d keep the name of the boat. Mary Sue was his sister, she’d died when he was very young, and of leukemia at that, back before there was much they could do about it.”
“So you didn’t name the boat Laurel after all b’y?”
“Well, I wanted to up till that point, but he made a good case. Besides, I’d already figured out that my buying the boat wasn’t going to go over real big with my mother, and if she found me on a boat named Laurel up in Winchester Harbor she’d figure out real quick what was really happening.”
“I recall you saying that you didn’t quite make it clear to her that you owned the boat, not your Uncle Jake.”
“Well, we never really came out and told her, one way or the other,” he laughed. “And she wasn’t around Winchester Harbor enough to get suspicious. Uncle Jake is going to have some explaining to do when she gets the card I mailed from St. John’s, but he already knows the shit is going to hit the fan sooner or later, and he’s good at not taking shit from my mother. I mean, as far as I know there were good reasons why the two of them broke up, after all.”
“I think I told you I can see a rousin’ good fight comin’ up,” she grinned.
“I don’t think it takes the ability to read tea leaves to see that,” he laughed. “So, to get back to the story, I told him we had a deal unless a marine surveyor found something to really bitch about. He agreed that having it surveyed was the only prudent thing to do, especially since he wasn’t sure about the condition of the boat anyway. Now, both Uncle Jake and his father-in-law Nate are licensed marine surveyors, so I guess you know I called them in real quick. The next weekend Uncle Jake and Nate and I met Sid down at the boatyard in Sandusky. It was cold as hell, there was blowing snow, but we peeled the tarps off so Uncle Jake and Nate could look the boat over. It was the first time I’d really seen much of it. Anyway, Uncle Jake took one look at the stern and said, ‘Son of a bitch, would you look at that! I never expected to see this boat again.’”
“Big one,” Matt laughed. “Remember I said Sid’s second wife had tried to sell the boat out from under him? Well, it proved that the boat had been at Winchester Harbor at the time, and she had called up to have Nate find someone to bring it back down to Sandusky, and Nate drafted Uncle Jake and his daughter Rachel to bring it home. According to Sid, that was the only time in close to thirty years that he’d owned the boat that it had been out without him on it. Now, the neat part about it was that this was exactly the second time Uncle Jake had been on a sailboat, although Aunt Rachel had quite a bit of experience, but she was only fifteen at the time. They spent four days by themselves sailing it from Winchester Harbor back to Sandusky. The story I always heard was that was where they first fell in love, although it took them years to admit it to each other.”
“I’ll bet your Uncle Jake was sold right there,” she laughed.
“Pretty much,” Matt agreed with a grin. “Although I have to admit that he was a professional about it. He and Nate went through it with a fine-tooth comb, and well, they found a lot of things that needed work. There was nothing major and nothing critical, except for the fact that the engine had seen better days and probably needed to be replaced, and Sid said he could have told them that. All that took, oh, two or three hours, then we tied the tarps back on, found a coffee shop and made a deal. I paid Sid $5,500 cash, which was about what he’d paid for the boat thirty years before. So that’s how I wound up owning the Mary Sue.”
“You figure you got a fair deal on it, then?”
“Oh, yeah,” he said. “I don’t know for sure, but even with the new engine, which uses less fuel than the old one and starts easier, I could probably sell it for more than what I have in it. But I’m not that anxious to sell her anytime soon, and maybe not while I’m still alive, depending on what happens.”
There was a note of foreboding to Matt’s statement that was obvious to Mary now; it was clear that Matt didn’t plan on living a long life. He wouldn’t complain if he did, but couldn’t expect to, either. “So did you ever see this Sid again?”
“Oh, yeah,” Matt smiled. “In fact, a month ago I stopped off in Sandusky and took him out for a day sail. He likes what I’ve done to his old boat and is about as excited as I am to know what I’m doing with it. It’s like I said, it’s the kind of thing he always dreamed about doing but never had the chance to. In fact, he told me that I was lucky to be doing this while I was young enough that I still could, and he said he wished he was young enough or at least in good enough shape to come with me.”