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Blanche Tickle Girl book cover

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

Chapter 8

The last white dot of the iceberg had sunk beneath the horizon by now, and the day was getting on. Matt and Mary hadn’t been paying much attention to watches during the day since both of them were awake and talking anyway. But now, with the sun sinking lower it began to cool off, and Mary said it was getting to the point where she ought to put on a long-sleeved shirt. Matt agreed it was a good idea, and she went below to get the ones they’d taken off earlier.

“You know,” Matt said as they pulled on their shirts, “We probably ought to think about eating dinner so we can have everything shipshape for night while it’s still light.”

“Aye, I could stand to eat, b’y,” she agreed. “I’d be willin’ to steer if ye’d be willin’ ta cook. It’s probably better that way since ye have an idea of what ye have and where it’s been stowed.”

“Well, yeah,” he replied. “And I don’t mind, if you can stand my cooking.”

“Like I said, ye ain’t hearin’ me complainin’, she grinned.

Matt went below and pawed around in a pantry compartment under one of the bunks. This was mostly a mixture of cans intended for ready use; when it got low he’d have to restock from one of the bins in the front of the boat, which would be necessary in another couple days or so. He found some possibilities for a meal, then stuck his head out the hatch and said, “Would you be interested in a sort of bachelor goulash?”

“Aye,” she grinned. “And what might that be?”

“Oh, just opening some cans and throwing some stuff together,” he replied. “I can promise it’ll be edible but I don’t want to guarantee how good it’ll be.”

“Sounds like it has possibilities,” she laughed. “Remember what I said about boiled cod.”

Matt turned back to the tiny kitchen. He pulled out a largish pan and started opening cans: corned beef, canned macaroni and cheese, and a can of tomato soup. It might work, he thought, and if it turned out to be a mistake he’d know not to do it again. He got the mixture warming on the stove, occasionally stirring it, and while that was going on he happened to think that he hadn’t bothered to check his position since morning. No great trick with the GPS receivers; he pulled out the one he’d used in the morning, got a quick location check, and made a notation of the position on the chart. They’d done well; they were 43 miles farther on than they’d been since his previous check about ten hours before, not bad in the relatively light air they’d been sailing in. He made a quick entry in the log, mentioning seeing the iceberg.

If it stayed clear, he thought, he’d make some star sights later and take down the figures, waiting until daylight to actually run them, more for practice and backup than anything else; the GPS was likely to be a lot more accurate than his amateur celestial navigation.

All that only took a couple minutes. He went and stirred the goulash– or glop, or whatever it was– on the stove, then stuck his head out the hatch again. “Hey, Mary,” he said. “You like a cold beer?”

“Cold beer?” she smiled. “All the luxuries of home, ain’t it, b’y? I didn’t even know ye had any.”

“I don’t have much,” he said. “Only a couple six-packs, but we’ll have to either drink it while the ice can keep it cold or drink it warm later.”

“Sure, I’d love one, and better cold than warm!”

Matt unlatched the top of the icebox, pulled out a couple cans of Labatt’s, and handed one out to her. He watched as Mary popped the top, took a long swallow, and put the can in a can holder set into the cockpit seat. “My, that tastes good, b’y,” she said. “I don’t drink much, but every now an’ then one tastes mighty fine!”

“Couldn’t agree more,” he told her. “I just ran our position. We’re making progress. I think by morning we can change course to head directly to Ireland. We’re about a hundred and twenty-five miles out now, but probably only a hundred made good compared to going direct. That’s just a number off the top of my head, I haven’t plotted it.”

“There’s still a long way to go, ain’t there, b’y?”

“Yeah, we’re getting there slowly but we ought to make it.”

In a few minutes the dinner on the stove was done. It smelled edible to Matt, at least not bad for just tossing things together. He spooned about half of it into a bowl for Mary, made up one for himself, then went back out to the cockpit with his plate and his beer to join her. “So,” he asked her, “how do you like it?”

“Not bad,” she said. “Not exactly good, but not bad, b’y.”

Matt took a taste. It was not exactly nectar of the gods, but it didn’t taste as bad as he’d feared. It would do if he had to do it again sometime, but hopefully that time wouldn’t be real soon.

Things were calm enough that Mary was able to steer with a heel thrown across the tiller, so they took their time eating. Soon they were done eating and were sipping at their beers. “So,” she said after taking a long sip, “I take it there’s more to the story of you and the Mary Sue”.

“Oh, yeah, but what’s left isn’t all that exciting.” he said, setting his dish down where it wasn’t likely to get away from him. “That was just the beginning. By the time I’d worked out the deal with Sid, it was December, and that’s not a time to be going anywhere on the Great Lakes in a boat this size, since things were starting to ice up. So we just left the boat on the stands in Sandusky for the rest of the winter. We caught a fairly nice weather weekend along in April, and Uncle Jake and Nate came down to help me get the boat in the water. That wasn’t a big deal, they had the equipment in the yard there to do it, but we spent most of the weekend just getting things in order.

“The next weekend wasn’t as nice, but on one of those days I got a couple guys from college to help out. We spotted a car at Frenchtown Harbor, which is up on the western end of Lake Erie, and then one of the guys drove us down to Sandusky and dropped us off. The other guy, well, he claimed to know something about sailing, although he really didn’t. He spent most of the trip hanging over the lee rail barfing his guts out. We were all day and half the night getting back to Frenchtown Harbor, where we left it tied up for the next few days. The next weekend there was a strong west wind, so the other guy who had helped and I were able to get it up to Port Huron, at the southern end of Lake Huron. Well, by that time I was getting into finals so I couldn’t do anything about it for couple weeks until I was out of school, but we were able to work it around to get it up to Winchester Harbor over three daytime runs.”

Over the next hour or so Matt told Mary about the time he’d spend getting the Mary Sue ready for his adventure, and learning how to sail her effectively. It was a slow process, at least partly because Matt had other things to do, like working at his Uncle Jake’s business and helping with the fishing charters. As the summer passed, Matt, Uncle Jake, and Nate had put together lists of things that needed to be done, and he worked away at them when he could get the time.

All too soon he had to head back to college for his sophomore year. He left the Mary Sue at Winchester Harbor, but managed to get away from time to time to get up and work on her. As winter approached, Uncle Jake arranged for a crane to lift the boat onto a cradle mounted on a heavy equipment trailer– it was too big to trailer normally– and pulled the mast out. The boat spent the winter in Nate’s boat shed, where he worked on boat restoration projects in the winter, and that winter the project was the Mary Sue. Again, Matt made it up to help out when he could, but mostly it was Jake and Nate working on it, partly to have something useful to do. All of the work that needed to be done with the boat out of the water was done, along with some major interior projects, the biggest of which was replacing the ailing and wheezing old engine. That winter, they also designed and built the self-steering rig, which used a trim tab on the rudder driven by the wind vane.

The next summer Matt continued to help with the fishing charters and only worked on the fuel dock when absolutely necessary; as before, most of the money he earned went into his cruise fund. He spent the rest of the time either chipping away at the work that needed to be done on the boat, or spending time out sailing it, sometimes alone, sometimes with friends from around the harbor. In the middle of the summer, he took Jake’s teenage son Ron on a ten-day trip across Lake Huron into Canadian waters, poking around in the Thirty Thousand Islands area of Georgian Bay. It was Matt’s first real cruise with the boat.

By the end of the summer most of the work on the lists had been finished although many details remained, and with some added sailing time, Matt felt a lot more comfortable with the boat. That winter the Mary Sue spent the winter outside in the same cradle as the winter before, this time with the mast up and tarps on it. It was in the water again in late March, not long after the ice was out, to take advantage of the crane being present to get the charter boats ready for their season.

When Matt got out of school at the end of April he was soon back up at Winchester Harbor, sailing the Mary Sue and working on the now-dwindling list of things that needed to be done. Only a couple weeks after school was out he took advantage of the limited recreational traffic in the early season to try a long single-handed trip down Lake Michigan. It took him four days and three nights to make it down to a harbor near the south end of the lake, where he spent a full night asleep, then turned around and sailed the boat back to Winchester Harbor. It was a good learning experience, and there were several things he realized he had to do to be able to single-hand the boat successfully on long trips.

He made several changes, then later in the summer sailed it up to Sault Ste. Marie, went through the locks into Lake Superior, then made a long single-handed sail to Duluth, the longest possible such run on the Great Lakes. He didn’t even stop at Duluth, just turned right around and headed back to Sault Ste. Marie, riding through a tough storm on the way back.

There were a few more day trips and overnight trips over the summer; he tried to get out as much as he could when the weather was bad just to get more experience with it. By the end of the summer he had both his boat and his experience level to the point where he felt that next summer, he was going to be about as ready as he could make himself.

Once again the Mary Sue spent the winter outside on the cradle by Nate’s boat shed, but this time, one warm winter weekend, Matt drove up to Winchester Harbor and gave the underwater sections of the boat a thorough inspection and a fresh coat of anti-fouling paint.

“The rest of the winter was tough,” Matt related to Mary as the sun sank slowly behind them two days out from St. John’s. “I mean, I was ready to go, but I had to wait for spring. I made a couple trips up to Winchester Harbor just to check over the boat and load a few things, just out of sheer nervousness. As soon as the ice was off the lake enough to go I skipped school for a couple days, got a guy to drive me up to Winchester Harbor, and brought it down to Frenchtown Harbor on Lake Erie. That wasn’t too far to get to in the evenings, so I spent time buying groceries, loading the boat, and waiting for the chance to go. One weekend I sailed over to Sandusky to take Sid for a ride, but really I was more concentrating on finals than I was on anything else.”

“An’ your folks didn’t know what was happening still?” she grinned.

“Not really,” he smiled. “As far as I know I’d managed to keep the whole thing a secret from them for years. Of course, I had the help of Uncle Jake to front for me, or I never would have gotten away with it. Then came graduation weekend, and it was a big deal in our family. We had another big reception at the house, where I hadn’t spent a lot of time the last few years, and Mom had another local girl there who she wanted me to think about dating. That was nothing strange, since she’d been trying to fix me up with one girl or another for years and was downright disappointed that I hadn’t come up with someone at U of M. Both Mom and Dad seemed interested in my looking for work, and I was basically told that there was a lower-level management position open in my grandfather’s plant. I mean, it wasn’t like I was told I was supposed to be there on Monday, but the hints were real strong.”

“So how did ye get out of that, b’y?”

“Not without some difficulty,” he smiled. “I said that I’d had enough of classrooms and being organized, and that I planned on getting out and having a little fun before I settled down. It was then I told them that I’d arranged for a boat, and I was going to spend the summer sailing down the East Coast with it. My mother was fit to be tied, of course. I hadn’t been spending enough time around home to suit her as it was, especially since I’d had the excuse of a summer job and I usually managed to find an excuse to be away on the weekends I went to Winchester Harbor. She had big plans for me moving home so she could start managing my life again, preferably getting me married off and producing grandchildren. Dad wished me well, in a back-handed sort of way, and said he wished he’d been able to spend a little free time before he settled down to a married life. Granddad was even more positive, and there was another check to help me along.”

“Ye said that your grandfather sort of envies you doin’ this,” she commented.

“Well, yeah, I think he does,” Matt shrugged. “He never came out and said it in so many words but the check sort of made his point for him. Like I said, he’s a nice guy, but his life has been centered around his career. He realizes that there might have been something else out there for him, but he never managed his time enough so he could take the opportunity to go after it.”

“An’ ye say that nobody knew what ye really had in mind?”

“Well, Uncle Jake and the people at Winchester Harbor knew all about it, of course,” he grinned. “But there hasn’t been a lot of communication there over the years, and Uncle Jake knew I was trying to keep it quiet around home, especially around my mother, so he wouldn’t say anything. So, anyway, Mom asked me how soon I was planning to go, and I told her as soon as I could without pinning down a date, but hinted that it was several days off. I’m sure she was desperate to find some way to stop the whole plan and keep me home so she could manage my life.”

“So how did ye make your escape?”

“Oh, that was the easy part. Mom thought I was still several days from leaving since I didn’t have anything packed. Well, I didn’t need to pack anything since everything I needed was already on the boat, and some of the stuff had been there for months. So I slept in the next morning, and she decided she had to go somewhere and do something with one of her friends. I called Dad, and asked if he could get free for a couple hours. I think he had some idea what was coming down, so he drove home, picked me up, and I had him take me to where the Mary Sue was tied up. He asked if I was leaving already, and I told him the weather was nice, so I might as well. Then he got a look at the “Winchester Harbor” on the stern and asked, ‘I suppose your Uncle Jake had something to do with this.’”

“He still didn’t know it was your boat?” she grinned.

“Nope, I never admitted it, not even then. I imagine he told Mom, and Mom called Uncle Jake, and then the fur flew. At least that was the impression I got a couple days later when I called Uncle Jake from Port Colburne at the Lake Erie end of the Welland Canal, although all he said was that Mom was about fit to be tied. Anyway, I thanked Dad for dropping me off and said I’d see him in the fall most likely, then cast off the lines and got out of there. I mean, not in a big rush or anything, we said what had to be said. Like I said, I think he sort of envied me, too.”

“An’ ye’ve not talked to your mother since?”

“Nope,” he grinned. “I’ve sent home cards and letters from every stop, but there’s no way they could write to me since I didn’t leave them any forwarding address. I even called home once, at a time I figured Dad would be home and Mom would be out at one of her club meetings, but I haven’t done that since Quebec City a couple weeks ago.”

Mary shook her head. “I fear ye are goin’ ta have some interestin’ times when ye get home, b’y.”

“No doubt about it,” he smiled. “Look, the thing of it is that my mother is going to have to learn that I’m an adult, and I have my own agenda. While I’m willing to listen to hers within reason, there’s no reason for me to follow it just because it’s what she wants me to do. It’s actually been that way for several years but she’s never learned it. It could be that in a year or two or three I might be willing to take my father up on his offer of a job. Or, I might not. If I do, it’s going to have to be on my own terms, not the ones my mother makes up. If I’m careful, especially with my money, I can go on for quite a while. If I go home and she gets pushy about it, there’s nothing keeping me from doing something else, and that includes running a charter boat out of Winchester Harbor.”

“It’s a bit different than the problems I’ve had, that’s for sure,” she said, shaking her head. “I don’t know that sailing across the ocean by myself is something I would have thought of doing, but it was an adventure that was not to be passed up. But ye have gone after it with a lot more in mind than just the adventure.”

“No doubt about it. The whole point in making the last-minute announcement that I’m crossing the Atlantic is that I made the decision without her input, or even giving her any chance at input. When she gets that card I mailed from St. John’s she’s not going to be happy about the fact that I’m doing the crossing, but she’s going to be even less happy that she didn’t get to bully me out of it.”

“So what do ye plan ta do once the crossin’ is done? I remember ye sayin’ you’re plannin’ on sailing around Ireland, Scotland, and Norway.”

“That’s still the plan,” he replied. “I don’t have any real schedule other than just cruising around and seeing what’s there. That’s one of the down sides in the deal. There were some places I’d liked to have poked around when I came down the Welland Canal, and then around Newfoundland, but I was just in too big a hurry to get out to salt water and get going on this crossing. Now that I’ve made my getaway, I need to learn how to slow down a little bit and just nose around to see what can be seen. Summer is going to be over with all too damn quickly, but when and where I am when fall comes will affect what I do then.”

“I have ta ask,” she smiled. “But have ye given any thought to sailin’ around the world in this little sloop?”

“Of course I have,” he told her, his face beaming. “In fact, it was the original idea, and it’s not off the boards yet. There are some problems with it. The first one is that I thought I better have a long ocean passage under my belt before I get serious about the idea. The second one is that I still have to have those blood tests every three months or so, and an around-the-world sail would mean having to be pretty careful about getting to a place with good medical facilities often enough. There are places where it might not be possible. Finally, there are some places I’d have to go out of my way to avoid passing through, not that it can’t be done, but it does have to be done carefully. Like I said, it’s not off the boards by any means, and if I decide to not do it right away it doesn’t mean that it can’t be done at all.”

“’Twould be fun to be thinkin’ about takin’ a trip like that, b’y,” she replied with a grin. “If ye start thinkin’ about it an’ are looking for someone ta take with ye, I think I’d like ta go along.”

“You know,” he said, “We’ve only known each other a couple days, but I’m starting to think that I’d like to have you with me.”

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To be continued . . .

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