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

Part II: Winter Winds

Chapter 13

Six weeks after arriving in Bergen, Matt, Mary, and the Mary Sue were sitting in a small boatyard on the outskirts of Copenhagen, Denmark.

Bergen had been all right, but only all right: a largish city, when the two of them were the type of people who liked small places, small villages, so they only stayed there for a night after they’d cleared customs. The next morning, they set off again, this time to the north instead of what they had planned back at Inverness. They got as far north as Sogne Fjord, and explored far up it on sail and motor, then slowly started working their way back south, taking their time and exploring up some other fjords. The scenery was often spectacular, and it took them most of a month to work their way back as far south as Kristiansand. However, the southern Norwegian coast was more cottage country than it was to the north, and seemed less interesting to them.

While the country to the north had been magnificent and they knew they wanted to go farther, September was winding down and it was time to be thinking about what they were going to do with the Mary Sue for the winter. Kristiansand might have been a good place to put the boat up for the season, but it was a longish haul to the nearest major airport, at Oslo. Since the weather seemed good and the urge to explore was still on them, they headed south toward Copenhagen, reasoning that it wasn’t much farther than Oslo, and the winds were predicted to be more favorable for going that way that day, anyway.

Copenhagen was also a city that was larger than they would normally have been comfortable with, but it had the reputation of being a nice place, and so it proved. A little asking around led them to a small boatyard on the south side of town, where the manager, a middle-aged man named Knud, told them he’d be happy to keep the boat on stands out of the water for the winter. He named a fee that seemed reasonable to Matt, and that was enough to make up their minds.

The next morning, after a final night spent on the boat, a travel lift took the Mary Sue out of the water and deposited it on a cradle that had been built for a Folkboat; it was a perfect fit. Knud found a ladder for them so they could climb up to the cockpit from the ground, and they started on the big chore of making the boat ready for the winter.

There was much to be done. They could leave little food on the boat, since there was the danger of cans freezing and breaking, and it was possible that mice could get into the things that wouldn’t freeze. Knowing this was coming, they’d done their best to eat the food on the boat down to next to nothing, and there had been only a couple days’ worth on board when they arrived in Copenhagen.

Mice could get into their clothing and bedding, too, and they had more than they wanted to take with them. After a discussion with Knud, he took them to a store where they bought several metal garbage cans, which were perfect for storing the clothes and bedding they’d leave on the boat.

The list seemed endless. It included things like draining the water tanks and taking the batteries out of the GPSs and the other odd electronic devices. They had to strip the sails completely off the boat and stow them below– they were made of a synthetic fabric that mice didn’t seem to get into very badly, and so on, and so on. Even things like charts and books had to be protected against rodents. It wasn’t as if Matt hadn’t been through the drill before, since he’d had to do much the same thing when laying the Mary Sue up for the winter in Winchester Harbor the past several years. But now there was much more stuff that had accumulated aboard than had been the case in years past; sometimes he wondered how he’d managed to pack it all into the relatively tiny boat.

It took them more than a day to get everything done that needed doing, and by the second afternoon they were getting tired. Late that afternoon Knud offered to drive them to a nearby hotel to spend the night, and what’s more, he offered to take them to dinner. Of course, they took him up on it. He spoke good English, and seemed to be knowledgeable about a lot of things, especially those having to do with boating and sailing. “I’ll tell you what,” Matt said over a glass of Carlsberg in the restaurant Knud took them to. “I don’t know how bad I want to have to lay the boat up for the winter again another year. This has turned into a pain in the neck.”

“It’s much too late in the year to do anything about it now,” Knud said. “But if you’d started sooner, you could have spent the winter in the Mediterranean. Some place like the Greek islands are a lot warmer than it is here. Some of the Spanish islands in the western Mediterranean are pretty nice, too, and if you’re careful with your money they’re not impossibly expensive. Southern Spain isn’t bad, either.”

“Yeah, I suppose,” Matt agreed. “But it would have been a damn long haul to go around France and Spain to get there, especially this late in the season. If we’d started, oh, the middle of August when we were in Scotland I suppose we could have done it, but the weather would be really crappy to have to do it now.”

“That’s very true, now that the season is turning, but there are other ways to get to the Mediterranean,” Knud informed them. “Again, it’s much too late in the year to get started now, but there are all sorts of canals that eventually take you to the Rhone River, which would bring you out at Marseilles. There are a lot of places in the Mediterranean you could go from there. Or, for that matter, there’s the Canal du Midi in France. It runs from Toulouse on the Atlantic down to Sete on the Mediterranean, and it can save a long sail around Spain. I’ve never been there, but I hear it’s a beautiful trip.”

“Crap,” Matt shook his head. “I should have thought about that. I mean, I knew canals like that were there, and doing a little European canal cruising was on my want-to-do-someday list, but I was so focused on Norway that it never crossed my mind.”

“You could do it easily in that little Folkboat, especially with that diesel engine,” Knud told them. “You’d have to take the mast down of course, but that wouldn’t be a big problem. You can get a little toothpick of a mast like that taken down or put back up in almost any boatyard.”

“That has the potential of being a good idea,” Matt agreed thoughtfully. “Do you have any other advice about it?”

“There are a lot of ways to get to the Mediterranean,” Knud told them. “I’d really advise against trying to go up the Rhine and get into the German and French canal system from there, since the Rhine is pretty fast and you might not have enough motor to get anywhere easily going upstream, but there are other ways, especially through Holland and Belgium. Of course, if you really wanted an adventure, there’s a canal in Russia that could take you into the Volga, and then into the Black Sea.”

“Never heard of it,” Matt said.

“It probably wouldn’t be a good idea to try it,” Knud shrugged. “If you did, you’d almost have to have someone who spoke Russian with you, and on a boat as small as yours that might turn into a problem. But there are plenty of good ways to get to the Mediterranean through Holland and Belgium and France. But you probably don’t want to rush it, since there are a lot of places to see if you were to take your time. You could easily spend the whole summer doing it. There are several good books in English that you could use to read about it.”

“Like I said, it has potential,” Matt replied thoughtfully. It looks like I’m going to have some studying to do this winter.”

The talk turned to other topics, especially their crossing the Atlantic in the Mary Sue, and some of the cruising they’d done in the last three months. While Folkboats were common around Copenhagen, and some of the boats had made some long voyages over the years, it was still something special to have crossed the Atlantic in one, especially as far north as they had gone. But Knud knew of some other stories of people who had made long voyages in Folkboats, and he passed some of them along. There were people who had taken them around the world; while Matt knew some of the stories, Knud knew more of them, and had talked to some of the people who had made them. After some of those discussions, the idea of taking the Mary Sue around the world didn’t seem quite as fantastic as it had once been.

Later that evening Knud dropped Matt and Mary off at the small hotel, which was within a long walking distance of the boatyard. It was not a big modern building, just a small place with but a few rooms. To Matt it looked like the building was several hundred years old, and it proved to be a cozy place to spend the night together under a warm comforter.

“Ye know,” Mary said thoughtfully as she was getting her clothes off and getting ready for bed, “The idea of spendin’ the summer cruising the canal system and then spendin’ next winter in the Mediterranean sounds like a fun idea ta me, b’y.”

“It does to me, too,” Matt agreed. “I sort of wish I’d thought about it earlier, but from what Knud said it’s too late to get started at it now. Next spring is a different story. Of course the alternative is to head back up to Norway when we get going again, or maybe into the Baltic. We’ve got all winter to make up our minds, and maybe we can do some of each. As long as we’re heading south on the canals by midsummer, I think it would work out just fine. That would mean we’d be moving south with the fall, so that would probably work out all right. I mean, if we were say, somewhere in central France right now, I wouldn’t think that we’d have any problem making it to the Mediterranean. That would be a better place to spend the winter than here, and we could stay on the boat.”

“Aye, we probably could,” she nodded. “But ye know, b’y, maybe I shouldn’t mention this, but that sort of begs the question of what we’re goin’ to be doin’ this winter.”

“Yeah, it does,” he agreed. “And it’s something we haven’t exactly worked out, since we’ve been so wrapped up in what we’re going to do with the boat for the winter. We probably should have been planning it long before this, but I can deny the reality of winter coming on as well as anyone else, and it hasn’t been anything I’ve wanted to think about. I suppose there’s someplace in Europe we could stay, but I don’t know how much I want to stay in one place for six months or so. Maybe longer than that, even.”

“As used as we’ve gotten to bein’ on the move, sittin’ in some small apartment in a place we don’t know ain’t real appealin’, b’y.”

“Not for me, either,” he agreed. “But I suppose we’ll have to sit it out somewhere until we can get going again. I need to talk to Knud to see if he thinks April is too early to get going around here.”

“My guess is it might be all right if we were willing to get a little chilly now an’ again, but you’re right, it’d be better to ask Knud what he thinks about it. But that still is leavin’ the problem of what we’re goin’ ta do for the winter. At one time I had the idea you were thinkin’ about goin’ home, at least for a bit.”

“Yeah, I’ve kicked it around,” he sighed. “It’d probably be the right thing to do and I should see the folks, even though I’m not looking forward to my mother raising hell with me about taking this trip at all. That’s not going to be pleasant and I’d hoped to avoid it, or at least I’ve been denying that I’m going to have to do it. But I really should see Dad and my grandfather, and we should go up and see Uncle Jake. I wouldn’t mind staying at home for a few days, but there’s no way the two of us are going to be able to spend six or seven months with my folks. I’m not sure we could hold out six or seven days.”

“I’ve got an idea,” she suggested. “We could go ta Blanche Tickle for the winter, if my house isn’t rented, that is. The weather will be on the chilly side, but the house is small and cozy. Besides, ye have contributed a lot ta this trip the last few months, an’ I feel like I ought ta be contributin’ somethin’ too, b’y.”

“You know, that idea never crossed my mind,” he said. “I guess I’d half forgotten that you had a house at all. How do you know if it’s rented? Do you handle that?”

“I’m often not there enough ta take care of the rentin’ of it. Sinead Flannery, the postmistress, is the one that handles it for me if I’m not around. I’ve spent a winter there from time ta time if I didn’t have somethin’ better ta do. I’d have ta give her a call ta see if it’s rented, but the odds are it ain’t. That Yank artist fella rented it the summer before last, an’ I don’t know if he was there this year or not. I know he was talkin’ about it but I don’t know if he did it. If he did, he’d be gone by now anyway. He teaches at some college somewhere, an’ he’ll be back ta doin’ that.”

“That has some possibilities about it. It’s not exactly spending the winter on some tropic island with you wearing your Scotch bikini all the time, but it’d be simpler and cheaper.”

“Aye, it wouldn’t be costin’ us but for food and propane for the space heater, an’ a little for hydro,” she agreed. “There’s a nice fireplace an’ a wood stove, too. It was all we had when Albert was alive, an’ we stayed warm enough. I had some extra loonies a few years ago an’ decided that it was time ta quit splittin’ so much wood.”

“Sounds better and better. But how’s it going to go over with me living with you in a small community like that?”

“Shouldn’t be much of a problem, b’y,” she shrugged. “I know I told ye that people in Blanche Tickle don’t always get along with outsiders, an’ I suppose I am one more or less, but you’re pretty friendly an’ ye ought ta get along well enough. It won’t be like we’ll be seein’ a lot of everyone anyway, just maybe at the store now an’ again.”

“Well, all right. I’m certainly not going to rule it out, at least till you call your friend and see if it’s rented for the winter. But we probably ought to head back to Michigan and face the music from my mother first. If the winter gets too long and cold, I suppose there’s no reason we couldn’t duck down to Florida for a while, just for a break.”

“If it worked out that way, it’d be just fine. There are times that winter gets awful long there, an’ the gettin’ away would be welcome, b’y. I just never had the chance ta do it before.”

Matt shook his head. “I guess we just go back to Michigan and see how it goes, but I’m pretty damn sure it’s not going to go well. Mom is probably having a shit fit since she hasn’t been able to order me around all summer. I know I could have called home more, but after that call I made from Galway I wasn’t sure how bad I wanted to put up with that stuff again. On the other hand, if we’re going to winter over in Blanche Tickle, there’s some warmer clothes at home it would be nice to have, and it probably would be handy to have my car. You can drive to there, right?”

“Aye, the road isn’t what ye call good but it can be driven if ye take it easy. It’d be strange ta have a car there. Albert never had one, an’ I never learned to drive.”

“How did you get around if you didn’t drive?”

“On a boat, or sometimes I bummed a ride, if I was goin’ ta St. John’s or somethin’,” she shrugged. “Other than that, I walked. Blanche Tickle ain’t that big, b’y.”

“I suppose that makes sense,” he replied, shaking his head. “It just seems a little strange, that’s all.”

After a good night’s sleep– the first one they’d spent in a bed in a while– they got up, got a small breakfast at a nearby restaurant, and walked back to the boatyard. There was more work to do that day, but they managed to get through it, and finally they had the Mary Sue about as ready for winter as they were going to get it. Knud was even able to come up with a tarp that would fit over the boat– it was designed for a Folkboat and fit snugly. After they moved the things from the cockpit lockers and the lazarette into the cabin, they locked the hatches shut, pulled the tarp over the boat and tied it down tightly. All that was left outside were a couple seabags they planned to take with them to the airport.

“Seems kinda sad ta be leavin’ it for the winter, doesn’t it, b’y?” she said as they finished tying down the tarp.

“Yeah,” Matt said. “I’ve pretty much had to do it before when I left it at Winchester Harbor for the winter, but this isn’t quite the same thing. I guess there’s not much we can do now but hope it gets through the winter all right.”

“Snug though it is, it’s kinda started to feel like home,” she smiled. “She’s been a pretty good home to us, too, an’ she’s taken us ta a lot of places I never figured I might go. I’m sure hopin’ she’s goin’ ta be takin’ us ta some more of ’em next year.”

“I sure hope so, too,” he sighed. “Mary, this has been the best summer of my life, bar none, and not just because I was sailing around to places I’d dreamed of going. It wouldn’t have been half the fun if you hadn’t been with me.”

They stopped by the office to see Knud, and told him they were going back to the hotel for the night; they hoped to be able to fly out in the morning. “We don’t know when we’ll be back,” Matt told him. “Probably around April, give or take. You’ll keep an eye on the Mary Sue for us, won’t you?”

“Of course,” Knud told them. “Unless something real bad happens, it’ll be just like you left it.”

The next morning they called a cab to take them to the Copenhagen airport, which wasn’t far away; they’d been aware of the jets going overhead all the time they’d been getting the Mary Sue ready for the winter. Matt wasn’t surprised to find that there weren’t any direct flights to Detroit, but after talking it over with a couple of counter representatives who spoke English well, they were soon on a flight for Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam. As it took off, Matt could look out the window and pick out the Mary Sue sitting under its tarp in Knud’s boatyard, and was already looking forward to getting back out on it again. It seemed like a long, long time off.

Unfortunately, they had a long layover in Amsterdam, overnight in fact, so they got a cab to a nearby hotel, and wound up taking a commercial tour of the city. Amsterdam is full of canals, and Matt took every opportunity to look at some of them. The big commercial canals seemed like they had more than enough room for their little boat, and the idea of doing a canal tour of Western Europe seemed more and more like a possibility for the following year.

Even from Amsterdam it proved that getting a direct flight to Detroit was impossible. There were flights that went that way, but they were booked solid for days. They were finally able to get on a plane that made a couple stops along the way, the first of them at Shannon in Ireland, not far from Galway, where they had gone at the end of their Atlantic crossing months before. It was fun to look out the window of the airliner and see Galway Bay, where they’d sailed with the Mary Sue months before.

A little to their surprise, the next stop the airliner was to make was at Gander in Newfoundland, so they’d be almost retracing their steps, flying over nearly the same route they’d sailed back in June. It had taken them over three weeks then; now they covered the distance in a little over four hours. There was a solid undercast most of the way, and they rarely saw the ocean. “I’m not sure how bad I’d want to be sailing down there now,” Matt commented at one point.

“Probably would be as rough as we found it, if not rougher,” Mary agreed. “I doubt there’d be much time we could be layin’ around the cockpit in bare skin if we was ta be down there now, b’y.”

Since they were flying westward the day was prolonged, and it was still light when they arrived in Gander. “You know, Mary,” Matt commented as they were approaching the airport. “You could get off here and wait for me to get back.”

“Naw, I don’t think so, b’y,” she smiled. “It’s a damn long way from Gander to Blanche Tickle, especially by thumb. Besides, I know ye are dreadin’ havin’ ta see your Mom again, an’ I think maybe I’d better be there ta back ye up, an’ maybe so she can see who I am.”

“I don’t know that I want to put you through that,” he shook his head. “Mary, as much as I love you, and I love you a lot, you are not the girl she’s been dreaming of sticking me with, and I’m afraid this isn’t going to be pretty.”

“Aye, you’ve told me that before,” she nodded. “An’ that’s why I’m thinkin’ it would be best if I’m with ye.”

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To be continued . . .

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