Okay, a major issue yesterday, because it turns out I screwed the pooch big time. I posted 34.5 before 34.4 so now nothing makes sense, or at least less sense than is usual for me. Typical behavior for old farts, I nevertheless apologize. So, after the music selection below you’ll find yourself reading 34.4, but 34.5 is now incorporated into this snippet. Again, endless apologies, and I hope you understand. So, once again, a little music – for the storm in the story ahead. Going to draw this out a little, probably two more snippets after all is said and done…but gee, didn’t I say that last time?
The big, blue Swan 65 was berthed in Victoria, British Columbia, at a small marina located deep inside the inner harbor a stone’s throw from The Empress Hotel, and Henry Taggart had just finished stowing supplies for three weeks down below. They’d probably only need ten days for the crossing to Maui, but better safe than sorry, right? At least his dad had always said that, and the idea still made perfect sense today.
This was the second time Rupert and Henry were taking the Swan on the Victoria to Maui Race, and they were taking this second effort more seriously than the first time they’d made the run. They’d placed tenth in class on that first effort and Rupert had been pissed – because there’d only been ten boats in their class, but now that he and Henry understood this would be their last race, period, they’d both decided to take the whole thing more seriously this time out.
So…it had been decided early on that they’d bring only one case of rum on this race, instead of the three cases they’d carried on the first race. Sacrifices had to be made, right? Racing while shit-faced tended to lead to predictable outcomes.
And this time Rupert had insisted on a proper crew, and besides Henry all were from Boeing. Test pilots, including a retired shuttle pilot, were making this trip, and as they’d been practicing together for several weeks now everyone was hopped up and ready to go. Visions of trophies danced in Rupert’s mind…
“What say we take a break and head up to the hotel for tea?” Rupert said as he came up the aft companionway.
“Tea?” Henry sighed. “We’re going to be locked up on a boat for ten days with a bunch of pilots – and you want to go get tea?”
Rupert shrugged. “Ain’t no decent hookers in this town far as I can tell,” he snarled, “and anyway, I ain’t real sure I’d like to get down with one of those hairy legged Canadian girls.”
“Oh, really? Well, after a week at sea, Rupert, those hairy legs are gonna start to look real good.”
Rupert shook his head and shivered. “Never!”
“Well, anyway, I’m glad we have those rooms up there. I’m going to get in that shower tonight and stand under the water for an hour – just so I don’t forget what it feels like.”
“Taggart…you’re a wuss.”
“Damn straight,” Henry said as he hopped down to the dock. Once Rupert was down they started the short walk up to the hotel and, as no shorts and t-shirts were allowed in the Lobby Lounge, where tea was being served this afternoon, they needed to hit the showers and change first. They paused at the crosswalk and waited for traffic, then made their way up to the main lobby.
“I’ll meet you back here,” Rupert said as they waited for an elevator.
“Right,” Henry replied.
And so Henry went on to his room, not at all expecting to find Pinky already there and waiting impatiently for him.
“Well, this is a surprise,” he said as he walked into his room. “To what do I owe…”
“Henry! I am with child!”
“I am with child. You are the father.”
“And you’re not funny. In fact…”
“I am not trying to be funny, Henry. I am with child.”
“But how is this even possible? I’m no geneticist, but the last time I checked the DNA from two distinct species couldn’t…”
But then it hit him and Henry stopped talking; now he looked at Pinky once again, only like he was looking at her for the very first time. Five fingers, horizontally opposed thumb. Bilateral symmetry. Structural anatomy of her arms and legs – all identical to our own, from her toes to her nose, and so what was the chance her species had developed just like us – in some faraway galaxy?
So when he looked her now she turned and looked away, and for the first time now he knew, he really knew, that she was being well and truly evasive. ‘Human after all,’ he sighed.
“Do you want to tell me what’s going on?” he said.
She turned back to face him once again, only now she spoke softly. “We were from earth. The earth of your distant past.”
“Distant? Like…how distant?”
She shrugged. “That is not important.”
“Okay. So, what is important?”
“This child. This is important.”
“What can I do to help?”
“I do not know. My – superiors – are not at all pleased.”
“Well, I’m not too sure I’m all that happy about this myself.”
Which caused Pinky to fall to the bed – in tears.
“Ah, estrogen,” Henry sighed. “Can’t live with it…can’t live without it.”
“I don’t know what to do!”
“You…and about 42,000 other teenage girls.”
“Nothing. So tell me, what are your options?”
“I have none. I am to report to our laboratory for observation and monitoring of fetal development.”
“You won’t be able to visit me while this is going on?”
“I do not know.”
“How long will you…”
“I do not know.”
“Right.” He went to the bed and laid down next to her, then he caressed her face as he looked into her eyes.
“Is this the love you spoke of, Henry? This thing I see in your eyes?”
“I don’t know? What do you see?”
“It is almost like sadness, but not quite. It is more like a willingness to share good things as well as bad. Is that it?”
“Maybe a part of it, but there’s more to it than that.”
“When this race is over, will you come visit me?”
“I love what I see in your eyes right now, Henry Taggart.”
He smiled. A little smile at first, but soon it grew and grew…
“What is so funny, Henry?”
“Did you hear to what you just said? You said ‘I love what I see…’ Don’t you get it? You’re there, Pink. You’re feeling love!”
Her eyes went wide just before she sat up on the bed, then she winked out and was gone.
“Damn. Must’ve been something I said,” Henry said as he ambled into the bathroom. Then, as he scrambled out of his clothes, he looked at the shower and sighed.
Rolf was shaking with rage; Tracy helped the boy stand and brushed snow off his jacket, and when they turned to go back to Time Bandits she saw Dina standing under the cockpit dodger, scowling – as if the weight of all the world’s problems had suddenly landed squarely on her shoulders.
Yet Dina came to the rail and helped them back aboard, and she held Rolf’s hand as she led him to the cockpit. “What is it?” she asked when she saw the anger on her grandson’s face. “What has happened?”
“Nothing,” Tracy said.
“Oh, right,” Dina snarled. “Just like nothing happened when you got yourself shot in the shoulder! When are you going to start trusting me, Tracy! I loved him too, you know!”
“And you left him, Dina,” Tracy sighed. “You left him when he was at his most vulnerable.”
“So that’s it, is it? I am never to be trusted again? One mistake and…”
But then Rolf stood, his eyes clear, his mood resilient. “Granma-ma,” he began, “I need you to stay here, with the boat. Henry has left directions and contacts for all the work he thought might need to be completed before we can go to sea again, and it is most important that these things be done while we are away…”
“Away!” Dina cried. “You’re going away again?”
“As soon as Anton returns next week, yes, we will leave. I will be counting on you to get both boats ready to leave at a moments notice…”
“That’s preposterous!” Dina growled, her hands slashing about like a bouquet of rusty scalpels. “Where will you be? When will you return? How am I to function without knowing even the basics of where you are, or even who you are with…?”
“Granma-ma? If you want to see Britt again, or even Eva, you must trust me.”
“Trust you? My God, Rolf! You are just a boy!”
“And that,” Tracy whispered, her words trailing away on a snow-filled breeze, “is why we can’t trust you…”
With two minutes to go before the start, Henry held the Swan back a little, hoping to maneuver behind an ultra-lightweight design and slip into a better, or windward, position when the starting gun sounded. He checked the apparent wind angle and the apparent wind speed indicators as he tried to read eddies on the almost calm surface of the sea off Victoria, then he turned and looked over his right shoulder – and saw another boat now had the same idea and was going to slide in and push his Swan down towards the ultralight, at the same time blanketing his sails and stalling his start. He pushed the Swan closer to the wind, hoping to stall the overtaking boat while maintaining his momentum towards the starting line, but he was beginning to doubt this updated Frers design had the upwind chops to hold his line in this light air.
Rupert had their lightest, biggest genoa up, and they was making almost 4 knots over the ground, but the overtaking boat was doing just a little better. Still, if he could push the other boat too far into the wind he might still just pull this off. He looked at the telltales up and down the gennie and sighed…
“Let her out a little, Dave,” Henry said to Dave Mason, a Boeing test pilot along for the ride.
Henry watched their boat speed pick up two tenths of a knot before he fell off the wind a little, looking for the perfect ‘slot’ of airflow between the main and genoa, then he saw another eddy on the water and began to time his next turn into the wind.
“Okay Dave, get ready to bring her in again on three – two – one…now!”
Henry caught the header and the Swan’s speed jumped to five knots, then five point two, and the overtaking boat began to fall behind with only fifty yards – or less than fifteen-seconds – to go to the start. He looked at his countdown timer and then at the imaginary line between the committee boat and an inflatable marker buoy set out a hundred yards or so from the power boat, and he grinned. Rupert gave him a fist-pump as the cannon fired, as the Swan crossed the start – in the lead!
Now, one by one, boats started falling off as tacticians on each boat began maneuvering for the next tactical advantage, their job to exploit long range weather forecasts, not just the local winds and current. Knowing exactly where the North Pacific High was located would become the most important bit of information each skipper had as they neared the halfway point to Maui, but first they’d have to clear Race Rocks and then set a course for Tatoosh Island, all while each boats skipper kept close eyes on the other boats in their class.
Alston, their tactician, called up a new course and Henry turned to starboard 30 degrees; Dave let out the gennie while Karen Grimes, another Boeing test pilot, handled the main – both without being told to do so, always a good sign they were paying attention. The big gennie was pulling well in this light air so Rupert came back to the cockpit and settled down next to Henry.
“Man, I thought I was gonna stroke out when Pyewacket began squeezing us…” Rupert snarled.
“So that’s who that was,” Henry said. “Aggressive move. Too bad for them.”
“You did great, Henry. That was a bad-ass move. I bet Roy is cussing you out right about now.”
Henry smiled, if only because his dad would have been proud. If you lost tactical awareness in the start you were doomed, and as many skippers never recover from a botched start a lot of practical emphasis is placed on winning the race at the very beginning. Crew morale can rise or crash depending on the outcome at the starting line, so Henry had given his strategy a lot of thought. Now he wanted to beat as many boats as he could to Tatoosh, though the bigger boats had the decided advantage of greater boat speed. Still, there were only three boats bigger than the Swan, so Henry knew they had a shot a Class honors on corrected time.
The wind piped up a little and Henry looked at Rupert.
“One point five knots and we’ll have to drop that light air sail. Better rig the twin-stay and get ready.”
Rupert nodded and went forward, then a shadow off to port caught his eye.
It was an orca – his orca – he saw, dancing down there beneath the sun dappled surface of the sea. Shadowing the Swan, playing with him out here under the dome of the sky.
“So,” Rupert said, “you’re really gonna do it? Sell out and sail away?”
It was 0200 and they were in the middle of their watch, and tonight, their third night at sea, the Swan was more than a third of the way to Maui.
Henry nodded. “Yeah. I’ve been thinking about it for a while, since dad died, anyway.”
“Yeah, I miss the old guy. Helluva sailor, too. He made a difference on our first race, ya know?”
“I miss him too,” Henry said, looking away for a while.
“The man did love his rum,” Rupert added.
“That he did. I think it kept him running.”
“So? What are you gonna do?”
“Not really sure yet. I ran across a bunch of books when I was packing up the house, books about cruising the canals in Sweden and the Netherlands, and I think he wanted to do that. I guess, what is that saying? He ran out the clock?”
“Don’t we all,” Rupert sighed. “No one complains about having too much time, do they?”
“You got anyone in mind to go with you?”
“No, not really, but I was halfway thinking I’d like to make the crossing by myself.”
“Oh,” Rupert said, but Henry could hear the disappointment in his friend’s voice.
“So what are you going to do?”
“Watch Madeline curl her hair, for all I know,” the retired general snarled. “Hell, I don’t know, Taggart. This whole retirement thing has me beat.”
“Why don’t you load up the Swan when we get to Maui and just keep on going. Go to Tahiti, New Zealand, stop when you get tired…”
“Or have to go home to sign the divorce papers.”
“There is that.”
“Interesting idea, but I can’t handle a tub like this by myself.”
“You won’t have any problem finding a couple of wahinis to make that trip with you. Not with a boat like this.”
“My boy would shit a brick…”
“So invite him along. Get to know him. Might be the only chance you get, ya know?”
“I’d have to leave Boeing,” Rupert muttered, but Henry could already see the wheels turning. Add a little imagination and Rupert would be off on the adventure of a lifetime…
Pete Mitchell came halfway up the companionway steps and passed up some iced tea and tuna salad sandwiches before he came fully out into the cockpit.
“Thanks, Pete,” Rupert said. “I was getting hungry.”
“Me too,” Henry said as he snagged a sandwich and took a bite.
“Hank, there’s a band on the radar when I set the range out to 48…”
Henry nodded. “I thought I saw a little flicker a few minutes back. Little to the right of our current heading, right?”
“Yeah, but I think it’s headed our way.”
“Got a velocity vector?”
“Yeah, if my math is right it’ll be here in an hour, maybe fifty minutes.”
“Pete,” Rupert asked, “has your math ever been wrong?”
“I made a mistake once,” Pete replied, “back in 1973, I think.”
“Good sandwiches, Pete,” Henry groaned, though smiling calmly. “Better go below and wake everyone up. Better tell ‘em we’re gonna be in for a little shit-show.”
Rupert looked at Henry when he heard that, and right then and there he knew he couldn’t sail anywhere without Taggart. It was plain as day now, and just as simple as that. He caught a flicker of lightning on the horizon and as his stomach tightened he turned and looked at Henry Taggart.
He was standing behind the wheel now, and smiling like some kind of possessed fiend – like he was getting ready to spit in Satan’s eye – because to Rupert it seemed that Henry Taggart was finding the prospect of a big storm more than a little amusing.
Sitting next to Edith for ten hours hadn’t been the worst thing he’d ever endured, but Anton thought the experience would make his top ten list of most uncomfortable times. First she wanted the window seat, then the aisle, and when their flight attendant brought champagne it was too warm. Their was too much salt on her salmon, her salad dressing too much vinegar and on and on it went.
Mike Lacy was sitting across the aisle from them so was spared most of her irritating display, but every now and then he leaned over and made eye contact with Anton. They’d share a brief nod – a kind of soggy commiseration, given the circumstances – before Mike would lean back again and try to refocus on the in-flight entertainment screen. ‘What a wicked wretch,’ he thought as he tried to ignore her nonstop screeching litany of misery, and more than once he thought everyone would have been better served if they’d just dumped her face down in a ditch somewhere out in the sticks.
She got up to go to the head about every half hour, too, and Mike handled these chores, following her up to the entry/cockpit alcove up front and making sure she didn’t try to bang on the cockpit door or otherwise try to create some kind of a stink with airline personnel. She’d glower at Mike as she came out of the little toilet compartment, then he’d follow her back to her seat and make sure she got buckled-in, again, then sit down and wait for the next trip.
So when the fasten seat belt lights chimed and the pilots announced their flight was on final approach into LAX, Mike was more than a little relieved. So was Anton. But Mike had just noticed a little quirk on their tickets, and though he had to assume Henry had done this on purpose, he was a little surprised. Henry had scheduled a five day layover for them. Five days in LA, and vouchers for a four-night stay at the Grand Californian at Disneyland, and when Mike leaned over and pointed this out to Anton, the Russian had gone ballistic – and just about out of his mind.
“Mountains of Space?” Anton shouted. “Really! Caribbean Pirates? Oh my God! Thanks you, Genry!”
“So,” Mike sighed, “I take it this means you want to go to Disneyland?”
“YES, I want wery much go Disneylands.”
“Well, shit,” Mike sighed – just under his breath, “this will be real fun.”
But Edith heard this exchange and leaned over to speak to Mike. “Would you two like me to join you? I’d be happy to show you around.”
And just like that…like someone had flipped a switch…Edith became the genteel hostess once again, but Mike simply couldn’t resist the impulse to see how far she’d take this latest ploy to get back to Time Bandits, and what her ultimate motive might be. Besides money, he sighed.
“Why certainly, Edith. That would be just lovely,” Mike said, smiling as sincerely as he dared.
“Wonderful,” she said as she clapped her hands excitedly, kind of like a five year old might.
“You go Disneyland with Genry many times. This right?” Anton asked.
“Many times, Anton. Many, many times.”
“My grandchildren dream to ride Caribbean Pirates, so this I must do.”
“And I’d love to go with you, Anton,” Edith cooed, now putting on her best prom queen aires.
‘And I’d love to go pick some lint out of my belly button,’ Mike sighed – as he leaned back and closed his eyes…
Rolf and Dina were sitting at the big table in the saloon, each reading through the dense notes that Henry had left each of them on their laptops. There were three-ring-binders too, crammed with warranty data and other vital papers necessary for an easy transfer of ownership to Rolf. Tracy sat at the chart table reading her notebook, and as these were Henry’s last words to her she was taking everything kind of hard.
Then, a ping from a timer in the galley and Dina’s cinnamon rolls were finally ready; she iced them then fixed coffee, carrying bowls of fresh melon to the table when everything was ready. And there sat little Clyde, beside Rolf now – as he always was since Christmas day, sitting close to Rolf while quietly taking everything in.
Yet the funny thing about this quiet attentiveness was that, if Rolf or Dina, or even Tracy had cared enough to look over this strange little pup, to look him over a little more closely than they had, perhaps one of them might have noticed the pinkish tinge deep within the pups eyes.
“Pete?” Henry said to his tactician as he muscled the Swan over another eight foot growler. “I think I see a steaming light between us and that squall line. Pull up the radar and see if you can get a range and bearing for me, would you?”
“Got it, Hank.”
“Rupert,” Henry added, “where’d my binoculars run off to?”
“Oh, sorry, I’ll get ‘em.”
Once Henry had his Steiner’s up to his eyes he scanned the flickering horizon but quickly spotted the other sailboat’s mid-mast steaming light, the single light casting a feeble glow on the other boat’s spinnaker. He pushed a button and illuminated the binos internal compass and took a bearing, then waited for Pete…
“Intermittent contact at 243 degrees, range 3.2 miles, but it’s a sketchy contact at best, like they aren’t flying a radar reflector…”
Henry nodded. “Some idiots take ‘em down after the start to decrease windage. You got a distance to the leading edge of the squall line?”
“It’s indistinct, Hank, but call it 12 to 15 miles, so call it 20 minutes max until contact.”
“Okay. Rupert, rig the little storm trysail in the slot, and let’s get ready to douse the main, at least until we know how deep this cell is, but tie in a deep reef for now…”
“Right!” Rupert got his deck-apes forward and it took four of them to bring in the heavy air gennie, but they wrestled it down below while Rupert and another ape reefed the main. Then Rupert looked ahead and now he could just see the sailboat up ahead – and he saw they were still flying a huge tri-radial spinnaker, one designed for sailing on a close reach…but if that squall line hit them while flying such a huge sail, well, he wasn’t a pro at this whole sailing thing but he knew there would be some real trouble on that boat tonight. “Henry? See that spinnaker?” he yelled back to Taggart.
“Everyone must be asleep,” Henry replied, shaking his head. “Pete? Give ‘em a shout on VHF and see if anyone’s awake over there?” He looked at their own boat speed, falling rapidly now that the sails were changed, then he looked at their apparent wind speed – 24 to 28 knots while still on this close reach – but the seas were still modest – and he guessed wave heights were four to seven or eight feet – but that would change fast if this was a deep cell…
He flipped on the loud-hailer and hit five short blasts, then he looked through his Steiner’s to see if there was any reaction…
Nothing. At all…
He hit the horn again, and five short blasts of the sharp piercing sound split the night, but still he saw no reaction, so he altered course a little to starboard to close on the other sailboat…
Rupert came down into the aft cockpit, while the other deck apes huddled in the midships cockpit. “Okay, I checked everyone has got their harness on and everyone’s hooked-in…”
Henry nodded. “They must be on autopilot. That sail is luffing like crazy now, too, but if the wind hits while that fucker is up they’re gonna lose their mast when they roll…”
“Hank!” Pete yelled up from the chart table. “I got someone. Everyone’s racked-out below, some kind of dysentery, everyone’s sick as shit…”
“Tell ‘em to get their sails down – NOW,” Henry cried, “or they’re going to end up swimming the rest of the way to Maui!”
“Jesus, Henry…what the fuck…” Rupert began saying…
…just as lightning slammed into the sea a few hundred yards ahead of the other sailboat.
“Pete!” Henry said, still calmly. “Lightning ahead! Isolate the electronics – and do it right NOW!”
He could see two people on the other boat now, running forward to get the spinnaker down, one of them stopping suddenly before falling to the deck and getting sick, and then lightning slammed into the sea again – but this time between his Swan and the other boat…
“Oh fucking hell,” he moaned inwardly. There was nothing, nothing at all more terrifying than being on a sailboat at sea during a lightning storm, and that bolt had been close…
Then the thunder hit – a sharp splitting of the air within the scudding clouds just overhead, and everyone instinctively ducked…
And now Rupert looked at Henry, still amazed that his friend was showing no outward signs of fear – at all. Well, Henry was the de facto captain on this trip, and like any well trained pilot understands after one day of training, showing outward signs of panic just burns energy and keeps you from focusing on all the things that need attention…
“FUCK!” someone screamed, just after lightning slammed into the water a hundred yards off their starboard beam, and a couple of the deck apes ducked down the forward companionway and slammed the hatch shut behind them. Then – CRACK! – as another ripping wave of thunder tore through the scudding clouds…
“You know all that shit you were saying about sailing to Tahiti?” Rupert growled. “Well, fuck that shit, Amigo. Once this fucking tub gets to Maui I’m getting on an airplane and as far away from this goddamn death-trap as I can get! We’re in the middle of the goddamn ocean, Henry, riding on a fucking lightning rod!”
Henry grinned. “Yeah, ain’t life grand?”
“You mean…you’re enjoying this shit?”
Henry nodded. “We’re alive, Rupert, out here in the middle of the Pacific Ocean on a sailboat. Would you really rather be sitting at a desk in an air conditioned office somewhere? Really?”
Rupert nodded. “I hear you, but…”
“Oh, fuck-a-doodle-do…” Henry sighed, now looking at a wall of white spume engulfing the sailboat ahead of them, still about a mile away, and still with their spinnaker flying.
As Rupert turned to see what had captured Taggart’s attention, he too saw the other boat swallowed up by the advancing storm. “Oh dear God in Heaven,” he mumbled.
“About two minutes!” Henry called out to everyone left on deck. “Double check your harnesses and grab onto to something solid like a grab rail before this thing hits!” Henry looked at Rupert before he spoke next. “Come over here and clip onto the binnacle, get ready to help with the wheel in case something happens to me.”
“Something happens?” Rupert cried. “Like what?!”
“Get the main all the way down now!” Henry called out to the last two deck apes standing-by at the mast, and they wrestled the remaining sail down and got it lashed to the boom just as Henry turned the Swan almost directly into the wind.
Thirty seconds after the last deck ape jumped back down into the midship’s cockpit, the white squall hit.
© 2021 adrian leverkühn | abw | this is a work of fiction, pure and simple; the next element will drop as soon as the muse cooperates.