Okay, time to wrap this one up. Grab some tea and I hope you enjoy the moment.
[Yes \\ Turn of the Century]
The Last Part of the Tale
By our fourth day out we were getting a much better picture of the damage up and down the west coast. It had been, unfortunately, one more hot summer, and lava ejected from Mount Hood had set off forest fires that were spreading over central Oregon and southern Washington state. More troubling was the news that Mount Shasta, a long dormant cone volcano located in northern California, had been upgraded from Potential to Imminent Eruption status by the US Geological Survey, and while no one was saying why all these volcanoes were suddenly letting go, the obvious conclusion was that forces released by the Cascade fault was, somehow, forcing a huge increase in upwelling lava. No one had been able to get close enough to Mount Baker, north of Seattle, to check the status of that volcano, and there had been little contact with anyone in the Seattle region since Rainier’s massive eruption.
Ash was obscuring most of the Pacific Northwest from satellite observation, but that wasn’t the case in California. Imagery was being posted on NASA’s Earth Observatory website almost hourly now, and bit by bit the damage in California was becoming alarmingly clear. Fires were raging east of Oakland and south of San Francisco, and the first detailed high resolution images of downtown San Francisco revealed catastrophic damage. Los Angeles was a different story, however.
The west side of LA seemed relatively unscathed and LAX appeared largely intact, but the downtown area had been obliterated and fires appeared to be out of control, literally, as no emergency services could be detected in image after image. Both San Diego and Santa Barbara appeared untouched, though no one was getting through – with the lone exception being radio contact with the huge Navy base in San Diego.
Barnacle Bill and, for that matter, everyone on Haiku remained quiet as we digested the news. Carolyn had taken on six strangers from the flotilla which was probably a good thing, because a couple of them were experienced sailors. Haiku had been sailing under staysail and a deeply reefed main ever since, just so the much larger boat wouldn’t run away from the rest of us, but what I remember most about our fourth day out was waking up and finding that Haiku had left us. I could still just see her through binoculars, but she was under full sail when she sailed out of radar range later that afternoon.
I picked up satellite imagery of the latest weather information that evening and the storm we’d feared had been pushed east by the North Pacific High, and when I woke at dawn on our fifth day out, I swore as I headed topsides, only to be greeted by a mirror smooth ocean that seemed to stretch out to infinity. Only now it was hotter than Hades on deck, and Max really, really didn’t like that. I put his large astro-turf mat up on the foredeck, which was where I wanted him to do his business when we were at sea, but he looked at me like I was crazy. I went out in my bare feet and soon found out why: one step on our teak decks was enough to fry my feet and his paws, so we dropped down to the swim platform and he dutifully did the deed down there after I soaked the teak with sea water.
Life onboard was of course like nothing I’d ever expected it to be. The first and most important reason was the Gutierrez family, all five of them. Jesus and Matilda were from Guatemala, and he’d been working as a security guard at a small boat builder’s yard north of the city that night. He’d been living with his family in a small trailer on the grounds, but when he heard the tsunami warning he’d gathered his family and hopped in the first boat he found, a little Boston Whaler skiff the boatyard used from time to time. He’d seen Haiku motoring by on the sound and raced out to join the flotilla, and now here they were, on their way to Hawaii with the rest of us. Fortune favors the bold, no?
Heidi Mathieson was the second reason I found for my unexpected new life, perhaps because she was the strangest creature I’d ever run across. She’d graduated from college just a few months before all this broke loose, and she had snagged a boat-sitting job when the owner took off for some kind of job assignment in Singapore or Malaysia, she wasn’t sure which. She walked around like she owned everything in sight yet she doted on the Gutierrez kids. Max looked at her like he couldn’t make up his mind about her, which was really kind of strange if you stopped to think about it. His tail didn’t swish when she called his name or fixed his dinner, and most of the time he simply kept away from her – as much as he could given the limited space we shared. I tended to follow his lead, too, as I found her bossy demeanor more than annoying.
Matilda, on the other hand, was pure joy. She inventoried the supplies we had on board to cook with then simply took over the galley. She loved to cook like most babies take to breathing, if you know what I mean. She’d been born to cook, and she lived to see smiles on the faces of those she fed. I managed to whip up some brownies the first morning the kids were onboard, but I otherwise tended to eat salads night and day; I even served Max’s dinners of chopped veggies and canned chicken on a bed of fresh chopped kale, so he was a salad fiend too.
But now that Matilda was in charge of the galley things had changed. I had stowed a bread maker away somewhere, but she found my supplies of flour and corn meal and went nuts making homemade tortillas, and soon we were putting away huevos rancheros for breakfast and enchilada tortes for lunch or dinner. Jesus caught a few fish so we had fish tacos and ceviche, and life fell into new routines of epicurean bliss.
Until the wind returned, anyway. And after sitting becalmed for two days the wind felt invigorating. Until it didn’t. On the second day of this new, much colder wind, it really piped up, blowing a solid 25 knots indicated out of the northwest, and then the wave height began increasing until we were surfing along the crests of eight footers for hours on end. Steering under these conditions was tiring, and even though Heidi had some offshore sailing experience, Tiki’s 43 feet of heavy displacement was often too much for her. Thankfully, Jesus proved to be an eager learner and an able helmsman, and he seemed grateful to have some purpose onboard other than caring for his children. Yet something was wrong, and we all felt the change now.
For even though it was mid-summer it was only 50 degrees out, but with the increased wind it was growing seriously cold. Tiki has a solid dodger, or a hard covering over the companionway, and while this provided effective cover when sailing into the wind it did nothing to obstruct wind coming from astern. The hydraulic autopilot installed on Tiki was of little use now, though the Hydrovane self-steering gear was managing well enough, but it was getting too cold to stay outside for very long.
Yet as I watched our position advance across the chart I kept waiting to feel a little more warmth in the air – but day after day our hoped for warmth simply wasn’t showing up to the dance. Five hundred miles out from Oahu the temperatures were continuing to fall, and we hadn’t seen the sun in almost two weeks. No one onboard was attuned enough to the sea to understand what that meant, but one morning Heidi came up into the cockpit and told me I needed to go watch CNN for a while.
And even though it was July and New York City should have been broiling, it was snowing there today. Chicago had been blanketed in volcanic ash, but now the ash had a nice, foot and a half deep layer of fresh snow on top. Duluth reported ice was forming on Lake Superior and the Detroit River was frozen solid, something that had rarely happened over recent winters.
And the BBC reported that all air traffic was still grounded worldwide, though National Guard units were arriving by rail in remote parts of southern California and in Reno, Nevada. Relief convoys were forming up to try and reach the Bay Area and Los Angeles, and railway repair crews would follow the troops in.
And then, when we were still 200 miles off the northeast tip of Oahu, snow started falling on Tiki’s deck.
I didn’t know what to expect next. Nothing made sense.
But approaching Kailua at four in the morning I saw city lights burning through the fog and snow, yet even though Diamond Head was lost in the clouds Honolulu was still burning bright. Calling the harbor master at the Ala Wai Boat Harbor on 16 brought an immediate reply from the US Coast Guard to stay off 16 unless absolutely necessary, so I did the next best thing. I powered up my iPhone and saw I had five bars, so I called the after hours number, expecting to be told the marina was full.
But no, far from it. The harbor master advised that every boat capable of making the trip to Polynesia had either already departed or soon would, and that there were dozens of vacant slips ready and waiting.
“Has a large ketch made it in? Name is Haiku?”
“Sure has. You want me to put you right beside her?”
And that was one less worry to deal with, even though it was beyond surreal to motor into a yacht harbor in Hawaii in the middle of a full blown nor’easter, complete with driving snow and with ice forming on the rigging. The likelihood of finding a snow shovel on Oahu was suddenly weighing heavily on my mind.
But when I pulled into the slip indicated by the harbormaster, I saw Patrick standing in Haiku’s wheelhouse, staring at me as I jumped onto the dock to tie off our lines. And then, after three weeks at sea, it hit me. I was on land again. The world wasn’t heaving underfoot, and I felt queasy, almost seasick – because this place wasn’t rocking and rolling.
Heidi came up, with her backpack already packed, and she hopped off, gave me a brief hug then walked off into the snow. You know, like ho-hum and thanks for the lift. Well, hating her had come easily enough, but not so Jesus and Matilda, or even their kids. I could barely comprehend a world without Matilda in my galley, and Jesus was such a kind soul the thought of losing him too was unsettling. I’d come to rely on them both, I knew, perhaps as much as they were relying on me, but now that we were here they had absolutely no idea what to do, and they had almost no money to see them on their way.
But Patrick came out on deck and asked me to come over to Haiku as soon as I finished up with formalities at the harbormaster’s office, so I asked Jesus to just stay onboard for the time being, then I marched off through the snow to find the office.
Despite the harbormaster’s usual role of maintaining their marina, they are usually a good source of information about all kinds of things in the immediate area, notably jobs, and apparently the main commercial wharves in Honolulu were short-staffed and most local hotels were in need of cooks, so that was one problem down. Next on the list, if Jesus was willing to work security at the marina they’d have a roof over their head, so that was another problem solved, but did I really want them to leave? Well, he’d pass along the information and let them decide what was best for them.
So I walked back out to Haiku and was stunned when I saw the tracks in the snow I’d made a half hour before were now filled-in, while drifting snow was piling up against dock-boxes, and right then I really understood how rapidly the planet’s weather patterns were shifting. I was wearing my full foul weather suit and would freeze to death out here in an hour, but this was Hawaii, in July, and it almost felt like I was having some kind of out-of-body experience. And I guess that explained the expression on Barnacle Bill’s face when I climbed up on Haiku’s deck and walked into the pilothouse.
“Are you alright, or still in a state of shock?” he asked.
“Shock, I think,” I managed to say as I took the towel he offered and started to dry the ice from my unshaved face. “It feels kind of like the North Atlantic…in January.”
He smiled. “We’re at about the same latitude as Havana. Can you imagine snow in Cuba?”
“No, and I don’t want to, either. How long have you been here?”
“Two days. And don’t ask. We’ve both been to the local cathedral, which is what hospitals are called these days, I suppose. Akira is doing very well.”
“I’m here. I suppose that counts for something. How was…your crew?”
“Couldn’t have been better. Yours?”
“Grateful, and they graciously departed as soon as we docked. Carolyn is now an accomplished sailor, and quite proud of herself.”
“You look better, Patrick. Maybe getting out in the sea air agreed with you.”
“Maybe. We were growing alfalfa sprouts so I was eating my weight in the blessed things. Quite the thing with lime and fresh tuna.”
“I’ll take your word for it. Need anything while I’m here?”
“Have you thought anymore about our last conversation?”
I nodded. “Actually, I’ve thought of little else.”
“I guess the reason…well, they’re still aboard. The family I took on, from that little skiff. Guatemalan refugees, lovely people, and I can hardly stand the idea of their leaving.”
“You don’t…hate them?”
“Don’t do this to me, Pat. Okay? Not now?”
He nodded, but his eyes were smiling again. “So? Tahiti?”
I shrugged. “What’s going on weather-wise?” I asked.
“Let me put it to you this way. Brad, the weather guru up in the harbormaster’s office, has a list of people willing to pay for passage to Tahiti. The going rate is a hundred thousand dollars.”
“What the fuck!” I shouted. “Are you shitting me?”
“You know, Neal, I think that’s the first time I’ve heard you swear.”
“A hundred grand? Seriously?”
Pat smiled again. “Seriously,” he replied. “We’re departing on Friday, with twelve guests onboard.”
“Yes it is. Quite a tidy sum, you might say. And interesting what an enterprising pilot, one such as yourself, could earn over the course of a year, don’t you think?”
“What are you saying, Patrick?”
“Let me ask you again. Will you see to my daughter’s care after I’m gone?”
I nodded. “Of course I will, but you already knew that.”
He opened a drawer under his vast chart table and produced the same envelope – again. “Haiku passes to you and Akira on my passing, as a Delaware Corporation, wouldn’t you know. You’ll need to get your captain’s license to be legal, strictly speaking, but I’ll leave all that to you.”
I think a lot passed between us in those uncertain moments, too much for mere words to convey, anyway, but I did see a tear or two in his eyes, and maybe I felt a few of my own, but who knows, really?
“Patrick, I don’t know what to say…” I think I finally managed to say.
“Then don’t say a thing, Spud. Now, where’s that good boy, our little Max?”
Peel an onion and you’ll find many layers.
I wonder if that’s always been the case with us, or did we evolve our thick layers of protective deceit to simply hide our true natures? If only from ourselves…?
Pat’s daughter, Akira, rarely ventured from her stateroom, and she never talked to anyone.
Carolyn’s boyfriend, I soon found out, was a physician. And an oncologist, and this Dr. Andrews was, in fact, Akira’s oncologist. And it turned out he already had everything he needed onboard, from bags of the latest chemotherapeutics to powerful anti-nausea compounds, and he even had a small, desktop-sized device that produced reasonably accurate lab profiles of blood draws. So, in effect, Haiku had been turned into a floating oncology clinic.
Which was why four patients from the University Medical Center were loaded onboard Thursday evening, and why those four were paying a quarter of a million dollars per person for the trip to Papeete. With eight other passengers paying a hundred grand a pop this little three week trip was going to generate almost two million in income. Five such trips would pay for Haiku, and everything after that would be gravy – or maybe enough to pay for her staggering upkeep.
Pat had a small cabin under the pilothouse, and I do mean small, and the first time I stuck my head in there I was stunned to find an otter curled up on a pillow in the middle of Pat’s sea-berth. It looked up at me and blinked once, then resumed its nap; Pat simply looked up at me and smiled, only now his eyes looked almost exactly like the huge snowy owl’s that I’d seen perched on my spreaders in the marina. Huge, amber, and studious – he looked at me over his Ben Franklin reading glasses, and it felt like he was daring me to question what I saw.
“Yes? What is it, Spud?”
“Everything’s loaded aboard. The tide turns at 0330.”
“Are all our provisions loaded in the galley?”
I nodded. “Matilda is getting everything squared away. Do you want something before going down for the night?”
He shook his head. “No. All the assets were transferred to the banks in Papeete this morning. Did that nurse get here yet?”
“Yes. She’ll stay in the little steward’s cabin off the treatment room.”
“Patrick? This boat just doesn’t make sense. How could you have possibly known?”
“What? That sooner or later the world would have to take a step back from the precipice? That sailing ships would once again be the most viable means of moving people across oceans? But Spud…it’s all a game, we live on a giant chess board. You just have to learn to see beyond the next move, but in truth I never expected to live to see this come about.”
“Patrick, you’re talking as if you’ve been expecting the collapse of civilization?”
“The collapse? Oh, no, far from it, Spud. This was just a momentary reset, a temporary change of course, but that’s the way it’s always happened. Nothing lasts forever, Spud. Whole industries will collapse – but new industries will emerge, and right now you and I are simply assisting in a brief, rapid relocation of assets, helping the next generation of change to emerge, to begin again.”
“So, we’re just cogs in some vast, cosmic machine?”
He laughed. “No, more like footnotes in a never-ending story. Maybe our names will be mentioned in an index somewhere, but I rather doubt that. So, this Matilda? She’ll stay here and her husband will come along in Tiki?”
“Yes, along with Heidi, the other girl that came over with us. She’s asked to rejoin the crew.”
“I dare say. Anything will be better than conditions here for the next few years. So, Matilda’s children will make the trip on Tiki?”
I nodded. “And we’re carrying four passengers.”
“She might be big enough to carry the mail to regional islands, assuming you can find crew for her.”
“That won’t be a problem in Papeete,” I added. “Assuming the weather doesn’t get too wild, anyway.”
“Oh, it will fluctuate as it destabilizes and seeks a new equilibrium. Hopefully we won’t lose satellite coverage anytime soon.”
“Any news from the States I need to know about?”
“Oh,” he sighed, “not much. Some talk of nationalizing the response to rebuild ports on the west coast, more blather about a new ship building program. And of course the usual suspects going on and on about the need to become a multi-planetary species, yada-yada-yada. I did hear something about the Gulf Stream cooling rapidly, so Europe may be in for a cold spell.”
“But that means fewer hurricanes in the Gulf, right?”
Pat nodded. “Complex systems only survive be maintaining equilibrium, Spud. You’ll want to concentrate on moving people from Hawaii this year, then moving many of these same people to Auckland or Sydney next year. By that time you’ll need to have started work on Haiku II, and with her you can link up to Singapore, then possibly even Japan. By the time you retire you should reestablish contact with North America, and who knows, maybe air transport will resume by then, as well.”
I looked at the otter, then at Patrick. “This an old friend?”
His amber eyes blinked slowly, but he then just looked away – trying to hide a growing smile. “We’ve been together for some time, you might say.”
“Like Max and me?”
“Precisely. What was the name of that television show you used to watch with your father? About a war veteran sailing the South Pacific, wasn’t it?”
“Yes. Adventures in Paradise. James Michener wrote a few of the episodes, but it was his idea, when all was said and done.”
“Ah. Some Enchanted Evening. Did you ever see the musical? In person, I mean?”
I smiled too. “Mary Martin, yeah. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that night.”
“Yes. Funny what we choose to remember. And what we fail to forget. Do you think of him often?”
“My dad? Yeah, all the time.”
“Well, I suppose he’ll be with you then, on your next adventure?”
“I hope so.”
“You’ll take care of Max, won’t you?”
“Of course, but…”
“You’d better go topsides and check the rigging for ice. And be careful, Spud.”
His whole demeanor had been changing by the minute, wistful here, then playful, but I went topsides and walked the vast decks, shining a bright light up into the rigging, knocking some snow and ice off one of the headsail furling units as I thought about what he’d meant. Then I checked in with Matilda and found she was baking brownies, then I talked with Carolyn and her doctor friend before I went back to Patrick’s tiny cabin to say goodnight.
But he was gone. Simply gone, and it was as if he’d never been there. Or maybe he’d never really existed at all, yet Pat’s otter was standing on his pillow just then, playing with the pure white feathers from the wing of a snowy owl.
Coming south from Hawaii, you typically spot the craggy spires of Mou’a Roa on the island of Moorea before your eyes find the twin spires of Tahiti’s Mont Orohena, and that was the case on our seventeenth day out of Honolulu. Haiku of course handled the passage with ease, and her long waterline and voluminous sail-plan ensured our passage was a fast one. Doc Andrews had his hands full, however, as two of our passengers were oncology patients and one was on dialysis. Had Patrick installed a single, portable dialysis unit just for himself, or had he envisioned Haiku becoming some sort of inter-island hospital ship? I suppose I’ll never know the answer to that question, but with his God’s eye view of things, notably the prescience to build Haiku in the first place, I had been left in awe of his grasp of time. And our place in the stream.
And yes, I missed him terribly. So did Max. And of course, so did Charles, Pat’s infernal sea otter. From time to time I saw that great white owl, too. He stood watch from the second set of spreaders on the foremast, though occasionally he came down to the deck to take food from Akira, usually a few slivers of raw salmon. She would stroke the feathers on his head and often I could hear her speak in slow, soothing cadences to him, but eventually he’d head back up to his perch and resume his scans of the sea ahead.
Charles and Max, on the other hand, were soon best friends, and when I hit the bunk for some sleep Max would curl up beside me – and Charles would curl up on Max. I started, or should I say restarted, having those most peculiar dreams on that first passage, too. The medieval castle perched over the sea and the infinite bloom of cherry blossoms. I could feel Japan in those dreams, Japan – calling out to me. But hadn’t Patrick told me as much?
I spent what time I could with Akira, yet she remained cool, almost aloof, the entire voyage. She spoke gently when she talked of her father, yet it wasn’t a stretch to say that she was still very uncomfortable with his memory. Things had apparently remained unsettled since the night of sighs, which was what she called the night that Mount Rainier erupted, and I began to suspect that his memory would never be a pleasant one, at least for her.
Matilda was baking cinnamon scones our last morning out, and Haiku was alive with the scent. Our passengers came up on deck and pointed at Moorea’s craggy-spired majesty as they sipped jasmine tea, but few bothered to look aloft at the owl scanning the far horizons. He remained up there the two days we were in Papeete, coming down only to take a few slivers of salmon from Akira, and he remained on his perch even after Tiki arrived, and as cargo and provisions were reloaded aboard Haiku.
Indeed, the old owl remained on his perch as we departed the old quay and turned north, as we sailed free of civilization once again, bound for Honolulu under his patient, watchful eyes. I was walking the deck later that afternoon when I felt a fluttering of wings by my side, and I felt the owl land on my left shoulder. Perhaps I was too stunned to move, yet it was funny, too, in a way. You see, I was not at all surprised when he began to whisper in my ear.
(c) 2023 adrian leverkühn | abw | this was just fiction, plain and simple.
[Rodgers and Hammerstein (v1958) \\ Some Enchanted Evening]
…because that is the way some things happen in life…
Adrian, you never cease to pull me into your tales. Thanks for another brief diversion from life.
Now, back to work.
+1, another mystery within a mystery, thanks!
Wonderful. Thanks for sharing. Somewhere you’ll see her, again and again and again…………….