Chapter 9 -- Offshore
Tommy kept his eyes on the powerboat and the two piers that marked the entrance to the protected harbor. Don’t look. Don’t give him a face to recognize.
He glanced down at his feet. How much of the motorcycle was visible? Was it recognizable as a bike?
The powerboat roared with power and quickly pulled away, turning south along the shoreline at twenty or thirty knots. They were clear of the harbor.
Tommy applied full throttle and the Marissa eased up to her maximum, a comfortable eight knots. She was an elegant lady, a sailboat, if currently lacking a sail.
“East.” He turned the wheel, setting a course to get distance from the shoreline. He didn’t steer by the compass. Just get clear, and if the cleaners had a boat, make it harder for them to find him.
A muzzle poked out from below the bench. Tommy caught the sparkle of the dog’s eyes, watching him.
“And what am I going to do with you?”
He looked at the shoreline, gradually becoming more indistinct. Of course, anyone on shore could plainly see the white sailboat. He’d need to get much farther. He flipped on the autopilot. It would hold his current course for now.
He waved. “You can get out now. I’ve got to stow a few things.” Hesitantly, the shaggy animal eased out from under the bench and then went through the hatchway down into the cabin.
I’ll have to keep him with me until this is over, I guess. I’m not going back to Montrose Harbor until I know what’s going on.
Which brought up the question, where was he going?
Later, after three course changes, he pulled the throttle to its center position, full off. He was far enough out into Lake Michigan that no one was likely to be able to see him.
Chicago, however, was impossible to miss. The whole shoreline was a huge glow, with the more prominent buildings shining in the distance.
Now just wait. He pulled out the cell phones.
Both of them were hunting for signal.
“I’ve gone too far out.” He had to stay within phone range.
He gave a big sigh, and started the engine again, heading back towards shore, slowly.
His phone showed signal first. But his link to Slab beeped just a minute later as it, too, found a signal.
“Good enough.” Tommy stopped the prop and let the boat drift.
He stretched the canvas cover over the motorcycle, after he’d lashed it in place and run a charging cord. He wouldn’t be caught with a dead battery again. The canvas was needed for camouflage more than protection. Weather reports on the shortwave were calm for the next couple of days.
Not that it meant the lake didn’t have waves. Hundreds of miles of open water gave the swells plenty of room to build. The shoreline was built up everywhere with stone breakwaters as defense against them.
He was comfortable with the rocking. Months ashore hadn’t destroyed his sea legs. If he could just let his mind shake the puzzles of the past couple of days, it was very relaxing. He was more comfortable on the water than anywhere on land.
From his seat, he could see the outside instruments; the compass, the GPS, the depth finder, and the engine gauges, diesel level and a meter that he suspected was a battery charge gauge. It was unmarked, but there was a place for a label -- just something Nick hadn’t gotten around to fixing.
The GPS showed a map of his location and it was clear he was gradually drifting closer to shore.
Gotta fix that. He didn’t want to wake up grounded on the shoreline. If he remembered, the keel was nearly seven feet below the waterline. He squinted at the depth gauge, but had to get to his feet to read it properly. 21 feet. Good enough. Let’s keep it that way.
He flipped on the lights, and winced. His eyes had adjusted to the darkness. It also made him nervous. A dark spot on a dark night was easy to miss, but lit up like a Christmas tree, anyone out here searching for him would be sure to see.
Still, he wasn’t about to handle the anchor using a flashlight. He needed both hands.
Everything was in place at the bow, just as he remembered. He pulled the anchor out of its locker. He checked the chain length, and re-tightened the hasp between the chain and the 3/8-inch nylon line. He recalled the textbook calculations for preparing the rode -- the anchor line. The attachment point was three feet above the waterline. Add that to the depth reading. “Twenty-four times seven. A hundred and sixth-eight feet of line.” He released the clutch on the electric winch and quickly lowered the anchor and the rugged chain length to the bottom, and let the boat drift for a moment. It was just like last time, when he set anchor as an exercise for his certification training. With a nylon line, he needed seven times the depth for the length of the rode.
With a quick motion, he looped the line around a cleat. With a jerk, the boat pulled to a stop as the anchor set. Releasing it, he measured off about a hundred and fifty feet by hand before snugging the line to a cleat. As the boat drifted, the line slipped over the side, loop by loop. He was set.
Eyes were watching. The dog peered out of the hatchway.
“Just anchoring the boat. We’re going to be staying here for the night.” Tommy turned off the navigation lights.
“Would you like me to see if there’s anything to eat?”
That was another problem. How long could he stay out before running out of food and water and diesel?
“I don’t wanna. I want to help Daddy.”
Marissa frowned. “Do you want to go out on the boat?”
Tommy looked down at her shoes. “Yeah.”
“Then we all have to help. Daddy has to finish the painting, but we still have to have food to eat and towels and bathing suits don’t we?”
“Then you have to do your part. Now stand up here and hand me all the cans you find in the pantry.”
He missed having his laptop. He’d have listed everything in a spreadsheet. As it was, he scribbled his inventory directly in the logbook, just as his mother had done so many years ago.
“I wish you had a name. I hate just calling you ‘Dog’.”
He added another mark as he found the last of the cans of vienna sausages. They sounded good to him, but he’d have to be careful to reserve most of them for the dog. He could survive on oatmeal and crackers, but the animal needed meat.
The pantry hadn’t been cleaned out since their last family trip. The canned green beans and tomato paste were probably still good, but an overlooked loaf of bread was solid mold. How long did dry macaroni last?
A real prize was a box of health food bars -- peanut with a chocolate coating that had long ago melted and reformed inside the sealed wrapper. Four of them. He couldn’t live on them forever, but he didn’t relish cold green beans and uncooked pasta.
The stove and refrigerator and hot water heater were supposed to run off a tank of propane, but it was empty. Luckily, the ’fridge had been emptied out. Otherwise, it would be solid mold as well. There was a microwave, for when they were connected to shore power, but he didn’t want to risk seeing if the inverter would power it. Who knew how much he’d have to stretch his batteries.
I’ll need to dock eventually. I need supplies. This was hardly a well-planned excursion. Where is Nick? What is he doing?
It was close to midnight, but he was wide-awake. Tommy looked down at the list in the logbook.
“Might as well log a few more things as well, hey Dog?”
He looked around, and saw a fluffy tail in the shadow of the table. Smart dog. Gone to bed for the night.
Log Entry: Saturday 12:10 A.M.
Consumables inventoried, and it looks better than I had expected. The water tanks are full, and contrary to what I remembered, there’s an electric water heater, so I may take a bath in a bit. I’ve been on the run for more than a day now and I stink.
Battery level reads 100%, which I assume is due to running the Sterling engine. The fuel tank, which is 44 gallons, I think, looks to be at 3/4 capacity. Back when we had a diesel engine, that meant about a day’s worth of travel, but I don’t know yet how efficient the hybrid runs.
Checking the refrigerator, I confirmed that it can run on electricity as well as LPG, but since it’s empty, I’ve left it off for now.
Foodstuffs are listed in the previous entry, which means I won’t starve for another three days. I had the last can of chili. It’s better heated. I didn’t know chili had that much grease in it.
Anchored at 41°55’23” North, 87°26’12” West. Chicago visible in the distance.
The hot shower was very relaxing, and he rinsed out his clothes. He looked at the contents of his pockets and stuffed his wallet and change into a drawer. Both cell phones were still on, but they’d shifted to Roam. His phone by proxy was down to one bar of battery, and his private line to Slab showed no charge left.
Great! Do I have a charger on board?
He rummaged and found a car phone charger. Nick, always thinking, had equipped the navigation station with outlets for 110VAC, car cigarette lighter plugs, and 24 volts for other systems. He hooked it up.
I’ll have to alternate. Roam drains the juice. He looked at both phones and put Slab’s on the charger first. He needed them both. Nick’s call, with the solution to this mystery, was critical, but he had to keep Slab happy.
Grabbing his jacket for modesty, he turned out the cabin lights and went up to the wheel for a last look around.
Stars at last. The city lights washed out about half the sky, but to the north, there were more stars than he’d seen in some time.
He tracked a couple of lights on the horizon, other ships, probably commercial shippers or travelers. Surely, the fishermen were docked for the night.
But no racing speedboats with Cleaners aboard, hunting for me. Let’s keep it that way.
He went below, and moving by feel, found the phones and rotated his phone on to the charger. Slab’s phone read full charge, but he doubted it. It had only been fifteen minutes.
Careful to avoid the dog’s tail, he crawled into bed and was quickly asleep.
Up above, the lights on the horizon moved in their courses, oblivious to the dark boat in the dark water.