Chapter 24 -- Driving the Boat
He turned the wheel gently, as he tacked into the headwind a few miles east of Montrose Harbor.
“How’re you doing, Mom?”
She was sitting on the bench, her hair wrapped up in a scarf and her arms crossed across her stomach, almost as if she were hugging herself. She hadn’t felt well all day, and he tried to guide the boat as gently as possible.
“Fine, Tommy. I’m fine. Just a little queasy. I shouldn’t have cooked that chicken. Hamburgers would have been better.
“You’re doing a good job at the helm. Nick is proud of you. Do you think you’ll be ready to get your certification soon?”
He sighed. “I hope so.”
Bree asked, “What’re you thinking about?” She stepped out on the deck.
He shook his head. “Oh, nothing. Just thinking about the last trip I took before my mother came down sick.
“We’d been out on a day like this. It was the last boat trip she ever made.”
“Oh.” She came back and sat on the bench. “She died? I didn’t know.”
“Yeah. Marissa. The boat’s named after her. It was cancer. Less than a year ago.”
When she didn’t say anything more, he began wondering what she was thinking. Probably wondering about Nick and Ruth. He frowned.
“Daddy said you were going to train us to drive the boat.”
He shook away the other thoughts. “I’ll train you to sail. That’s something quite different from ‘driving the boat’.”
He looked at the GPS, checked the telltales and scanned the horizon. It looked like clear sailing.
“Come up here. Stand beside me.”
“Why?” But she stood up.
“Take the wheel in your hands.”
“Are you sure?”
He nodded. “Might as well get started. We won’t get smoother conditions than this.”
Moving behind her, he waited until she got the feel of the wheel before letting go.
“I don’t know where to go.”
“That’s okay. What we’re trying to do is steer in a roughly straight line. It’s hours before we’ll see the shoreline.”
“But I don’t have anything...there’s no lines on the road.”
“Right. I’ve been steering by the compass, but let’s make it easier, just to start. See that big cloud nearly straight ahead.” It was far on the horizon, slightly north of their course, but the prevailing winds would move it southward over time.
“Just steer straight towards it.”
She turned the wheel, a little too quickly, but then, as the massive boat shifted, heeling slightly, she compensated, and it heeled the other way. He let her struggle with it, easing out to a direct course.
“Good. Keep it up.”
He sat back on the bench, closed his eyes, and enjoyed the feel of the sun on his face.
“What else do I do?”
There were a million things, but he didn’t want to overwhelm her to start. “Just enjoy the wind and the water. You’re ‘driving the boat’.”
Marvin came up a moment later. “What’s going on?”
Tommy pointed to Bree. “Training. She’s getting a feel for the wheel.”
Bree pretended to ignore her father, but she had a little smile. Marvin moved over to the bench.
“I’d better try that too.”
Tommy nodded. “But give her another fifteen or twenty minutes.” He stretched out on the bench.
It’ll be good to have other people take a watch. There’s so many other things I need to take care of.
He closed his eyes, just to rest them for a second or two.
Bree looked back when he started to snore. She opened her mouth to make a comment, but Marvin shook his head.
“Of course I’ll come.” Kati met him on the beach in a white bikini, toting a backpack. Tommy pulled the dinghy up on the sand, and she fell into his arms and they kissed. She felt wonderful.
“Is this all your stuff?” he asked, picking up the backpack.
“Almost. The rest is in the Jeep.” She waved to Fred as he drove it down onto the beach and up into the dinghy. “Thanks.” She kissed Fred, and he gripped her hip firmly and they kept on kissing.
Tommy looked at the Jeep, straddled across the gunwales of the dinghy. He pushed hard, but it was stuck in the sand. He looked back, but they were still deep into the kiss, and she was moaning with pleasure in Fred’s arms.
Tommy was startled, as the world under him rocked. He grabbed the cushioned backrest.
“What!” He rolled off the bench, landing hard on the deck. He looked up, at Bree, struggling with the wheel.
She glanced down. “Don’t just lie there! Help me.”
He struggled off fragments of a nightmare. “Okay.”
There were clouds, and the sails were luffing, flapping loosely, because they were at the wrong angle to the wind.
Everything had changed. There were more clouds, and he could see gusts out on the surface of the water. One of them must have caught Bree off guard.
“Here.” He took the wheel from her and turned the ship to a better angle. With a snap, the mainsail billowed out and the Marissa surged forward. He adjusted the jib and soon they were trimmed nicely.
“I don’t know how you did that.” She pouted. “I’ve tried for hours to get the sails to stop making that noise.”
She hadn’t moved away from the wheel and they were standing close. It was a little disturbing.
“Hours?” he asked, stepping back, and letting her grab the wheel.
“Well, a while at least. You’ve been out of it for a long time. Daddy took the wheel for a couple of hours and then I came back.”
She looked at him over her shoulder. “You were dreaming. What about?”
Tommy shook his head. “I don’t remember.”
He looked at the GPS. They’d deviated quite a bit farther south than he’d planned, but at this stage of the trip, it made little difference.
“Turn the wheel slightly to port.”
“Which way is that?”
Save me from landlubbers. “Port is to the left, when you’re at the wheel. It’s the boat’s left, not a person’s.”
She nodded and did as he said. He used the remote winches to adjust the trim of the sails. Soon, they were heading due east again.
Marvin appeared and he moved a little farther away from Bree.
“I thought I heard you two talking up here. Did you get some rest?”
“More than I’d planned. What time is it anyway?” He looked at his watch. He’d been asleep three hours.
“No. I was just planning to inspect all the rigging today. And I need time to work out a new route.”
Marvin looked up at the sails. “You think there might be something wrong?”
“No. But if anything comes loose, it’ll be me climbing up there to fix it. I’d rather check it out in broad daylight.”
“I can take over from Bree. That’ll give you a little more time.”
“Hey! I’m doin’ fine here.”
Tommy grinned. “Okay, you two fight it out. I need to take a trip below.”
Marilu had been busy. The chaos of seven people in tight quarters had been tamed when there were only four.
“Just need to use the head.” He pointed to the toilet.
It smelled of disinfectant when he closed the door behind him. It was welcome. One more task he wouldn’t have to do himself.
He looked longingly at the shower head. Sleeping in the sun had left him a little grubby. But he had other things to do right now.
“Would you like something to eat? I’ve got some fruit.”
He took an apple. “Thanks.”
At the navigation desk, he rummaged through the shelves, quickly finding charts for the eastern coastline. He hesitated. There’s something else I need to do. What was it?
Nick had said something about documents. He hadn’t thought about it at the time, but which documents?
And I really need to look through everything. Dek could have stolen something else.
He bit into the green-skinned apple, and realized just how hungry he was. Marilu was working on something in the galley. It would probably be good, whatever it was.
Mom’s cooking always tasted better on the water.
He was better off than Nick. Ruth said she wasn’t a good cook.
A little depression moved into his spirits. So much to do, and I’m the only one who can do it.
He stuffed the papers back onto the shelf and secured everything. He’d hunt for Nick’s documents later.
She looked timid. “It’s Sunday, and Marvin and I were planning to have a little worship service. Would you like to come down a little later and join us?”
He hesitated. “Do you think you could do it topside? We’ve still got hours to travel before I can think about anchoring for the night, and I don’t trust the autopilot yet.”
“Ready to turn it over?”
Bree looked up from the wheel. She smiled and shrugged. “It’s fun. But I get tired.”
“Had any problems?” He sat on the rear bench beside her.
She stood up close to the wheel. “It’s not like driving a car, is it? For one thing, you can sit down or stand up.”
“Do you drive?”
She glanced at the hatchway. “Not officially, but I’ve done a little.”
The sail snapped and it startled her. “That’s what bothers me the most. The wind changes, and I’m always afraid we’ll turn over.”
“Not likely on a day like today.” He stood up and scanned the waters. “You have to look for the wind.”
“How? It’s invisible.”
He pointed off to the north. “Look. See that dark patch on the water.”
She looked. “Hmm. Yeah, I guess.”
“That’s a gust of wind. It churns the surface, making it look darker.”
It was coming their way. She tensed up.
“I hate this. What’ll I do?”
“I shouldn’t move the wheel to try to keep the boat from turning over?”
“This is a sailboat. It’s supposed to be tilting. It’s already tilting, don’t you see that?”
She hesitated, and looked at the boat and the horizon. “Ah. I guess. I didn’t notice.”
“We’re at about ten degrees of tilt, which is just fine. You’ve seen sailboats out of the water? You know there’s a big fin hanging below.” She nodded. “Well, that’s not made of cardboard. The Marissa has about four tons of lead weights in that keel. Imagine how much force it would take to tilt the boat over, hauling all that weight to the surface. It ain’t trivial.
“This boat could tilt all the way over, with the sail touching the water, and would pop right back up. It could even go farther than that with no danger, although we’d be drying out the bedding for days if we left the hatch open.”
Just then, the gust hit the sails and they heeled over farther. Bree gripped the wheel tightly and Tommy put his hand on the control board. She slipped a little to the side and bumped up against him, but it was over quickly as they settled back to the previous tilt.
“See. The boat will take care of herself.”
Bree nodded, but said nothing. She was still very close.
From the hatchway, her mother poked her head up. She took in the sight of the two of them side by side at the wheel, and Bree moved back.
“It was getting too claustrophobic down there.” She smiled. “Are you two okay up here?”