Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Breaking Anchor - Part 28 of 44

© 2012 by Henry Melton

Chapter 28 -- Bert
“Marvin, Bree. Raise the anchor.”
Bree looked lost. She’d just come up on deck after changing into her new shirt and hat. “I don’t know how!”
“I explained it to Marvin. Ask him.”
Her father waved to the wheel. “I guess you take the controls. I’ll handle the winch.” He moved to the bow.
Tommy sat back on the bench, just watching.
“Okay! Inch forward until I say stop.”
He grabbed a railing when Bree went too fast, and the Marissa swung around like a trout on a fly line.
Still, after a couple of false starts, Marvin got the winch running and began hauling in the line.
“I see the chain! There’s the anchor.”
He heaved the anchor on board and Tommy helped stow it safely in the bow locker.
“Good work. I’ll take it over now.” It wasn’t really a lie. They’d done better than he had, the first time Nick had let him raise the anchor by himself.
Wind was from the north. He checked the maps, and set a course northwest, out into the lake.
“Bring the mainsail in closer.” Bree was his assistant; working the controls he could reach just as easily himself. “Marvin! Watch the pulleys.”
It was all just familiarization now. They should be learning on a less automated ship, pulling the lines by hand and feeling the tug of the sheets, but he wasn’t about to disconnect the automation just as a training exercise.
We’re in hiding, running from relentless enemies -- remember that.
Bree took the wheel, and he let her run with it. There were other chores he had to deal with.
He checked all the deck fixtures, oiling the winches and tightening all the cables. Everywhere he looked, there was more maintenance to be done. He could just note it, to do later. The Milwaukee workmen had done a good job raising the mast, but they’d left grease smears and footprints all over the place. Wire cables needed to be smoothed and taped. Safety gear, like lifejackets and a pair of flotation rings, had to be checked and stowed in the correct locations so that if there was a problem, they could be found without searching.
As he came back to the helm with a rag and spray bottle to clean off dried splashes from the instruments, Bree seemed ready to burst into laughter.
“What’s up?” He asked.
She flushed. “’ll never believe what I just saw.”
“What? Sea monsters?” He spritzed the GPS screen and carefully began removing the smears.
“No!” She lowered her voice. “It’s Bert. He...he ah.”
He grinned up at her. “Did his business?”
“Yes! Right over there, next to the stern.”
“Number one or number two?”
“Two. You know about this?”
“I haven’t been cleaning up after him. There’s no litter box on board. Bert is a very smart dog. Very well behaved.”
She just nodded.
He finished his cleaning and straightened up. “You’re just lucky this is a modern sailing ship.”
“What do you mean?”
He shrugged. “People have been sailing for thousands of years. Indoor plumbing, especially on ships, is a new invention. You don’t think all those pirates in all those movies had a nice sanitary head below decks did you?”
“You don’t mean....”
“Yep. Over the side.”
He gave the throttles a light buff and stared up at the sails. “Yeah, I bet it was painful in the winter.”
After an hour, they tacked to the northeast, and Tommy gave Marvin and Bree a lecture on tacking as a way to sail against the wind, complete with sketched diagrams.
“So...” Bree stared at the notepad. “...going northeast and northwest, you can go north. I get that. But how can you go northeast in the first place? Isn’t that against the wind, too?”
He looked at Marvin. “You want to field that?” He was an engineer, after all. He felt a little presumptuous to explain forces and vectors to the older man.
Marvin shook his head and smiled. “You’re doing fine. Besides, she wouldn’t believe me anyway.”
Bree wrinkled her nose at her father.
“Okay. Bree, it’s the keel. There’s a fin down below.” He stamped the deck with his foot. “It’s like an ice-skate. You can push from the side, but the only direction you can go is forward or backward.”
“Right, so when the wind is from the north, and we’re pointed northeast, why don’t we go backward?”
He nodded. “Look at the mainsail.” It stretched off to the starboard side of the ship, curved and full under the pressure of the wind. The telltales fluttered tamely, showing the airflow.
Tommy gestured with his hands. “The wind isn’t pushing straight against the sail. It’s rushing past the sail, both in front and behind. The curve of the sail acts just like the curve of an airplane’s wing.
“And just like the wing, the sail gets lift -- from the outside of the curve.
“You see, the air has to go extra fast to get around the outside of the curve -- so fast it sucks the sail towards the vacuum it creates. The air pulls the sail and the sail pulls the ship.
“We can move the boom down below here to change the angle of the sail to make sure that the ship gets sucked at least part way in the right direction.
“The keel and the rudder make sure we go the right way through the water, but the trim of the sail is the important part. Without it, we would be pushed backward.”
He drew more diagrams, but Bree looked more at the sails than at the paper, and he suspected she’d figure it out. Most sailors just got a feel for how it worked, without the physics lecture.
Tommy took the wheel for another hour or so, until the shoreline again looked too close, and then they tacked back to the northwest.
He turned it over to Marvin. “Call me back in two hours. I’m going to get a nap.”
Marvin looked at his watch and took the wheel.
Down below, Marilu looked up from a two year old sailing magazine.
“Hello, Tommy. I’ve been meaning to ask you about the galley.”
He held up a hand. “Could it wait a little? I’m sorry, but I just turned the watch over the Marvin and I need to take a little rest.”
“Fine. It’s not critical.”
“Great. In a couple of hours we can talk about it.”
He closed the door to the aft bedroom and closed the drapes on the windows. Weariness had come hard a few minutes ago, and he needed to make the most of it. It’s best to sleep when your body tells you it’s time.
Bree knocked on the door. “Tommy! It’s time to wake up.”
He blinked his eyes. “Okay! I’ll be up in a minute.”
I need a bath. His skin felt grubby, and his mind was sluggish. But it was probably time to tack again, and he intended to be at the wheel every time they were heading easterly, back to the shoreline. If he overslept heading out toward the middle of the lake, nothing was lost but a little time.
Oversleep heading into the rocks, and it could be a disaster.
He struggled to his feet.
Bert was waiting at the door. The instant he opened it, Bert took his hand in his teeth and pulled him back into the bedroom.
“What is it?” He pulled his hand free. It hadn’t hurt this time, but he wished Bert had a better way to get his attention than with his teeth.
The dog slipped around him and nosed the door shut.
He wants privacy! 
“Okay, I’m paying attention.”
Bert went to the main engine hatch in the floor and with his forepaw, padded at the pull ring. He couldn’t get at it and with a little growl, he tugged at the Velcro on his shoe with his teeth and the shoe came free.
He got his toenails under the ring and popped it up. The hatchway was clearly too difficult for him to open himself, but he nosed the ring, looked at Tommy and barked quietly.
“Okay. I don’t have much time, but you want me to look down in here.”
He pulled up the hatch. “What is it?” The engine was silent, not turning at all. Obviously, it had charged the batteries and then shut itself down.
Tommy sighed. “Twenty questions, is it?” 
Bert nodded.
“Is it something to do with the engine?” No.
“There’s something else down there?” Yes.
“Is it something urgent, dangerous?” No.
“Something I should know about?” Yes.
“Something Nick put down there?” Yes.
“Can I wait until later?” Yes.
Tommy nodded. “I asked you for help, and you’re trying to tell me, aren’t you?” Yes. 
“Then, I think you’re the best dog in the world. I’ll come back and look closer when I get my next break. Is there anything else?”
Bert dashed over to where his shoe had fallen and he snatched it up and presented it to Tommy.
“You want it back on?”
Bert nodded. Tommy knelt down and slipped it back into place.
“It’s good that you can take them off on your own, when you need to. Just try to make sure they stay in a safe place. If they get washed overboard it might be days until I could get them replaced.”
Up on deck, Marvin gave him the report. Winds had died down a bit, but they were still on course.
“Okay, I’ll take over for now.”
He nodded and stepped back. Tommy checked the GPS. They were another half mile or so until he intended to make the tack.
“Marvin? How smart do you think Bert is?”
He looked around, but the dog was still below.
“I don’t really know. We talked about IQ and such back when he was at the lab, but really, all that is meaningless.
“Bert is a dog, not a human. IQ tests are statistical comparisons on human populations. They cover things humans are good at. A dog IQ test would have to be based on things dogs are good at. We looked for some, but there was nothing beyond how house pets behave.
“I think Bert appears so smart because he seems to understand English -- not just a half-dozen or so words. He listens to us, and within his limitations, can react like a person.”
“His limitations?”
“Yes. He’s still a dog. There’s no genetic alteration here, just different parts of his brain developed better because of the diet. He has no hands. He can’t talk. All his instincts are canine, not human. And his vision is different.”
“I heard dogs are colorblind, but I asked Bert to get my yellow slicker, and he brought it to me.”
Marvin smiled. “Did you have a red one too?”
“Uh, no. I guess that doesn’t prove anything, if he understood what a slicker was.”
“But actually, dogs do have some color vision. They can see yellow and blue, just not red and green. But the most serious handicap for Bert, given his understanding of speech, is that he has no fovea, so there’s no way he could read text. He has better peripheral vision, but less depth perception. He can’t see fine details, but he’s better at seeing motion.”
Bree had come up and joined them. She had been listening intently.
“But he understands us talking? That makes him a genius. It’s a human world after all.”
Marvin shrugged. “But how does he cope as a dog? Is he smarter at dog things? Or has the language skills left him deficient with other dogs? How can we tell?”
Tommy looked up, scanning the horizon. Off in the distance, he could hear something.
“Bree! Take the wheel. Marvin, I think that’s a helicopter coming this way. Get below.”
He was gone in a flash.
Bree grabbed the wheel and looked in the distance, following Tommy’s lead. “It could be.”
Tommy had been watching its course. “It’s shifting, heading our way. I’d better get out of sight, too. Can you handle it?”
She nodded. “Go.”
Tommy ducked into the hatchway, peering out from the darkness.
Bree turned back to the wheel, trying to ignore the approaching helicopter. The engine noise increased, and then Bree whipped off her hat and tugged at her T-shirt.
In an instant, she’d gone topless. She replaced her hat. His mouth dropped open. What is she doing?
The helicopter approached, and she looked up at it, smiling and waving.
And then the noise dropped away. He hesitated, creeping back up the steps, but still staying in the shadows.
“You, stay put!” Bree hissed. She snatched up her top and was dressed again. “Okay, I think he’s gone.”
Tommy looked down at Marvin and Marilu. “You two stay here for a bit. I’ll check things out and call you when its safe.”
He came out, cautiously. But the helicopter was just a dot on the horizon.
“What was that all about?” he asked in a whisper.
She grinned like an imp. “I think they were taking pictures. Isn’t it better if the analyst pays more attention to me than to the ship?”
He took the wheel. “I just think you like to tease.”
“Could be.” Her face was flush with excitement.
She knew I was watching from the hatchway. Would she have done it if I weren’t?

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