Monday, September 24, 2012

Breaking Anchor - Part 39 of 44

© 2012 by Henry Melton

Chapter 39 -- Hull Inspection
Tommy changed course, rounding the west side of South Manitou Island as the sun started lighting up the clouds for a spectacular sunset. Marvin was mixing resin to patch the fiberglass hole in the dinghy. He’d insisted on doing it. He’d worked with fiberglass before.
“In other circumstances, I’d anchor here, but with that alert I triggered, we need to keep moving.”
They were probably flying a helicopter over the Traverse City bays already. How long would it take them to realize that their prey had gotten away?
Down below, he could hear bits of argument from female voices.
Marvin began applying the resin over the glass cloth with a metal spatula. “Are you planning to sail all night again?”
“Probably. Or at least until I find a good anchorage. The closer we get to the Mackinac Bridge, the more it worries me. I’d like to take some time off to give the boat a complete top to bottom inspection. When we go through the strait, I want everything to be in perfect shape, with no chance for a breakdown.”
“Makes sense.” He worked the resin over the cloth until everything was smooth. It would take several hours to set up properly, and then it’d need to be sanded.
Marvin began his cleanup.
“Tommy. I appreciate what you’ve been doing for us. Especially now. When I thought you’d been captured, and it was up to me to sail us to safety, all the little things -- they were overwhelming.”
He just nodded, uncomfortable. Accepting praise was difficult, but being reminded of how close he’d come to losing the Marissa was unbearable.
“It got me to thinking,” Marvin said, not meeting his eyes. “You seem particularly worried about going through the locks to Lake Superior.”
Marvin rubbed his chin with the back of his hand to avoid getting the resin on his face. “Well, I was thinking -- what about if we docked somewhere short of the locks and hired a local to take the ship through for us? We could take a taxi or even hike across the city, and pick it up on the other side.
“We could make up some story, and if there are company agents waiting, we couldn’t be identified if we weren’t there. What do you think?”
It felt horrible to Tommy. Marvin just didn’t understand how he felt about leaving the ship again. He’d almost lost her once. How could he imagine he’d want to do it again?
“I’ll think about it.”
And he would. It was a valid option -- if nothing went wrong. How can I believe in a fantasy like that?
Marvin took one watch during the night, but Bree was restricted to the cabin below, part of her punishment for her rescue attempt.
“It’s not that I don’t appreciate what she did,” Marvin explained. “Leaving you behind was sickening to all of us, and it was a great weight lifted off me when I saw you waving in the dinghy.
“But she’s gotten out of control. Surely you can understand our position. There’s consequences even when you’re doing the right thing.”
Tommy took over the helm and Marvin went below to get some sleep.
Consequences happen even when someone else does the right thing. Nick decided to be David to the company’s Goliath, and here he was, an innocent school kid, on the run.
But he could understand Bree’s parents. No matter that he was the beneficiary of her rebellion, they were trying to take care of her, hoping to tone down her impulse to trouble.
I got punished a few times myself. He smiled at a few memories. More than a few times.
But I was never brave enough to do what she did. He was rebellious enough as a toddler, but when he was older, there were other issues to keep his mind distracted.
I missed out on the whole teen rebellion thing. Unless being the object of a multi-state manhunt counts.
Breakfast was late, delayed by the approach to the five mile long South Fox Island. He insisted on sailing completely around the island, shaped like a fat boomerang, and topped with trees above the dunes on the shore.
He set anchor on the south side.
“Finally!” Bree said, when he came down below. The table was already laid out and Marilu was turning the final pancakes.
Everyone seemed to be at peace. Bree was ready for a watch at the helm, but when he explained that they’d be staying put for a few hours while he worked on the ship, she was pleased.
“Hey, that’s great. We can go to the beach.” She’d been watching out the window.
“Now Bree,” her mother said. “That might not be safe.”
Tommy thought about it as he dug into his thickly buttered stack. It just might be easier if he could get rid of them for a bit. He was going to be opening all the hatches in the floor and looking into all the nooks and crannies. What would they be doing? Waiting on top, fishing?
“Marvin. Is the dinghy safe to use?”
“Probably. You think the island’s okay?”
“Why not? The beach is only a few hundred yards away, and you could be back aboard quickly if any other ship arrived.”
He looked at Marilu. “And you’ve been stuck down here the whole time. Believe me it’ll do you good, all of you, to have some ground under you for a bit.”
“Don’t you want me to stay and help?”
“Naw. I can handle it. Go have some family time.”
After breakfast, he got started on his inspections in the same chambers he’d investigated before. This time he paid particular attention to the water system.
Just as he’d expected, there was a system of small pipes that ran purified water to the electrical system. Each of the super batteries had a water tube.
“But what’s this?” he whispered, as he traced another tube.
“Hey, Tommy!” It was Bree.
“In a minute.” He worked his way back to the access hatch and looked up at her. She was wearing her bikini, barely. She struck a pose.
“Are you sure you don’t want to come swimming with us?”
He grinned. “I’ve got work to do. Besides -- no bathing suit.”
“I don’t mind.”
“I think Marvin would.”
On cue, her father called down from topside. “Bree, come on. Quit being a bother.”
She turned, leaving a final word, “Chicken.”
He sighed. She was, indeed, a pleasure to watch.
Back in the guts of the ship, he traced another water line to a bulkhead.
The access hatch for the next section was in the main living space, just forward of the table. There was a thin rug, almost linoleum, that covered that area, which he had to roll up.
The flashlight revealed changes here too. The last time he’d seen this cavity was when Nick had checked the bilge pump nearly a year before. The pump, which removed any water that had collected inside the hull, was located down at the very lowest point, right above the keel.
Now, there was equipment where there had been nothing before. New equipment.
Carefully, to avoid kicking anything, he lowered himself down into the pit.
The water line he’d spotted went to an anonymous silvery box, as well as a power cable. From the other side of the box, a second tube left, and headed downward into the keel itself.
The tube was marked with skull and crossbones stickers, its whole length.
Tommy sat back and stared at it.
What gadget will take purified water and turn it into something poisonous? How could it do that?
But that wasn’t the only puzzling thing. Something radical had been done to the structure of the ship.
He remembered the old keel. It was just a big heavy fin built into the bottom of the hull. It was filled with lead, to make it heavy. Big, massive, dumb.
What he saw in the flashlight’s beam was much different. Pipes went down into the keel. And not just a water pipe either. He saw two heat pipes, both the hot and cold sides that powered the Sterling engine. There was the strange poisonous tube, a thick power cable, and other cables that were probably some kind of control system.
Whatever the keel had become, it was obviously no longer a simple, lead-weighted fin.
But the ship still sails. Whatever the changes, it had been done to the interior, but the keel still served it’s basic purpose. The ship sailed true. It wasn’t pushed over by the winds. The Marissa rode stable.
It appeared heavily designed, this new keel. Structural supports radiated out from the center, connecting it firmly to the rest of the hull.
He went back to the aft access area. With new eyes, he rechecked the equipment. There was more complexity than he’d seen before, and gadgets he’d tentatively labeled as control systems now looked totally alien. He’d been kidding himself. He had no idea what they were. The battery system was more complex too. It was wired in both series and parallel, a heftier version of what had been done to the dinghy and the motorcycle. Something on board needed an enormous amount of power. Could the engine be one of Marvin’s superconductive motors? Could the ship go faster than hull speed?
I need more information.
There were more logbooks than were honestly needed by a weekend sailor over a couple of years. He’d put off trying to read them all. There had always been too many other chores to deal with.
He started flipping through the pages. Starting shortly after they’d taken the Marissa out of the water for the Sterling/hybrid refit, the notations began to be more complex and more cryptic. Nick had done a lot of work on the ship, and he’d been at it for a long time.
I need to see the hull, from the outside.
And now was the time. He had the ship to himself.
Grabbing the binoculars, he went on deck and scanned the shore.
Bree was stretched out on the sand, sunbathing, probably asleep. Her parents were several hundred yards down the beach, wading in the water. Bert was running through the surf, chasing something Marvin threw.
I need to wash my clothes anyway.
He grabbed a laundry bag, a white net with a drawstring, and walked around to the far side of the cabin, hidden from shore and pulled everything off. He slipped over the side.
Cold! Breathing quickly, as he tried to get used to it, he rinsed everything out and stuffed them in the bag, dangling off the side.
Quickly now, before I turn blue.
He took a deep breath, and ducked under the surface.
Everything ached. His eyes strained. He had to come back up for air. It was harder than he’d thought.
I’ve got to do this.
The second time went better. He was getting numb, and it helped. The water was crystal clear. He could see the anchor line stretching away into the distance.
He turned to the keel, and then had to go back up for air.
That’s not a fin. It was a winged keel. Beginning as a wide, fat fin close to the hull, it branched like an upside-down ‘T’, with wings forming the bottom.
It was a standard option on many modern sailing ships, but the Marissa used to have a simple fin keel, he was sure of it. He’d seen it when they’d taken her out of the water.
Breathing several times in quick succession, he ducked down again. He pulled himself down under the hull and grabbed the leading edge of the keel, holding himself in place while he got a good look.
He did it twice, the second time going farther back to look at the wings. His lungs were about to explode, as he fought to stay there, seeing more detail.
But he had to breathe. Air burst from his lungs as he reached the surface.
Gasping, he grabbed for the clothing bag, something to hold onto, until he could catch his breath.
He grabbed Bree’s hand instead.

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