CHAPTER THREE - Maiden Voyage
I woke up curled up in a ball down in the corner of the deck between the engine housing and the pilot's chair, but that isn’t as strange as the way I woke up – from a kick in my shin.
“What the hell?” I heard from above. Man, it was one of those kind of nights and it was going to be one of those kind of mornings. Marley was standing above me, looking down at my coiled mass of soggy flesh, still wrapped in a blanket, which was still soaked because I took it in the drink with me, and everything looked like the morning after a reckless night before.
“That’s my stupid line,” I muttered through barely opened eyes.
“Where we going today?” she asked.
“North,” I said through the wet blanket I had drawn over my head, begging a few more precious minutes of shuteye. “You, not so far.”
“You only had one clean shirt,” she said.
“So? I only need one...” I said, looking up to see my only clean shirt draped on her small frame. There is usually something very sexy about a woman wearing your clothes, but not so much right now, because, like she said, it was my only clean shirt.
“C’mon, get up,” she said, like she was the captain of this ship and I was some AWOL sailor. I should have taken this as a warning, but it was just another one of many warnings in my life to foolishly ignore. I did get up, and I woke up, wondering how this dream I was having was going to play out.
“You didn’t bring any clothes?” I said. “Some stowaway.” What she didn’t know is, that clean shirt had been my only clean shirt for four days. “Well, you can give it back in an hour when I put you on land,” I said, a blustery statement with two obvious errors.
Obvious Error #1: I can't even roust my boat and myself, and prepare to sail in an hour, let alone cruise 13 miles and then dock. Here is my usual morning routine:
So, you see, I can’t even get underway in less than an hour and a half.
Obvious Error #2: This may be more obvious to you than it was even to her. As much as having this girl on my boat complicated my life, as much as it may have included certain felonies that even my shady and tenacious lawyer might not be able to unhook me from, as much as it just may have been simply wrong, I knew the minute that I saw her mysterious form in my darkened cabin that I would do anything to keep this girl on my boat.
I skipped a few steps of my morning routine and just got another day’s use out of my clothes. We shared breakfast around the provision crate and she whined about the milk, of which there was none. The route ahead was pretty simple - just 13 miles to Oak Hill, where I knew of a safe landing, where I had promised to shove her free, and where anything could happen.
I started up the Mercruiser, tapped her into high-idle and got to work on the anchor. I had it set pretty well last night – it’s a really small Danforth anchor, one of those with two triangular-shaped blades that flop just right so they dig into the mud. Was named after a Richard Danforth guy who designed it sometime around World War II.
Let me tell you just a little about anchors. Their sole job is to keep a boat in place, protecting it from drifting away and crashing into things like the shore, rocks or other boats. Most all temporary anchors, (the ones on your boat, as opposed to permanent anchors attached to moorings,) work by digging into the bottom, and they do this best by laying down.
When you set an anchor, you should let out at least three times as much rode as the depth of the water. Right, the term “rode” includes your rope, if you use one, and your chain. The longer that rode, the better - maybe even seven times the depth - for three reasons. First is the more obvious: pulling horizontally digs the anchor in the bottom more. The second is that rope stretches, and 50 feet of rope will stretch much more than 15 feet, softening the tug on the anchor. The third reason is a little less intuitive; let’s say the water is 10 feet deep. If you let out only 10 feet of rode, then every time your boat bobs up and down, the anchor will lift right off the bottom, and it’s not really an anchor when it does that, is it?
But, if you let out, say, 100 feet of rode, then your boat can bob all it wants and it will barely tug the anchor up. Make sense? And when you want to remove that anchor, you get right above it and pull straight up to free it from the bottom.
That’s the thing about anchors; if you have one of decent size, and you have enough chain, with secure hardware and rope, (ground tackle,) and you’ve tied it properly to your boat, then you can weather any storm, but with a small anchor or not having it set properly, or a weak chain, then any stiff wind, current or storm will just tear you apart. And that’s all I’m gonna say about relationships.
My anchor is so small that it’s really just meant for day-use, fishing and stuff, so I added about 20 pounds of chain between it and the rope, which is supposed to keep everything more or less horizontal for better traction. Anyway, it had pretty good traction last night, and I pulled it up with about 10 pounds of mud on it - a real backbreaker. Not gonna lie to you, as I pulled that anchor up, I tried my best to do it in a manly way, not that I… well, anyway, and that’s when Marley used the “G” word.
“You got that Grandpa?” she said. “I can help you...” She put me right in my place with a single word – dang that girl.
“I have it,” I said. “Just hang on - this thing weighs more than you.”
“107 pounds?” she said.
“Yeah, about.” I coiled the rope in the forward locker and let the chain and anchor fall in on top of it.
I climbed off the bow and onto the deck. Marley stood at the windshield and I took the controls, inching the throttle down and pulling out slowly with our bow high in the air. After we were clear of the harbor, I pushed on the throttle and brought the Stolen Gun up on plane, easing up a bit to cruise at 21 mph.
She runs really nicely at this speed, with that little four-cylinder humming along at 3400 rpm. We didn’t talk much, standing side-by-side and riding into a blazing sunrise.We would be at Oak Hill in less than an hour, and as we steamed along the palmettos and sprawling oaks, I considered what I would do in the next hour, and for the rest of my life.
“That was fun,” she said 35 minutes later as I eased the throttle down and brought us off plane. We had arrived at Oak Hill and I steered us toward the public boat ramp.
“Where you going to go?” I asked, being the one to start this ball rolling.
“I don’t know,” she said.
“Can you get back to The Man Eating Bear?” *
“Don’t want to. Maybe I’ll stay here.”
“There’s nothing here for you.”
“There’s nothing everywhere - there’s everything nowhere.”
“What does that mean?”
“I don’t know - what would you like it to mean?” She was spinning me again, and I had to keep us on track.
“A girl shouldn’t be wandering like that,” I said.
“You’re one to talk.”
“Look, I got a… this isn’t about me.” I eased us to a dock and spun the wheel to kick our stern around. “I can’t have you walking the streets,” I said.
“You can’t have me on this boat either."
“This boat is too small for the two of us,” I said. "You’re too young - it’s dangerous out here. It’s no life for a girl!” I tried everything, but she just stared at me with that smirky, dopey grin of hers, almost enjoying watching me founder. I knew that taking her onboard could be the sorriest mistake of my sorry life, that women are trouble and young women are trouble in high seas. I knew that there were countless reasons why I should not do what I was about to do, but standing before me in an old pair of baggy shorts and my only clean shirt, I saw 107 reasons to let her stay.
“Let’s go get you some clothes,” I said.
* Wondering where The Man Eating Bear came from? It's the restaurant where our two characters met, and I just added it in. See its description in Chapter one, below the photo of the fish sandwich.