Archive for the ‘Tell Tales’ Category

Wednesday, August 30th, 2017

Happy Birthday Ralphie …….I Hope You Like Your Present.


It wasn’t a hospital. I knew that. But it had that antiseptic smell that hospitals have.

I was slowly rocking back and forth so it couldn’t have been a bed.

Coming out of what seemed like a deep sleep, I felt like you feel after major surgery.

Nothing was quite solid yet and I wasn’t seeing too well. Everything was cloudy, out of focus and unfamiliar.

My brain began clearing and I was starting to shake off that,  I’ve been drugged feeling. I still had no idea where I was or what had happened to me.

There wasn’t any pain. My arms and legs were starting to come back to life and my muddled head was connecting to the rest of my body.

I was in a place I’d NEVER been before.

Nothing was broken or bandaged. I guess It hadn’t been a bad accident or fall

After a deep intake of air, the cobwebs were cleared out.

Looking around I was shocked. I was on a cockpit deck of a SAILBOAT!

Stretched out and wearing boating clothing, shoes, shorts and all.

It was pretty strange to say the least.

I HAVE sailed before. In fact I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t sailing. It’s the most important part of my life. It seems like I’m always ready to sail, But I sure as hell don’t remember getting on THIS boat. But here I am, and it appears I’m alone!

“Ahoy! Hey! Anyone on board? Is there anyone around?”

No answer.

What the heck had happened to me? How’d I get here?

I muttered to myself  “Oh, I bet I know happened. I probably passed out and the rest of the people have gone off to get help. That’s it “…

I bet I bumped my head and have had some kind of temporary memory loss. Thinking that way made me feel a whole lot better.

I sat up and looked around.

I’d never see a boat like this one. It was obviously a “Go Fast” built along the lines of an America’s Cup boat. Narrow and flush decked. Open cockpit with dual wheels.

The hull wasn’t fiber and Resin. Nor was it metal. I once heard that there were some experiments with Roto-Molded stuff. That’s what this boat seemed to be made of.

The sails were what you might have expected on a fast boat. Mylar and paper thin.

Funny, the folks ran off so quickly that they hadn’t dropped the sails, they were up and slating in a light wind. Not good for a Mylar!

What really caught my eye though was the head sail.

It was a self tending CLUB FOOTED jib. Why would an obvious racing boat have such a set up?

Maybe it’s a short crewed boat. Handling a big boat with few people would be a lot easier with a Self Tending jib. That HAD to be it. It also would explain why there was no one here. There must have been only one or two others on the boat. So when I crashed, they didn’t have a choice. They had to leave the boat to get help… That’s got to be it! .

The boat wasn’t tied to a dock. There wasn’t any dock. There wasn’t anything alongside except the boat was just lying next to a big wall. A big Sky Blue painted wall.

We weren’t tied to anything the boat just sat gently bumping up against that wall. I leaned over and touched the surface. It’s was jut a plain blank Sky Blue painted wall. Smooth concrete reaching from the water into the sky. I COULD see the sky. The wall and the sky were almost the same color. The boat and I must be against the side of a very large building. A building like a storehouse or factory.

A CHEMICAL plant. Yes! That’s what it must be. That would account for the antiseptic smell I noticed.

It’s from the chemicals produced by the factory. They must dump their effluent into the water.

I reached over the side and dipped my hand into the water. Carefully I tasted some of the liquid as it dripped from my fingers.

It was fresh water and tasted OK. But it had that hospital odor.

A gust of wind suddenly hit the sails and the boat started to move away from the wall. We were sailing! The boat heeled over and in a flash we were rail down and moving away from the wall. By this time I’d gotten my balance back and was thinking much more clearly. “On no!” I yelled out. I moved quickly to grab one of the wheels.

It was LOCKED!

I leaned over to see if the second wheel was locked too. It WAS!

Desperately I looked everywhere to find some way to move the wheel. The wheels were un-moveable.

We were sailing quickly away from the Blue wall, and, I guessed, the owner of the boat.

For some time the boat and I just kept sailing. I began to notice that, instead of luffing up into the wind, as a boat should do, the boat kept on a straight line course.

Every time it felt like the boat would begin to go Head to Wind, the sails would move a little and the boat would correct itself. Apparently there was some kind of autohelm in operation.

I thought maybe the owners had dashed off so quickly, they had left it on. That’s probably why the Wheels are locked. Why I couldn’t move them. The boat was on automatic.

I’d better find out how to disable it and get control of the boat. Quickly!

Looking around the cockpit to find some switches or buttons that would be the controls I found that there were none.

This was such a modern looking boat, maybe all electronics were below.

There WAS a big sliding hatch. It was closed but didn’t seem to be locked.

The boat was still pretty stable so I thought I could chance going below to try to find out how to get control.

I pushed on the hatch. It moved slightly. It was heavy and going to need a lot of muscle to get it open. I put my back into it and it finally moved. It opened enough so that I could see down below. What the heck is all that stuff? I’d never seen a cabin so full of mechanical things.

There was a large electrical device taking up most of the cabin space. Attached to the device was a large gear box with two rotating arms. Rods were connected to each arm. One rod had to some kind of High Tech line coming out of it and the second rod continued aft and below the cockpit deck. I had no idea where it might be going.

Forward of what must have been the motor, was a large stack of cylinders, I counted six of them. There may have been more but I could’t see past the first stack of them.

The cylinders must contain some kind of Fuel. Each lying on its side, they would have stood about as tall as I am and about as thick as my body. ..

There were NO controls that I could see.

I was about to climb down below for a better look, when, BAM! The boat hit something!  Something solid!

I stood up and looked around. We were up against that damned Blue wall again!

But how could that be? I was sure we had kept sailing a straight line for a long time. I was sure of it because I had watched the wake trail out behind us.

But what ever had happened, we were against that blue wall again!

I leaned over the side to see if any damage had been done. None had. I guess the Roto-molded plastic had’t fractured. I was totally confused and trying to figure out what next to do, when the sails sort of jerked to the other side picked up the breeze and moved away from the wall.

We were sailing again. Sailing away from the Sky Blue wall.

This time I kept a close watch on the attitude of the sun. I know, this time, we traveled a straight line for a long time… Then….BAM!

We hit a solid object again. It was a SKY BLUE solid wall! That wall with no features, no windows, no doors, nothing but smooth Blue painted concrete.

Was I going mad?

I sat there for a long time. My head spinning. Lost. In total confusion. I don’t know how I got on this boat in the first place, I don’t know why there are no operators anywhere, The boat is on some kind of Autopilot and we keep bumping into those damned plain Blue Walls.

What is happening to me?

Please, somebody help me!

Where am I ?

”   Time for supper Ralphie!…… Did you hear me!? Turn that thing off and get up here!. right this instant, Young man!

You’ve been playing with your Birthday present all day long. Now it”s time to come in and get ready for supper!

TURN OFF the control box on your Radio Controlled Sailboat …Get it OUT of the Swimming Pool….. NOW!

And young man, you’d better get your sister’s Sailor Boy Doll out of that toy boat, and don’t  you dare get it wet ! ….”


ralph….e…..ahseln October 2007

DESTINATION….. complete (6 parts)

Thursday, July 12th, 2012

Destination Part One…

*To Where We Go.

1900 to 2200 hours. Odd times, but since there were 3 of us, the time and length on watch, was a “good” watch. Everyone had a bit of dark and a bit of daylight as we rotated through the duty. The last few days a warm Southeasterly had been blowing up from somewhere in California. It was giving us an unusual but welcome close reach down the coast. Unfortunately it was a light wind so we had been motoring for the past 30 hours. It looked like it was going to be a very long trip to San Diego. The vessel was going there to be sold. Although why anyone would buy this beat up and used up old sailboat, none of us could guess. Oh, it was seaworthy enough but it looked and sailed awful. And it smelled. A bad smell. Like a Landfill . That sickly sweet decay smell.
The sky was an ugly flat gray , without texture that “dirtied” the ocean and made it look oily. The gray got into a hanging haze as well. So any coastal features were curtained off behind it. A rolling swell that was the same dulling color but at least not flat. It was like being inside of a gray balloon. Even the ship’s wake wasn’t it’s normal white. More like dirty laundry water.

The 3 of us, strangers a week ago, now sailing , well, motoring, along the Southern coast of Oregon.
Gordy was the boss. A professional Captain, he’d been a skipper for most of his adult life. His reputation for doing safe trips was legend around the Northwest. He had been hired by some guy in Seattle to deliver the boat to San Diego. Gordy had insisted on a survey of the boat before ever accepting the job. And it had been given a thorough going over, pronounced “Solid, and Safe”.
Only then did he put out the word for a delivery crew. I answered the ad and had my interview.
He had some tough questions about ability and personality. I passed.
Our third was “Sid”. Sidney Martin owned her own management consultant business in Tacoma. She’d raced and had been doing deliveries of Power and Sail for some time. Actually, I think she knew more about boats that Gordy or me but was kind enough not to let us know.
In a week’s time, we had found that we all liked and respected each other. At least that was going to make the trip on L’Espoir a pleasant one.

L’Espoir was an old wooden custom built 42 foot ketch. It’s birthplace, as well as its registry, was a mystery. No one seemed to know, or care, where it had come from or who had owned it or for that matter who was going to buy it. It was just going to San Diego that’s all we knew. It had been setting at a private dock in Mats Mats apparently for a very long time. When we all got there, we just slipped it’s mooring lines and headed out. A few stops along the way for provisions and fuel now here we were off the coast in a smelly old boat, going South.

It was strange, for days we’d been laughing and telling lies to each other, but today, it was quiet. Well, not so Quiet as somber. No one laughed and chatting had stopped. The only words that past between us was boat related. One or two word commands or advise. It must have been the dullness of our world . Sid was the first to say something but the words only made the gray go deeper into our souls.
Her words still ring in my head. A pain that no medication taken since, can ease….
“ I feel so lost. “

Destination…..Part Two

* Those Lost Upon the Sea

Sid had said it. “ I feel so lost “. She had that right. I felt the same way.

The grayness of the day, now turning into darkness of the evening, had “disconnected “ us from the world. But there was more to it than that. It was more than just a feeling of depression. It was a sense that things weren’t quite right. That somehow we were in the WRONG place.
At first I didn’t say anything to Gordy or Sid. But, I couldn’t help thinking that Sid has figured it out. Something was happening to us, or was about to.

We’d been plotting our position and the “ Made Goods” every hour. Marking our Fix by GPS on the charts and in the log. For the last couple of days everything was as we had planned and expected.
L’Espoir was approximately 50 miles off coast on a course of 140º Magnetic. We’d been averaging 6 knots, so our paper chart had a nearly straight line plot with little diamonds at each fix. So why did I (and apparently Sid) feel like we were lost?
I just had to look at the GPS to see if it read OK. It did. It said we were at N 125º 42.0 W 42º 50.0 . There, right off Cape Blanco where we were where we were supposed to be. But it still felt like, like I was someplace else.

Finally, I asked Gordy if he felt the same way. He didn’t answer …But….My god!
His eyes, his eyes.
I had noticed how bright Blue they were when I’d first met him. But now, they were the same Dirty Gray as the sky, water and haze that was around us.
I swear, his eyes had changed color!
He turned, without speaking and stepped out of the cockpit onto the deck and walked forward to the bow. It was then I noticed that the haze following us had closed in and gotten thicker. A dirty gray wall of fog and smoke that was shutting the rest of the world away from us.
Now at the bow, Gordy had become covered with the stuff and was almost lost from sight out there at the front of the boat.

The old Kinescope Radar showed a blank screen. I thought to myself, “ Well at least it’s Green”. A glow of color in this dingy portrait of the sea. A spot of something different, not the color of dirt.
My watch had begun at 1900 and now, an hour later, what feeble light had lit us, was now almost gone. The haze and fog had turned into a muddy blue black.
If you’ve ever awakened at 3 AM in a darkened room in a panic because you don’t know where you are, it was that kind of darkness.

More time had slipped away, it must have been hours, I’d lost track. Out of that Cave of dark and dirty fog, Gordy came. He walked back aft to the cockpit. Moving slowly, bent with an unseen weight pressing him down.
In the dim light of the binnacle and the bluish white light of the GPS screen I saw a man I no longer knew. He had changed! Not only his eyes, but Oh my lord!… Gone was the tan laid on from years of sun and the sea. His skin was now the color of ash! The ash of fires long since burned, now cold. His face was like the sea around us, without texture and dirty gray.
He spoke but his voice was a kind of a sigh. A sound so thin, without the deep and musical note he’d had before. I heard his words but I couldn’t understand the faint and wispy message.
I moved closer to him to better hear. Difficult to understand at first. But, getting closer, I heard his voice, a whimper, repeat.
“It’s all wrong, it’s all wrong, it’s all wrong…”

I shook him and the wail stopped. Then I asked, “What’s all wrong”? For a very long time he said nothing. Then with tears in those once blue eyes he said. “ The compass is wrong, the ship is …..”. He never finished. His voice had trailed off into little gasps of air.
The compass wrong? Wrong what? It’s reading incorrectly? I ran through the possible meaning in my mind. Now quickly looking at the dimly light binnacle compass. What the hell? It read 53º. Almost 100 degrees off our track. Steady now! There’s got to be a reason. It’s a problem that likely has a solution. Had some iron object moved close to the compass causing a major deviation? It certainly was possible. A knife in the pocket of a crewmember standing next to the compass had set many ships off course. It’s an easy thing to check out.
Close by was a hand held Digital compass puck. A quick check of it far away from the other compass should show a correct reading. We all will feel better when I show the.. “Correct” heading.
I held it up to my eye, pressed the illumination switch and read 235º !.
It was reading all WRONG! It said our heading was 235º . Not the planned 140º that would take us close to San Diego and off this old boat.. But how could both compasses read wrong?
Well, take it easy. That’s not a problem either. The running compass in the GPS will clear this up!
“Check the GPS” my senses told me. Quickly I moved to the chart plotter LCD screen.
There in the middle of the screen was the icon of our boat. Trailing behind was the “bread crumb” track. Our Latitude and Longitude reading out in big numbers. The GPS was working,
It showed our track, each little black mark of the plot showing the way we had come.. Telling us that we were on a correct course. We’d set waypoints.
WAIT a second! The running compass on the GPS says our heading is…….. 352º !
According to it, we’re headed BACK North! But there was the little ship Icon.. Tracking, tracking its way… South! 140 degrees South!
Then a hot, “electric” jolt ran through me. I looked again at the Lat / Lon. Readings..
Sweet Jesus! They were the SAME as they were hours ago.. 42º 50.0 North, 125º 32.0 West !

The realization hit me hard. This sailing vessel L’Espoir and her 3 humans had been going in FOUR different directions …. At a Speed Over the Ground of 6 knots,…. going NOWHERE !

He had known, Gordy had known. All his years at sea told him what was happening and it had scared him. It had scared him into the little broken man now standing in the cockpit.
He came up close to me, sighed the words “It’s all wrong” over and over until they faded into weeping.
Then he turned and descended into the cabin below.

We never saw Gordy again! …


* The Song of Madness

Gordy had vanished!

How or when had he’d left the damned boat, we didn’t have a clue.

Sid and I saw were used to seeing him throughout most of the night. He would be setting at the saloon table, sometimes with a cup of coffee, sometimes just sitting with a silly smile on his face. Sometimes he’d be lying in the quarter berth singing some unidentifiable tune. I’d watched him there, curled up like a stuffed animal. Just happy being on a boat.
Now, he wasn’t there. There was a vacant bunk on the forward Starboard side. Gordy was gone.
Sometime around daybreak, we Lost him, somehow,
We couldn’t find him anywhere. He just sort of “Went away”, Silently, mysteriously.

Sidney had relived me soon after Gordy left the cockpit last night. We had rotated watches about every 3 hours. Although we both we dead tired, the two of us managed ok. But neither of us had slept. We were too scared to.
So, there was always someone awake in the cockpit. Gordy couldn’t have slipped by us.
All the cabin hatches were tightly dogged down. One of us would have heard something if he’d tried to crawl out.
He couldn’t have left the boat without us seeing him go.
We did a search of all the spaces where he might have hidden and found nothing.
Nothing, except Gordy’s Daily Journal…. We didn’t take time to read it…..We should have.

Now, there’s only two of us aboard. What had happened to Gordy? How? When?
Deep inside we didn’t really want to know. It just didn’t make any sense.
Our captain had left the two of us on a boat that was motoring along, in a dirty fog,
On confusing headings, The speed claiming we’re at 6 knots SOG, but apparently not moving … and going nowhere… A lot of things didn’t make sense.

“Pawn Pawn, Pawn Pawn, Pawn Pawn, This is the sailing vessel L’Espoir , Position… 42 degrees 50 decimal Zero NORTH…125 degrees, 42 decimal Zero WEST… . We are declaring a possible Man Overboard at this position …… Over “

It was time to call for help.

The Coast Guard at Newport could surely hear us and come to our aid.
Even if we didn’t find Gordy, at least they could tell us where we are. The Coasties would know.
But the VHF radio remained silent except for an odd background noise. It sounded like breathing.

“Pawn Pawn, Pawn Pawn, Pawn Pawn” .. I repeated the call several times but only that “breathing” sound came out of the speaker.
In a past life I’d done some radio engineering but I’d never heard that kind of sound from an FM radio. I’d never heard that sound even on the old noisy AM radio band either.
It sounded like the labored breathing old people make just before they die.
I HATE that sound.

Still no response from the Coast Guard or any nearby vessel. A lot of other folks, on shore, monitor Channel 16. We’re not that far from land that they couldn’t hear our radio. At least I think we’re not far from land.

Wait! Did I just say something about AM radio? AM, Of course! Why didn’t I think of it before?
The AM broadcast signal can travel a long way at night and some signals can travel distances during daylight hours.
Those broadcast signals, with a little “Old Time” radio engineering, can be used to get a rough Bearing. Rough, sure, but at least a general idea of direction. And, with a little luck, we could even identify what city or cities we’re close to.

I found a roll of wire and wound it into a loop about 1 foot in diameter. Turning the loop around could act a little like an old RDF system.
By rotating a loop there’s a position where the radio signal strength gets weaker. Called the “Null”, it points the way to the radio station. I could use it to get a bearing on some station on the coast or inland.
I pulled the stereo out of its mount just far enough to get to the antenna input connectors. After hooking up the wires, I turned the radio on.
Tuning the dial from one end to the other …I heard nothing. Nothing, but that “breathing” sound again.

Wait! What was that sound? Just for a moment I thought I heard music. I held my breath and listened carefully.
THERE! It’s the faint sound of music. Like a woman’s voice. It WAS a voice!
Then, I came the sudden realization that the music wasn’t coming from the radio at all.

In my excitement I had forgotten all about Sidney.
It was Sidney singing. Not the radio.
All that came out of the radio speakers was that same awful “last hours breathing” I’d heard before.

Sid’s singing shook me. It sounded “Wrong”. I had to find out why.
I climbed out of the cabin and up into the cockpit. She wasn’t there! She should have been on watch. She wasn’t. I followed the sound , forward, and saw her..

She was standing at the bow of L’Espoir. Her clothes were gone! .
She stood there, arms outstretched, singing. Head tilted back, she was swaying from side to side in a kind of dreamy dance. I recognized the tunes she sang…. But the words were all WRONG! The lyrics sounded like a recording played Backwards.
I saw it! The dirty, greasy fog had wrapped around her like a shawl. She had become part of the fog
It had TAKEN her! It had turned her into a Madwoman!
There was something in that FOG that destroyed the soul of anyone who touched it !
Gordy had gone into it and vanished. Now it was claiming Sidney.

When I first saw Sid out there, naked, and quiet insane, I thought I’d go forward and try to get her back to the cockpit.. back to safety.
But, now, I KNEW that any contact with that unknown gray wall of “Decay” would surely catch and destroy me as well. I’d have to stay in the cockpit protected by the dodger and bimini and not risk the open decks

I shouted to her to come back to the cockpit. The singing continued. She sang familiar tunes but with words that were Wrong. More than “wrong” they were Lyrics of Madness.

Sidney never came back to the safety of the cockpit.
She sang and danced for a few more days, out there on the bow. Out there with that ugly haze.
Then, with only shallow dying breaths, she was gone.

She left L’Espoir.

And she left me here alone..
With that damned dirty fog wrapping around me.

Destination Part 4

*Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.
(The more things change, the more they stay the same.)

Sidney seemed to “dance” as she slipped into the water. Madness had taken her away.

Like Ophelia, she had floated for a minute or two, and then the ocean “folded” about her and pulled her down. As the boat moved on (at least it seemed like it was moving) I looked at that part of water where she had been buoyed up. There, spreading out on the surface was a small smudge of that damned gray fog. It remained for a few seconds then dissipated. The warm Southwest breeze was still at our Port bow and it had scattered the abomination that had covered her.
Sidney’s cloud had taken her into the “Nowhere”. I guessed that’s where Gordy was.
I will not go there!

The gravity of what happened the last few hours was pulling me down. I felt tired. More tired than I’ve felt in my life. I had to almost crawl down the steps and into the cabin below. I got to the settee and that’s all I remember.
I don’t know how long I slept. It must have been hours. It was evening and what light there had been was going. It was getting that blue, black color outside.

I say I don’t know how long I slept because the clocks had stopped. Even the quartz electric clock at the navigation table. As soon as we had discovered that, we had to come up with an idea of how to keep crew watches.
The plot line on the GPS gave us that. Every 6 miles was an hour. Even though everything else told us we WEREN’T moving, the little Plot Line kept laying down a track. 18 nautical miles equaled one watch.
It seemed like it was the only “Right” thing left on the boat.

I woke up hungry and very very thirsty. We had stocked plenty of food and there was some leftover pasta. I ate it all. I picked up a cup and turned the handle of the faucet in the galley sink.
STOP ! A voice went off in my head. I quickly shut it off. I had no idea how much water was in our tanks. We’d filled in Astoria but I didn’t have any idea how much we’d used since. It now had been over two weeks, by my reckoning, and I had no idea how much water tankage this old boat had.
I’d better check. There’s no telling how long it’ll be before …….. Before what? Rescue?
I figured it’s still a good idea to find the water tanks and check just how full. Or… empty they are.

It didn’t take long to find them. Two big old copper tanks. Copper? I started to laugh.
“You damn fool, you’ll probably die long before the copper poisons kill you,” I said out loud.
Each tank had an inspection/cleaning plate. I opened the first one, looked in. It was FULL! The second one, FULL! Not one tank showed any use.
This was another “Wrong” thing on the boat. In two weeks we had used a lot of water. Yet the tanks were full! I suddenly got giddy. I decided to test this impossible situation. I took a long hot shower, I washed down the entire cabin sole, Washed and rinsed the dishes, took another shower and drank so much water that my bladder hurt.
Then I looked into each water tank….They were STILL FULL!
This was too much for me to take in. How could they continue being full NO matter how much was used?

Next I tried the “test” on the liquor cabinet. Inside there was a bottle of 18-year-old Scotch, unopened. I cracked the top and poured my coffee cup full. The bottle went back into the cabinet. And I went back to the settee. It took a long time of sipping its smooth fire to finish. By the time the cup was empty, I had warmed my body and numbed my soul.
Cautiously, I unlatched the cabinet door and swung it open. There the bottle stood. The cap seal unbroken, Full.
I was beginning to understand what was happening, but I didn’t want to say it ….Yet.

I’m not sure it wasn’t the full cup of Scotch that made me woozy or just the confusion of the event. What ever it was I had to set down, Quickly.
Suddenly I was struck with another thought.
The engine was an old 3 cylinder Diesel. That kind of engine must use about a half gallon an hour. Since Astoria we’ve been on engine power for 14 days. 14 DAYS! We’d had to have at least 150 gallons of fuel. That’s all wrong! It’s impossible to have that sized fuel tank. I had to find out.
It took some effort to move all the lines and junk that had collected in the cockpit lockers. Finally I spotted the rusty sheet iron that had to be the fuel tank. As I suspected there was a fitting on the top.
Next to it was an old yardstick that someone had calibrated by cutting notches at a few places. One notch was marked “ Half “ another “Full”. It took a large wrench and a lot of effort to loosen the fitting. Finally it began to move and then came free. I shoved the Dip Stick down into the hole and slowly pulled it out.
The wetness ran all the way up the stick to the notch marked “Full”.
Now I knew the truth. At least I thought I knew SOME of the truth.

I went back to the saloon and sat on the settee for a long while. My coffee cup of Scotch had been filled and empted twice by the time I saw the book. Gordy’s Daily Journal lay on the navigation table. That gray leather covered book. (Funny, I could swear it was covered in Red leather?)
I moved to the table and sat down.

The journal’s first entries were what you’d expect. Notes about the delivery, comments about weather and sea conditions. Stuff that probably was in the Ship’s log. There were observations about Sidney and me. He had liked us and thought us to be a knowledgeable and a happy crew.
As I turned the pages, the tone of the entries began to change. I could read Fear in each new line added.
Then the entry of two weeks ago. And then the last pages written in a shaky hand. Rambling words.

As I read, I understood. I KNEW the purpose of this voyage.

I now knew the Destination of the L’Espoir

It was never going to be … San Diego!

Destination Part 5

* Numbers Don’t Lie ? (sometimes they do)

Some of the answers were in Gordy’s journal. Many were not.

At first, his comments were easy to read. They told of the strange phone call that resulted in his being hired to deliver L’Espoir to San Diego. Strange, he said, because the person must have had a breathing problem. It sounded like he was on his last leg, Gordy had written
The delivery fee had been agreed on without discussion. Gordy said that he’d asked double the normal amount. He made a note that “It was like taking candy from a baby”. I couldn’t believe what I was reading. Gordy had cheated the owner! Gordy, that good natured, good guy was a crook.

He went on bragging about lying to US, his crew. He’d told us a story about how “Little” he charge for the trip. Sid and I, at Gordy’s request, agreed we would take less than he’d promised. He was ripping us off TOO!
What a Son of a Bitch, I thought to myself.

Later entries talked about a chat he’d had with Sidney. He’d got her drunk one night. They started talking about Sid’s racing days. How she won all the important races she’d ever been in. Races that got her “Skipper of the Year” awards for 3 years straight. The journal said she’d told him that she cheated on every race she’d won. She even faked crying to get sympathy, at one challenge hearing. Sidney told him about using the engine, during one big race, after the wind had dropped to near nothing.
Sidney was a fake. The worst kind of sailor, a liar and a cheat. I couldn’t believe what I was reading.

Gordy wrote that he’d tried to find the skeletons in my closet, but “ Hadn’t found any. Yet!”
He complained that he had to find something on me. He wanted to blackmail BOTH of us as soon as we got to San Diego. With his damning stories, he would tell our friends or broadcast it on email lists. He figured we’d give him our delivery fee just to keep quiet. Damn him! Damn him!

From that point on, in the journal, he seemed to change. I could tell that his writing was getting “Strained” and that fear was starting to catch hold of him.
He talked about how the L’Espoir was beginning to “Act Funny”. And that, once, he had tried to correct our course but that the boat had refused to be turned. How the GPS wasn’t reading correctly. And about how the compasses were “getting screwy”.
His most panicked line was that a “weird fog” had sprung up. And that he thought it was following us.
As the writing became less steady and the words began to be Jumbled, It seemed he was loosing the ability to put a complete sentences together.
There was this one line in particular. A Scrawl that said…
“ Fog, dirty gray people talk …. answer I not … all wrong “.
Gordy was loosing it. I didn’t know why.

There was another odd sentence that rambled on in a fashion hard to read, Impossible to understand. Things like “ I scare” ” paper story” “ man baby” “ number combination ”.
And a lot more I couldn’t make much sense of.
The last entry was very hard to read. I took a long time trying to figure it out. Finally, I could read it.
What he had written was also the last thing he’d said to me… “ It’s all wrong, it’s all wrong”
Wrong? Yes, I had seen that the compasses were reading wrong. Was THAT what he meant?
No, it couldn’t have been. He was too scared. A malfunctioning compass wouldn’t have shaken him as badly as he was. It HAD to be something else.

I grabbed the “Always full” bottle of Scotch from the locker, poured myself another cup.
The cup fell from my hand!
Everything was “WRONG”. The compasses, the GPS, …Gordy disappearing, Sidney’s songs.
The Fuel tanks, the water tanks,
And YES! EVEN the damned booze!
The tanks were filling instead of empting, the Scotch bottle was always getting full.
Lyrics were sung backwards.
OK, What the hell does this ALL mean? Going backwards to What? Where?

At that moment one of the journal pages caught my attention. The one that had all the gibberish. One word burned into my eyes… “COMBINATION”
It must mean something about a lock. Then I remembered. There was an old Safe with a combination lock up in the V berth. No one knew the combination so it was left alone and forgotten.
Damn! Gordy MUST have known the numbers. He must have opened the safe sometime earlier. Maybe before Sidney and I got on board. He must have read something that has a meaning to all this. Why would he have written “combination” in his journal if it wasn’t important?

I ran to the forward cabin, found the safe. It looked like it had been there since the first day the boat was built. It was an odd little box. It was painted all over to look like an old navigation chart. You know, with posit lines, soundings, Nav aids and all that. It was faded pretty badly but I could still make out what chart it was.
My God! I looked again. It was centered on 42º 50 N. , 125º 42 W. ! Exactly where we’ve been for nearly two weeks. I damned near fainted.
It took a second to clear my head then I looked carefully.
The combination dial was the COMPASS ROSE of the chart with a crown at the North Up position. The outer dial had Cardinal Points as well as marks for all 360 degrees.

Like a crystal bullet, it went through me! Those WERE the numbers!
The four headings seen on all the compasses!
The combination has to be those odd compass headings! I had to check them again.
All were reading as before.
The binnacle showed 053º. The Puck, 235º. The GPS, 352º and last, the Track was at 140º

I had the combination! 53, 235, 352 and 140!
But in what order? What was the order of numbers in the combination?

Think! Think! All the compasses read wrong except one.
The “Bread Crumb” Track being laid down by the GPS was the only reading that had been correct. That HAD to be the first number.
Everything is backwards so the numbers have to go Counterclockwise from 140 degrees.
It sort of made sense, because, it made NO sense. It just had to be.
Then it’s… 140, 53, 352 and finally 235!
I twirled the compass rose dial a couple of times and then set it on 140, right to 53, left to 352 and then right to 235.
I pulled the handle.. Nothing happened. It was still locked tight.
What did I do wrong? I went Backwards just like everything else on the boat. WAIT!
Backwards could mean Reverse…. OR….. RECIPROCAL!
I had to figure the Reciprocal of the compass headings. I cursed myself for being so stupid.
That was it.

Let’s see. Take 140 plus 180, the reciprocal is 320. I felt a huge rush of success.
Then there was 053 plus 180, 233. … 235? Oh yea, subtract 180 that made it 55. And finally 353 minus 180, …172.. OK, now the sequence of numbers is 320, 233, 172 then 55.
I spun the dial. Set it on 320 then to the Right, Left, Right. Nothing happened…
My heart sank.
Oh crap, I’d forgotten it again, BACKWARDS! Backwards you idiot!
Set at 320 then COUNTERCLOCKWISE.. 233 , Right 172, Left 55 …….


The safe was open.

Destination Final Part 6

* Into the Light

The safe was open and its insides were full of papers.
My eyes were open and my insides were a mess!

That last cup of Scotch and my fright, had brought up a Sour, Salty mix. You know, the kind you get just before you throw up. It coated the inside of my mouth.
I wanted to know what was in the safe but I was too scared.
What was inside had to be the last piece of this horrible puzzle. An answer and reason for this voyage of mystery and madness.
I took a long look inside. What I could see looked like old newspapers. Finally I got enough courage to reach inside. My fingers touched a stack of news clippings, a large manila folder and an old fashioned spiral notebook. I removed them all and set them along side me on the cushion.

I shuffled through the news clippings. Some of them were fragile and had turned that Orange color that old newsprint takes on. A few of the clippings were recent. Some had dates printed on the edges.
Others, I could make a guess how old they were by reading some of the ads on the back. A few had cars I knew from the 50s and some had appliance ads whose prices gave me an idea of their age. One ad showed a square refrigerator with a funny “Bee Hive” thing on the top. That meant the 1930s.
They hadn’t been collected because of the ads. It was obvious that they had been saved for the news items.

Each clipping was a report about a sailor or a number of sailors being lost at sea.

They had left on pleasure cruises or business trips. All had been passengers or crew on a wooden sailboat called the L’Espoir . Each story ended with a sentence saying that none of the persons had been seen again. No survivors, no bodies ever found.
They had vanished while sailing off the Oregon coast always on the same boat. I guessed because the accidents had happened over long periods of time, no one had noticed that is was the L’Espoir . The other thing they missed was that it had always happened, at a VERY particular location.
50 miles West of Cape Blanco!

The boat had been found days later drifting, not having moved from the position it last reported,
There was much speculation as to why the people went missing. Nothing was ever decided. It was just reported as “An unfortunate accident, The Way of the Sea”.

It was No accident! It was the malevolent thing that had taken them.
I knew it had, but I didn’t know why. Now that terror made me weak and ill.
I was alive now but when will I be reported as one of those “Unfortunate accidents”? And WHY me?

I put down the news articles and picked up the Manila folder. The top flap fell back. Inside were separators with little labels marching along the tops. Each label had handwritten words.
Preliminary Drawings, Building Prints, Yard Contracts, Launching /Christening dates (guest list), Cruise Itinerary.

I quickly scanned the contents of each folder. Most were what you’d expect. The original drawings and scantlings, cost and time estimates. The Itinerary folder had one handwritten note “ A Fall cruise to California and Mexico”. That’s all it said.
The Launching section had two newspapers. The first one I pulled out was a full-page notice, a formal announcement. It read, in part, that a “Magnificent Yacht” was to be launched in Astoria Oregon. It went on…

“ The public is invited to attend the ceremony and launching of the newest Queen of the Seas, A luxury yacht built for the Shipping tycoon, William N. Lesha. Attending will be his wife, Ronale (of foreign birth) and their newborn son, Edward R., “

The second clipping was the announcement of the launching of Mr. N. Lesha’s “Beautiful yacht”. It went on to say,

“What should have been a festive ceremony turned tragic when a yard worker was crushed under the keel of the vessel as it slid down the launching rails. Mr. N. Lesha, while regretting the “unfortunate accident” asked that the ceremony continue. Yard workers were overheard to say that the ship had a curse on it and they refused to help with the launch. Volunteers were called in to assist.
Even with the tragic event, the launching of this vessel is one of the bright events of this year, 1930….”

Astoria Yacht Builders built the L’Espoir. The Oregon company was widely known to be one of the best yards on the West coast. Scandinavian craftsmen took particular pride in building sailboats. They often treated them with more respect than given to other vessels they’d built. Sailboats were often thought of as living, breathing beings. Some boats were regarded as having Evil souls, others as Happy Protective Gods. I wondered WHICH soul those old builders had bestowed on L’Espoir ?

The little spiral notebook was Mr. N. Lesha’s personal journal. As I read it I found it to be full of the most unnerving writings I’ve ever read. Page after page of angry dark and obscene thoughts. Accounts of deeds so vile it was like reading a Gothic Horror Tale. Crooked business deals, cheating fellow yachtsmen. Blackmail and destruction of the lives of many men and women. He felt no pity or remorse.
Every one of his victims was in the maritime trades. Sailors were particular targets of his scorn. Every low action was done to those who lived, worked or played in the Maritime environment. Rich or poor it made no matter to him. He enjoyed the pain and destruction he inflicted on others
I wondered why he hadn’t been discovered. Or why his actions hadn’t been stopped.

His journal continued. And what I read next was the most hideous of it all.

He hated his wife and son. He’d planned to rid himself or them “As soon as possible”
He detailed the method he’d use to do it.
He wrote…”The schedule for a Fall cruise was set. Fall would be a GOOD time to do it.”
He made a note that he’d had to convince his wife that she should take the cruise to the South with him. And that it would be “Excellent for the baby”. He wrote that at first she’d complained. She worried about the child and how a sailing trip would affect his health. At last, he convinced her to go and to take the boy.

Plans were made and the boat was loaded with provisions, water and bottles of his favorite Scotch whiskey.

Leaving Seattle the first week in October was uneventful. The sail down the Washington and Oregon coast was pleasant. He had written.
Then… The next passages in his book filled me with revulsion.

In neat little letters in precise little words, He described in detail how he’d drugged her and the baby, HIS baby. How he’d carried the bodies up to the bow of the boat and had slipped them into the sea. He detailed how his wife had floated for a while and then sank. His description of how the baby had vanished so quickly, made me retch.

His final words, and the last lines written in his little book was the entry:

“ October 30, 1931. 11:00 AM, Position 42º 50’ 00’’ North, 125º 42’ 00’’ West “

Now I had the answers! The answers to all the bizarre and horrible events that had happened.
I was sure I had the Key of Escape. The solution to this ghastly puzzle!

Here, at this position, 50 miles off the coast of Oregon, off the land mass called Cape Blanco.

This WAS the DESTINATION of the sailboat L’Espoir.
And why being here, it would move no further until its evil cargo had been discharged.
It was horribly simple.
Simple, when I found the story of a Sailor gone mad and murderous. One who had cheated and lied to other seaman and had finally done the most heinous of crimes.

The destination of this vessel was here at the position where those most awful of crimes had been committed.

This boat, so wonderfully constructed so many years ago, HAD to come back to this very spot to … Cleanse it’s self.

It had sailed here to remove all that was wrong from it.
It had sailed into a Gray and Dirty fog that was corruption. The remains of all sailors who’d lived their lives in darkness. A mass of lost lives without color or light. Always following, always waiting.
The ashen haze kept the boat in place until it had gathered up all those on board who were the same as they.
Now the L’Espoir had made its passage to this corner of hell, to sweep away the Wrongs.

I would escape the fate of those others. Gordy who cheated, Sidney who won at any cost?
I knew I had to be spared.

I love the sailing world and would never do anything to damage it. I have many sins to account for in my life, but I’ve sailed a True Course in all my days. I will continue to do that.
There was no reason for that evil fog to take me.

My excitement grew. I climbed out of the cockpit and stepped out onto the Deck.
I walked forward to the bow where the ugly foul mist remained. I could hear the sound of it. It wasn’t a sound of breathing, it was hundreds of voices whispering, “ Come to us. Be us. Come to us.”
I felt it start to close about me, but I had no fear now. I KNEW its weakness.

“Leave me, and leave this vessel! I am not you! ” I shouted.
The whispering stopped.. A chorus of moans came from the mist. “Follow, follow, ”
I ran closer to it and shouted,
“Leave me. We are not you. Go away from us who love the sea”
The grayness began to fall away from the boat.
“Go and leave me . I will not ALLOW you to take me”
The ashen colored haze became as thin as gauze and now no sound came from it.

I laughed. A big noisy sailor’s laugh.
And a patch of blue sky opened above the boat. The fog vanished.

Then, I felt the boat move!

I ran to the cockpit compass, 140º … The handheld compass, 140º It read the same on the GPS.
Tears began to run down my face. The GPS was showing Latitude numbers changing. And Longitude as well.
A warm sun flooded the cockpit and the decks with it’s pure yellow light.
I felt the warmth.
The boat was MOVING!
I would survive!

But then, Why would I’ve had any doubt?
I ….was born on October 30th 1931.
I came to take the place of the little boy lost here , all those years ago

And…After all, The sailboat’s name is……..
“ L’Espoir “ …… “ HOPE “

“Cold Enough to Freeze the Balls off a Brass Monkey” ..? Myth or Truth ?

Sunday, July 8th, 2012

“It’s so cold, it’d freeze the balls off a Brass Monkey”, is about cannon balls on a old sailing ship ??
NO ! Totally False !

This Silly Old Yarn … Keeps Popping up, it seems, any time sailors gather
It’s NOT true..
It’s been so widely quoted in recent publications, that the U.S. Navy Historical group has published a statement saying that the story has no foundation in truth.

Why is the story so patently wrong?
The facts show that there are several problems with the Brass Monkey Myth.

First …. There’s no such device made of brass.
There are NO references to “Brass Monkey’ in any historical nautical reference book available. There are no words even close to it..
The myth has appeared in a few modern “Sailor’s Words” books, but, in those publications, they are simply repeating what they’ve heard. Or, it’s been a “Cut and Paste” addition.
No research was done, by them, or anyone, apparently, to find the truth.
Therefore.. One can Assume it never existed as a nautical term…

Second….. The device that held ammunition on board was most likely made of ROPE.
Sometimes it was wood.. A BRASS device would unlikely be on the decks
of a fighting ship. Brass would have been a poor choice because of upkeep.. Bronze maybe but
not Brass.. Unlikely that ANY kind of metal device held SHOT.
In fact the shipboard term for ” Shot Holders” was primarily called “GARLAND”
Sometimes the term Grommet may have been used. The word MONKEY? Never !

Next…. No Pile of projectiles would have been left on a Garland before a battle. Any such item would have been brought out of a “Locker” and placed in readiness as the battle began.

Lastly, and probably the most damning of the Untruths…
Ammunition aboard those vessels was called either ..”Bombs”or “Shells”if they exploded on the target.
The other ammunition was called …”SHOT” if it didn’t explode..
SHOT hit solid objects to destroy them by shear weight or shape of it.

There was.. Round Shot, Bar Shot, Chain Shot, Case Shot, Cross Bar Shot,
Langrel Shot… Each type used to fit the need or requirements of battle. Round shot Pounded a hull, Bar and Chain to rip down rigging, other types of SHOT, as Anti-personnel weapons. If you were standing on deck .. Small Shot… was used in hand held guns..such as Swivel guns, pistols, muskets and later, rifles
A proper sailor would only say “shot” Never …. Cannon BALLS …

So the story one might use to indicate a low temperature…would REALLY have to be…
” It was cold enough to freeze the…. (fill in type)… Shot off a …Garland “ :

Kind of looses something in the translation Doesn’t it… ?

When the Alarm Bells Ring (in your head), Listen!

Monday, February 20th, 2012

When the Alarm Bells Ring in Your Head, Listen !

A few years ago, a friend asked if I’d like to go on a sailboat delivery to Newport Oregon. It would be a three or four day trip. A run down river from Portland to Astoria and then down the coast to Newport. Normally it’s would be a walk in the Park job.
I asked him what he knew about the boat and owner. He said that he didn’t know much about it, but the boat dealer, a friend of his, had told him that the boat was a big old CSY 44 that had been in charter in Florida and had been purchased by some Lawyer in Newport. We were warned NOT to use the forward head. It seems like someone had pumped so much pressure into the holding tank, A hose had split and “painted” the insides of the head with.. (I peeked in. TP and Brown stuff was from floor to overhead. It was ugly. Fortunately, the Aft head was, sort of, clean.
The dealer went on to say that he’d hired a professional delivery Captain and that he would meet us at the boat in a couple of days. Since my friend had confidence in the Dealer and the trip had a Professional captain, I told him I would go.
Before I said Yes, I should have asked “What condition is the boat?”, Who is THIS captain? “, “Why the rush? ”
I didn’t listen to the alarm bells in my head ringing.

A couple of days passed when finally we got a call from the dealer saying that the boat was leaving the next morning at 0400. They wanted to get to Astoria by evening.
Since Astoria is about 100 miles from Portland, leaving early is prudent. We told him that we would be there around 0330.
The next morning we dragged down to where the boat was moored. There it sat,
A dirty, raggedy looking monster. Aboard was the dealer and a skinny guy he called “Captain”. We all shook hands and introduced ourselves. With meeting formalities over, the Captain announced that we were getting underway immediately as soon as his wife showed up with the food. ( All this seemed “last minute”. The next set of Bells went off. I didn’t pay attention).
She arrived a few minutes later and we prepared to shove off.
“Before you go, you have to buy some belts for the engine. One of them is missing !”
The dealer advised.
Now, finding engine belts isn’t normally hard to do, but it WAS 4:00 am and we were a long way from the city. My friend suggested that we dash over to the Freightliner Truck Stop a few miles away. He and I jumped in the car and went on a Belt Search.
After running around for an hour, stopping at 3 locations, none having a matching belt, we finally found one. Wondering around at 4 in the morning in Truck stops is not for the faint of heart!
Back to the boat. Now we’re almost two hours late. We may get to Astoria in the dark. Not a great idea. but we think we’re ready to go. a few grunts and groans later, getting the missing belt replaced,.. Then…
Ignition key on, start button pushed….. Nothing !
Well, except for one or two “clicks” of the starter solenoid.
“Oh the battery’s down. The boat was just taken off the trailer yesterday”, the dealer announced. (loud bells ringing now).
“I’ll check the battery level”. Off came the cockpit decking and there below us was the Brute. A huge Perkins diesel engine.
The dealer checked the batteries and found that he could see no fluid. “No problem” he said. And with that, he picked up a bucket nearby, threw it over the side, into the river and pulled it back aboard. He then poured the dirty river water into the batteries.
After about a half hour on the charger, Key On, start button pushed. The old Perkins belched, bucked a couple of times and started. “There, that’ll work” the dealer said. The Captain yelled to throw off the mooring lines, we were about to start the journey. (There was loud ringing in my head. I should have listened).

The Columbia River has one big impediment to river travel. The railroad bridge at Vancouver Washington. It’s nominal water to bridge height is around 35 feet. Most sailboats have to wait for the bridge to open for them. It may take as much as an hour depending on train traffic. After we had been waiting for about 10 minutes, I heard the Bells in my head really start to loudly ring.

Our captain went a little nuts. No, A LOT NUTS.
He shouted, he screamed, he all but threatened to run the boat into the bridge. He was “upset” because he had to wait. Both my friend and I tried to reason with him, saying that it was normal, but the Captain wouldn’t listen. He kept shouting at the top of his lungs to the bridge operators (They couldn’t hear him anyway).
Now, I did hear the bells in my head say “Get off this boat, He’s a crazy man”, but as soon as the bridge opened up and we went through, he turned into this apologetic, gentle little man. He was “sorry” and “it would never happen again”.. My friend and I decided to give him a second chance.

The rest of the trip down river to Astoria was uneventful, even a bit fun. We ate fried chicken and told sea stories for the remaining 95 miles. Oh, we did learn a couple of things about our captain.
First, He had JUST been released from Federal Prison after a 10 year “Stint” for armed robbery! Of course he was Innocent of the charges. He’d met and married his wife (twice his age) while in prison.
Secondly, He’d NEVER really been a professional captain before this. IN FACT he’d taken all the Tests while he was in prison.
(Did I mention, Bells going off in my head? )
As we were moving down river, I said to him that I hadn’t noticed any Nav Charts.
He said that the new owner was meeting us in Astoria with his GPS and besides, He “knew” these waters. (Bells ?)

We finally got to Astoria late that evening. The new owner met us and invited us all to dinner in town. We got back rather late and everyone was a little drunk and a lot tired. Checking the Tide charts showed a nice flood tide around 3 or 4 the next morning. A good departure time to get to Newport before too late.
We all went to bed.

Awake at 2 the next morning only to see a dense fog had closed in around us.
It’s not uncommon for Astoria to have heavy fog in the early morning. Locals use Radar to get in and out of port in those conditions.
But, the CSY had no Radar.
The Captain now showed another side to his personality. Panic !
He panicked. He paced up and down, whined and cursed. We all tried to calm him, but he was in such a state of excitement and angst , no one could talk to him (Bells! Bells!).
We sat in the slip for about two hours. The fog was beginning to lift and the captain was making preparations to leave. At that point the tide had already beginning to turn.

A side note: Any crossing of the Columbia River Bar should be done at Flood Slack. To try to do a crossing during an Ebb .. is Ill advised.

Sitting at our slip in Astoria, we already had missed the Slack by almost two hours. The Bar is 15 miles away, The CSY was averaging about 7 knots. I did the Math.
If we left now we’d be hitting the bar at peak Ebb. (Lots of Bells going off).
In fact they were so loud, I made my first appeal. “We can’t go now” I pleaded.
But the Captain wasn’t listening.
I know I should have jumped ship at that time. Did I tell you that I am sometimes Stupid?

After leaving the slip at the marina in Astoria, still a bit dark, Our captain panicked again. “Where do I go?”. “I don’t know where we should be”, he was shouting.
I grabbed his coat collar and pushed him around so that he could see forward.
“Look at those Green Lights there on our Starboard side! ” I yelled.
“Just follow them. They are like street signs showing the channel”..I was a little rude to him at that point.
He settled down.
Then my friend asked the big question… “Where is your GPS?. We could follow that” “I forgot it” was the owner’s reply.
Both my friend and I froze in a state of shock.
“How in hell are we going to navigate to Newport? ” we asked
The captain, now calm, said.. “I know this trip by heart. I’ve done it lots of times”..

A side note: Months after this experience, both my friend and I talked about that. how could he have done it “dozens of times”.. when he had spent the last 10 years in prison?.
On we went toward the entrance to the Columbia River.

Those who’ve done this trip know that you really can’t see the actual bar until you’re almost upon it. The river channel a little past Astoria heads North then bends around around 90 degrees or more, then heads Southwest. The West turning Southwest section is really The Bar.

It was now daylight as we started to make the course change to head into the Bar. I looked forward and almost got sick. The first view of the channel at the Cape Disappointment section was nasty looking. Big white stuff everywhere.
Now ..I.. Panicked !
I went below and turned the volume up on the VHF.
The Guard Bar radio was saying,
“Columbia River Bar advisory. Conditions at the bar are extremely dangerous . Swells and wind waves to 24 feet …Breaking ! ”
Now the Bells in my head were like Big Ben!

I shouted to the Captain and owner that we had to turn back NOW before it was too late. The captain stood frozen to the wheel. No amount of yelling could jar him loose. He kept saying that he had done this a dozen times. At this point the boat’s SOG must have been near 10 to 12 knots and we were headed out, Fast!. In what seemed like a tick of the clock, we were in it. Too late to turn around now.
To take one of those monster waves Abeam would have been suicide.

Note: The South side of the Columbia Bar is the worst. It’s called the Clatsop Spit. That spit of sand and sea has claimed more lives than anywhere else on the West Coast. The water there gets confused and whipped up to a froth making control and buoyancy difficult. Any boat in trouble THERE is likely to die.

We were now hugging the South side of the Bar, running alongside the Red buoys.
I’m screaming at the captain to “Get the hell over farther to Starboard. Away from Clatsop Spit”.
He’s yelling back at me, ” I can see the Red buoys, I can’t see the Green ones” !
He’s frozen in place and seems to be frightened to death. (He should have been).
My friend is doubled over seasick, no help at all, the owner is so petrified he can’t move (did I mention that the new owner had never been on a sailboat before ! ). The captain is so scared he’s wrapped himself around the wheel and won’t let go.
I finally give up and figured that if we did wander into Clatsop Spit, we’d just die. A kind of calm came over me, even though really scared, I sat in the cockpit hanging on, watching huge, breaking waves tower over our boat. The boat pitched up and down like a Teeter Totter. At times almost going vertical bow to stern.

The whole of the worst part of the Bar is only about 5 mile long, so after an hour or so, we were out of the heaviest seas and starting to stabilize. I looked off to our Starboard and saw the yellow science buoy that sets out there sometimes. (That observation will come into play ).
We had gone about another hour when…. that big old Perkins coughed, slowed, hiccoughed again… And STOPPED !
If it had happened an hour ago, You wouldn’t be reading this. We would have been on the Clatsop Spit, sunk. I would have been another statistic. One more lost in the Graveyard of the Pacific. But, now, there we were, in calm water, no wind and with an engine gone ….dead.

Two hours later, after many efforts on the part of the Captain to restart. (He went through two cans of ether trying) He decided “We’d” better call the Coast Guard for help.

Note, At the Columbia River, there are at least 3 Coast Guard facilities that monitor channel 16. The buoy tender base in Astoria, The Air Rescue group Astoria, and Cape Disappointment. Cape D handles most of the emergencies at the bar and off shore.

Our Captain gets on the VHF and shouts ” Coast Guard Astoria, Coast Guard Astoria”
A voice comes back saying “What Coast Guard station are you calling sir ”
I yell at the captain, Say CAPE DISAPPOINTMENT !. He does.
The Cape D guy comes on asking what our problem is.
(At this point, I’ll use the dialog as it happened. Verbatim (I’ll never forget it)

Cap: “I’m out here and my motor quit”
CG: ” Where are you sir? ”
Cap: ” Off the coast”
CG: “Sir, What coast?”
Cap: “From Astoria”
CG: “Sir, Do you know your coordinates?”
Cap: “No”
(At this point I yell up “about 5 miles due Southwest of the CR science buoy”)
Cap: “We’re somewhere past the .. buoy”
CG: “Sir, What buoy? ”
Cap: “I don’t know”
(I’ll never forget this) CG: (with disgust) “SIR, where do you THINK you are? ”
Cap: ” Astoria..I don’t know”
CG: “Sir, do you have a depth gauge”
Cap: “yes”
CG: “What does it read?”
Cap: “Zero” (it hadn’t been working since we’d started) (more Bells ? )
A Voice breaks in.. “Cape D, this is the Peacock. I have them spotted (gives position)
CG: “Vessel in trouble, standby, all personnel in life jackets, we’ll be there in 45 minutes.

Sure enough, 45 minutes to the tick, here comes that big aluminum boat.
They toss us some lines and drag us back over the NOW calm Columbia River Bar.
Finally pushing us up alongside the docks at Ilwaco Washington the adventure is done.

Next time..
I Will Never ride a boat with a Captain I don’t know personally!
I Will Never ride in a boat that JUST came in from a charter business in Florida!
I will never cross the Columbia River Bar at peak EBB.
I WILL listen and follow those Alarm Bells that go off in my head..

`Post Script:
The CSY’s engine’s fuel pump had failed. It took the captain and owner two more tries to get that boat to Newport. There was NO crew with them either time.


Just Another Day at the Marina

Friday, November 26th, 2010


It must have been around 5 o’clock that afternoon. The traffic sounds were gone. Normally, even though the Manger Marina was a half mile away from the freeway, there’s always a kind of a “Wind” sound that came from it. Today there wasn’t a bit of noise around the place. Well, except the purr of Stumpy who was curled up under the old Warfinger’s desk.
Holiday’s were always quiet around the old marina. It was a forlorn kind of place anyway, but on those special days it was a “lonely quiet”. The old man felt it deep in his bones.

Cold little “snakes” of drafts from a gray day, slipped through cracks in his office wall. Even though he had woolen socks on, the chill numbed his toes. He re-filled his old cracked mug with cold coffee left over from breakfast and sat the cup on the wood fired heater to try to warm it a bit.

Stomach grumbles rippled through him and the old man realized that hunger had snuck up on him. It hit him that , except for a can of chili, he didn’t have much left in the cupboard.

It would have to do tonight.

His old rusty can opener did it’s best to run around the rim of the can. Missing a few spots, the lid was opened enough so the can still could be emptied into the pan. The pan still had left over oatmeal

The pot of chili beginning to bubble on the stove and he started a fresh pot of coffee. That and a slice of stale bread may not the best holiday meal, but it would fill that grumbling stomach tonight.

He set out a plate (also in need of washing) and his big spoon. Dinner was on the table and about to be filling that void in his mid section . A tiny, hesitant knocking at his door gave him a start.

In the dark shadows of the doorway stood Angela, the old dumpster diving street woman. Standing there in the chill with a ragged old muffler wrapped around her head. She was shivering and was unsteady on her feet. She didn’t say anything at first. In fact the Old man had never heard her talk to anyone but herself in the 5 years he’d known her.

He heard a mumble, but he couldn’t make out what she was saying. It was obvious to him that she was in some kind of trouble. The old man reached out and took her hand, drawing her into his office. Angela came like a little child tottering into the room. Not saying a word, she sat down on the chair he offered.

“Can I help you Angela? “ he said. She started to whimper and the old man realized that she was a poor little old lady indeed needing help. He went to his galley and picked up his “Guest” cup. The only clean dish in the house, Pouring in some of the fresh coffee he’d made, he handed it to her. Without a word she drank it down until empty. He offered a second but she shook her head. Then she looked over at the table where the plate of now cooling chili was. She never took her eyes off of it until the old man realized that she was probably starving. “ The poor old soul” he thought. She lives off of the scraps of others and at this time of the year those scraps were probably few and far between. Without thinking, he picked up the plate and handed to her. She nodded and spooned the food into her mouth. He saw tears in her eyes. “ That darned heater is starting to put out a lot of heat” he thought. But the stove was almost out. Still, he fell warm and comfortable. He was about to pour himself a cup of coffee when, before he knew it, Angela stood up, Wrapped her arms around him and gave him one of the biggest hugs he’d ever had. She mumbled something and he saw those tears in her eyes, but a smile was on her face as well. There was a pounding on the door of the shack.

There out on the walkway in front of the marina office stood…. Both of the Shepherd brothers , Dana and Josh, from the security office, His old buddy Les, And a half dozen of the friends and neighbors along the docks. Each carried a box or bag. As they all pushed in they were laughing and chattering like a bunch of crazy kids. In their packages, a turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, desserts and all the fixings of a big dinner. Les, of course, had a big jug of Gin.

For the next 3 or 4 hours the party continued. It was late in the evening when the last of them wandered out into the Not So cold night. The old Wharfinger hadn’t had such a glorious meal in a very long time. And he hadn’t laughed so much in as much time.

He stood in the doorway watching the last of his friends leave. The thought came to him that days like Thanksgiving didn’t mean …Food and Football

… They really meant,…. Love and Friendship.

Love of family and friends. The kind of love and friendship that happens all year long.

He smiled and turned around and walked back into the office. There was Angela, Asleep, still in his big office chair. She had a smile on her wrinkled old face. And there was Stumpy, his old tailless cat. Damned if Stump didn’t have a kind of smile too.


ralph e. ahseln November 2010

THOSE DAYS in OCTOBER (A Wharfinger Tale)

Friday, October 29th, 2010

( A Wharfinger Tale)

October 20th…

Around 6 PM the rain started. Small gusts of chill chased the warmish air and made the old Wharfinger shudder. He pulled the collar of his ancient watch coat up a bit tighter. It didn’t help much. The old coat had more holes than cloth.
“It’s goin’ to be a bit nippy tonight”, he said, although no one was around to hear.
Talking to himself was something the Wharfinger did a lot lately.
It didn’t matter to him that no one was around to answer. He kind of liked the idea of being alone. And he liked the fall season. He liked the chill and the damp of that time of year. He liked the fact that the boating season was over and he didn’t have to deal with the “Sunshine Sailors”. He could say “Any damn thing I want”, without someone taking offense.
It wasn’t like he didn’t have company; there was his beat-up alley cat, “Stumpy”. Stumpy, with most of his tail missing, had taken up residence in the Marina office. He was kept in scraps and milk, but had to pay for it by listening to the Old Man mumbling to himself.
As well, there was Angela the homeless Bag Lady. She made the marina dumpster one of her daily stops. Then, there were the Sheppard brothers who were security cops on the docks. They came by once in a while to see if everything was OK.
His old pal Leslie often called in. Sometimes Les drove down from town to share a glass of gin with him. So, the old Wharfinger DID have friends to talk to, occasionally.
Tonight, no one was around. He liked that.

The marina rounds were done by 10:00 pm and he headed back to the office. A cup of hot gin toddy sound very good. He HAD gotten a little chilled.
He just opened the door to the office when the phone rang.
“Damit, Les is calling awful late tonight” he grumped.
“Stumpy” began to howl.
“What the hell’s the matter with you, you old ragbag ? “.
Stumpy kept howling.
The Wharfinger lifted the handset of the old Candlestick phone and shoved it to his ear. “Les, what the hell d’ ya want at this hour?” He yelled.
There was a long pause, then a voice sounding like a woman with a bad sore throat whispered, “Iss dis der Manger Mareena? “.
The old Wharfinger gulped, identified himself, mumbled an apology, and asked the lady what he might do for her.
After another long pause, she introduced herself (he didn’t catch the name) and she continued. Her scratchy voice was a little hard to understand and the old man had to have her repeat a few times.
She asked if the marina had any open spaces left. There were. She continued saying that she owned a 40 foot custom built Ketch that needed a berth. It would be for less than a month. She would pay the full lease amount plus a bonus for the “inconvenience”.
“ Vould you mind eef I paid een cash? The woman asked.
“Cash would be fine” the old man responded.
Then she asked him “I breeng boot een tomorrow night late. Like Meednight? Eesst only time I can do.”
The Wharfinger had to think about that. He’d never had such a request before. Bringing a boat into any strange marina, that late, is always a risk.
With all the concern he could muster he asked, “Miss, Are you sure you want to do that? It could be unsafe”.
“Eess no problem. I haff done before many times.”
The old Warfinger felt sorry for the lady. Her voice sounded like she must be in pain.
She continued, “No need for be waiting mine boot at late hour. Leef paper work on offize durrr. I peek up and leef money in packet on durr. No need to see…. Dank. “
The old Wharfinger took a second to think about it, and then agreed.
He asked her to repeat her name. She did, but her voice was so weak and painful sounding that he really didn’t understand all of it. He did get the first name. It sounded like “Muh-rain”. Odd sounding. He’d have to check the spelling when he looked at the Application form.
He told her that he looked forward to having her and the boat as guests.
They both hung up.
“Stumpy” stopped howling

October 21st …
The day had started clear and cool, but by late evening the wind picked up to a brisk 25 knots, gusting higher. Heavy clouds had closed in and the temperature had dropped to a few degrees above freezing. Then the rain came. Heavy rain, the kind that stripped the leaves from the few trees that still had them. Everything took on a forlorn look. Even the street lights seemed to shine less and with a sickly yellow color.
It was going to be a nasty night.
The old Wharfinger had been reading the newspaper and now with the last drop of the gin toddy drained from his cup, he was thinking of his warm bed. He’d finished the night’s inspection of the marina hours ago. During which he’d rigged an extra dock lamp at the slip he’d assigned to the new boat. Although he was tired and looking forward to bed, he couldn’t stop worrying about the lady and her Ketch arriving sometime around midnight.
At 11:45 pm he thought he might get his foul weather gear back on and wander down to the assigned slip. “Just to help” he mused.
“Stumpy” his old flea bag cat began to howl and hiss.
“Shut up you old fool” the Wharfinger whispered. Stumpy continued.

Through the driving rain outside, the old man saw what appeared to be a masthead light in the approach to the marina. Slipping on his ragged foulies, he opened the door and went out into the storm.
Shortly, the big ketch turned and started its move to enter the slip that had been assigned. There was little sound and the boat glided into the spot without a bit of effort. He saw a covered figure in the cockpit standing holding a spring line. The old man caught the tossed line and quickly took a bight around the slip’s mid cleat. He allowed the line to slip a few feet then snubbed it up firm. The figure in the cockpit disembarked and had a stern line secured. Moving by the old man with not a word, the person went forward to pull a bow line off the boat and secured it as well.
The Wharfinger moved alongside the person.
“Nicely done Miss. Theren’t many experienced sailors that could do as well. Welcome to Manger’s Marina”.
He had used his best “Happy voice”. The one he uses when he doesn’t know the person.
A whispered, pained, distorted, not quite feminine voice, replied in words that sounded like. “Dank ‘yeh’ ”
Turning quickly, she walked away, and stepped on a hanging ladder to climb back aboard. As she reached the top step, a gust of wind blew back the hood of her foul weather coat. In the light of the newly placed dock lamp, her face was exposed for a brief moment.
The Wharfinger was frozen in shock. He gasped and felt the bile of revulsion creep into his throat.
She was horribly scarred! Her face looked as if it had been torn by some wild animal. Scars, marks and wrinkles, bits of fleshy bumps covered her face.
She quickly covered and disappeared down into the cabin of her boat.

On his way back to the marina office, the old wharfinger turned over in his mind the action and the sights he’d just witnessed. Then it suddenly seemed to make sense to him.
She had requested a Midnight docking… So as to avoid any cruel “gawker”…
She only used the telephone because of the damaged voice. Much better to blame the “poor connection” of a telephone.
She wanted to Post the paper work rather than appearing in the glaring light of an office… Again to avoid the stares of an office staff.
She would be staying for a short time… Better to move on after a short stay. Someone surely would have seen her…IF… she stayed too long at one location.
And not the least, she handled that big vessel by herself… like a pro… She had to. Learning to do it alone in the dark so no one would be around to see the ugliness that she suffered.

During his walk back to the office, the old man began to feel sympathy and sorrow for the poor young woman. (IF…she WAS young..?).
He vowed to try to make her time here at HIS marina, a pleasant one.
He wouldn’t intrude, but would try to help all he could. It was his duty.
As he opened the office door, the light inside blinded him.
He didn’t see “Stumpy” rolled up into a ball, hiding underneath the desk.
But he heard the cat hiss.

October 22nd …
It was mid-morning when he made a special trip to where the new boat was. Turning the corner of the dock and looking down the row of boats, he couldn’t miss that big ketch. It was painted black from mast truck to waterline. Black topsides, cabin, mast, spreaders, any wood and all fabric were BLACK! It was a bit of shock to see a boat so covered in one color. Or, lack of color.
The old man walked up alongside and tapped gently on the hull. There was no response. He rapped a little harder this time. Nothing.
“Ahoy! “. His voice had authority in it. Still, there was no return to his call. He guessed that after all the noise he’d made; it was a sure thing that no one was aboard. Or they were very sound sleepers.
The lady must have left in the early morning to avoid being seen? It was a likely-hood considering.
As he moved away, he caught a slight movement in the corner of his eye. He didn’t see it clearly enough, but he thought he heard the sound of a cat growling.
It was time for lunch and the coffee pot still had a little left in it from breakfast. His stomach rumbled with the thought of food and a sip of that hot brown liquid so important to sailors.
He’d finished with the leftovers for himself and figured that Stumpy might enjoy the crumbs.
But, .No matter how he coaxed his fuzzy friend to come out from under the desk, it wouldn’t move. It just pulled in tighter and mewed.
As it turned out, over the next few days, Stumpy would hardly budge from his “cave”. He’d dash out to make a Pit Stop at his sand box beside the des k, then back as quickly as he could. The Wharfinger had to put his food and milk close by him or he just wouldn’t eat. “What the hell is wrong with that beast? “ he wondered.

Along about 11:00 pm, there was a gentle knocking on the office door.
The old man had been napping and by the time he roused enough to respond, whoever had knocked was gone. He opened the door, took a step outside and looked up and down the docks. There wasn’t a thing stirring.
As he turned around he spotted a large envelope jammed into the mail box hanging on the wall in front of the office door. He opened the folder and found all the registration papers of the lease agreement and several crisp new dollar bills. Enough for the month’s fee and a large “Extra” amount. All in good order and Signed. Her first name that he’d heard was now printed out for him to see…“Marijn” (he’d heard it as “muh-rain”). Must be some kind of foreign name. The old man suddenly realized that she HAD spoken in some kind of odd dialect. At first he had though that it may have been because of the “accident” or tragic event that has so fouled her face. Now he was sure that she was from some foreign land. He didn’t know from where. Then he thought, “I wonder what the name means? Maybe I can find it. Maybe GOOGLE”…
He tried to get Stumpy to come out for some milk. Stump wouldn’t move.

October 23rd …

It was another awful day of rain and wind. The forecast had been for clearing, but they had missed, again.
Leslie called first thing in the morning. He wanted to know if the Old Wharfinger had heard about the fancy Schooner “Brightness”.
The old man had no idea what Les was talking about.
“Something happened to the mooring lines of that fancy schmansy schooner “Brightness” last night. They let go somehow and the ship got loose.
She drifted down into the railroad bridge and was Dismasted!!”
The excitement in Les’ voice was palpable. “Good god, it’ll cost them 20,000 bucks to get a new one. Special Carbon fiber and all that. What a mess! “
“Does anyone know how it happened?” the old man asked.
“Nope, it had been on video cameras too, nothing showed up on the screen”.
The old man shook his head. What is the world was coming to?
Les said that he had to run and would call him later on. The old man grunted a good-bye and hung up.

Late that night, the Wharfinger decided that he’d try to make contact with the
“foreign lady” again. He figured that she must be a Night Person and would probably be up.
As he turned the corner of the docks he was shocked to see the big black boat…. Missing. She apparently had taken the boat out as soon as it had gotten dark. The old man was totally confused now.
He’d try to talk to her… tomorrow.
IF… the boat was still there!

October 24th …

The old man made a point of getting up early. He wanted to catch the “Lady” as soon as possible. He’d use the excuse that she had given him too much “Bonus” money.
There the black boat sat in its slip, mooring lines all proper and looking like it hadn’t moved in years. There were Spider Webs! Spider webs in the shrouds. How in the hell could a boat move with webs?
He figured that she must have moved the boat very gently indeed.

At first he tap, tapped on the hull. Again, there was no sound.
He rapped harder the next time.. Silence.
He shouted “Miss, Miss, I need to talk to you! “ No response.
Walking back to the office, he began to worry about the lady.
Maybe she was hurt or sick. What happened to her last night?
Perhaps he’d missed an emergency phone number on her application.
He’d look carefully to see if he had missed one.
One thing was sure; He was going to talk to her the first chance he got.
Then it struck him. He’d go to her boat late tonight! She seemed to like the night. That would be the time.

He started his vigil as soon as it got dark. He would walk a short distance away and be out of sight for about 5 minutes, then sneak back to take a peek at the black boat. Around 2300 hours, he came back from his short walk just in time to see the vessel moving away from the slip. By the time he had run the distance to the end of the docks, the boat was too far away. He watched it move out into the main channel.

October 25th …

The morning was cold and wet again. The old Wharfinger skipped his morning coffee and quickly walked down to the slip he dreaded to checkout.
There it was Black and, yes, ugly. In his eyes it was taking on a hateful look to him. He still worried about the woman who owned it, but he didn’t like the boat. He wished he could talk to her and convince her to get rid of the Damned thing. He hadn’t noticed before, but besides the spider webs, it had strands of what looked like moss hanging from the head stay and spreaders.
It was an ugly, dirty boat.
He trudged back to the office. Coffee is what he needed and maybe he could get “Stumpy” to eat something. The poor cat had begun to getting thin and hardly moved anymore. The old flea bag just lie under the desk, mewing.
When he got close to the office he saw one of the private port cops. It was one of the Shepherd brothers, Dana.

“Hey, you old rascal, I was about to call the city cops. You’re usually in drinking your morning coffee at this time of the day. Where ya been?”
Dana is one of the good guys and always kept an eye on the Wharfinger.
“I’ve been checking one of the boats. It’s been having some problems”
He lied. Dana continued. “Well, I just dropped by to make sure you were OK. There’s been a lot of crap going on around the docks lately. Break ins, vandalism, mistreatment of animals. A lot of bad stuff happenin’. Be careful! “
“OK, I will”

After his friend Dana left, the old man figured that he’d better check on the boats in his marina. He’d never had any trouble before, but in these times, and with a lot of crazy stuff happening, it’d be a good idea to check the boats anyway.

The rest of the day he spent walking the docks looking around “his” boats.
There HAD been some oddities and some damages.
One boat appeared to have its mainsail cover ripped open. There was an old Pearson Vanguard, which looked like it was taking on water. Maybe the bilge pump had failed. Two or three other boats had Streaks running fore and aft. It looked like someone had “painted” the hulls with an oily brush. He was going to have to call the owners. Especially the guy who owned the sinking Pearson.
Back in his office, a warm cup of coffee in his hand, the phone rang. It was his good friend, Leslie.
Les had more stories of boats that had run into trouble out on the bay.
One boat had sunk last night, after hitting a rock that wasn’t on the charts. Fortunately no one was hurt. Another boat caught fire when the owner tried to use his Grill. He was having a party around 1:00 am when the grill just exploded. His hair got scorched and a couple of minor burns were on his hands.
“Boy, a lot of bad boat stuff happening lately”.
The old man listened to his friend and said, “Les, you’re just imagining things. Stuff like that is happening all the time. People aren’t very careful. We’re just hearing about a few of them now. All you have to do is read the Boat US magazine. It’s full of ‘smash, crash bang’ events of boats. You need to come down here and have a cup of Gin with me. That’ll chase the boogey mens away” He laughed.
Les groaned and ended the phone call with… “Yeah, but there’s been a LOT of them… and they’ve been Very Close to us. Too close!”

October 26th through October 31st …

Every day for 4 or 5 days, Newspaper accounts and the talk on the docks, confirmed that an awful lot of boats and marinas had had accidents resulting in damages. Vandals seem to be a major part of the trouble as well. Oddly, the events seemed to have happened all over the area at the same time or at least during a few hours at night. Video cameras hadn’t caught anything. Some places had hired people to keep watch. Even with all that, boats and marinas continue to be targets.
The local police seem to be powerless to stop it.

Yes, there HAD been a lot of unusual things happening lately. And sure as heck, the Black Boat with the “Foreign woman” was an “unusual” event.
As well, the lady apparently preferred to sail at night. Maybe she had seen something.
He made up his mind that he’d wait around and try to catch her tonight. “We can have a little chat. Just so’s I can find out a little more about her.” He said out loud to himself. “Stumpy”, under the desk, gave a weak mew.
He figured that if he got to the Black boat around midnight, he’d have a chance to talk to her. It was high time. He wanted to find out more about her and maybe help. After all, the woman was “damaged” and probably needed some friendly company. The rest of the day passed slowly. He was anxious for night so that he could have his ”little chat” with the “Foreign lady”.

Late in the afternoon, he climbed the Ramp of the marina to put the day’s trash in the big brown dumpster sitting in the parking lot. As he got to the top of the incline he spotted Angela the old bag lady. She was hurrying away from the dumpster as fast as her feet could move.
“Hey, Angela, Where ya goin’ so fast. I haven’t seen ya for a week.” he yelled at the retreating figure.
“Don’t wanna stop there NO more. Youz gots Bats! I hates Bats! “. Her voice faded as she moved away.
The old Wharfinger yelled after her, “We don’t have Bats around here. What the hell are you talking about? “
Angela either didn’t hear him, or didn’t want to.

Back at the office, the old man set his alarm clock for 11:00 pm, he ate a small dinner, stretched out on his cot and promptly fell asleep. He didn’t sleep well. His dreams were bad. In them, the old man dreamt of sinking boats, boats on fire, masts and booms falling and bats flying around it all. Really, a sailor’s nightmare.
At the jangling of the alarm clock, he opened his eyes half expecting to see the office in flames. It wasn’t, but the old man was shaking with fear. He grabbed the tin cup that still had the remains of morning coffee. Gulping down the cold brown liquid help chase the “heebee Jeebees” away. Grabbing his old watch coat, he stumbled out into the night. Finally, he’d get to chat with the lady.
As he turned the corner of the dock, his heart sank. Moving out into the channel he saw the stern of that black boat quietly motoring out into the dark night. He’d missed her again!

The following days were the worst days of his life!
Each night he tried to catch the lady in the Black Boat. He tried different hours. One time he waited until 3:00 am. But, no matter what he did, he would be just in time to see the boat leaving its slip and moving away. It was like she knew he was coming and had slipped the lines before he could get there.
Each morning the old man would walk the dock only to see the black boat secure in its slip. There WAS some change. Each new day he noticed the boat was dirtier. It had added some new trash to its rigging. Some of it, disgusting.
He started leaving notes pinned to the lifelines. They were notices that said “An owner must keep their boats in presentable condition while a guest of the marina”. Each day the note was gone, but the boat got more trash.
And the whole area began to smell.

Les called every morning to tell him about the increasing news reports of destruction and oddities that had happened to boats on the rivers and bays close by. Some minor damages, others with near disastrous outcomes. It was like some kind of virus had infected the boating community.
The Wharfinger’s own marina hadn’t been left out. There was much wrong on the dock.
Sails ripped, Life lines cut or pulled so hard the stanchions had bent. One boat had sunk and several had been “painted” with that oily goo. Even though he made rounds at different hours now, the vandalism continued. The smell was getting worse.
Dana Shepherd, one of the owners of “Shepherd’s Security came by. He told the old man that they had been working 24 hour shifts because of complaints from area businesses and private boat docks. All of them had experienced damages. Dana said they were stumped and couldn’t figure out how it was happening.

It all was sounding like the Nightmares the old man had been having each night. The only things NOT in his dreams were the Black Boat and the lady who owned it.

Why hadn’t he thought of it before? He’d wait until dark then STAY alongside of the Black Boat. All night if necessary. Then she’d have to talk with him. If she wanted to do her Night Sailing, she’d have come outside to drop her mooring lines. When she did, he’d be standing there. And, he had a lot of questions to ask her.
It was perfect.

Before he left for his vigil, he tried to get “Stumpy” to eat a little. The cat only shivered, mewed and rolled up tighter into the space under the desk.

The old man was sitting in a rickety folding chair alongside of the Black boat just as the sun went down. He had a thermos of hot Gin Toddy next to him.
“Just to chase the cold” he thought to himself. He knew that it was to screw up his courage too. “They call Gin Dutch Courage don’t they?” he laughed at his own joke.

It was going to be an ugly night. Rain and a cold wind continued causing him discomfort . The old man huddled tight against the cold. But he couldn’t get warm.
His thermos was emptied in a very short time. It WAS very cold, He told himself.
Sometime around midnight, he jerked awake. He’d fallen asleep, who knows how long ago. His vision was blurry and his brain muddled. He had slept hard and it was taking a while to get to a full awareness.
That awful odor was there. A smell that was heavy and choking.
It was like a whole box of matches had been struck at the same time.
“Sulfur, its Sulfur”, his brain told him. Jumping up from the chair, he turned around just in time to see the foul Black Boat pulling away from the slip. Silently leaving him behind.
“Stop, stop, I need to talk to you” he shouted. “Ahoy there, you MUST return”
Then over the howl of the wind he heard it.
A Mocking, Cruel, Screeching, Cackling LAUGH! An obscene sound of the Foulest Evil.
It chilled the old man far more than the wind and rain could have ever done.
He stood there watching the lights of the boat slowly get dim. He stood until he no longer could make out the shape of that monstrosity. Then he knew he had to do something to stop that “Thing”.
At first he thought to call the local Marine Sheriff or perhaps the Coast Guard.
But what would he say?
“I …think… I know of a boat that… Might… be involved in the latest rash of vandalism…”
They would want to know facts and the old man didn’t have the slightest bit of proof. The only “facts” he had was that she was a disfigured woman, alone in a big boat, who likes to sail at night.
The whole thing would sound like a silly old man’s imagination.
Then he thought of something that might work. She was a foreigner. That would raise suspicion. Especially with the Homeland Security people.
He’d get all the information about her from the Lease application in the office.

Back in the warmth of his office, and after a few gulps of the last bit of hot Gin Toddy left in the pot, the old man sat down with the forms. Now he would know all about “That Woman”.
The last page of the lease agreement had the all blanks for the Vitals. Name, address, phone numbers and other information needed. When he flipped the form to the last page another kind of chill ran down his spine.
ALL of the spaces were BLANK. Only her name and the name of the vessel were written in. He KNEW that the other blanks HAD been filled. He was positive of that. He always checked to make sure everything was in order. The insurance company had made that point strong when he first became Wharfinger of the Marina.
All of the blanks were empty now. Except her name and the boat’s name.
They were there those scrawled letters in Black ink.

“Name of Owner……Marijn DeHeks…”
“Vessel’s name…. Bezemsteel…

He could hardly sleep that night. His nightmares were of horror and continued all night long.
Early next morning he jumped out of bed and literally ran to the slip where the boat would be.
It WASN’T There!
All traces of it were gone. The smell was gone.
The boat and the woman were gone.

As he walked back into the office, the phone rang. It was his old friend Les.
“Hey kiddo, how’s it going down there?” Les sounded chipper.
“Les, the damnedest thing, that black boat and the woman left last night and haven’t returned. I think they’re gone for good”

“Great! It didn’t sound like a good thing for you, her being there”.

“Les, there’s one more thing. I was going to give the Coasties the info on her, but it’s all gone from the lease form. All but her name and the name of the damn boat”

“Geez, old buddy, what IS her name? “
The old man told him and even spelled out the words.
Les giggled and said,
“Those names sound Dutch to me. I had some experience with a Dutch lady once and those sure sounds like the words she used to say to me”…Les chuckled again. Probably over some memories he had.

“Good hint Les. I’ll look them up on the computer. I was going to find what her first name meant anyway”

It had been a while since he’d fired up his beat-up computer. He didn’t use it much anyway. It was making noises and he wondered if it still worked or not.
In a few minutes the Browser came up.

Her first name was found on a page of Dutch Girl names
Marjin.(Muh-rain). Meaning… “Of the Sea”
“Well”, thought the old man, “At least that’s something good.

Then he keyed into GOOGLE TRANSLATE each of the other names on the lease form

“Google translate…. From Dutch to English”
DeHeks ? De Heks…

Google translate…. From Dutch to English”

Now He KNEW!
Now He understood

For a few minutes he sat glued to his chair. It was hard for HIM to believe.
Surely……No one else would believe it.

His thoughts were interrupted by noises at the office door.
Fearfully, he slowly turned to look.

“Stumpy” was at the door .. He wanted to go outside.

ralph e. ahseln
October 2010