She was a prisoner. Kidnapped, sat with her back to a sail boats mast. A young woman away from school, on spring break, who had a little too much to drink and now this.
She did not talk because there must not be any mistakes. She played it cool, but defiant.
The man had begun to haul the ground tackle aboard the sailing vessel while the sky lightened and a cool land breeze blew coldly across the anchorage. The young woman sat with legs sprawled in front and her back to the mast looking the boat over carefully. When the man turned she saw his face again and thought, ‘He doesn’t look like a criminal. Of course he never had.’
“This is the 1800s, I am the British Royal Navy and you have been conscripted.” he had said earlier. His beard and what little hair there was on top was white. His eyes had crows feet that became ridges when he smiled and he smiled often. His teeth were even, but she knew they were implants.
He had come aft and began adjusting the wind vane sail and then to the port side and unfurled the genoa. He eased it silently out into the wind with the furling line in one hand and the jib sheet in the other. When there was enough wind in the sail he ran the sheet around a winch and trimmed the sail. The sloop began to glide silently through the sleeping anchorage during the twilight of dawn.
She could see him more clearly now that the sun was rising behind her. He was an old man but still agile and with good balance, she could tell as she watched him collecting and stowing a boat hook and some fenders. Now he was making another adjustment to the self steering and adjusting the sail again. She could call out for help, but she knew that wasn’t the way the game was played and her grandfather did like his little games.
“Move into the cockpit please. Unless you want to help.” Grandfather said.
“I’m a prisoner, remember!”
“A conscript.” He reminds her as she moves carefully into the cockpit.
He removes the sail ties and loosens the main sheet. Now, a clean white main sail has spilled across the boat as it sails into a ten knot wind with the boom wagging. Unhurried, he raises the main sail with the mast winch, secures the halyard and returns to trim the sail and adjust the self steering.
The sun is above the horizon and the wind has warmed. Dolphins are converging on the boat while the old man loads his pipe sitting on the starboard lazzeret across from his granddaughter.
“Now, young lady, pertaining to your existence on this boat: A. You are my one remaining relative and B. since your father died I am yours.”
‘Grandfather was cute when he got serious. The rest of the time he was a kid wrapped in an old mans’ skin.’ She thought looking at him dressed in a blue work shirt and kaki shorts squinting over his round, wire rimmed glasses.
“Now, our agreement was visitation rights while you were at school and no major changes without consulting me first. Is that correct?”
“Those were the rules you set down and that I reluctantly agreed to, Grandfather.”
“You didn’t seem very reluctant taking my check.”
“I agree, my reluctance was absent at the signing of the check.” She sat stiffly contrite.
The wind freshened for a minute and the boat heeled and charged through the chop. Granddaughter was now low down on the leeward side while Grandfather was up above her on the windward side. Down below a few items slid and rattled. The boat rushed on until the gust settled and then fell off as the weakened wind veered.
“You didn’t tell me you had dropped out of school, Billie.” Her name was Belinda, but Grandfather had always called her Billie and she had always called him Grandfather when everyone else called him Sir Edward, for Sir Edward Price Chatsworth Downing VC.
“I’m nineteen, Grandfather. Old enough to make my own decisions.”
“Yes, I am well aware of that.” He smiled at her pleased. She smiled back, patient. “I have your passport by the way.” he said casually over his shoulder as he walked down the companion. “I am having a cup of tea. Would you care for one, Billie?” And he disappeared into the galley.
“How did you get my passport?!” She managed to say trying to hide the panic.
From below she heard the click of a switch and then the water pump groaning as water splashed into the tea kettle. Out of site he said clearly. “I went over to your apartment three mornings ago and knocked on your door. No body answered so I went in. One lump or two?” He called cheerfully.
Billie sat stiffly, stone silent as her mind whirled. “Was that Wednesday?” she asked with a slight tremor.
“Yes, I believe it was.” he waited for the other shoe to drop as he climbed back up the companion way and handed his granddaughter her cup of tea. She looked perfectly shocking. Her face was white and her hands trembled, sloshing a little tea onto her lap.
“I hope you know that I love you. I admit that I acted irrationally when I took your passport and signed you out of the U.S. as crew aboard this sailing vessel.
“You did what?”
“And do not think for a minute that every rutting human has not been in the same position I found you in that morning! I dare say.”
She sat, shocked into silence not able to look her grandfather in the face. “You violated my space!”
“I did, my dear and I pay for it every time I close my eyes. You, naked, wrapped around that skinny runt with his pants still on, down around his knees.
“Please Grandfather. Without the dramatics.”
“Very well. I payed off your rent and changed your address to mine. You will find new clothes below with a new toilet kit.” He, somehow, had gotten his pipe lit and was puffing up a cloud. Around a wet rattle and a puff of smoke he continued as though in casual mention, “Your boyfriend rifled your purse before he left. I couldn’t wake you up you were so drunk, so I stuck some money in your purse and left.”
A groan squeezed through her clenched jaw. “That bastard!”
“Did you know him well?” he goaded pleasantly. The only other sounds were water gurgling along the hull and wind with a harsher whisper as it brushed off the sails.
The sloop heeled and assumed her natural posture for fifteen knot winds, thirty-five degrees off her bow. Her tow rail was high and dry and the skippers wind vane rudder was well into the water. Sir Edward took a little of the Genoa in on the furler and trimmed the sails for balance on a close reach. Next he fine tuned the self steering to the windward side of a close reach and took some slack in on the topping lift. He sat down satisfied but still thinking of easing the main sail with the traveler, but decided to ease the main sheet instead.
He eased the boom out until the luff of the main sail was lightly buffeted by the wind coming off the genoa and then winched the pocket out. Forward, the trailing end of a halyard had fallen off one of the mast winches and the staysail halyard had so much slack that the wind blew it, bonging, against the mast like a bell tolling. Then he remembered he wanted to set the staysail to see if he could pick up a couple of knots and change the balance of the boat. He pulled the three ends with their attaching eyes of the staysail out of its’ bag secured to the bottom of the mast and attached the clew to the sheet that lie un-clutched, parallel alongside the main sheet. He attached the peak to the halyard and the clew to a deck fitting behind the forward cleat. He pulled some slack through the clutch, hustled aft and locked the clutch, returned and raised the staysail in front of the mast and tied of the halyard.
Briefly, the sail shook angrily in the wind and then, winched and cleated, it formed a perfect threesome of white sails on a white capped blue sea. The center of balance on the boat moved aft over the forward part of the keel supporting the weight of hundreds of pounds of ground tackle in the forward locker. Sir Edward trimmed the foresail and main and adjusted the wind vane. He noticed that she sailed much smoother taking the wave and swell further under her bow. He was also sure that the boat had picked up a couple of knots. He let the ginny out to its’ full one hundred-twenty per cent and re- trimmed all the sails, adjusted the wind vane again, checked the GPS and found that the sloop was sailing an average of six point five knots with her rails two feet above the surface of the sea. He was satisfied.
Sir Edward was also very happy with his granddaughters reaction to his harsh decision and she seemed, although reluctant, acquiescent. What he did not know was that Belinda’s mood had lightened considerably. In fact she felt as though a great weight had fallen from her shoulders. She had watched from the top of the companion way as he performed the various responsibilities sailors have to their boats and was intrigued and then delighted as the boat seemed to skip along the surface of the wind lashed sea.
Grandfather began instructing her, teaching her to manage the boat single handed. “You never know, my dear, you may have to sail by yourself. Accidents do happen aboard the vessels.” He had said this several times as she fumbled about on deck trying to follow the logic of being solo.
With the boat under control of the self steering vane she began to prepare the sheets by flaking them out so that they wouldn’t snarl going through blocks or fair leads. Grandfather sat behind the helm supervising while the boat sailed itself.
Belinda adjusted the wind vane for the opposite tack and as the boat slowly creeped into the wind she tightened the main sheet, anchoring the boom directly over the center of the cockpit. Taking a jib sheet in each hand, the windward in the left hand and the leeward in the right, she waited as the bow slowly moved into the wind and just before the boat stalled, in chains as it were, the foresail backed and pushed the bow through wind. The next was the tricky part, she had found out. Now she had to slip the windward jib sheet while pulling in the leeward sheet, but she had forgotten to untie the sheets cleat knot on the windward side and the tension was so great on the line that she couldn’t get the cleat knot loose.
Grandfather sat in the rear of the cockpit and let the boat turn through two, three hundred sixty degree revolutions before he said anything. “Remember what I told you about gaining back control of a sail boat.” He said over the loud and violent flapping of the foresail as it made its’ second loop through the wind.
She stopped struggling with the knot and, pushing her grandfather out of the way, turned the helm fully into the wind. She tied it off and sat down next to her grandfather. “I screwed it up again.” She said as the sail boat settled down, nosed into the wind with the foresail backwinded and the main counteracting. “I won’t forget, again, to heave to Grandfather. Hell, I might just heave to and then tack the jib.” Her face lit up. “In fact, I’ll just pretend I intended to heave-to and continue to set the jib.”
She finished wrestling the knot loose and slipped the sheet through the winch and took it in on the leeward side of the boat. She set the plastic wind vane sail for a close reach and adjusted the sails using the shape of the sail. the direction of the wind and the tell tails stitched onto the sail cloth. One more adjustment to sails and steering and she turned to her grandfather with a big grin.
“You know what your doing. The doing will make the task easier.” He smiled back at her.
Sir Edward had continuously reminded her to secure all lines before, during and after a task. More than once she had searched around to tie off a halyard and found only her grandfather frowning at her while the halyard flapped out of reach in the wind, flying next to the sail boat like a kite. Like ways with flaking out the sheets. It must have taken five snarls before she began to remember to flake out the line.
The chores she did not like were locating all of the through hulls and exercising them by opening and closing them. Or closing and opening them. Checking the engine oil and water. Checking the transmission oil. Any job to do with the head. Cleaning the bilge and food lockers. Checking and cleaning the batteries and compartment. Cleaning oil spillage from beneath the engine. And the cleaning of the waste holding tank and lines. This was all accomplished at sea, by her efforts between watches and the meals, to her dismay, that Grandfather cooked.
The one task Belinda liked the best was her watches at night of four hours on and four hours off steering by the stars and planets while dolphins swam behind the boats’ self steering gear breathing noisily when they surfaced. She was the only person awake within two hundred miles and the boat depended solely on her. It gave her a thrill and a surprising satisfaction.
(To be continued)