LIST all chapters
READ previous chapter
READ next chapter

7: Willpower

The nets slide out, the fish swim in,
There’s wind in the offing, and heavy rain,
We’ll haul the nets and head for port
And tomorrow we’ll follow the fish again,
That is—if the weather be good
And—if the boat hangs together
And—if Officialdom kindly allows us to

In the following early spring an enormous storm swept the coast, shaking shipping and shore alike. Men drowned as boats went down in furious seas. Marine installations were torn out and dismembered, and wreckage floated freely on surging, noisy waters.

     Tugboat in stormRumour had it that trusted technology had failed the coastal communities and those who set out to sea from them. It was said that the temporary shifting of a satellite used for weather reporting had left the forecasters to fall back on traditional means, most of which had been decommissioned when the new methods for tracking had been acquired.

     This storm came in faster and earlier than predictions indicated, and hit much harder than expected.

     Boats were caught out.

     LEGER DE MAIN, lying to her damaged and rusting mooring, broke loose and, on outgoing Tide with an approving nod from Bay Guardian, she navigated the Gap by herself, rode the big rollers and went off once more to see what Coast looked like from a distance.

     Unwittingly she became that rogue of the sea, ‘a hazard to navigation somewhere in the vicinity’, such as those occasionally detailed in weekly ‘Notices to Mariners’—the lost, the strayed and the abandoned.

     Her impromptu solo voyage was a short but momentous affair.

     The next day when wind began to abate, enough to allow search operations for lost seamen to move urgently into high gear on the water, the small but powerful steel-hulled Coast Guard cutter, GAME GOOSE, more often than not referred to as the Lame Goose by those who operated her, revved up. Well past retirement age if her dented and battered sheer gave any indications of her overall condition, manned by individuals willing to lay their own lives on the line while attempting to save others, she put out from the village Government Wharf for another effort to reach the co-ordinates which marked a last mayday sent from a sinking small craft the evening before.

     Although nobody said it out loud, the crew knew how slight was the chance that anyone could have survived such a hammering from Sea in a small dinghy for so many hours, but miracles had been known to happen. Those who put to sea aboard small boats in pursuit of fish are usually a hardy and determined lot and each boat has a mainstay of hope installed along with its usual complement of rigging, to be used rather like a last straw for clutching at in difficulties. The will to live is as strong and vital a force as the elements themselves.

     The Coast Guard was determined that every chance and every hope would reach its full potential for help.

     The village had lost two of the fleet the evening before, but no crew—the boat and crew of LOUISA excepted from this toting up. The first four men had been taken aboard another fishing boat fighting its way back to the village. The next three had been brought back by the Coast Guard. The fate of the LOUISA remained unknown.

     None of the returning craft had seen the divers’ old boat. One had heard her mayday just as they made it to home port and lurched behind its welcomed bulk of the breakwater. Those aboard knew there was no possibility of their turning back to attempt rescue. She was at a distance up the coast and they had barely survived themselves.

     Some returning crews from fishing boats which had come into port safely were seen to go down on one knee in the pouring rain, pat the wharf they were on and bow their heads, grateful for having made it home through such chaos.

     The search for the LOUISA had been attempted without success, under almost impossible conditions, when the call had first come in. The small Coast Guard vessel had fielded the job when she’d just returned from reaching and hauling the three men out of the sea after their boat had capsized. She was closest, and there was no one else available. Rescue resources were stretched to their cut back limit. Every available unit was out there, along with a few volunteers. The smaller cutters like GAME GOOSE went non-stop along the coast as long as they could. The bigger rescue craft were out handling bigger rescues. The airborne force was busy farther out trying to locate a freighter in trouble.

     There was trouble everywhere.

     The little boat with the reputation for a big heart had gone out from the village in the first failing light of that terrible evening, against rising wind and sea. She’d been forced to turn back after defying the elements, or go under herself, and there had been feelings of profound defeat aboard her as she returned through howling darkness.

     Three women crewed the boat whose last call they had received.

     Everyone in the village knew the leaky, rotten old LOUISA, not just by her present name, but by several others she’d carried—a different one each time she was sold—which was considered bad luck in itself. There was a constant air of surprise wafting around her from people who wondered how she managed to keep afloat.

     ‘What! Is that rot and rust pile still going? Someone ought to condemn it. It’s nothing but a grid of teredo holes hanging together because the wretchy little borers are holding hands. Somebody’ll drown themselves in it right here at the wharf if we don’t watch out.’

     The old boat was too weary to pay any heed to such comments anymore. Twenty-five years before, she’d been thrown together from low-grade lumber and leftover pieces pried from earlier old wrecks. The two builders had never expected that she should outlast them. They needed a boat to go fishing and she was it. Their intentions were that when she became impossible they’d rip off anything still usable from her, abandon her to the beach and build another few-season’s wonder.

     She fooled them. They both died before she was willing to, and the man who bought her didn’t know anything about their intentions. Somehow, as she aged, she always managed to tread water until she got back to port, but each succeeding owner sold her as quickly as he could scrape up the down-payment on a better boat, anything being better than she was, and none of them did much to improve her condition. She simply held her own on her own.

     She was called a coffin looking for a place to rest and she almost got that last trip when her latest subscriber—of Sogger temperament who was using her for a home—disowned her, having found her indiscriminately imbibing up to her cabin housing, a substance forbidden to the interior of boats, when the bilge pump quit one night having out-performed its battery, thereby giving her the chance to gulp as much of the stuff as she pleased.

     Her owner realised as he came down to the public wharf the next morning, after he himself had spent a night of carousing at a friend’s shack, that he’d have to pay more to get her raised and restored to usefulness than he’d paid for her in the first place, which had been pretty minimal.

     His temporary shelter from the hard world gone, he salvaged a few belongings from her wet interior and left town quickly, abandoning her to continue her shameful habit before responsibility became an issue.

     Taking complete advantage of the freedom from restraint which this afforded her, she wallowed drunkenly at the wharf and refused to co-operate with the wharfinger when he found her there, listing dangerously close to complete collapse, guilty of being a public nuisance.

     This left the wharfinger with the problem of her disposal, but happily for him it was taken over by an optimistic junk dealer, who got her for nothing and a promise not to let her sink at the wharf or they’d both be in trouble.

     Such an interesting new project was approached with enthusiasm and energy, since he was one of those cheerful opportunists who cherish the old adage that there is somebody born every minute who is followed the next half minute by someone destined to relieve the first arrival of his money.

     He was a Halfminuteman.

     Taking her over, he pumped her out and got her up, thereby temporarily restricting her addiction somewhat, dried her out a little—at least above the water line—with the help of some fine weather, bullied the drowned engine back to life with various unorthodox and dangerous treatments which included the application of a blowtorch and the addition of a few parts not approved by the original manufacturer or any other one either—the kind of bits and pieces which rest in dusty Mother-of-Invention bargain bins—slapped a ‘For Sale’ sign on her and waited for the right Minute to arrive.

     Local skippers, however, knew her far too well for that, and those who came from other places took one look and ran away. One of them suggested dropping a match into her oil and gas soaked bilges for the insurance—if he had any—and if he could manage to get a fire started in the waterlogged old hulk to begin with.

     That she actually sold was a topic of conversation over coffee and beer for some time, engendering lots of jokes and many pronouncements of dire happenings to come, but her latest sale had at least brought some peace to the local fishing fleet. They would no longer have to suffer pangs every time a crew set out aboard her in difficult weather to take her to the fishing grounds, or try to look out for her and assist her home when her worn out engine broke down, or she shipped inordinate amounts of sea aboard, which was almost always.

     diverThe new owners wanted her as a diving platform, not for fishing, and they seemed to have sense enough not to take her out until the weather was fair, so the demands on her forty feet of wet dryrot and disintegrating fittings were lessened considerably.

     Some people had laughed a lot when the three up-the-coast women had arrived looking for a boat and had settled on the ‘coffin’. Some had been appalled. A couple of honest men took the trouble to tell them what they were looking at. Nevertheless, they bought, which told everyone immediately that the buyers didn’t have much money.

     Their brains seemed to be all right though. They haggled for a lower price than that being asked and got the wreck for probably not too much more than it was worth. This amount was somewhere a little above the value of scrap for her metal appurtenances which were few and only enough to make her usable, but it still made a nice profit for the junk dealer since he’d paid nothing for her in the first place, had put not much more into her restoration, and was saved the trouble of doing the scrapping.

     The three seemed to have no illusions as to what they now owned. They referred to her as the barnacle barrel, or the barfy biffy among other fond nicknames they tagged her with. They too wanted her short term only. Just long enough to set up in business as divers, hoping to fill a lack of such professionals in Shalisa Creek Village. Still, they got out a can of paint and inscribed LOUISA on her stern and on either side of her bow.

     LOUISA, BAG LADY, OH MY, MARY JANE, JAKE III—and so on back in her history. Names to be scraped off or painted over like the others which had gone before. The old boat hung to her bow and stern lines and refused to give up. She approved gratefully of any letters, as long as they didn’t form those final words—scrap her.

     Business was slow for the new divers, most boat owners figuring that women didn’t have the strength or skill to do what they wanted done, even though the three women were built like titans. Graceful titans, but—big!

     Their line of work went to outsiders, men of course, and the LOUISA, which was also the first name of all three owners, remained dragging at her berth being pumped out constantly by one or all of her crew, surviving attached to the network of wharf wiring and hoses like a brain-dead terminal case which refused to cease breathing.

     How they managed to live aboard her no one knew. The wharfinger—who wasn’t supposed to allow live-aboards—seemed to have a blind eye like Lord Nelson when it came to such regulations. He figured penniless people had to live somewhere, and if it happened to be aboard a boat at his wharf—well—he didn’t see them doing that, as long as they paid their moorage.

     The male population speculated that if any man of them could luck it up enough to find himself in bed with one of the trio he’d probably discover seaweed and barnacles growing to her nicely shaped stern because it was so damp aboard she’d very likely be in a state similar to the underwater portion of the hull she called home.

     The three Louisas soon became aware of the attitude toward them, retaliated with laughing remarks about bigotted old chauvinists, impotent wharf rats, and discriminatory practices in the workplace, then went clamming, crabbing, and mussel collecting up the coast, at which they were very successful, much to the discomfiture of those who thought they were the only ones entitled to wear yellow bibs—or diving suits.

     It became especially painful to those individuals when they were given samples of the produce from the new venture to take home to their wives. The men were told, as the gift was bestowed, not to worry about its preparation because their wives would know what it was and how to cook it even if the recipients had never seen such things in their natural state before, probably because they were always sitting around the café and were too lazy to get a job on a fishing boat. Singles among the group were cautioned gravely that the shells were not for eating.

     Women liked the three because they were open and friendly and seemed to pose no threat to themselves. Rather, they heaped amusing acidic scorn on the whole collection of the opposite gender at every opportunity and didn’t seem the least bit interested in any such liaisons.

     Town ferrets soon were able to tell everyone that the two older Louisas were cousins, the oldest being thirty-eight—and then some? She called herself Lou and she was a declared man-spurner. Men were all a bunch of lying, whoring, jellyfish in her assessment. Her marriage had been a disaster and she’d kicked the fellow out. Everyone figured, judging from her build which was unforgiving Amazonian, that she probably hadn’t had any trouble doing that.

     Her cousin, who was thirty-five—oh, sure!—and kept the name of Louisa, had been deserted. It was unclear as yet whether she’d married the guy or he was just the admitted father of nineteen year old Louisa, who answered to Lucy. Whatever the circumstances, she wanted no man in her life. They might be entertaining once in awhile, she agreed, but that was all.

     Young Lucy appeared to be uncommitted. She didn’t seem to have firmed up her ideas about men yet, but it did seem that she had standards. The young fellows around weren’t quite sure what those were, but they certainly excluded bottom pats, however innocuous. One who’d tried it had found himself flat on the ground from a swift karate move on her part before his hand had left its mark. Respectful distance was maintained by bottom patters after that.

     The good-natured attitude of the three, and their refusal to give up, soon had them sitting at coffee tables in the ‘Sea Urchin’ café, or on pub stools at ‘Throw The Rascals Out!’, exchanging wit and information with the commercial seamen, joining in the fun of using the soapbox in the corner of the pub, provided by the barkeep as a public service for political rhetoric, which all three immediately jumped on for the purpose of beating the men about their attitude toward women generally and divers in particular—and just getting accepted.

     “Hey!—which one of you thieving eunuchs drank my beer when I wasn’t looking!?”

     “Somebody did that, Lou?! Must be suicidal.”

     Resounding whack between his shoulder blades, which had him choking on his mouthful of beer.

     “Try it again and you’re dead.”

     “Don’t kill me,” came the sputtering plea, “I was just making a remark.”

     “Yeah—you’re remarkable for swiping beer.”

     ”Peace!” arose the cry from all the laughing sitters at the table, as the guilty party coughed and choked.

     “Okay Kapinski—you know the penalty. For that you can just buy us all another one—two for Lou.”

     “Is this for real?” enquired the startled Lou.

     “Oh yeah! He’s always getting us.”

     “Good stuff! Just get it up now—money that is—for you the other’s impossible.”

     More laughter accompanied by banging fists of approval on the table. There was nothing for it but to buy the round. Having swallowed her brew for fun, he didn’t want to answer a challenge she might issue to have a go, in that contact sport way of hers, and he wasn’t willing to exchange defensive moves in a confined space with someone who could toss him up to the ceiling. Besides, he didn’t know anything about the martial arts, but he had learned a thing or two about the people who frequented this pub.

     Widowed two years before, he’d sat at home to begin with, lonely and deserted by family which was too far away and too busy to be bothered, tacitly unwanted by former acquaintances because he was now a spare wheel, a fifth for bridge, a third for doubles and a single for couples, until one evening he’d wandered into the pub for a sandwich because he hadn’t felt like one more solitary dinner at the usual restaurant, and because the doors were open, the parasol-shaded tables on the deck overlooking the harbour looked bright and cheerful, and people there were throwing laughter and conversation onto passers-by like free, spontaneous theatre. Watching the fun and laughter at other tables, it comforted him to see that life was still jumping up and down all around him.

     After that he went in more often, sitting quietly as a spectator for a few evenings, and as he listened and watched, it came to him that these people might act like irresponsible, ill-mannered kids when they were seated at a pub table, laughing and clowning and giving the person next to them friendly pokes, taking over the acoustic space surrounding their table by talking too loud, spilling their beer and wiping it off each other and themselves with joking apology, but from snatches of conversation he heard, he realised that—put them in a situation which would turn a kid into frightened, shaking uselessness, and these men and women would calmly do what had to be done and come out of it on top, mostly—all in a day’s work. They might fall apart a bit after the crisis—maybe swallowing two or three doubles in quick succession at the first opportunity to make sure their knees had enough hydraulic fluid to carry on—but when the moment arose they rose to it.

     Then one evening he had timidly inserted himself into a tableful of them because the pub was packed—Saturday night—and the bar owner had yanked a chair up to this table for him. No patron of her hospitable house was going to leave disappointed, even if the floor did get a little crowded beyond the fire regulation limits.

     To his surprise, he recovered a sense of humour which had been packed away since his young days—immobilised in a closet of silence because his wife and family felt it was inappropriate for a man of his standing to behave that way. These hearty, hard-working people accepted him as he was. He joined them more and more often and found they liked his practical jokes—little harmless ones whose consequences he could repair with a cigarette or a glass of beer, being much too kind to hurt anybody.

     He felt like a boy again—first year university—Engineering.

     He was quickly absorbed into the tableful of regulars with whom he’d first been seated. They’d seen him around, but never in the places they frequented—coffee shop or pub. He and his acquaintances went to restaurants, the hotel lounge, or the couple of expensive wine-and-dineries most of these men had never seen the inside of, not only because they didn’t have the money, but because they thought all that was pompous and unnecessary. They couldn’t walk in there wearing their big-booted, dirty, sea-smelling, gritty, oil and sawdust covered clothes for coffee and the going lunch, or a beer after work. The ‘Sea Urchin’ fed them and ‘Throw the Rascals Out!’ watered and entertained them as they were, resilient and strong like the wild, country flora and fauna which flourished in that part of the earth they called home.

     They knew he was a man of money and education, that he and his wife had come here to retire early, and lived in ‘the other part of town’, but—he was also of the village. That was enough to give him a welcome. Nobody asked why he was there. He’d tell them soon enough, they figured, if he wanted them to know.

     His little joke of swiping someone’s beer was almost expected now, he did it so often. Having tried at first just to buy a round, he found that people just smilingly noted ‘we’re fine right now thanks’, or they discovered that there was a full half glass in front of them already. His social gaff was the fact that he had money and no one to spend it on. His generosity hadn’t understood this at first—that these people didn’t want to be spongers. They wanted him to know that his money was his, not theirs, even if they didn’t have enough in their pockets for another one.

     One evening, as his confidence grew, he’d reached over, picked up the mug in front of a big, loud, laughing, tugboat captain and switched it for his own empty one, just for the fun of it, when the man had his head turned talking to someone at another table. The captain turned back, reached for his mug, and its emptiness almost made him fall off his chair, which would have made a very loud thump. He looked around the circle of grinning faces and demanded,

     “Say—who swilled that up!?”

     There was suspense and suppressed hilarity as everyone waited to see what response would be given to the question. People didn’t drink this captain’s beer, so it had been a totally unexpected attack. Laughter began to trickle out—then a quiet voice was heard.

      “Just checking it out to make sure it’s good enough for you to drink, Bud,” confessed the practical joker as he raised the mug and polished off its contents. “Yup. Seems it’s as good as mine was. You can drink it.”

     Everybody broke up into laughter, including the captain.

     “You know how much that beer is going to cost you, Henry?” queried the captain. “You better buy a round here or you’re out the door right smart like.”

     The widower was delighted. He’d found a way to buy everybody a drink without insulting anyone’s pride. That evening, flushed with success, he bought two, downing the beer of a retired doctor from the area, who was of the opinion that maybe kleptomania had struck their new table companion.

     He restrained himself after that, not wanting to abuse his newly found strategy, scattering his little pearls of beer rounds at propitious and needy times—usually close to the wrong side of payday, or when things were quiet in the free-enterprise market.

     He’d heard about the Louisas, and their lack of local business, and the three of them sitting at the table the evening before the storm hit had just been introduced to a well-established ritual. He bravely lost the arm wrestling match put forward by Lou. He thought the three women were like lovely, untouchable goddesses—and more than a little intimidating.

     Men called the trio of divers iron-pumpers and dared each other to make a pass. Women called them liberated and some wished themselves like that. Blue-eyed, handsomely silver-blonde, well-proportioned and formidable, they weren’t after categorisation. They wanted work.

- - -

Windblown seagull

It was work they were doing when the sudden onset of the storm, which was to be remembered for years afterwards by everyone who experienced it, caught them heading home with their load of shellfish.

     The same wind which caught the LOUISA outside of home port roared just as loud along the village waterfront, and the waves hit the breakwater just as violently. One of the marinas lost its entire outside stretch of fingers just shortly after skippers and villagers had worked frantically to move the boats berthed there to safer space farther in.

     As they watched the floats breaking up they saw the Coast Guard cutter moving out, tossing water and spume high and away from its bows. Somebody was in trouble.

     No one was there to watch it return in darkness and pouring, driven rain, or to see the faces of the exhausted crew. The men were glad of that. Defeat etches lines deep and grim.

     The night became furious. It sank boats at their moorings, stripped roofs of shingles and pushed trees around ashore, toppling them across roads, onto utility poles and into houses, moving everything movable.

     Even Guardian Spirit of the Gap stood back amazed while her resident rocks were submerged under the battle of Tide and Wind arguing mightily over who had rights to access the Gap, pushing and shoving and grappling each other as they contested the point, smothering the rocks in a deep turmoil of white water and crashing it far up against the cliffs. Bay and Beach were overrun by their quarrel which carried on up to and beyond the treeline, wrenching at tree roots and bushes and sending small shore residents fleeing from their washed out burrows. Birds and other forest inhabitants sought shelter in the lee of cliffs or by huddling down in hollows beneath overhanging branches and bushes.

     The crew of the GAME GOOSE waited and waited as first light slid with a dark face over the horizon the next morning and showed no signs of cheering up. Morning progressed to noon and noon passed to early afternoon before Weather finally began to give slight indications of tiring from such brutal and noisy exertions.

     “What do you think Cap?”

     “I dunno guys—pretty wild out there. I don’t want to take you out in this, but... .”

     “If we don’t go soon it’ll be too dark again.”

     “Yeah, and it’s wet and cold out there. It’s letting up now.”

     The essentials of time and light were running out once more. The captain looked at the sullen, angrily muttering sky which was still pumping rain, looked at the enormous swells of the sea, white-whipped with wind, looked at his crew who were willing to try anything right then—and said,

     “Okay. Let’s go.”

     Nothing. From that pitching, rolling, ever moving container of steel with its electronic aids, nothing like a small boat was seen. All the small craft which had been caught out along the coast had either made it to port or had long since vanished and been noted for Search and—hopefully—Rescue, LOUISA among them. Some wreckage which couldn’t be identified was spotted in the vicinity, after the co-ordinates they’d been given the evening before had been reached and gridded. It could have been anything from anywhere by that time, although it looked suspiciously like old boat wood, but they couldn’t get close enough to really check it out because collections of logs broken loose from a boom threatened to hole them.

     Wild water. Wind and noise. Heavy rain limiting visibility. Fallen darkness. The mainstay of hope had not appeared.

     “What’s that coming into the radar?!”

     “You asking me?—I don’t know. Damn big. Let’s get a little closer.”

     “Damned fool to be out in this. Give it a toot now.”

     “No answer.”

     “See anything?”

     “Nope. No lights. Nothin’.”

     “Try the whistle again. Can you make anything out? Can you get it in the spot... .”

     “Port—hardaport—its a bloody barge!”

     “Hope to god there’s not a tug hanging down its bow line. Didn’t get any calls about a tug going down but... .”

     “No lights. Cable’s slack. Probably busted loose from somewhere.”

     “Looks like a building on it. Logging company bunkhouse maybe?”

     “God only knows and he won’t tell. Let’s keep our distance. I don’t want to argue with a barge. Put the light on it again.”

     Rescue”LEGER DE... —its that bloody casino thing the kids got into trouble on last year!”

     Authority and LEGER DE MAIN had met in the darkness once again. It was fortunate that a good watch was being kept on the vessel under power or the meeting would have been even less cordial than it was. Having turned sharply away, all hands aboard the cutter cussed the runaway soundly, partly for having given everyone such a scare, but more as a relief for tense nerves.

     As GAME GOOSE stood by at a cautious distance to check the menace out and ask for assistance in handling it, one of the crew who’d stuck his head out of the cabin said to his incredulous mates that he figured maybe the barge was on fire because he thought he’d smelled smoke and he was sure he’d seen a glimmer of light on it.

     The searchlight was played slowly along the length of the truant, and not only was smoke coming out of the stone chimney but the outlines of three people were seen jumping up and down on the stern of the barge, in the pouring rain, while trying to shout down the noise of the storm and the roar of the cutter’s Screaming Jimmys.

     The Coast Guard moved jubilantly in for the rescue and took three wet but cheerful women aboard the search boat.

     Poor old LOUISA, having resisted the temptation for so long, and being battered by escapee logs as she wallowed homeward, had simply opened her planks and let Sea have its way with her, surrendering herself rapidly and completely to the overwhelming persuasive onslaught of the waves which she’d finally perceived to be raving that way solely for the sake of possessing her long sought after charms, and she had given in at last, blissfully bubbling and stern first.

     Her crew had barely managed to escape through the bow hatch, wearing their diving suits. It was young Lucy who had shouted over the roar of wind and water, as the three crouched in their pitching tender watching LOUISA disappear,

     “I was beginning to like her, but don’t worry about it. We’ll get jobs as waitresses when we get back, and buy another one.”

     For the three Louisas, their meeting with LEGER DE MAIN as they’d bailed for their lives had been the best of fortunate chance, and they hadn’t sworn at the barge as they’d pulled themselves aboard her, preferring to risk drowning while trying to climb onto her deck to staying in the battered little dinghy which was being fallen upon with the same forcible and enthusiastic appeal which had conquered her mother ship, and she was making it plain that she was more than inclined to follow the lead of her parent.

     While the three women were heading home aboard the Coast Guard cutter the freedom of LEGER DE MAIN was being terminated as arrangements were made to have her collected.

     The request from the searchers to have the barge retrieved brought a large old ocean-going salvage tug out, braving the still rampaging seas to tow her back to her place. Familiar with all the waters in the vicinity, the Gap held no terrors for this captain. It was just another stretch of salt water. He’d been there before.

     When he arrived at the bay with the barge after a rough and difficult passage, the captain of the tug WESTMAN WILL had expected to find at least a vestige of the mooring buoy which had previously held the LEGER DE MAIN, but there was nothing to be seen in the sweep of his light except high and angry waters pressing onto the shore.

     Not having the time or facilities to moor anything that large right about then, and wanting to be rid of his unruly charge who was boisterously trying to board his own vessel by the stern with each new swell, the captain used his discretion and ingenuity under such trying circumstances and ran the barge aground on a spit running out from the beach, gave her a hefty nudge shoreward with the idea that she would stay put until they had time to attend to her later, because the tide was just on the turn and he didn’t want to get caught behind the Gap, and then charged off with hopes of more such lucrative salvage jobs.

     The old barge sat slightly tipsy, well pleased with her little jaunt out into the world she’d once known so intimately. She smiled, closed her eyes and settled comfortably into the mud, waiting for the cormorants to come along so she could tell them all about it. The tug which had convoyed her safely back had been an old friend who had towed her many nautical miles before.


- - -

WESTMAN WILL had not intended to be a barge bum. Her place was the ocean, out there away from the petty temper tantrums always going on between Sea and Shore, but hard times dictated otherwise, and her captain took what he could get when he could get it. Mostly this turned out to be the difficult operations inshore tug operators couldn’t or wouldn’t take.

     When she’d first been commissioned, she’d been launched with mortgaged champagne and boundless unencumbered enthusiasm. William W. Westman had not been afraid to take chances. He knew he could make a go of it. The discussion between he and his wife over funds for the new tug had run it’s usual optimistic route.

     “Don’t worry sweetheart, it’ll be all paid for within two years. The way shipping is racking itself up along the coast here I’ll salvage at least one a month. After it’s paid for we might even get rich.”

     Mrs. Westman had smiled and kept her mouth shut. She had faith in everything her husband did even when it didn’t turn out exactly the way he envisioned it.

     They didn’t get rich, nor did the family members who subsequently operated her. Times were tough. Salvage laws changed. Shipping was re-routed. Competition arrived—little ships containing the latest in everything, forcing an expensive upgrade in WESTMAN WILL’s equipment. Satellites and electronics came along and reduced the toll of racking up considerably.

     The only thing which didn’t change over time was the attitude of the captains of the big tug. Into the rosewood, in a semi-circle surrounding the array of instruments facing the helmsman, an artistic and poetic friend had carved—


—which typified the determination and purpose of man and tug. Will Westman’s will was what kept everything going. Son and grandson felt the same way.

     The tug did eventually get paid for, but it was a third generation Westman who managed that. The son who wanted to follow his father’s trade took over the operation of WILL, and Willam Westman the Second kept things going until, in ill health, he handed it over early and intact to a third William, nicknamed Bud for family convenience.

     Bud had a will of steel, probably tempered early from the crucible of experience gained as he went out with grandfather and father, who brought the boy on board even as a baby. When his father could no longer go to sea he took over, as expected, when only eighteen.

     Bud loved the WESTMAN WILL and it seemed to others that nothing else mattered in his life. Sometimes even his wife and children felt a bit neglected. Ellen Westman had once suggested that he sell the tug. The money they’d get would rid them of the debt still hanging on to WESTMAN WILL’s transom at that time, and set them up nicely in a more lucrative trade, like a boutique or a grocery.wheelhouse

     There was no repeat performance for that type of plan. As far as Bud was concerned, he and his tug were all that stood between them and disaster. Sea, WESTMAN WILL, and her captain had a partnership for life. Everyone else was expected to accommodate and come along quietly.

     The family had to co-operate. Some of his tows didn’t. He was obliged to take on barging to meet financial commitments when debtors failed to pay up. He hated debt. He’d seen what that burden had done to his parents. He worked doggedly toward eliminating creditors. He was a cash man where things not concerning his tug were concerned. If he didn’t have the cash he went without whatever it was which demanded money and so did his family. They’d heard him say too often,

     “We don’t get it until we can pay for it.”

     Sometimes when he’d been in port for longer than he knew he should have been, he’d run his fingers over the closest carved words as he stood on the bridge, straighten himself up and tell himself that he would do whatever he had to do, but he and his little ship and his family would survive.

     Through bad times and worse times he operated, getting himself and his vessel out of physical and financial emergencies, mostly by his own courage. The return of the LEGER DE MAIN to her bay was only one such incident, and in his mind not a very serious one at that. Here she is, do something with her.

     Like her owner, and the five young usurpers who had taken her over, LEGER DE MAIN was grounded.