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13: A hole in the water

There are fine boats which float
And on which people dote
Some loved with great care
And at which people stare
Some boats are submerged
And of all care are purged
Big boats built for duties
While some are such beauties
They make senses totter
And that’s why I bought her
Beware of the kind which are
Holes in the water

And that means just about all of them!

boats which float - and don'tWind came sweeping in, unsheathed from its scabbard of rain, but the skipper of the yawl TJUTELA was confident that this weather was not going to be a beast he couldn’t handle, even though the sea had started to build up.

     Side by side at his feet in the wheelhouse sat his crew, Ulf and Gurth, ready for anything Sea might think of testing them with, and this time out it might be plenty. They were still some distance offshore from Shalisa Creek Bay, but he felt sure he could make it in before the worst fury of the weather caught them.

     With storm jib and reefed main set, he held TJUTELA’s wheel firmly on course and lifted her through the threatening waters toward the Gap, intent on getting all the speed he could without endangering his vessel, heading for the shelter of the bay and his peaceful barge retreat, where he planned to tie up in the lee of it, the three of them would get aboard, start a cheerful fire going in the big fireplace, he’d play the flute a bit up in the bright little spire room, do some dreaming about LEGER DE MAIN’s future direction and... .

     “G’morning Davey. Some Spring this is. Wet and windy and chilly out there. It’s going to be a stinker today. Here’s your lot from postie.”

     Boat and barge vanished along with the wild passage in the grey seas of the man’s imagination as the ordinary demands of another day landed on his desk from a well-aimed toss and slid to a halt in front of him.

     His manager from the marine hardware store on the boatyard premises ashore always got to the mail first, which kept that inquisitive person well acquainted with what went on at head-office-on-the-water just by glancing at envelopes.

     <All five today plainly shout ‘gimme!’—especially that one with pink showing in the window. Par for the course lately. When’s he going to do something about it? Like maybe pay them.>

     The old oak desk which staunchly received the offering without a quiver was adorned with a vase of tulips and hyacinths, glowing in bright colours, and the flowers spread their fragrance triumphantly around the room, with no competition of noxious odours from the ashtray. That large, opalescent, shining clean abalone shell, instead of cradling a half finished, intensely glowing cigar, now held a meek collection of pushpins with plastic heads of various colours, and a paperclip necklace.

     Only one beaten-up topsider rested on the desktop this morning. David’s right leg was stretched out beneath the desk, encased in a white cast from above the knee down, its accompanying ankle and foot hugged firmly by the unyielding cover, out of which five toes had been allowed to poke, panting for breath. Accordingly, the leg of his faded jeans had the outside seam slit, to accommodate the entrance of all that bulk, and four big safety pins, carefully placed by Edith Godwin, held the length of it together.

     A pair of aluminum crutches leaned against the desk, constantly threatening to take a nap on the floor as Tide, ungentle today, rocked the little floating office. Ulf and Gurth, keeping cautious eyes on those dangerous weapons, had moved away from their usual places on either side of David’s chair and had chosen to lounge by the slightly open door, through which a quick exit could be made in case any other disaster—such as David losing his balance and falling in their direction—might occur, as it had before.

     Apart from the frantic scrambling they had to do to avoid acquiring crutches themselves at such a time, and the resounding thump as Friend David hit the floor, the loud exclamations which arose from the action just about had them putting their paws over their ears. It wasn’t in Dog Speak, but they knew it was—very bad.

     From time to time David took his letter opener, inserted it through a gap in his renovated jeans and slid its long, thin blade around the top of the cast, in an attempt to dislodge the itch which had taken up residence there.

     He slumped a little farther down into his chair, after returning his usual replies to the beginning of the morning routine, and reached for the five envelopes which had slid across the desktop. The voice but not the body returned to his office, saying,

     “And Harry Currie would like you to call him. He phoned this morning before you got here so I took it.”

     “Okay Dorothy. Thanks a lot for bringing the mail down. Guess I should have grabbed it when I went past.”

     David picked up the envelopes, tapped them into a pile and spread them carefully fanwise, shielding them with his fingers as though he’d just been dealt a hand of poker.

     <Royal flush in spades. Bunch of damned bills. Bet ten to one the first letter I open says pay up or else. Or else what? They’ve already just about cleaned me out of all my usable cash as of now. Don’t dare throw too much more around yet, not that I’ve got that much available anyway. Have to keep juggling and paying off the really old ones. Good thing Gram still owns everything I own. Maybe I could mock up a loan with Li using my bail money, just to get me out of this. So, what kind of trouble could that get us into? Problem is, to all intents and purposes, it’s still his money and everybody knows it. He’s having enough fun filtering it through his own records, without my starting to fiddle with it.>

     Here a desperate and uncharacteristic thought went through his mind.

     <Maybe he could just give me a loan for the amount—legally—and then maybe I could just—not pay it—and he could write most of it off as bad debt, which would help both of us... .

     <Nah!—He’ll just look at me and make those big eyes of his and say—‘Of course I can do this for you David—but—you perhaps do not want to walk this path. It is not a good one, and I believe we will find a much better direction with a little thought’.

     <I like that ‘we’ stuff—and there’s always a ‘but’ getting into everything these days, along with a little edifying lecture tacked on its butt. I think he and Gram are ganging up on me. She’s got carte blanche to look after my assets while he works me over about my behaviour—not that I can blame them, all things considered. Besides, I shouldn’t keep dragging him in with the spread of my nets. He’ll do it for me if I push for it—but—damn it, of course he’s right. I’ll have to whimp it out by myself. Oh well. At least I’m not in jail, my lawyer’s been paid, Ulf and Gurth still love me—but then there’s Harry.>

     Light shone from the desk lamp and patted the man’s head comfortingly, crowning him with a misplaced halo as he stared at the envelopes.

     <What should I say to Harry? There are times when I wish I hadn’t met Harry at all. He’s a disturbance to my carefully balanced peace of mind right now. You win some and you lose some and mostly, if you’re smart, you win—which means I haven’t been too smart lately.

    <My tight economy’s forced me into compromises and deals which I have to make now, and I don’t want to—and then there are times of wishing things were different, which tends to upset my equilibrium. Seeing Harry operate almost always tips the scales. He doesn’t seem to need compromises.

    <Running into him was like running into someone from another planet. A kinder, less vicious place, he must have come from. He doesn’t fit into this world of ruthless commerce. The gods love Harry and protect him from the evils of his fellow man. Sell him a lemon and for sure he’ll come up with a beautiful big jug of lemonade, and then distribute it free to all his friends. That means anyone fortunate enough to be within reaching distance at the time.

    <He’s way overweight, and his capacity for beer when he’s in the mood puts kegs to shame, and for those who worry about appearances, well—like me, Harry doesn’t—but even the most uncharitable critics who put him down as a stupid s.o.b. can’t help ending up giving him a grudging acceptance. He’s so totally unaware of criticism that it never gets through to him. He just laughs and makes a joke out of an intended rebuff. It’s impossible to insult him—bounces off like he’s made of bullet-proof glass and gets deflected back to the sender.

    <Besides, who are these people to criticise Harry anyway? Sooner or later everyone becomes somebody else’s idea of the perfect fool—I sure wear that one right about now. Harry just seems to get stuck with that label more than anyone else around, and not necessarily because he is.

    <It’s jealousy, that’s what. Everyone uses him as a foil for jokes, but Harry thinks the whole world is as innocent of nastiness as he is. He’d give anyone the shirt off his back if he thought they needed it. The fact that it’s greasy and torn and just about not fit for wiping a floor with can’t take away from the honest generosity of the man.

    <Harry likes people.

    <I think that some of them he shouldn’t, because they’re not worthy of his time, but he gives it to them anyway, whether they want it or not. He’ll wander up to anyone and start talking as though he’s known them for years—long intimate years. He’ll unload a slingful of facts about his own life onto them and wait for some in return. Often he doesn’t get any, but when the person so collared walks off with some poor excuse about somebody waiting, Harry doesn’t get offended. He just feels sorry for someone so busy that they don’t have time to say a few words to a fellow human being. He thinks grouchy people are just caught in unfortunate circumstances which will have cleared up by the next time they run across each other again.>

- - -

Harry bumping David on dock

David had done a bit of grouching himself the first time he’d met Harry. He’d just walked along the float to his sailboat with a duffle bag over his right shoulder and a diving jacket and related gear precariously balanced in his left arm and was about to put the load on board his boat when someone had backed away from the old motor-sailer moored behind the TJUTELA and almost dumped him into the saltchuck, gear and all.

     His immediate and conventional reaction—which was totally out of touch with that other world of Harry—his reaction as he’d struggled to keep his footing and his gear, was to gripe,

     “Hey! Watch what the hell you’re doing!”

     Harry had turned with a smile on his round face and said,

     “Oh gee, I’m awfully sorry. Guess I take up more space than I’m allowed here. I was just stepping back to get a good look at this honey. I’m Harry Currie,” after which words he’d laughed and added, “Hara Kiri to my friends.”

     David wasn’t about to disagree with that remark, but the man was standing there with his hand out and a look on his face which plainly expected congenial reciprocity, and besides, it was a celebration day for David, and the gripe was fading fast away under the warmth of that smile, so he’d put down his duffle bag, held out his own hand and responded,

     “David Godwin. Good to know you.”

    <I dunno—I hope it is.>

     He got a handful of dirty grease.

     Seems Harry had been working on this engine and there was no cloth around—so—he wiped his hands on his old, oil-stained, navy-blue coveralls, although most of the grunge had already been wiped on David’s palm. Then, as though knowing what had happened to David’s hand he held out his arm saying,

     “Go ahead, they wash.”

     “Oh!” came David’s surprised reply, “Well—okay—thanks.”

     He wiped. The outstretched arm stayed stolidly, solidly unwavering, like a well-seated horizontal post. David noted that Harry’s hands had skin on them as rough as the bark of a Douglas fir and of about the same colour and, after David had retrieved his own startled knuckles from the handshake, he thought maybe Harry might well be able to pick up a piece of iron rod and bend it into a right angle as casually as if he played with a willow switch, although the round contours of the man gave no hint of that strength to anyone from just looking at him. David thought Harry’s appearance was more that of a jolly pumpkin a week after hallowe’en—ready to melt down into a soft heap.

     “You fixing up that boat for someone?” he asked with sudden hope, and curious to know who, if anyone, had been so misled and unknowing as to have actually paid money for that barely floating old casualty of the sea which hung grimly to its disintegrating lines through storm and calm, its bowsprit punching TJUTELAs stern with evil intent every time he wasn’t around to check on it.

     “Yeah,” replied Harry, “Me,” and came up with the most delighted smile of proud ownership David had seen for some time, including one from an acquaintance who had recently launched a beautiful, newly built fifty-footer, the HAPPY OURS.

     David wasn’t quite sure how to respond to this frank admission of excess stupidity. He’d been secretly hoping the old thing would roll over at her berth, take the deep six, and subsequently be hauled off as an unsalvageable hulk. She had a permanent catheter sectioned into her with a pump attached, and every time a bit of wind came up she hung on to the TJUTELA’s taffrail with the grip of a drowning, hysterical non-swimmer, forcing David to put out a couple of big fenders over the stern to push her off in self-defence, which violated his sense of the aesthetic. The dreary military green which covered her entire exterior didn’t do much for his sensitivities either.

     It seemed a shame to him really, because with a little hull work the old boat astern looked as though it probably would have been sound, at least below the waterline, had it been cared for earlier. He didn’t like to see boats of whatever claim to beauty, or lack of it, deteriorate into dissolving rot piles—and especially not in the water around his boat. It made for a sad sight and a problem for anyone else with a wooden hull in the vicinity, which was almost everybody.

     Harry was smiling. Waiting. For approval. David practised a bit of diplomacy and came up with the weak-kneed rejoinder of,

     “Oh, congratulations. She’s a—nice boat.”

     The smile got visibly brighter as David, under the pretence of picking up his duffle bag again, knelt down and scrubbed his hand on the boards at his feet to remove the remnants of grease still determinedly clinging to his fingers.

     “Yeah, isn’t it great? I’ve been looking for something for a long time but just couldn’t find the right thing. I’m thinking of retiring soon and we want something to really enjoy ourselves in. We wanted a big boat because we’re both sort of big and we need space—as you can see. This one’s got exactly what I want, and I’m going to fix it up myself. I’ll get it going in no time. You’ve got a great boat there too. Have you had it long?”

     “Somewhere a bit over four years.”

    <Enough. I’d better get aboard TJUTELA and shove off before this talkative body from the vegetable world hangs me up all afternoon. I don’t want to hear anymore about this old green hag grunging there where she has no right to be, astern of my floating piece of art. I have an appointment to keep. I hope he hauls her the hell out of here in one big hurry.>

     “You know this boat I guess?” came the question before David, rearranging the gear in his arms as he stood up, could implement his next move.

     “Oh yeah!”

- - -

Yes indeed. He certainly did.

     She had arrived in the area about four years previously off a flatdeck after it had trucked her across the entire breadth of the country and deposited her at a wharf, in this city with its feet in the sea.

     She’d been put there by a shrewd, aggressive, ostensibly moneyed but hopelessly in debt Euro free-wheeler, who had weaselled and cheated his way to spectacularly mortgaged wealth in any which way he could with amazing rapidity. His ideas of acquiring more of the bottom line material became ever more questionable as he rolled along. He operated as a loner, figuring secrets were best kept by one. His contacts with businessmen of the same ilk were brief and abrupt and he never enquired later where ‘Fred’ had disappeared to if that latest of his associates happened to ‘leave town’.

     Having pushed himself into the halls of elegance, his opinion of himself rose to the height of what others there thought was ignorant grandiosity, at which point he bought himself a boat which had been owned by someone worth more than himself in every way, hoping the past history of it would give him an aura of belonging.

     It didn’t, mainly because it had been the property of a lord of that country who had been well liked and, apart from that, it had been rejected by this newcomer’s now called peers as not worthy of note in the yachting scene any longer—too outdated. This didn’t come across to him though, so it didn’t bother his ego one bit. He owned a boat which had belonged to a lord and that was good enough for him. He then proceeded to buy himself a title of dubious authenticity to match, from someone of like credentials, and did his best to behave like the worst of the titled ever had.

     This pose, however, required money and lots of it, so he cast about in his mind as to how this deficiency could be met. Having heard of the smuggling going on around a certain Pacific Coast, he decided a little of that might be just the thing to solve the problem.

    <Law and order must be pretty minimal over there, considering what I’ve heard on the news broadcasts. Tons of the stuff being hauled in daily under the noses of authority, although a lot of it seems to be going to waste getting thrown overboard these days. No doubt there are a few dealers who need an intelligent hand. I’ll just see what can be done about that.>

     At the decaying old club he had graced with his presence and membership fee he then fed his new friends the story that he was going off on a sailing holiday in different waters to exercise his recently acquired athletic interest—about which he knew nothing.

     “The west coast of the Americas!” he enthused, with deliberate loudness, so that many could hear and verify, “Where I can dash about in my yacht to my heart’s content without running into all that rubbishy traffic which blunders around, almost running me down when I go in front of them—bloody fools don’t even know enough to stay out of my way. I’d swear they’re all blind. Heading for Canada you know—oodles of space there—British Columbia—sounds half-civilised, don’t you think? Lots of water along that coastline. Bilingual there? French you say? No problem. Excelled in that at school.”

     They were delighted with the prospect of getting rid of him for awhile, and mutters were heard out of his earshot to the effect that if he thought people could tell a man by the company he kept, they didn’t want him to keep theirs—so a few ‘pigs got up and slowly walked away’, shaking his dirt from their feet.

     He didn’t notice, being much too occupied with his half-hatched scheme as he decided that shipping his boat over would lend credence to his tale, and be cheaper than buying one over there, since he didn’t have the wherewithal to do that and he had no connections across the water with which to hoodwink anybody into giving him credit. Also, that might start strangers into prying around his business background, which he was trying to keep out of sight.

     He’d forgotten to tell his boat of these plans though. She knew nothing at all about this proposed kind of shady operation, so she was somewhat surprised when her fine old bronze name boards, which she had owned since she’d been christened as LADY LILY, were removed, and new ones of wood were put in place on her aging hull which read SWASHBUCKLER, in large, countersunk, flourishing gold letters, embellished with crossed cutlasses at either end of the name, which said more about her skipper than herself.

     Rather blatant, and definitely not refined, she thought. Her pampered existence before she’d fallen into difficult circumstances had not prepared her for this, especially since time and tide had left her in no very good shape, and the new boards seemed to be all which the latest owner was going to do in the way of preparation, but she was brave and game and quite willing to try out a different ocean, even though there had never been any freebooters in her family of owners—at least not that anyone spoke of out loud. She considered her sails, figuring they’d hold out a bit longer if they weren’t used too roughly. The rest of her gear would have to do the best it could. She could only try.

     She needn’t have worried. Having been a power-boater in the past, the new hand on the helm had no intentions of raising sail on her because she was a motor-sailer, and he was going to motor. He held firm in the notion that motoring was the only safe way to go, and that it would get a boat anywhere in any weather—which premise may or may not have been true, depending quite a lot on the motor’s condescension to run and the boat’s ability to handle rough water.

     He paid no attention to the sails bundled in their bags. He figured on raising nothing more than Cain and his drinking elbow on the boat unless there was a flat calm and the safety of a well protected harbour close by. Then, though, he’d be able to get all that flapping cloth up, impress everyone with the size of her fore-and-aft rig as he glided in, motoring, and afterwards he could pack all that weighty stuff safely away again while everybody watching ‘ooohed’ and ’aaahed’. After all, it was going to be a holiday excursion too.

     He intended to enjoy himself.

     However, their first sally in the Americas, pursuing jettisoned cargo, had been quite an adventure. The Pacific had refused to behave like a river estuary, and they’d found themselves in a fresh west coast gale, shipping a little water, while the swashbuckling skipper went into a panic and put out a ‘mayday’ with a piece of technology he was unfamiliar with, after the boat’s neglected and unserviced diesel had packed it in when it ran out of fuel, and he’d run her aground on a mudbank because he had no idea of how to claw off a lee shore where he shouldn’t have been in the first place in such bad weather, and having even fewer notions of what to do with sails—which the Coast Guard were rude enough to suggest he use until they got there—before he hit bottom.

     “Shalisa Coast Guard! Help!—Garde de côte!!—Au secour de moi!!

     “Station calling Shalisa Creek Coast Guard, say again.”

     “Help! I’m sinking.”

     “Roger mayday. All stations, all stations, all stations, Shalisa Creek Coast Guard, Shalisa Creek Coast Guard, Shalisa Creek Coast Guard—Seelonce distress... (and so forth).

     “Vessel in distress please identify, bateau en détresse, identifier s’il vous plait.

     “I am Lord Aloicius Daster—j’ suis Seigneur Aloicius Daster,...and I need help right now... immédiatement!

     “Yeah yeah your highness. Sounds like he’s saying ‘disaster’, and maybe he is. Doesn’t know how to use the radio—Your boat name and coordinates please,  Nom de bateau s’il vous plait, et... .

     “Could we speak English instead of that gibberish?”

     “He started it. Vive la différence—Your privilege. What’s your problem?”

     “What do you think it is?! I can’t speak that bloody foreign language!”

     Sputtering noises before the mike closed off, then,

     “Sir—what is the nature of your distress call!”

     “I’m sinking of course. Would I call otherwise?”

     “Probably. Okay guys, let’s hit it. Shove off—Your boat’s name and your coordinates please!”

     “Oh for—all this bloody foolish red tape—SWASHBUCKLER—and can’t I talk to someone who doesn’t keep repeating himself? I’m sinking here. Come and get me at once!

     A snorting sound came across the air waves.

     “What specifically is the problem with your boat sir?”

     “I just told you—I’m sinking. My motor’s dead.”

     “May we have your coordinates—please?

     “My what?!

     “How is your reception? Are you having troub... .”

     “Reception—what do you want—champagne?! I’ll bang a bloody drum for you and whistle and sing if you like—just get here!”

     “He hears us. Quit laughing—What is your location, sir?”

     “How the hell should I know? I’m new here.”

     “What port did you leave from?”

     “What’s that got to do with it?! We came out of Avonmouth.”

     “Keep it down guys—Did you come from Shalisa Creek this morning sir?”

     “Yes. Do you think I came from the moon?”

     “Nowadays some of them act like it—Uh, could you give us a description of the area you’re in?”

     “Yes. It’s bloody awful. There’s a cliff off to my right and another one on the left hand and I’m afraid I’ll hit one of them because I’m getting pushed that way.”

     The distressed skipper heard an aside which sounded something like—’that tells us a lot’. He was glad they’d at least understood that.

     “How long have you been out there since leaving Shalisa Creek?”

     “I don’t know—half an hour maybe.”

     “Which direction—north or south?”

     “I’ve been going around all sorts of little islands and places. Are you going to come and get me before I sink?!

     “We’re trying to ascertain your location to enable us to do just that—sir. Do you have GPS?”

     “I don’t give anybody my credit card numbers, and don’t try to diddle me. You’re a free public service.”

     “He must be drunk!—How does your compass read?”

     “It doesn’t read anything—the bloody thing’s illiterate! Apart from that it doesn’t work. Don’t you ruffians know how to find anything? What do you get paid for? Are you all idiots?! Get here at once. I’m sinking!”

     “Oh gawd! We’ve got a loose cannon here. I can’t get an intelligent word out of the silly ass and he’s going berserk. Judging from the short time he’s been out there, running around in circles, he’s probably just got a bit beyond the harbour mouth and if he’s in close to shore he can practically walk home over the mud bank there—Please describe your craft, sir.”

     “I am an investment counsellor. It—is—a—pro—FESSION not a craft, and I am Lord Aloicius Daster of Dister on Dee!”

     “Really impressed with himself—Please give us a description of your boat—milord!

     “If you don’t arrive at once I’ll sue you for everything you’re worth!”

     “Which is not very much on my wages. If you guys don’t quit laughing and falling all over the place we won’t be able to operate—Is it power or sail?”

     “Both, and I’m sinking!

     “Some mornings I wish I’d just killed myself instead of coming to work—Okay sir, what’s happening? How many people aboard? Are there any injured? Is there fire? Did you hit something? How much water is aboard—salt water, that is. What colour is your boat? How big? Are you... .”

     “No I didn’t hit anything my good man, and this is not a time to indulge in idle chitchat. Of course it’s a big boat—and it’s SINKING! How many times do I have to tell you?!”

     “If it’s as bad as all that it would be down under by now. Probably got a little leak somewhere—Sir, get your dinghy launched and prepare to abandon ship if your boat is sinking—and don’t forget your lifejacket. After that, if you feel you’re not in imminent danger of sinking and would like to attempt saving your boat, I would suggest—since it is a sailboat, that you—raise sail and try sailing yourself away from that shore unless you plan to go aground—or—if you have a pump aboard—start pumping until we get there.”

     “Goddam bloody civil servants—I’ll report you for this incompetence. I’ll have your heads!

     “He can have ’em. The damned things don’t work half the time around here anyway. In fact I’d like to flush him down ’em right about now, and if he gets stuck so much the better—and if you guys don’t stop screaming yourselves into hysterics I’ll stuff your heads down our heads when we get back.”

     “No wonder they don’t work. You’re always doing that.”

     “Somebody just phoned in and said there’s a boat wallowing around the mud flats shooting flares at the shore.”

     “Must be him. Only an utter and total fool would be out pleasure boating in this weather and he certainly fits into that category—Stand by sir, we’re on our way.”

     “Stand by what? And you’d bloody well better be on your way, you stupid bastard!!

     “That’s it! I’m not taking any more of his guff—Moderate your language sir! Profanity’s against the law on a VHF and you can be prosecuted for it!”

     “This is a motor-sailer I’m on, you fzqxpyrw!

     “Maybe we should just let this one sink.”

- - -

The grounding hadn’t damaged the boat too much, mud being a kindly material for leaning hulls on, and both the Coast Guard and high tide had arrived at pretty much the same time, which got her off safely and just about by her own efforts, but it had shaken up her owner to the enth degree.

     “Nothing but rocks, rocks and more rocks—except for mud here and there where it has no right to be—and certainly no sign of traffic at a time when a fellah needs help from it. Isn’t that always the way. And what the hell happened to my contact? Damned stupid, useless locals!”

     Smart enough, though, to have stayed in harbour when rough waters and weather were causing trouble off a lee shore for a foolish boater.

     Having got her back to her berth at the end of a towline, and with a strong young Coastguardsman manning the pump, resolutely trying to control himself from responding to the verbal abuse he was getting, this hero quickly decided that playing at privateering maybe wasn’t feasible around these waters anyway. He’d think up some other financial scam. Obviously, it appeared to him, they were all fools here and would be easily gulled.

     He removed the name boards from the boat’s bow, to be hung over his mantel when he got back home, along with her original bronze ones, for backing up the tales he’d tell about his sailing adventures with his two fine yachts—and then he had her put up for sale right smart like, all shipshape and sailor fashion—if no one looked too close—and she actually sold, fast.

- - -

Her next owner had been a doctor who had detested that profession for all the years he’d practised it. He had wished deeply in his heart that he’d been brave enough to run away to sea instead of continuing grimly on his chosen path, looking down the throats of hypochondriacs, paying wife and child maintenance, fending off would be seconds in the spouse department, and malpractice suits from relatives whose ninety years plus old grandparents he hadn’t been able to keep alive any longer in spite of all his skills, and who figured if he hadn’t been so determined to make money on old folks with his trade they’d have come into their inheritance a lot sooner, so he was going to pay for their wasted time.

     Unfortunately, his courage was as weak as his personality, which finally brought him to the purchase of a boat he might really have travelled in at a time when that reality was beyond his reach.

anchor and flowers

     His idea of sailing was to lounge aboard his boat where she was berthed, smoke his pipe while he listened to the water lap at her hull, which was in the process of undergoing repairs, and tell her all about his fine dreams of sailing to Hawaii—that old Hawaii—where they would be greeted by beautiful Polynesian people in outrigger canoes throwing flower garlands to them and singing songs starting with ‘alooooooooooooohaaaaaaa’, and she would sit with her spars and rigging black against flaming sunsets in a warm and safe blue lagoon. They would lead an idyllic existence in a south seas paradise, far away from cold and complaints and greediness—and he would never look at another diseased person for the rest of his happy life.

     This prospectus of a fine future was certainly more to his boat’s liking, as were her new name boards, all of shiny bronze once more, proclaiming that she was now HIBISCUS. Being named after beautiful flowers pleased her gentle, well-bred heart, since her first name had been of the flora family, and the lady who had been her namesake had also been kind and gentle.

     They looked forward to Hawaii together but they never got there. He died just after her hull had been put into reasonable condition, so his boat had been auctioned off with his estate—by his grandchildren—minus her fine new name boards which some ruthless robber had stolen for his own use, and then she got pushed from berth to berth, bought and sold and repossessed, as various brokers did their damnedest to get a commission out of her while neglecting to keep their investment worth investing in.

     She became downright ragged and weather worn as the years and owners went by, and her beautiful lines were not seen by prospective purchasers because they saw first the curls of cheap, badly applied paint peeling from her hull and cabin.

     Her new country did nothing at all for her welfare or looks. The climate was often unkind and rough, as were some of her owners. Green moss got aboard and, finding the premises just right for their squatter’s habits, invited hordes of relatives to join them, where they gathered anywhere and everywhere, proliferating happily. Once settled in, they showed no desire to leave, and they had to be occasionally dispossessed by more rough treatment to her decks and rigging. She longed for someone to claim her and give her the love and attention she’d once had. Instead, she became an article of trade in the hands of ruthless money-makers.

- - -

The latest in that list of fortune seekers happened to belong to the sailing club David operated. In fact, he’d been its first member. The association between the two men had come about because at that time, while both David and his business were beginning to develop nicely, he wanted to buy a boat which Jack Smarten was selling. David, knowing boats but not knowing the yacht broker pushing it, thought the go-getter agent was genuinely interested in beautiful old wooden vessels. It was under just such a guise that Jack had managed to insert the expensive yawl into the proceedings to begin with.

     The salesman had been visited with the good fortune of getting his hands on the boat one evening in a low-end lounge where he went to make contacts and to be seen, and C.E.O.s from large corporations, along with a few ex-heads of them came, not to make contacts or be seen, but to lose themselves slumming, some with charming partners who also didn’t want to be seen.

     He found himself talking to the male half of a pending breakup, who was in that state of mind where he’d give things away just to prevent the other half from getting it. His father-in-law had given them a boat as a wedding present. He now despised both father and daughter. By association the boat came in for the same condemnation and, on learning that Jack was a broker, he unloaded himself. He wanted to make some quick cash on it before his wife found out and slapped a restraining order on its sale, and while they fought over it the costs of its upkeep would bite deeper into his half of the partitioning.

     In fact, the edict had been, as a photograph of the boat was produced,

     “Just sell her for me. She’s a bloody big nuisance and I won’t get anything if I don’t dump her right now. It’s costing a fortune for upkeep. If you get me cash I’ll up your commission. Damned wooden boats. Why couldn’t it have been fibreglass?”

     Jack did a bit of balm rubbing and agreed that glass was the only way to go. Wooden boats were certainly difficult to move on the market—which he’d found to be all too true, having got stuck with more than a few of them because nobody else would take them on. He didn’t usually take them on, he continued—but—after taking a good look at the snapshot—he came up with the opinion that—he’d try. He decided he’d try even harder when the man told him what he wanted for it. That much? He was assured it was worth more than that. Yeah—right! They all said that.

     The price being asked was so ridiculously high in Jack’s estimation that he couldn’t say no, even if it was an old, used, wooden boat. He figured the guy was asking too much for it under pressure of needing money, so even if he got only half that amount—so what? He decided that he’d sell it at any price. A commission was a commission. She looked pretty good in the photo even if she did happen to be wood. Probably rotten—but—it was a boat. He could sell it. All he needed were the papers of ownership and permission as agent... .

     Jack got it in writing the next day. He didn’t care about boats, or know much about them for that matter, but he’d found out along the way as he’d worked his travelling salesman job servicing candy and peanut machines years before, that other people loved boats. If it still floated and he could get his hands on it cheap or on spec it was worth something. He started a ‘brokerage’ on the side and learned he was a good salesman. He could sell. He could talk just about anybody into anything by finding their weaknesses and working on them. He had one weakness himself. He loved to bet the ponies, which kept him constantly looking for sources to fill his pockets.

     He wasn’t used to handling such fine goods. His was a bottom feeder bargain basement operation. He actually didn’t know what the real worth of the boat was, or that the owner was wreaking vengeance on his partner by selling something which was only half his and naming such a low price, figuring anyone would buy it at a glance—but, compared to the other goods he handled, the salesman knew it was somewhat better than most of the old castoffs he dealt with. He knew this one was a moneymaker if he got anywhere near the asking price.

     He pondered as to just how he could parley this windfall into a winning ticket. Time was of the essence. He’d have to move it fast before the wife realised what was happening. He’d heard about a marina which had the best reputation in town where work on wooden boats like this were concerned, run by a kid whose reputation, he’d heard, was not quite so shining. Rumour had it that he gambled. The combination sounded promising to Jack’s ever churning mind.

     He decided to have a bit of unnecessary cosmetics done on the yawl, figuring the fine name of the yard would make it a good place to seek for prospective buyers who might come by while she was up on the ways, maybe saving him the cost of hauling her out at some time in the future. Also, he thought that the owner of the place must have all sorts of people, loaded with more money than they were entitled to, coming around looking for yachts. He didn’t have an account at the yard but—he’d get one.

     When the boat involved in the matrimonial tug-of-war had arrived at David’s premises the salesman unerringly sniffed out the top man who was working alongside his surprisingly youthful crew, wearing a torn shirt, old frayed jeans, worn sneakers, and an unassuming presence. He began pouring on his pitch about the smashing old wooden hookers he’d brokered—this smashing one in particular. He wanted this information passed on, so he made sure the marina operator knew that it was for sale—at a bargain. He dropped the approximate amount into the flow of words, figuring some fool with lots of money would fall for the old thing fast once they heard about it, or if not he could lower the price.

     The yard operator barely listened to the tales about how fantastic the others had been. He saw only this one as it came out of the water. He ran his eyes over her masterfully executed, harmonious lines and he lost his bearings over her right then, but he kept his mouth shut about it for the moment.

     Maybe, if he had heard instead of just barely listening, his healthy sense of scepticism might have come to the fore. They couldn’t possibly all have been that great, and it might have warned him off as to just what sort of man he was treating with, but he was ravished by the sight of this gorgeous creation getting hauled out on his ways, and failed to grasp the fact that he was coming up against the seagoing equivalent of a shifty used-car salesman, who was getting set to use him, and who was just now making a stunning triumph.

     David himself fell in love with the beautiful, expensive yawl.

     She sat there on his premises, seducing him in the mornings when he came to the boatyard. In the evenings he went over her from top to bottom, all of which was plainly and enticingly visible and available to his sight and touch. He looked for what he felt must be her Achilles heel—at such a price there had to be something wrong somewhere. He found nothing, except that she hadn’t had her bottom cleaned for awhile and the rest of her needed a little spiffing up, a few things replacing here and there. He saw her quality and grace. He knew her worth, and that he could steal her away from this broker who seemed to know nothing about her monetary possibilities.

hand with playing cards

     This in itself should have warned him off. Anyone used to handling such a boat would have known its value. It was to be a mistake not forgotten in a hurry—he failed to do his research about the handler.

     Instead, he imagined polishing and tuning her up, stowing his own gear aboard, along with some good food and drink, and sailing off with her to some secluded place—just the two of them alone—and Ulf and Gurth—and the music of his flute. He saw her as a symphony in her own right. He knew they all belonged together.

     He began to compare her to the modest sloop he presently owned, and that one was coming out as not quite—well—he wasn’t quite sure what but—not quite. His old faithful began to look rather small in his eyes. Also, she was a racer. He really felt, right now as he looked at her, that he’d outsailed her and needed another challenge, and anyway, lately he’d been wanting to do more cruising. Ulf and Gurth really did fill her up when they went off together. He couldn’t take anyone aboard comfortably for overnighting either. He and his racing crew woke each other up by trying to get at a cup of coffee or something—and besides, racing was getting to be—well—kind of—kid stuff. The yawl now—she offered possibilities for comfortable extended stays away from the home puddle—with company more interesting than competitive guys.

     As well, something from his past whispered,

    <’It’s a bargain—a man should always have room for a bargain’—especially such a fantastic one. Jack doesn’t know what he’s got here. I want her!>

     He drooled. He dreamt about her at night. He longed for her all day as she sat there in his sight, distracting him from more serious thoughts. He told a couple of people who asked, that it was just in for repairs. He decided he’d have her at any cost. She’d be his—somehow. He fell for her completely, head over—heels.

     Only one thing stood in his way of achieving this blissful union. His petty cash drawer was being very petty right then, and in an unguarded moment of pure involved interest in the gorgeous floating siren, the more than interested young marina owner had admitted to the broker that he’d love to buy her but he didn’t have such a large amount of cash to spare at this time, which in David’s mind meant ‘no sale’—unless a deal could be struck, with trade and service.

     Jack, who had never expected cash, nor received much of it before in large quantities, latched on to him like a leech because he knew a sale when he had one. David, wanting that boat more than anything else he’d ever come across to date, knew that he would never want another one. She was IT.

dark horse

     He became infatuated with the idea of owning her. He stalled on finishing the work while he ransacked his brain for a solution to his lack of capital.

     Not being one to sit around pining instead of doing something about a problem, he came up with the idea of founding a club for owners of old wooden boats, in tandem with facilities for a small shop to sell those lovely expensive items made of bronze and stainless steel which no boat owner worthy of his club burgee can resist, and which could also prove profitable if handled the right way. The more he thought of it the better it got as it was brought to life under the brooder lamp of his desire for beautiful yawl ownership—which was incited further by Jack’s encouragement to purchase and ability to close a deal.

     By original intent the organisation was to be a collection of people who owned old restored wooden boats, the founding member being himself and the yawl which was causing all the commotion to happen. The next member quickly presented himself as Jack Smarten as soon as the salesman knew what was up.

     David’s reasoning ran,

    <Wooden boats need lots of upkeep. I’ve had enough of them through here to know that and they were all paying a lot for their water leases elsewhere. I’ll cut out the competition with a club geared just for them. Members certainly won’t take their boats anywhere else for servicing, especially since the workmanship here is so great and—maybe the price for the work too—competitive anyway. The yard’ll have a boom in wooden boat and engine repairs—a year around money-making proposition. Just the thing for stability in a business. Repairs to keep my guys going, initiation fees and moorage and yearly dues, a bar. Geeze!—why didn’t I think of this before?>

     In his mind it was shaping up as a great way to finance the sale. As soon as he’d figured out a few details he took Jack to his office on the pretext of settling his account, but with the true purpose of acquiring a boat.

     He sat the proprietor of this floating stock down, suggesting a drink, and when Jack chose beer for the session David knew he had someone with down to earth ideas, not one of those out-of-touch pushers from a glass tower with inflexible minds looking for executive lunches. Here was room to deal. They’d understand each other. He figured he wouldn’t get peeled. He refused to even entertain the idea. He wanted that boat. He proceeded to negotiate.

     “I’ll have your account made up for you today,” he began. “We appreciate your business. I haven’t seen you in our yard before. Are you new around here?”

     “Oh no no,” laughed Jack, “I’ve been well established for years. You’re the newcomer. I’d heard your yard was a good one so I thought I’d give you a try. Bit out of my way, but a good boat deserves good treatment.”

     He didn’t mention that the other establishments were beginning to refuse to extend his account until he settled what he already owed. Then, always ready to further his own hopes he asked,

     “Did you say you were interested in her?”

     “I’d like to take the yawl off your hands,” came the disinterested reply, “But as I said, I don’t have the cash right now.”

    <I’d like you to do that too, but I’m not giving things away here.>

     “That’s a shame. The man selling her needs a quick sale and he’s setting a good price. She’ll go fast.”

     “Well—I do have a pretty good boat right now.”

     The broker’s eyes were directed to the end of a wharf where a neat, pretty little sloop was berthed.

     “That’s her right there.”

     David paused as though considering, giving the broker time to price the sloop in his mind, then began to downgrade the goods he was after.

betting wicket

     “I could use one a little bigger I suppose—but the yawl’s a bit old. Just on my offhand survey, looking at her as she was serviced, she needs a lot more help than you’ve given her. If boats like that aren’t kept up they slide into oblivion pretty fast, and she’s on her way unless something’s done soon.”

    <Tell me about it—I’ve probably seen more of them than you have. I know she’s old, but she certainly is bigger than yours. However, looking at your well kept item, I’m pretty sure I could move that one fast. Besides, I’ve seen you looking at that yawl and I know that look. You want her like she’s a woman.>

     “Oh, she’s not that far gone. I’ve kept her in a boathouse away from the weather. I bet if you took another look you’d find she’s in pretty good shape.”

     David liked that ‘I bet’ bit, and he’d already taken another look. He laughed and asked jokingly,

     “What would you bet?”

     “I’ll bet you’d get a dandy boat once she’s fixed up and you certainly know how to do that from what I’ve seen here.”

    <Don’t try flattery Pop. I’m immune.>

     “Yeah—I could probably bring her back but—lots of work. Did you figure that into the price?”

     “Well—maybe we could arrange something.”

     “Uh huh?”

     Jack quickly apprehended the fact that he had landed in a trading session, not an account paying one.

     “I really should get a decent down payment of course. The man selling it needs cash.”

     David kept his flinch well hidden. If he absolutely had to he might, but not until the last moment.

     “As I said,” he smiled confidently, “That’s a bit out of it, but—if I should think about taking her, would you be interested in a trade? You could have the sloop as part payment and we could work on the rest of the balance. I do have a few things you might be interested in. We could start with this account here, for one.”

     Jack certainly liked that better than trying to arrange credit for work, because that was exactly what he’d intended to do.

     “That would be nice. What else did you have in mind?”

    <Keep it coming sonny—we’ll get there.>

     “I imagine the fees you pay for mooring your floating stock must come to quite a bit over a year.”

     Jack knew that the marina operator didn’t have to imagine because he let space for just that purpose and knew very well what it was worth.

     “That’s for sure,” he replied amiably sitting back comfortably and waiting.

    <You come to me. I’ve got what you want.>

     “What would you think of using these facilities for keeping a couple of boats at a time here until they’re sold and taking the amount off the outstanding balance on the yawl?”

     “Oh.” Jack sounded genuinely disappointed. “Well—I guess—if you really can’t come up with cash—what else can you put on the table?”

     The two men eyed each other, smiling. David thought he knew how to put things on the table, cautiously, a bit at a time, until he’d see the point where the other man would show his hand by getting greedy, then he’d know when to stop.

     “You’re into selling wooden boats. No doubt some of them need a few repairs before they hit the market—like the yawl. As you’ve seen, I have the best repair facilities around for that kind of work. We could take the cost of all that off the price of the yawl.”

     Jack sold wooden boats all right, but he had no intentions of repairing them first. He saw no profit in this offer but figured the yard owner regarded it as pretty fair, which it would have been to anyone else. He rejected it in his mind, but he wanted to keep things coming. He recognised hopeless love when he saw it, and the young man opposite him was saturated with desire—for a boat.

     “Uh huh?”

     This was a bit tougher than David had expected. The dealer was keeping a firm grip on the deck—so he pushed in a few more chips to see him.

     “I’m planning on starting a club for wooden boat owners—beautiful old restorations. I’m sure you know the kind. I’m also starting a small shop for hard to find accessories which are needed for genuine restoration—and new stuff too. You could take whatever you need for your boats and deduct it from the price of mine.”

     The forty-two year old horse punter looked across at the then twenty-six year old poker player and figured he certainly had a winner here as he noted the use of the possessive word—’mine’.

    <Gottcha! Haven’t learned to separate your head from your heart yet.>

     “Sounds like a good idea you have there,” agreed Jack, drinking his beer and congratulating himself on having hooked this fish.

     The dealer considered. He toted things up in his head.

    <This is more like it. That sloop is genuine money. Moorage itself isn’t a bad deal. I often get boats for practically nothing on a straight buy out, but mooring them is costly murder. I could probably boost ‘one or two’ up to three or four. Repairs and accessories—well—maybe for a couple of things—maybe for my own boat—and for friends—yeah. I want to get rid of this yawl in one big hurry. The under cover upkeep is costing me. I shouldn’t have taken it on speculation. It seems nobody has any cash. I have a hunch I can boot this gee gee home ahead of this love-struck kid. Let’s see what else I can pull in.>

     At this point the discussion of terms for purchase became even more interesting and involved, as Jack inserted his own helpful schemes into the process.

     “How about moorage for my own boat? That might be a nice chunk taken off the top, over time.”

     Now David considered seriously. He felt the dealer was beginning to manipulate the deck, but—maybe one more boat hanging on a string wasn’t going to make that much difference in the overall profit margin. There was lots of water out there. Besides, the cost would be coming off the price for the yawl.

     “That might be arranged,” he agreed reluctantly.

     Jack still tried to look dissatisfied but he was in reality thoroughly pleased with himself and the deal coming down the home stretch This dark horse which had appeared out of nowhere was a real winner for him.

     “I think we’re getting close here.”

     With those words David decided he’d gone far enough. ‘Getting close’ indicated to him that the other man had got a bit more than he’d figured on. Now he was getting greedy.

     “Okay. Do we have an agreement?”

    <Ooops!—should have made that a statement, not a question.>

     “How about membership in the club? The initiation fees and dues could come off the price of your boat.”

     The look on the other man’s face warned him that maybe he’d gone too far, so he added what he thought was a plus for David.

     “—and maybe if I get any leads in the direction of buyers through the club the asking price for the yawl could be reduced by so much percent a sale—maybe through a fellow member. It’ll get paid down even faster.”

     That was when David knew he was getting hustled. He wasn’t sure he wanted this man as a member. He didn’t like the thought of setting up other members as marks for a kickback. It felt underhanded to him. Nor did he like the idea of using his facility as a brokerage—but he wanted that boat. Reason and desire grappled with each other. Reason wavered. What chance did it have against the exuberant folly of youth?

     He decided in favour of the yawl, without the weighing of consequences or having his usual conference with Li about such business matters. It was just a little financial deal which would be settled in no time. If he didn’t get the yawl now he knew that the next person on line would—but he’d offered as much as he was prepared to give. He had that much of his senses left.

     “That’s as far as I go,” he laughed.

     Hearing that very definite note of finality Jack knew he had got all he was going to get.

     This arrangement, or rather, these arrangements, would get David the love of his life where boats were concerned—the one which the boat broker wanted desperately to get rid of because it was costing a lot to keep it in a boathouse, which condition went along with his contract to sell, and the deal would give Jack access to unlimited prospective buyers for his other—yachts—plus it would get him into a first class club which he knew, from what he’d heard, was the only kind this high-rolling kid would operate. His previous efforts to be accepted into similar establishments had all been vastly unproductive. The salesman was wise enough to keep these things to himself.

     It all sounded reasonable enough—trade and service as it went along—and it was, except for the fact that David didn’t particularly like Jack or his methods of operating, but this fact got lost in his lust for the beautiful yawl he had to own, and his conscience got treated to the usual placating piece of rationale.

    <’It’s a fantastic bargain! I’ll never get such a chance again.>

     Which was true, but the price for this bargain was to turn into something else—aggravation and harassment beyond full measure, because Jack also was not one to sit around when opportunity presented itself, and taking advantage of a situation was his field of expertise.

     The idea that it would have been simpler to float a loan and be rid of the cruising shark never occurred to David because that wasn’t his way of doing things. He traded service or kind when he could or, in the end, paid cash if he had to. He regarded debt as disaster—which ultimately had become too true in his business ventures later, but at this moment he was his own man and fully intended to stay that way.

     Man proposes, and fate stands by—laughing.

     David struck the deal. He started the club.

     He got peeled.

money catching net

     Jack Smarten was delighted with this decision. He catered to lovers of old wooden boats or, more precisely, to the dreams and vanities which very often went along with that questionable love. He was very familiar with the proposition that all boats are holes in the water into which people pour money. He’d made it his life’s work to retrieve some of that water-soaked wealth by selling to mesmerised and unknowledgeable buyers those very holes—most of which were beyond redemption and plugging. He spread his net under them and pulled in fat amounts which fell through them and were called commissions.

     He financed the sales himself, with an escalating interest rate, and now he had the opportunity of planting into the minds of prospective buyers the spurious idea that there was a prospect of membership with moorage in David’s club should they buy from Jack, which would further entice his victims, as he’d tell them that older and bigger meant a better buy, because the greater would be the prestige which would accrue while they found joy and friendship in restoring such a treasure and, subsequent to that, the more envious and impressed other club members would be once the eager prospects became members themselves—also ‘if’—but somehow he forgot to add that last small type to his pitch.

     Nor would he mention how impressed he would be with the size of his commission, which also was dependent on the size and price of the boat he sold, and all the boats he walked his topsiders on were as big as his feet and his desire for money, relatively speaking. That many of them were just about ready for scuttling never entered his agenda. That he had come by a real, genuine, fine boat where the yawl was concerned had been pure accident, and he was too used to scavenging to realise that he had a stunner. It was a piece of used merchandise to be got rid of, fast, and he was glad he’d done just that. All of them were junk in his eyes—but they could be sold, and he could sell them. Now he had a great place to push them from.

     He motored his large fibreglass power party boat into the marina and ensconced himself firmly in David’s back yard to do just that.