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A New Beginning
Jerking awake, Jake felt the whole sailboat roll to port as a massive incoming swell lifted the wooden vessel straight up, the bow dipping briefly then recovering as the strain on the anchor chain caused it to snap clean off. The sound of the tortured metal summoning a fog and rain on the instant his awareness resolved into something resembling human.
“What the hell?” Jake’s sub-vocalizations didn’t wake Katie as he scrambled out of his bunk. There had been no storms or heavy weather predicted when they had anchored in Nanoose Bay the night before. The cloud cover had socked in pretty heavy as the moon rose full last night, but there were no major storms or anything predicted.
Climbing into the cockpit, Jake noted that nothing seemed different, aside from the swells and the rain.
As he fired up the motor to bring the old boat back under control, he glanced down at the compass, noting that it was spinning first clockwise then counterclockwise. Completely useless. Figuring that they had anchored facing out of the bay, he kept an eye on the depth-sounder and steered Halia towards the open water of the Strait of Georgia.
Praying that he remembered correctly, and that he hadn’t been turned around in the chaos, he locked the wheel on course and set about dogging everything tight on the boat, trying to keep as much of the rain out as possible.
Hours later, and miles further on; soaked and tired, he saw the sails of his wooden hulled ketch start to shift from gray to blue as the sun cleared the horizon, illuminating the purple depths of the ocean around him and the blackened mountain ranges. The sky was a dirty sulfurous yellow, and the smell of charred timbers and grasses drifted on the wind.
Coffee and A Question
It had been twenty minutes or so since he had ventured below to wake Katie up. Jake was exhausted and hungry by this point, craving a good strong black coffee.
The smell of that strong coffee had been tantalizing him for a few minutes before Katie’s head and shoulders appeared through the aft hatch behind him.
“Thanks. Ready to take the helm for a minute or two?” The exhaustion in Jake’s voice was the only thing betraying the fact that he’d been up for hours by this point, with only a short sleep before that. Jake turned to take the mug and they both braced themselves as big wooden ship rolled across the top of another swell.
“Give me five and I’ll clean up down here first.” Katie’s voice hitched on the last word before she asked, “What’s that burnt smell? I thought we were out of forest fire season?”
“I’ll explain when you come up and look around…” Jake turned back to the wheel, swinging the bow around to take the next swell less on the beam and more pointed.
As he held the wheel , trying to keep the schooner pointed more or less in an north easterly direction, hoping to cross what he thought was the Strait of Georgia and find the mainland, Jake’s mind began to wander back through recent history.
He and Katelyn had always dreamed of sailing away, but kids and careers had always gotten in the way. Last month on their trip to Tofino they got their chance to “try out the dream.” Sitting at anchor was an antique schooner, with a red hull and blue sails, the masts and spars blackened with salt and time, all the brass and steel fittings glinting sporadically in the morning sun. The sixty foot boat looked like something out of an old romance novel that Allyiah was so into reading. As they stood in awe on the rocks staring at this misplaced piece of history, a gnarled man of some indeterminate advanced years coughed behind them. As they turned, he made a small movement and they realized he’d been there all along. He seemed to have been watching them, waiting.
“She’s available y’know?” His voice matched the rest of him, wheezy and cracked.
“Pardon me?” Jake queried, hoping for more of a statement.
“Halia, that’s her name. She’s available. She’s got no captain.”
Katelyn had turned back to look at the boat, Jake was questioning the old-timer on the particulars. How much, proof of ownership, all the usual things.
The fellow seemed awfully eager to sell them the old wooden schooner. He magically produced all the required paperwork from an inside pocket, and he was willing to take ten percent down with the balance on their satisfaction.
After an intense and detailed inspection of the inside and out of the old schooner, Jake had realized that Halia was in immaculate repair. The fir over oak build with easily worth two hundred thousand dollars, but the guy was only asking for twenty. He wanted two thousand up front and the rest if they decided to keep “the old girl” as he referred to the ship.
It seemed to be too good to be true, but after talking about it he and Katie had agreed that they had little to lose. They could sail around the island, and if after that, they decided not to take the boat, they could return it and only be out two thousand dollars.
Of course, Jake thought ruefully, that was if they made it back to Tofino without something critical going wrong.
Jake grinned into his newly grown beard; that was three weeks ago, but it felt like a lifetime. He and Katelyn had never been so close, so connected, or so much at odds in any period previous to this. They had been united in explaining to their families what they were doing and why. They had faced down the expected opposition.
They had also fought over what foods they should buy, which courses to set, who sat which watch, and on and on.
Finally, they had fallen into a deeper understanding of each other. Jake was better at the charts and the wheel, but the long range choices and directions (which port to aim for) were best left to Katie, as were which foods to stock and prepare. The coffee in his hand reminded him of just how bad he was at choosing food-stocks. His standard option of a can of Maxwell house for the percolator was a disaster. The coffee was always weak, tepid and the metal can had rusted out within a week meaning they had to bag the thing and go without for two days until they pulled into the next port. Once docked, Katie had let loose on him with
an attack as he would never forget. He stopped buying food for their trip.
* * *
Having been deep in memories of the last three weeks, Jake didn’t notice Katelyn had come up behind him until she touched his shoulder.
“So Jake, where are we this morning, how long until we get to Gibsons?” Katelyn sniffed the morning air, “And again, what is that burnt smell?”
Jake turned to look at her. “Katie, somethings wrong this morning.”
All on the Table
Sitting, facing each other across the cockpit, the wheel braced by their feet, Jake and Katelyn just sat for a few moments, starting at the wildly gyrating compass.
“What do you mean by ‘You have no idea where we are, or where we’re heading?’ Jake?” Katelyn looked as though she just found out she had cancer. Her expression was one of horror and despair.
Jake winced at the pain and fear in her voice. He had not wanted to tell her about his conclusions, but there was just no way around the obvious. Last night they had fallen asleep within sight of Vancouver Island’s mountain ranges, the low hanging clouds not quite threatening rain.
A few hours ago, it felt like days by now, but a few hours ago their anchor chain had snapped clean off and they were headed out into the open water of what he thought was the Georgia Strait. Four hours of motoring hadn’t brought them into sight of land, the Sun was still off the bow on the starboard rail, so presumably they were heading east and maybe a little north. Last night when Jake had sat down to chart today’s course, he had figured they were going to be running head on to the wind all morning and cross current, thus they’d be motoring for the bulk of the trip. A trip which should have taken no more than three hours.
Katelyn shivered in the cold air, pulling her mug of tea closer and taking a big swallow. That was one thing about Katie, Jake thought to himself, she always rebounded quickly. Watching her calmly, Jake saw her go from worried to practical and focused in a matter of moments. He knew she’d break-down throughout the course of events, but from moment to moment she always managed to keep an even keel.
“So I’m not going to get to go shopping in Gibsons then?” His wife attempted to put a light spin on the whole situation. “Is there any way we can figure out what’s going on or where we are?”
“Not really, not yet. From where the sun is and what time my watch reads, I would venture we’re moving east. I would suggest shutting down the engines and running up the sails for the time being.” Jake swiveled his head around, facing directly into wind coming over the southern starboard rail. “We should be able to make good time as long as this wind holds. Without knowing where we are or how far we have to go yet we might want to think about conserving diesel.”
Katelyn looked up at the bare masts, “What do you know about sailing? What do WE know about sailing?” Her eyes widened, pupils dilated; she started fidgeting with her mug. Twisting it back and forth in her hands, she took a few moments before she tried to speak again.
Jake tied off the wheel and stood, reaching out a hand to her. “Let’s go below and talk, out of the wind.” His hair was blowing sideways in the wind, he thought he looked rather absurd standing. After a moment Katelyn took his hand and stepped to the hatch, climbing down into the warm sheltered cabin.
Waiting until Katie had stepped all the way down into the cabin, Jake checked the locks on the ship’s wheel one more time, and throwing the spinning compass one more frustrated angry glance, he followed his wife into the belly of the schooner.
* * *
As he slipped below deck, coming fully inside the wooden schooner, he was struck again by how organic the whole ship felt; as though it were a thing alive, with a mind, soul and heart driving it forward to it’s own objectives.
The sound of Katelyn clearing away the dishes from making the coffee earlier brought him back out of his temporary reverie. Stepping carefully over to the chart table, he sat down and waited. From experience, he knew that Katie would start the conversation when she was ready, if he tried to start it before that point then things would go badly.
As expected, Katelyn was ready to talk once she was finished tidying up. It was her ritual. Goodness knows Jake had enough of his own rituals, belittling her for her rituals was hypocritical in the extreme.
“So, where are we at?” Katelyn was never one to waste words when things were important.
“As I said before, I really truly don’t know.” Jake was trying to tread lightly in this conversation, aware of her insecurities and general temperament. But he was scared and upset as well, he’d just had more time to think it over since last night when he woke up.
Katelyn simply sat there waiting for him to clarify himself, or at least try to explain what his plan was.
Knowing this, Jake took his time to put together the right statement. “Last night when things went wrong, I was up and taking us out of danger, but after things settled down I was able to check the sky through the gaps in the clouds. It seems that wherever we are, the stars and the days are somewhat normal. That’s really the only normal thing going here. Compass lines, magnetic fields, even the tidal swells seem to be out of whack.”
Jake was once again standing watch, the wheel locked in position, heading east, or so he thought. By the maps and knot gauge however, he felt they should be sailing through the Kicking Horse pass by now, somewhere between Golden and Revelstoke. Obviously that was absurd, but in going east for two full days at this speed, they were still in wide open waters with no land in sight.
As he sniffed the air once again, he sent up a small prayer thanking whatever powers that ruled this world that the scorched earth smell had finally abated after that last rainfall. Now the only real issues were that they were lost, with no idea of where to head, and there was no land in sight.
Katie joined him from below, her hair pulled back in a braid. She offered him her mug, hot chocolate as it turned out. God he loved how this girl could change his mind, she always seemed to be able to understand what he needed, we he needed to talk, and when he needed to be left alone. He grinned ruefully, now if only he could manage to get the same intuitive sense in place for dealing with her. Then their marriage would be a quiet and peaceful one, they’d still argue of course, no honest couple could manage a relationship without having actual differences of opinion. They seemed to be able to get along well enough most times however. Jake thought there was a very good chance that this was due in main part to her ability to let go of things and let him find out the hard way that her idea was the better one.
“Jake?” Katie’s voice came out softly, concern over-writing her worry and unease.
“Hmm.. Oh. Sorry, I was staring at you again wasn’t I? I just got lost in a meandering thought.” Jake turned his attention to the wheel again, wondering where to look. The whole of the horizon, all three hundred and sixty degrees of it was quite simply empty. Or so he thought.
“Jake, I was going to point out that there’s something over there.” Katie pointed off over Jake’s shoulder, behind him. He hadn’t looked in that direction lately, at least not with his glasses on.
“There’s what?” Pulling the aforementioned glasses out of his pocket and settling them firmly on his nose, he peered in the direction that Katie was pointing. “Just over there? I see it now. It looks like a piece of driftwood or something.”
“Let’s go take a look, goodness knows there’s little else to do right now. All directions look the same. Here, I’ll slack off these lines and you bring it around.” Katie shifted her weight, reaching across to unhook the line for the main sail and eased the sheets a little, while Jake hauled the wheel around.
Bringing the ship around in a ninety degree turn, they headed off at a right angle to the direction they had been heading. With the sun off to their right and the unknown object directly ahead, they made good time, the wind coming from almost due south, directly aft.
As they drew nearer the questionable floating object details became clearer. I was not a log, in fact it was in essence the remains of a mast that appeared to have been attached to a ship until the point when it was left for scrap, floating in the ocean.
As an additional detail, the mast appeared to have both one on very unhappy cat and one somewhat wet and bedraggled, hungry looking young girl attached to it.
“Ahoy there!” Jake felt foolish, but couldn’t figure out what else to say. “Would you care to come aboard, you look like you and your cat could use something hot to drink and a dry blanket or two.”
When he didn’t get a reply, Jake waved Katie towards the wheel while he stepped to the rail. The girl was hanging limply off the broken mast, with a silver and black cat looking very wet and bedraggled. Checking back over his shoulder at the tied off safety line, Jake reached back and unhooked his personal line from it’s anchor point, reattaching the bright neon colored nylon to a stanchion directly in front of him. As Katie backed the motor to bring the boat to a halt while they dropped the sails and brought the schooner to a standstill.
With the large wooden vessel sitting at rest compared to the floating broken mast, Katie moved unhooked her own safety line and moved forward. Cinching the straps down on her safety vest, she removed her shoes and socks before slipping over the side and into the frigid waters. Kicking off against the side of the schooner, Katie glided effortlessly to the un-responsive girl and the angry hostile small cat. Hooking her arm around the young woman, Katie motioned that Jake should throw the safety rope that he had retrieved from the lazzarette. Catching the rope with her free hand, she quickly wrapped the rope around the unresponsive form of the girl before motioning to Jake to pull the pair of them back to the safety of the boat.
As Jake hooked his hands under the small young woman’s arms and hauled her up, Katie returned to the broken mast for the cat. After struggling for a few minutes with trying to get the cat to co-operate, Katie sighed and looped her own safety line around the whole mast and began reeling herself, with the mast and it’s attached cat, back to the boat.
Finally reaching the side of the schooner, Katie looked down at the cat before clambering up the side of the boat.
“There’ll be hot sausages and mash in a few minutes cat, come aboard if you’re so inclined. It’s warmer down belowdecks.” Making sure the mast and it’s cat were securely tied off to the schooner, Katie headed aft, unhooking her safety line entirely as she disappeared belowdecks to the Galley and some dry clothes.
Jake, busy trying to carry the unconscious young woman after lifting her out of the water, managed somehow to also get below decks and he placed her gently on the couch that tripled as a bench for the table as well as a spare berth should there be need for yet one more bed on the boat.
“Katie, her eye’s are open, but it seems like there is nobody home. I’m worried. We don’t know the first thing about treating people who are catatonic or in a coma.” Jake realized his nervousness was transmitting across in his speech, but he didn’t care at this point.
Katie grunted as she shed the last of her wet clothes, stepping from the forward berth with a robe on as she towelled her hair dry. Leaning to the left as the boat rolled across the top of yet another smooth swell in this endless ocean, Katie finished drying her hair and tossed a towel at Jake.
“I think, my husband, that something is not quite right in the world. First, this is not saltwater. It’s brackish, really heavy in minerals, and there’s some kind of organic component that is making my skin itch.” Katie snagged a bottle of skin moisturizer as she sat down at the end of the couch where the wet young woman was laying. She motioned to the open hatch, “Why don’t you close that up and put the water on for tea while I try to get this girl as dry as possible. I think I have some fleeces that she won’t be too drowned in.”
Not saying anything at this point Jake nodded and moved towards the open hatch. As he reached up to swing the hatch in and dog it tight, a black and silver blur slipped in through the shadows, darting back under the nav station before coming to a rest. Jake, startled, resumed securing the hatch and then looked to the cat that had streaked past him.
“Here now, you’re just as wet and tired as the girl over there.” Jake unconsciously dropped into his soothing voice, trying to calm and with the trust of the little cat. “How did you end up on that mast? It’s kinda far to shore regardless of where you came from….”
Ducking back through the passageway to the rear cabin, Jake came back holding a towel that he proffered to the wet cat, leaving it under the nav station before stepping forward to the galley and firing up the alcohol stove to make hot drinks.
As he stood watching the water heat Jake shook his head ruefully. Careful not to knock his head on the overhead beams in the cramped galley, he set about making a pot of tea and as an afterthought he put on a small bit of cream to warm as well. He would have never thought he’d be warming cream for a cat. With his natural aversion to the things, as well as the allergies, he’s never manged to get along with them.
With the tea steeping in the pot, and a small dish of cream, Jake carefully worked his way back to the main galley where Katie and their new guest were. As he sat the cream down on the nav table to free up his hands for pouring the tea, Jake noted that the cat had moved. The black and silver feline was now curled up on the young woman’s lap as she absently stroked it’s fur. Katelyn gratefully accepted a steaming mug of the tea, while the cat’s ears perked up. Whiskers twitching, it slid to the floor and padded silently to the nav station, bounding to the table top in one smooth movement. Carefully inspecting first it’s footing, then the bowl, and finally the contents of the bowl, the cat’s silvered head with it’s black tufted ears lowered to accept the offering.
“Jake, did you take one of your allergy pills yet?” Katelyn looked serious for a moment, Jake remembered she had seen what happened to him if he got too close to a cat. Between the swelling and the rashes he often ended up in the hospital to recover from such an ordeal.
“Not yet, I should go and … ?” Jake paused on a questioning note, “Katie, I’m not reacting to this cat.” To check the fact, Jake actually reached over to stroke the slivered head, and pulled his hand back, amazed. “Nothing?” He pulled up his sleeve, checking his arms, taking deep breaths, generally checking his condition. “Not a single reaction.”
The cat, finished it’s cream, looked up at the still unresponsive girl and jumped up onto Jake’s lap, arranging itself so that it was layign up his chest, staring directly into his eyes. Jake, started at the cat’s forwardness sat stunned until he realized what had happened. He started to move the cat away, but Katelyn stopped him. “Wait, if you’re not allergic, then just wait a moment.”
Jake looked at her with a moderately angry look in his eyes, but no sooner had he turned his head then the cat raised it’s paw and pulled his face around with the barest hint of it’s claws. When Jake was once again looking the cat directly in the eye, it withdrew it’s paw and started purring loud enough to be heard by Katelyn across the cabin.
What happened next was unclear, but Jake will swear the cat started talking to him, the first words out of the cat’s mouth, (ok, the cat’s mouth didn’t move, but the words were there in Jake’s head, somehow…) “We need to talk, you and I. Just listen for now, I have a story to tell you.”
Katelyn, looking past Jake for a moment, gasped, “Jake, there’s something just came into radar range.”