The Brotherhood #35
By Mark W. Meier
Windowed The Soul
A spectacular end-for-end capsize where a boat’s stern catapults over the bow
You’d forgotten about the text from Howe, so didn’t see it until the next morning. It read, “I’ll clear your day tomorrow if you want to check out Sell Short.” Typical of Howe not to use any text-speak.
You sent a message thanking him, then prepared to head to Polly’s Landing. Your new driver waited outside the front door when you emerged into the cool February breeze.
He introduced himself without being prompted. “Scott Waldorf.”
You couldn’t decide how you’d remember his name. He wasn’t short, so there was no play on “dwarf” available. Perhaps that was the way – Scott Wall-not-dwarf.
“Scott.” You nodded a greeting.
Your old 2016 Volkswagen Phaeton stood running. Wall-not-dwarf pulled the armored rear door open as you approached.
Though the VW was still in good repair, you’d switched to a larger Audi after rumors circulated of assassins on the prowl for CEOs. A bigger car meant more power, which meant more ballistic protection could be installed. That hadn’t protected you from the bomb I’d planted, though.
Much like a typical day at work, you watched the scenery outside the window. Mile after mile slipped past, and eventually you came upon the I-95 bridge over a narrow portion of Lake Marion. You tapped out a quick text to Isaiah Short to be ready.
Wall-not-dwarf pulled into a parking space at the landing. You climbed out and saw your new boat in the water, tied up to the dock. The Neo hadn’t been personalized at all. According to Short’s text reply, he’d only taken possession about twenty hours ago. Floating alongside the dock in the small inlet of Polly Cantey Pond, the boat looked minuscule.
Time to put my plan into effect.
You walked up and down the dock, inspecting the small sailing craft. Less than twelve feet long and not even five feet wide, it took only one person to operate – hence the term single-handed.
I left as you climbed aboard.
The northern end of Lake Marion was more like a swamp than a lake. Tree limbs drooped to the waterline, forming living tunnels. Occasionally a tree died and rotted off at the base, falling into the marshy mire. Limbs would decompose to nothing, the trunk would get waterlogged, and eventually the slow current would push the neutrally-buoyant hazard farther into the lake.
That’s what I wanted. And there were perhaps a dozen already drifting in the area just north of the interstate bridge.
I toyed with the current enough to get my chosen weapon moving in the right direction. I could manipulate the speed later to get it into the proper position.
You hoisted the sail as I returned to the dock. A huge “Neo” was spelled out with white lettering in a block of blue. The RS Sailing logo occupied the corner between the mast and boom. A light breeze wafted from the south.
You tacked to the south edge of the pond. When the depth dropped off you turned west, angling the sail to keep you moving forward. I had ten minutes before you could reach the mouth of the pond. Time to play with the weather.
As you entered Lake Marion the breeze picked up to about twenty knots straight from the south. Your sail filled as you steered toward the interstate bridge.
Exhilaration. The roar of wind across sails was life, not the sterile environment of your corporate office or the indolence of a power yacht.
A trio of personal watercraft screamed past the Neo’s stern. They hollered a greeting, but with both hands occupied all you could do was glance over your shoulder and smile. They were too far away by that time and didn’t see you.
One of those watercraft pilots swung around and paralleled I-95 just above the island and opened up full throttle. His two compatriots yelled in good-natured outrage at the change in course. They spun to port to follow.
As you approached the bridge you checked your surroundings in preparation for your own tack to port. You were clear, as far as you could see. But the three PWCs were out of sight. One of them came dangerously close to a log drifting downstream. He never even noticed it.
You adjusted the tiller extension and boom to change direction to the southwest. At that moment the three PWCs rounded the western end of the I-95 bridge island and flashed past your bow a few dozen feet away.
Their wake struck Sell Short broadside, and you struggled to prevent a capsize. I didn’t expect you’d have much difficulty, and you didn’t. In fact, you felt proud of yourself for maintaining your course.
Such events are a perfect example of why people with sailboats hate power craft owners. That, and the relative lack of skill required to operate a motorboat. True sailing is an art.
You came up on buoy 100 and checked the area again. A fisherman with a flat-bottom and outboard drifted under the bridge, looking for a catch. The PWCs swept past buoy ninety-nine and streaked toward Polly’s Landing. You were clear.
You stepped across the boat with your right foot and let out rope to spill wind from the sail. Then you pushed the tiller away from you and ducked under the boom as it crossed the Neo. You shifted to the opposite side of the boat to counteract the tendency of the Neo to heel over in the wind. You swapped hands with the rope and tiller, and steered southeast toward buoy ninety-four.
After a brief tack to the southwest, you headed back to round the buoy. A power boat zipped past, pulling an early-season water skier. The boat passed at a reasonable distance, but the skier came as close as the rope allowed, suddenly turning. The spray he kicked up drenched you, but the wind and waves had already done that.
No wonder there was such a dearth of sailing rentals on the lake, with attitudes like that. No doubt a low-ranked Brother or imp made the rounds on fostering that kind of thought, stopping at Lake Marion when time permitted.
I swirled a bit of water to adjust the log’s trajectory.
The last leg of the course was the fastest. While not totally a following wind, the angle favored a straight shot right back to Polly Cantey Pond. You reefed the sail and coasted to the pier, only once having to raise it partially for an extra boost.
Isaiah Short caught the rope you threw, and only then did you notice another Neo tied up across from you. Judge Boynton stood, arms crossed and feet wide, in the middle of the dock.
“Nice day, Mis-ter Gram-bic.”
You fought a scowl. “Wind picked up a while ago. Wasn’t good when I first went out.”
Boynton put his nose up, as if sniffing the breeze. “Seems okay now. Great day to sail.”
“I just finished a test run.” You jumped to the wet boards of the pier. “The lake is yours, Boynton.”
He chuckled. “You misunderstand, Grambic. Let’s get this race done. Now.”
“Now? Are you kidding? I just spent the last hour on the water.”
“And you called me old.” Boynton sneered. “My age, your fatigue, those should cancel out. Unless, of course, you’re too tired.”
Watching the play of emotions on your face was rich. Your mouth writhed, and your eyes grew hard. If you disliked anyone, it was Judge David Boynton.
“Let’s do it.” You jumped back into Sell Short. “What’s our starting line?”
Boynton dug into a jacket pocket while heading back to his boat. “The shoreline outside The Pond.” He produced a starter pistol and tossed it to Short. “When we’re in position, give a five-count and fire.”
Boynton was quicker getting underway and took the lead away from you, tacking back to the mouth of the Polly Cantey. There you saw him establish a dynamic stall. He waited for you to approach the line.
You eased up to the starting line fifty yards downwind of him, swinging your boom back and forth a bit to come to a relative halt. Behind you Short called out the countdown and the starter pistol sounded.
Boynton got the edge at the start, and most times a skilled racer who beat the others off the line went on to win. But you knew the judge was old – in his upper fifties – and could easily make a mistake.
With less than seventy square feet of sail, there wouldn’t be any use in trying to “steal his wind.” You weighed less, so Sell Short road a bit higher and produced less drag cutting through the water. That advantage gave you a slight edge as you raced up toward the I-95 island. Within moments the slight waves slapped the bow of the boat, resonating through the fiberglass.
A gust threatened to capsize the Neo. You wrestled with the tiller, leaning further back, and recovered. Boynton didn’t seem bothered in the least and gained a few feet on you.
Since you’d started further north than Boynton, you could make your turn sooner and cut him off. If you were even a few yards in front of him he’d have to give way at your turn. The rules gave you three advantages there.
First, since you’d slow to change course, Boynton would be the overtaking boat and have to give way.
Second, Boynton would be the windward boat and have to give way.
Third, you’d be to Boynton’s starboard so he’d have to give way.
The increased drag took its toll on the judge’s headway. You approached the island and checked around to see to safety. The judge’s boat had fallen about thirty feet behind, so your turn put you across his path. He reefed his sail a bit so you could slip past, then he turned to follow in your wake.
With your course heading at an upwind angle, your boat’s taller cross section caught more of the breeze. Boynton slowly edged up on your stern as you focused on Buoy 100. Wind-driven spray made you squint. The edge of the sail flapped a bit so you adjusted the tiller. Your goal was to turn as tightly as possible to the buoy so Boynton couldn’t cut you off.
Slacken the ropes, wrestle the tiller, duck the boom, and swap sides. Right in the middle of the process you noticed the jagged end of a log just below the surface. Sell Shortstruck, wooden spikes shattering the bow. The momentum of your boat diverted down, driving the log with it like a teeter totter.
Sell Short pitch poled, throwing you out of the boat. Your head slammed into the rising end of the tree trunk.
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