Mending Sails

Mending Sails

Laura smoothed her hair and subtly wiped the dampness from her brow. The harbor was picture-perfect with the morning sun sparkling off the water, and tall green trees swaying in the breeze. In contrast, she felt like a wilting weed and hoped that breeze would cool her out on the bay. The sailboats that had already launched were cutting through the gentle waves at a good pace.

The instructor’s heavy steps shook the dock as he approached. The retired Navy Captain was strong and commanding despite his gray hair. “Anyone here ever been in a sailboat before?” Someone behind Laura must have raised a hand because Captain Smyth nodded. “Just one. Fine. Don’t try to help me teach, alright? Pretend you never did this before.”

“Yes, sir.” The masculine response rang out strong and confident.

Captain touched the brim of his cap and proceeded to lecture his new students on safety precautions and the basics of sailing. Then the six students climbed aboard for a full day course on introductory sailing.

The 36-foot vessel had one frightfully tall mast. The sails were still rolled up. Two benches lined the back deck where a tiller was used to steer the boat. A hatch in the center led to a below deck area where lunch and cold water were stored. There was also a tiny lavatory, but Laura had read that going below deck while the boat was on the water was hot and nauseating.

Laura sat on the bench next to a snooty couple that kept comparing everything to their beach in Florida where they had just bought into a time share. Across from her, three men studied the lines and sails, trying to name dozens of parts that she hadn’t even noticed. One of the men noticed her watching them and introduced himself. “Hi there. I’m Craig, this is Brad and Josh.” Craig had light colored hair and wore a long-sleeved shirt in defense against the glaring sun. Brad was the one with the nice voice who had sailed before. When he tipped his cap at her she caught a glimpse of summer bronzed skin. Josh waved and looked at his feet.

Laura offered her name, but any additional conversation was cut short by the Captain who began instructing them on freeing the boat from the dock. Time-Share Woman took a precarious walk to the bow of the boat and pulled on a line to raise the jib, which was a big sail at the front. It caught the wind and ever so slowly pulled the boat away from the docks. When the boat drifted close to the end of the dock Brad subtly adjusted some rubber bumpers hanging over the side, then pulled his hat over his eyes before the Captain could scold him for touching something without being directed to. It turned out the bumpers were needed when the boat hit the dock broadside. The woman balancing on the bow screamed and her partner swore.

Captain Smyth swore too. “Spread your feet to keep your balance and get back here before you fall off. Next time don’t just stand there.”

As soon as they were clear of the docks they raised the main sail. The boat seemed to find the wind for her own pleasure and took off, leaning far over to the leeward side. There was more squealing and cursing. Only Brad seemed unaffected by the tipping sensation.

“Alright,” Captain Smyth pointed to Craig. “Give that line up a bit before someone wets themselves.”

Craig pulled tighter on the rope that controlled the main sail and the vessel leaned further into the water. Captain grabbed the line. “No, other way. Tighten the sail to go faster. Go faster, lean further. That’s what she’s meant to do. When you learn to sail, you’ll always be on a quest to find the perfect wind and catch it just like that.” Everyone breathed a sigh of relief as the vessel slowed and righted itself. But as soon as Laura realized she had never been in any danger, she grinned and leaned back. She had always wanted to sail, but had missed her chance more than once. Now she was going to get certified and rent a boat as often as she could until she dried up in the sun. She noticed that Josh had lifted his head and was also smiling as the wind hit his face. When he sat up, he was half a head taller than his friends, and broader too.

Suddenly her ballcap caught the wind and blew off her head into the water. “Darn it!” Without the cap wisps of brown hair that were too short for her ponytail smacked her face. Brad said something to her, but the wind hissed in her ears and the couple beside her was asking Captain stupid questions. He leaned forward on his seat and tried again, “Would you like my hat?” He held it out to her.

“Thank you, but I might also lose that one. I’ll manage.”

Brad said something else, but Laura couldn’t hear, so she stood up and ducked under the boom, which was a thick aluminum pole that stretched out the bottom end of the sail. Here she found relief from the sun and wind so she stood to talk to Brad.

He repeated himself. “I was just saying that I think I know you.”

At that moment the boat found the wind again, of her own accord. The sail snapped and the boom swung around to knock Laura in the head. Brad grabbed her and pulled her down a second before disaster. She landed belly down on his lap, her chin hitting Craig’s thigh. Immediately Brad wrapped an arm around her back to prevent her from rolling to the floor. Then he helped her sit up and made room for her to sit comfortably on the bench by shoving his friends over.

“Well, you saved me from a nasty bump on the head. Thanks.”

“Maybe I could have done a better job than almost throwing you to the floor like that. Anyway, I was saying I think I know you.”

Laura had thought Brad looked familiar too, but she had been hoping she was wrong. “Bradley from Winchester?”

“And from Camp Noble Path.”

Laura’s face drained of color and she drew in a sharp breath.

“I’m so sorry. I…”

Smack! His apology was cut short by the sting of Laura’s open palm.

She ducked under the boom and returned to the opposite bench where she crossed her arms and battled tears.

Captain Smyth turned from Josh, who was manning the tiller, to gape at Brad. “What the hell did you just do?” He thundered, reminiscent of the days when the Captain commanded a Navy ship. Though Brad was the one who had been hit, it was obvious who the victim was in this situation. He lowered his eyes without a response, so the captain turned to Laura. “Ma’am, just say the word and I will turn this boat right around and dump him off on the shore. I can radio the authorities if needed.”

“No. I want to learn to sail today. I was just paying him back for ruining my chance to sail as a kid.”

Craig laughed tensely. “What the hell, Bro?”

Brad ducked through the hatch to the below deck area, muttering “Excuse me.”

Captain commanded attention, describing the technique for turning the sailboat. Since it was necessary to keep the wind at a certain angle to the sail, this required concentration and teamwork. When it was Laura’s turn at the tiller, Brad came back above board and slumped on his bench seat.

Sailing this boat was very physical. There were no motors to assist with the lines. Pulling the ropes led to aching arms and raw palms. Things got tangled and students had to climb around to undo them. They spent a lot of time changing positions and ducking under the boom. Bradley, however, never moved from his seat. After a few hours everyone was hot and hungry. The captain took the students for a cruise while they enjoyed their bagged lunches.

At this time Craig took the opportunity to whisper to his friend. “You know her?”

Everyone heard this and tried not to stare as they listened for the answer.

Brad didn’t answer so Craig continued. “I didn’t know there were only six people in this class. Hard to meet women like this. Still, get her talking to Josh if you can.”

“I can hear you!” Josh called from the opposite corner of the back deck.

The time-share couple laughed at the men’s discomfort. Captain looked disgusted with all of them.

“Captain Smyth,” Bradley called out, speaking for the first time in hours. “I imagine you had a lot of young sailors on your Navy ship who probably did a number of stupid pranks?”

Captain didn’t respond, so he continued, “When you were out at sea, you must’ve had a way to make the boys redeem themselves – waxing the decks or shining the latrines?”

This question was answered with stony silence.

“Anyway, when I was thirteen I played a prank at camp. I have to make it up to the people I hurt.”

Time-Share Man said, “Make him wax your boat with his shirt.”

His wife said, “No, he should wax her car.”

Brad tipped his head towards Laura, seeking an answer.

She scowled, “Oh, go jump in the bay.”

Brad kicked off his shoes, hopped up on the bench and jumped over the side of the boat in less than five seconds.

“Shit!” Captain Smyth lunged for him, but hadn’t been able to grab him before he splashed into the water. “Man overboard!”

Josh had the sense to throw a life preserver in the water, but the boat and the man were rapidly moving in opposite directions. Captain took control of the tiller and mainsail angling toward Brad. “Be ready to hit him with the floats when we catch him.”

Craig shouted, “Why is he moving like that?”

“He’s caught in the current.”

Everyone watched in horror as Brad struggled to swim towards shore, but made no progress as the current pulled against him. The sailboat moved slowly and resisted progress.

A motorboat raced towards them, music blasting. The driver was drinking and talking to his friends. He didn’t see the man overboard or slow down to pass the sailboat. The resulting waves knocked the sailboat off course, wasting precious time. Another wave washed over Brad’s head and he disappeared from view.

Captain ordered Time-Share Man to grab the radio from the cabin and call the Coast Guard.

“There he is!” Laura spotted Brad, nowhere near where he had gone under. He gave up on trying to reach the shore and tried to get closer to the sailboat. Within minutes he was close enough to catch the life preserver. Captain stalled the boat and Brad grabbed hold of the ring. Josh reeled him in, but then faced the challenge of getting back into the boat. The side of the boat was smooth and high. The movement of the water repeatedly shoved him into the boat, then pulled him away.

Josh and Craig bent over the side and grabbed Brad’s hands, but they couldn’t get enough leverage to pull him up and the water made him slippery. The captain handed them a sling which Brad had to slip under his arms. Then Time-Share Man hauled on the rope pulling Brad out of the water enough for his friends to get their hands under his arms and pull him up. When they got him over the edge he slid face-first to the deck and sat up slowly, soaking wet and breathing heavy. Time-Share Woman gave him a towel from her own bag.

Captain ordered, “Women, take the helm. Get us under way. I have to call off the Coast Guard.”

After radioing the Coast Guard, Captain glared at Brad. “That was a seriously dumb-ass move. You think that’s going to make-up for a childhood prank? You know how many men would have to search for your lifeless body and dredge you up for a funeral?”

“I had no idea the current was like that.” Brad said, setting himself on the bench.

After that everyone sat in tense silence until Time-Share Woman asked Laura, “So what did he do?”

Laura nodded at Brad, “Tell them what you did.”

“Alright. Me and a friend of mine and his older brother and some other boy I didn’t know snuck into the girls’ shower house with cameras. When I realized that Laura, who was my friend, was in there I left. Later I took the card out of my friend’s camera and deleted all our pictures. They were just blurry pics of shower curtains anyway. But the older boys got a few pictures. I guess they showed other boys before they got caught. We all got kicked out, but I don’t know why Laura had to leave.”

“I was embarrassed, and my parents were super protective. Then they decided to move where they thought I wouldn’t be around kids like that anymore. Bradley and his friends were always trouble, not just at camp. But once we moved, I was nowhere near the water, and I had always wanted to sail. I never got that first sailing lesson because I had to leave camp early, and until today I never got another chance. So, here I am.” She trimmed the sail, so the boat sped up and leaned into the water. “And you aren’t going to ruin this for me.”

“Captain, I’d like to pay for Laura to get all the other lessons you offer plus ten rentals.”

Craig swore and elbowed Josh who shushed him.

Captain nodded. “Fine.”

“No, I can’t accept that.”

Time-Share Woman spoke up, “He owes you.”

Josh nodded, “He does. I think he should have to pay for it.”

Craig agreed. “Actually, I have to agree with them. It’s not fair. He has done plenty of sailing.”

Laura protested, “That will cost thousands of dollars!”

Brad added, “Please, I insist.”

“Alright, I accept your restitution, but, I need a buddy to sail with. Josh? Will you join me?”