Pages

Sunday, July 23, 2017

ED SAT SODDENLY IN THE SKIFF (4)

        It was a delightful breezy Saturday when I went for a sail with Dottie and Ray Remick on their sloop, the Marionette. Ed was at the office all morning, but early that afternoon he followed us out in the Matthews. Approaching a sailboat safely with a motor cruiser was not a simple maneuver. Ed made several vain attempts to throw Ray a line.
     This was a challenge, so Ed devised a new strategy. He cut the motor and climbed into the dinghy, holding the line attached to the Happy Days. The plan was for Ray to keep making passes at the skiff until Ed succeeded in throwing him the line.
      The first few passes failed. “Let’s try once more!” Ray shouted. A captain for Northeast Airlines, he was not the type to give up easily.
     This time Ray caught the line. As it curved out in a great arc between the Happy Days and the Marionette,  Ray quickly secured his end, and as it grew taut, guess who was caught in the middle?                                                                             
      A few feet above the water, the line whipped across the skiff like a knife. To avoid being decapitated, Captain Malley grabbed it with both hands and BOING!—he flipped through the air like a stone from a slingshot.
     We now had the Happy Days in tow, as planned, but her skipper was rapidly receding in the distance. I was wringing my hands and babbling that I wanted my husband back.
     “Calm down!” barked Ray, another one of those guys who think they’re Captain Bligh because they own a boat.
     We came about and plowed toward Ed, who was sitting soddenly in the skiff. Ray released the Happy Days, and Ed clambered aboard, shouting that he’d had it, he was going home.
     “Don’t let him go without me, Ray!”
    It was decided that Ed would bring our cruiser alongside the Marionette. If he could get near enough without damaging the boats, I was to transfer from one to the other—as easy as transferring from one galloping horse to another—but the only one worried about damage to me was I.
     Ed eased the Happy Days toward the Marionette until the two boats were plunging along neck and neck, with Dottie at the tiller of the Marionette. Ray was standing by me at the rail to help me across, and I was saying uneasily, “Hey, can’t you slow this thing down?”
     Busy concentrating on the necessary split-second leap, Ray ignored my question, yelled, “Okay, now!”—and gave me a push.
     I grabbed for the Happy Days with one hand, still gripping Ray firmly with the other. Result:
Ray and I both wound up on the Matthews. This failed to improve Ray's disposition.
     Ed and Dottie soon had the two boats plowing along side by side again.  Ray transferred back. He didn’t wave.
     I often wondered how Dottie coped with the strain of being married to a pilot. Boating provided more than enough excitement for the Malleys, thank you.

     Unlike many sailors and yachtsmen, Ed rarely took himself or his boating mishaps seriously. There were those who felt sorry for him when they saw Darrell McClure's illustrations for my articles. "Poor Ed! Is he speaking to you yet? When is the divorce?" Their sympathy was wasted. Ed thought Darrell’s cartoons were hilarious.
     I did have qualms when Little, Brown’s editors wanted to include the illustrations in the first chapter of  Take My Ex-Husband, Please—But Not Too Far. I called Ed and said, "Now that you're a few decades older and a man of maturity and dignity, how do you feel about Darrell McClure's sketches of you in various disastrous situations? I'll be glad to omit them if they strike you as the least bit offensive."
WITH DARRELL AND WIFE SANDY IN FORT
LAUDERDALE 1969
     Ed answered emphatically, "Don't do it! I wouldn't care if Darrell drew a picture of me sitting in the head, reading the funny papers. Leave those cartoons in, Barb, and don't worry about me. I still think they're a riot."
~~~~
     Feet propped up on a footstool, I was sitting in the living room, leafing through the Sunday papers. Ed and Ray Remick were sprawled on the carpet, absorbed in a welter of charts.
     Ray had recently purchased a 52-foot Chris-Craft Conqueror named Witch Way. I was hazily aware that with the approach of the boating season, Witch Way would somehow have to be transported to Cohasset from Pennsylvania.
     “ . . . and the way I figure it, Ed,” Ray was saying, “we’ll fly down to Galesville on a Saturday. With good weather and a little luck, we should have Witch Way in Cohasset by Monday night.”
     “Oh, wonderful!” I said, flinging aside the papers. “I didn’t know we were going!”
     Ray looked at Ed and Ed looked at Ray. “Old radar ears,” Ed said, an endearment I’d heard before.
     Ray broke it to me gently. “Maybe I’m being corny and sentimental, but the fact is, I think Dottie should be the first woman to set foot on Witch Way.”
     “What’s the problem?” I asked. “Dottie can go aboard first and I’ll tag along behind. I won’t peek at a single thing until Dottie—“
     “You don’t understand,” Ray said. “Dottie doesn’t want to go.” The announcement was a shock. What was the matter with Dottie?
     I learned over coffee the next morning that Dottie took a dim view of all things pertaining to boats and the open ocean. An afternoon’s sail within hailing distance of terra firma provided all the excitement her nervous system could handle. I had a critical mission to fulfill: I must persuade Dottie that an overnight cruise on a yacht would be more of a treat than a trauma. 

       Dottie and I stepped aboard the Witch-Way and into the saloon. (According to Webster, a saloon can be “a large cabin on ship-board,” as well as a place to beware of.) While our husbands were heaving luggage and cartons through the companionway, we went on a tour. The master stateroom had built-in hanging lockers, mirrored bulkheads, and a private shower. A companion-way led aft to the shore-side equivalent of a back piazza where a couple might sit of an evening under their lucky stars. The guest stateroom was equally spacious.
     Early Sunday morning, Ray and Ed hopped out of their bunks, took a look at the weather, and hopped back in again. A thick gray mist had rolled in during the night and settled over the harbor.
I MANAGED TO CONVINCE DOTTIE WE SHOULD GO.
     When we set out later, the fog hovered impassively in the distance, as if to let us know we were under surveillance. No sooner did we clear the breakwater than our enemy closed in, shrouding us in an unearthly gloom.
     Ray cut the engine speed to 2000 rpm. This was 2000 rpm too fast in my opinion. There's no creepier sensation in the world than thrusting blindly through a fog into the unknown. You wonder if you are on course. You wonder if there are other boats nearby. The sound of your own craft’s fog signal blasting the eerie silence makes you nearly leap from your sneakers.
     “Hey, Captain,” I said uneasily, “aren’t we going a little fast?”
     “Yes,” Dottie chimed in. “Isn’t this like being on a plane—if you see the other plane coming, it’s too late?”
     “Now girls, take it easy,” said Captain Remick. “If there are any other boats out here, they’ll be blowing their signals every two minutes just as we are. We’ll hear them coming before we see them.”
     “Suppose what’s coming is a rock or a lighthouse or something?” I said. “All you’ll hear is a big fat crash.”
     “There isn’t a thing ahead of us between here and Sandy Hook. We couldn’t get into trouble if we tried. Let’s show the girls the chart, Ed.”
      “Here we are, right about here." Ray said. "We’re heading north, following a course parallel to the coast. There are no obstacles for us to bump into except—let’s see—how about these two piers at Atlantic City? We’ll have to watch for them.  The big one is the Steel Pier. Juts out half a mile. As long as we keep well away from the shore, we have nothing to worry about.”
     We picked up the Hereford Inlet Buoy, six miles from Cape May, but it was more than 28 miles to the marker off Atlantic City—28 miles of dead reckoning through pea-soup fog.
"WE HAVE NOTHING TO WORRY ABOUT."
    What happened was really no one’s fault. If the fellows had realized the automatic pilot was out of kilter and pulling us slightly to port with every mile, they could have steered by hand. If the depth finder had been operating, Ray would have noticed the water getting shallower as we neared Atlantic City. If the Radio Direction Finder had been more cooperative, Ray would have learned we were off course.
     A little after 2:00 p.m. the captain picked up the portable R.D.F. and fiddled expertly with the knobs. He shook it and cradled it close to his ear. “Shh, wait—I think I have something.” He listened intently and then pointed through the murk. “The Atlantic City Radio Station,” he announced, “is right over there.”
     Ed and Ray saw the breakers simultaneously. Their eyes bugged out and they uttered a series of gurgling noises as they bumped into each other in a race to the wheel. Ed got there first and spun it hard to starboard. Opening the throttles, he began putting as much distance between us and the breakers as he could without wings.
     Minutes later the fog begins to lift. The shrouded buildings along the shore commenced a dignified strip tease, revealing a chimney here, a gable there. Less than a quarter mile astern, we perceived the outline of a large black metal structure extending into the water from shore.
     “Must be the Steel Pier,” Ray said. “Phew! We just missed it! Keep her headed east, Ed.”
     “Ray, old buddy,” Ed said a moment later, “if that’s the Steel Pier in back of us, what do we have here?”
     Ahead, enveloped in mist, was another enormous black structure, twice as long as the first one.
     “The place is lousy with piers!” Ray spluttered. “Hard right rudder, Ed!”
     The fog was dispersing with dramatic rapidity, and the sun was setting as we passed Sandy Hook and entered New York Harbor. Ray didn’t slow down one jot as we joined the confusing mass of traffic. When Dottie and I politely suggested that it might be prudent to decrease our speed, Ray politely suggested that we go below and take a nap.
     Captain Remick stood at the helm while Ed crouched on the deck at his feet, figuring our course with the aid of a flashlight. If we had been going dead slow, I would have seen less madness in their method. At 2000 rpm it was like being on a runaway bus with a lunatic at the wheel shouting repeatedly, “Now which way, now which way?” to a flustered passenger with a road map.
     I had to keep reminding myself that no one had entreated me on bended knee to come along on this bus ride.
      “Which way now, Ed?” Ray shouted urgently.
      “We’re looking for Romer Shoal!” Ed shouted with the same urgency. “Watch for a Group Flashing 2 on the starboard side. We ought to see it any minute now.”
     Dottie and I strained our eyes, searching for the light, trying to distinguish it from 40,000 other lights glowing in the dark—red, blue, green, white—some stationary, some flashing, some attached to other boats progressing through the harbor.
     “Better not get too close to it,” Ed warned. “It shows four feet, but let’s not test it.”
     “Don’t see it, don’t see it!” Ray said, craning his neck. “Whoops, we just passed it. Which way now, Ed?”
     The traffic situation became acute; the East River swarmed with ferries and barges.
     “Whaddya think, Ed, should we leave Blackwell’s Island to port or starboard?” At that moment, a dazzling array of lights appeared in front of us.
     “Looks like a floating Christmas tree,” said Ed.
     “Never mind the poetry, which way do I go?”
     “With all those lights, there must be two boats, Ray. Looks like they’re coming right for us.”
     “Let’s go between them,” Ray said. His attempt to go between them was greeted by a hysterical blast from the Christmas tree, which we now perceived was a tug, bearing railroad-car floats on either side. Witch Way swerved abruptly, but we passed close enough to the tug to catch the Captain’s incredulous expression.
     We spent the night in a marina. After breakfast the next morning, Ray snapped a picture of Ed, looking self consciously at Dottie's coffee pot. He knew from experience that he might show up in a boating article by his  first mate.
                     
                               IS THAT A COFFEEPOT I SEE BEFORE ME?

     Then Ray went below for a nap, leaving Dottie and me at the helm. Ed stretched out on the cushioned bench and pulled his cap down over his eyes.
       There was something therapeutic about being on a boat. I could feel the pressures of everyday problems and worries draining away from me; I emptied my mind of everything except enjoyment of the sea, the sky, the soft spring breeze.
       "Do you smell something burning?" Dottie asked.
       At that moment, Ray came bounding up the companionway. He shook Ed awake. “One of the engines sounds funny, Ed, will you take a look at it?”
     Ed was already halfway down to the engine room. He flung open the companionway leading to the galley and a cloud of smoke billowed out from the engine room.
     “Shut off the starboard engine!” he shouted.
     At this crucial hour I didn’t lose my head. “Take the wheel, Dottie,” I said, grabbing the camera.
     Hovering in the doorway I took movies and dodged the furniture our grim-faced husbands were heaving up on the bridge. Ed kicked the rug out of the way, and smoke seeped through the cracks in the hatches. He knelt down to raise the hatch over the starboard engine, then hesitated. “It may burst into flames when the air hits it,” he said.
     Ray snatched up the CO2 extinguisher, removed the pin, and stood tensely prepared.  Fire! Would the extinguisher work? Would it be adequate? As Ed flipped open the hatch, a black cloud mushroomed into his face and a stream of CO2 whooshed into his left ear. Ray had gripped the handle of the extinguisher just firmly enough to give his buddy a shampoo.
     Late in the afternoon we cruised out of Cape Cod Canal and swung into Cape Cod Bay on the final leg of our 445-mile voyage to Cohasset. A cold east wind had come up; the bay was choppy, the skies overcast.
     Off Marshfield, an hour short of our destination, the engines began to falter. It was drizzling now and once again we were trailed by our old enemy, fog. Witch Way tossed fretfully in the rough seas.
     “I hate to tell you this, Ray,” said Ed, “but those engines are starving for gas.”
     “They can’t be!” Ray said, reaching for his computer. “We have at least 60 gallons left and we’re using only twenty-two an hour!”
     “Take a look at those tachometers and listen to those engines. They must be losing gas as the boat rolls from side to side.”
     Morosely, Ray pulled at one ear and reflected. The chances were probably a hundred to one we could make it to Cohasset with gasoline to spare. On the other hand, if the engines did happen to quit altogether, we’d be in a pretty kettle of fish, Ollie. Wouldn’t we be a glorious sight limping into Cohasset behind some eager-beaver kid from the Coast Guard. Captain Remick shuddered.
     We groped our way into Scituate Harbor and gassed up. As if in recognition of our ultimate victory, the fog retreated sulkily. Three quarters of an hour later, Witch Way steamed triumphantly into our home port.
     When we were packed and ready to leave the boat, Ray and Ed lowered Witch Way’s dinghy (By Broom) from its davits and guided it over to the boarding ladder. Hop in, Ray said, giving us a hand. What he should have given us was the plug to the dinghy’s drain.
     “See what I mean about boats?” Dottie said, as water poured over the gunwale.

     In addition to writing in the Log, another of my responsibilities as First Mate was to take movies of any action and to be sure not to run out of film. To do so was to incur a stern reproach from her captain.
     On one occasion, all the Log-worthy excitement took place in Nantucket Harbor, a favorite destination. We were there for the third season with Jayne and Blake Thaxter. . .
August 1958 
     Bought groceries, returned to the Happy Days. Changed into our fancy duds, the fellows looking natty in their Madras jackets. Had cocktails—and suddenly it was almost eight. Since the Yacht Club launch service ended at 10:00, it was time to go ashore for dinner. Ed said two or three times that someone ought to put the “T” flag up to signal the launch, but Blake just sat in the cabin reading his book. He doubtless figured the launch had already received our message, since we had blown the horn a number of times and waved. This procedure wasn’t official enough for Captain Malley. When Blake didn't take the hint, he hurried out to the bow to put the flag up himself.
     I was below getting a sweater when I heard a noise I couldn’t identify. Then Jayne explained in a matter-of-fact voice: “Barbara, Ed fell overboard.” The noise, I realized, was a splash. Jayne and Blake rushed out to the cockpit to make sure Ed was all right; I rushed to get the movie camera. I wasn’t on the scene in time to film his first emergence, when he came up spewing water and snapping instructions: “Get the ladder! No! No! Not this side, the other side!” Then he disappeared.
     He told us later he was so anxious not to be seen by the approaching launch that he considered diving under the boat instead of swimming around it to the ladder. On second thought, he might get trapped under there and drown. Then again, maybe drowning was preferable to being seen swimming in Nantucket Harbor in his Madras jacket. Deciding to make for the bow of the boat as fast as he could, he launched into an American crawl. Seeing his colorfully clad arms thrusting through the air, he was sure everyone in the harbor could see them, too. He took a deep breath and dove underwater.
     Meanwhile Blake hung the ladder to port, instructed Jayne to signal the launch that we’d changed our minds; then, cracking up, staggered toward the steps of the deck-house.
     “Out of my way!” I said, colliding with him in the doorway. I stood on the starboard side of the cockpit, adjusted the camera, and waited for the captain to make his reappearance. Jayne was semaphoring to the launch, which was approaching with a load of passengers.
     “No, no!” she called, waving her arms and shaking her head. “Next trip!”
     No sign of Ed. I became concerned because it was getting dark.  I was afraid the movies would be under-exposed. I walked over to the ladder and peered into the water. At that moment Ed’s head popped up. “I was never so embarrassed in all my—” Spotting the camera he ducked under again.
     I returned to my post and waited. Naturally the last thing my husband wanted to see was a camera, but someday we’d all have a good laugh over the movies. Ed caught me off guard, though, when he suddenly scrambled over the side of the boat and crashed to the floor on all fours. He scuttled past me like a giant crab and scurried down to the deck-house, where Blake had yet to recover from his paroxysms. He raised his head, laughing and gasping, and saw his buddy crawling through the doorway, sputtering: “Clear the way! I’m coming through!”
     Blake doubled up again, and this time Jayne and I joined him. Ed, however, was still taking the matter with dead seriousness. “Absolutely the worst blunder a skipper can make!” he moaned, starting to peel off his dripping clothing. “Completely unforgivable! We’ll never be able to come to Nantucket again!”
     If you could have seen your face!” Blake managed to gasp. “When you were going through the air, arms flailing, in a sitting position—”
     “Did you actually see it happen?” Jayne asked.
     “Every nanosecond,” Blake said. “I happened to be looking through the Venetian blinds as Ed was sidling by carrying the flag. One second later I see him leaning backwards, the next second he’s making a wild grab for the boat, and then—oh, Ed, the expression on your face!”
     We three dry ones broke up again. The Captain, the kind of chap who believes in keeping his dignity when all about him are losing theirs, said he hoped we were having fun.
     “And then when I saw you coming through enemy lines. . .” Blake said, wiping away tears.
     The situation plainly called for another drink. When the launch boy came to collect us, we kept peeking at him to see if his manner betrayed any awareness of our recent aquabatics. Either he missed the show or he was a very tactful young man.
Friday, August 29, 1958, Cohasset to Gloucester
     Hurricane Daisy did her contrary female darndest to foul up our Labor Day cruise with the Marshes. According to the forecast she was going to be violent, so Thursday night the Yacht Club swarmed with boat owners battening down their property. She would peak at noon, but Ed said before he left for work that he doubted the seas would calm down much before Monday. It was depressing because I’d never felt more like getting away from it all, and I knew Marion and Wes felt the same way. Daisy came and went on schedule but didn’t amount to much—Timmy was furious; and Vonnie, who practically spent the night at the Yacht Club in order to be at the scene of the havoc, came home sputtering insults at the weather man.
     Called Ed around two, told him it didn’t look very rough to me. Well, Ed allowed, maybe we could start tomorrow around eleven. Called Marion, relayed message. At four o’clock called Ed again, told him it looked flat out there, couldn’t we at least go to Scituate?
      We left the harbor at 6:50. It was such a lovely evening that Ed suggested we run on over to Gloucester. There was some sea-swell to remind us of Daisy’s visit, but not enough to deter us.
     Arrived Gloucester at 9:20, two and a half hours later. Warmed up baked ham, browned frozen potato patties, heated corn on the cob left from children’s dinner. If we’d gone to bed right after dinner it would have been the end of a perfect day—but dull.
      My husband and I had a lively little—well not an argument exactly, it was more like a fight—about his drinking. I carried on like Carrie Nation herself, wanting to know why he always had to guzzle two drinks for everyone else’s one. Ed’s response was that he was going to divorce me but would put off the action in order not to spoil the Marshes’ trip.
     We called the house to let the family know we’d arrived safely. Timmy came on the line and I went through an involved explanation about saying “over” whenever you were through speaking.
     “I’m through now,” I said, “and when I say `over,’ it will be your turn to talk. Over.”
     There was a brief silence, then, “Over,” said Timmy.
Saturday, August 30, 1958, Gloucester
     Up at nine, with Marion preparing a hearty breakfast of bacon, eggs, and coffeecake. Ed was in a forgiving mood and announced I could breathe easy about the divorce, he was going to give me one more chance. Sob. (That’s a sigh of relief, not an abbreviated description of my husband)
     We couldn’t make up our minds whether to go ashore and then fish, or fish and then go ashore. It was a case of “I want to do what everyone else wants to do,” or “You decide, you’re the Skipper,” or “You decide, you’re the guests.” Finally Ed mumbled something about going ashore, so Marion and I went below to change into our going-ashore clothes. No sooner had we presented ourselves than Ed said, “Guess we’ll go fishing, this good weather might not hold.”
     Went out to the Stellwagon Ledge and found it a-bustle with dozens of sport fishermen. During the several hours we trolled, only one boat hauled in a fish. Listening to the ship-to-shore radio, the fellows learned that tuna had appeared in droves just outside Gloucester Harbor, of all places. So we raced back, along with several other boats who also had their radios on. We spotted a school of the elusive creatures—or at least Ed and Wes did; Marion and I were busy reading. Surprising as it may seem, we didn’t hook a single one.
    Charcoal-broiled a roast-beef sized porterhouse steak, retired at 9:00.
August 31, 1958, Gloucester
     After our good night’s sleep we were up at the crack of 8:30, lured from our bunks by the aroma of frying sausages. Marion was on the job, preparing another sumptuous breakfast. The tolling bell that had interrupted our slumbers for several hours was not calling the faithful to church, as we thought, but clanging a monotonous warning: fog. This gave Ed the excuse he needed to postpone the fishing and read the Sunday papers.
     In addition to picking up the papers, Marion was bound we would have lobster for lunch. Wes ferried her ashore, then came back for Ed and me. As we approached the dock, I could hear the bus droning toward its final stop at Rocky Neck and told Ed he'd better make it snappy. I leaped from the dinghy, raced up the gangway over a painted sign that said “Do not run,” and out to the street. There was the bus, but where was Marion? It seemed she was standing directly across the street behind the bus, and by the time it started up again, Wes, Ed, and I were walking in the general direction of Gloucester. We figured Marion might have ambled along to see Mr. Wilkins’s famous rose garden. When we didn’t find her there, we walked back to the dock and there she was, patiently waiting for us.
     Were able to buy papers and provisions at the corner store instead of waiting for next bus to Gloucester. As for the lobster, Wes had noticed a wholesale place not far from where the boat was anchored.  He dropped us off and returned half an hour later with a steaming bag of hot boiled lobsters and a quart of fresh clams.
      I dumped the lobsters into the sink and gaped at Wes’s extravagance—eight of them.
     “We’ll put four in the ice box and have them cold tomorrow,” I decreed.
     Marion gave me a look but said nothing. She washed the clams and dropped them into boiling water. We gathered in the cockpit to tackle the lobsters and after sampling the first few morsels, dripping with butter, I said, “Maybe we can handle two apiece at that.”
     Marion laughed. “I was thinking the very same thing but couldn't think how to say tactfully, `That cheap-skate, Barbara.’”
     We polished off seven of the lobsters and all the clams. The eighth lobster was Ed’s, who said he was still on a diet. At 2:00, the captain headed out to sea. It was rough, small craft warnings were up, so he decided we’d be a lot more comfortable back in the harbor, reading our books.
     Had ham sandwiches for supper, watched TV until 9:30. Called the house, Kathie was worn out from arbitrating disputes between Vonnie and Timmy, but didn’t have any serious complaints. Ted, although he failed to confide where he was going, came in at a reasonable hour every night, she said.
      I wished I knew what the right attitude was with a sixteen-year-old boy. Should a parent insist on knowing these things, thus indicating a lack of trust—or what the teenager regards as plain nosiness? Or should we cross our fingers and hope—hope we wouldn’t wake up some morning to headlines about scandalous orgies, our son among the participants. Maybe by the time Tim reached this age, we’d have a better of idea of what to do.
    Marion said if she had it all to do over again, she wouldn’t knock herself out worrying.
Monday, September 1, 1958, Gloucester to Cohasset
     The wind had gone down but the fog rolled in as we were having breakfast. It was clear again by 9:30, so Captain Malley decided we’d head for Cohasset while the weather was cooperative.
     10:30—correction: I thought we were heading for home but instead, we’re on our way to the Stellwagon Ledge. Marion and I picked the meat out of our remaining lobster (note that Ed’s lobster was now “ours”) and then settled down in the deckhouse with our books, as it was too cold to go up to the flying bridge. A little before noon Marion and I began to hanker for that seafood treat. Ed said he didn’t want any lunch, not one bite, but when I handed up a hamburger and a half, telling him the half was for him, he hollered down, “Where are the onions?”
     Marion prepared two huge salads: escarole, chicory, celery, Bermuda onion, crowned with a sizable mound of lobster meat. We were just digging in when Marion said, “Oh-oh, here comes Ed!” and covered her plate with her napkin.
     “Just as I thought!” Ed said. “Look at you! Doesn’t your conscience bother you?”
     “Not a bit,” I said, as he helped himself to some of my salad but had the good sense to stay clear of the lobster.
     At that moment there were yells from Wes up on the flying bridge. The line was zipping out from one of the reels and there was no further talk of lunch. It was a timely interruption, as I had been girding myself to defend my lobster with my life.
     After putting my salad in a safe place (me), I helped Ed lower the dinghy to get it out of the way. The rod, which was in one of the topside sockets, was gingerly transferred by the captain to the swiveling rod-holder in the fishing chair below. Wes sat down and began reeling.
     An hour later he was still battling his tuna. The Browns cruised by and congratulated us with a hands-clenched-overhead gesture.
     “That’s one thing about Eddie,” Marion said, “he’s always so generous about sharing his luck with his friends. Isn’t he wonderful to let Wes be the one to catch the tuna?”
     I looked at Wes, who was stripped to the waist, sweating and groaning over his labors.  It didn't look like a lot of fun to me.
     Suddenly we saw a spectacular sight in the distance: several tremendous fish leaping out of the water, then slamming down with a cascading splash of such dimensions, it was like the Fourth of July all over again. Time after time they surged into the air, poised for a moment on their tails, then crashed into the sea again. At first we thought they were huge tuna, but Ed said they were whales. Other skippers, unencumbered by a tuna on the line off the stern, rushed over to view the sight at closer quarters, and judging by their exchanges over the radio, those big dancing fish were indeed whales.
     After more than two hours of playing tug-of-war with his catch, Wes began to tire not only of the tuna, but also of the way the Skipper was maneuvering the boat (all wrong), also of his wife (she suggested Ed take over for awhile, and Wes told her to stay in the cabin and be quiet), and even poor little me. All I did was keep asking him questions in order to have a complete and authentic account of this historic occasion in the Log.
      “Don’t back up!” Wes would roar at Ed. “You ruin me every time you back up!” Then, “Don’t go ahead so fast!” “Hard right rudder!” “Get the gaff!” (Only it sounded like “Gurbligab!”) Then, “Never mind, the s. o. b..took off again!” Zip, zip, zip, out spun inch after inch of hard-won line.
     I might mention here that, worse luck, we used up the last of the movie film yesterday—on something asinine, too, the platter of boiled lobsters.
     Three hours after Wes first commenced his fight, catastrophe! A foot and a half length broke off from the end of the rod, making it impossible to fight the fish. Wes was too bushed to struggle with the mutilated equipment, so he passed the rod to Ed and stood for a moment, shaking with exhaustion. But he wasn’t allowed to rest for long. “Quick, Wes, hard right rudder!” and the battle was joined again.
     The tuna had developed a zigzagging technique that required a real master at the wheel to keep the line in back of our stern. Wes hadn’t had the experience of handling the controls under these circumstances, but there was someone on board who had. I was topside (it was warm out now) reading my book and keeping my mouth shut. Both men had the same inspiration at the same time, and shouted, “Come on down and take over!”
     Since I was stuck with the job I figured I might as well try to do well at it, so first of all I made one thing clear:  Don't give me any of this “starboard” and “port” business. "If you want me to turn right, just come out and say so without getting nautical about it."
      The only time I goofed was when Ed yelled, “Quick! Turn hard to the left.” I pushed up the throttle, and nothing happened except a roaring of the engines.  Ed yelled, “You’ve got it in neutral!”
     After a while, more bad luck. The remaining guide tore off from what was left of the rod, and Ed found himself with nothing to work with except line and reel. At the end he was reduced to pulling the fish in by hand (wearing gloves) while Wes reeled. If our quarry had made one last major effort he could easily have broken the line at this point; but fortunately—in our eyes, at least—he was too tuckered out to do much besides zigzag back and forth on the gradually shortening line.
     At last the leader came into sight. Wes grabbed the gaff as Ed reached out for the wire leader.
     “Are you ready, Wes?” Ed asked tensely.
     Wes was ready, and the noble tuna was doomed. The men hauled the wildly thrashing chunky creature aboard and we all set up a cheer, although I was privately feeling sorry for the fish, as I always do, even if it’s a mackerel. Reading my mind, Ed said it wasn’t too late to let it go if it wasn’t too badly gaffed, so we hung it in the water with a line tied around its tail. The idea was, if it revived, we would free it. The poor creature was done for, though.  Alden Pinkham came alongside, and his son Warren took pictures of Wes and Ed with their catch. Then Ed gave the fish to Alden to give to the Scituate Coastguard rather than waste it, and Alden called that he would slice off a couple of steaks for our freezer before relinquishing it to the Coastguard.

                                                                   
     “Never mind the steaks!” called Marion, “just see that we get copies of those snapshots!
     On the way back to Cohasset we passed two schools of tuna. “I wouldn’t give you a nickel for either one,” said Wes.

No comments:

Post a Comment