Setting A Course
The coast of Maine can be quite chilling in October. Rich erected the canvass side walls of the wheel house and attached the canvass top. He eased into the galley careful not to make any sort of sound that might disturb Salty. He heated a pot of water. He made a sandwich from spam fried the day before. With the water hot, he poured it into a cup and stirred in a couple of spoonfuls of instant coffee.
With the helm now inclosed the cold was more bearable. He eased himself with food and a warm drink.
His thoughts turned to the rationale. “How long will White and his brood look for me and to what extent? I happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. They had weapons and counterfeit plates. Will they search for me for what I know? I only know fragments. Will they search for me because of the plates? They are at the bottom of the sea.”
The relenting course continued into the dark waters. It was a course to nowhere, only darkness; a course Rich knew he would follow for many nights and days to come.
The strong coffee and sandwich completed its purpose. Vigorous eyes and a sharp mind sailed The Odyssey now. However, Rich knew he would eventually need sleep.
He contemplated the distinction. It was only a crude outline in his mind, dashed lines and loops like loose rope strung from port to port. He never spoke to anyone with any degree of certainty what course he would decide upon. The only clue was a bobbing crate that might or might not be seen, reported to the Coast Guard, and that report had to find its way to Smithson’s desk or be provided to The Beacon as a human interest story.
To the port side a glow beyond the horizon made its debut. Starboard remained dark and mysterious. The sea splashed around and above the bow.
Rich checked the time on the clock that set in the steering housing. It was set to Eastern Standard; 5:17. He glanced at the compass next to the clock; it read about 190 degrees. “That’s good,” Rich whispered. Without an exhaustive reading Rich reckoned to be at least 45 miles off shore and south of Portland.
“I’ll hold this course until Salty wakes,” Rich said to himself and continued a steady course.
After a half hour Rich stepped below to the chart table and flicked on the small overhead light. A quick calculation indicated he might be about 20 to 22 miles off the coast of Cape Cod when the sunsets. He pushed his finger ahead on the chart to Nantucket Island. “Might Salty want to go ashore there?” Rich thought. “How many consecutive days at sea can an old man take?” Rich smiled. “Probably more than me.”
The sun moved above the horizon and the seas stirred up 10 footers. Rich stepped into the cabin and swayed to the forward cabin to check on Salty. He was nestled in his bunk like a baby heaving snores that could compete with a foghorn.
On the way back to the helm Rich stopped at the chart table and made a quick calculation. They were likely now 60 miles off the coast of Massachusetts.
A half hour later Salty appeared from the forward births refreshed and smiling.
“Coffee, mate?” Salty said.
“Nah,” Rich said, “Fix yourself some. I got some eggs and bacon in the galley. Have some breakfast.”
Salty rummaged around in the galley and made breakfast for himself and ate alone in the cabin. He cleaned up and joined Rich on deck.
“You need some rest, mate,” Salty said.
“Can you take the helm?” Rich said.
“Sure,” Salty said, “What’s your heading?”
“190,” Rich said. “How long can you stay at sea?”
“Never gave it any thought,” Salty said. “What have you got in mind?”
“I was thinking Cape May or Nags Head,” Rich said. “Five to seven days.”
“You’re the captain,” Salty said.
“I’ll sleep on it,” Rich said. “Wake me in eight hours; that will put us almost past Cape Cod about twenty miles off shore.”
Rich took a step down the companionway. He stopped and turned to Salty. He pointed to a knotted line that ran through a small hole. “This leads to a bell in the forward quarters; give it a tug if something comes up.”
Rich didn’t remember falling asleep, only waking up.
He swayed through the cabin and stopped at the galley to splash his face with water. He climbed up the companionway. Salty was gone!
A dread gripped him; a vision of Salty falling overboard and beating the waters until he was swallowed by the sea. Rich dropped his head. “I should have sailed past by Monhegan.” He wondered how long Salty had been gone.
Rich looked up at the sails full of wind and dropped his eyes to the bow and sea ahead.
“Salty!” Rich called.
Salty sat on the bow of the boat leaning against the dinghy with his hands laced behind his head.
Salty turned around. “It’s about time you woke up.”
“Salty,” Rich said. “I thought you fell overboard.”
“And you’d been sleein’ so long I was about to wrap you in canvas, say some words from the good book and commit you to the deep,” Salty said.
Salty eased to his feet and made his way to the helm by steadying himself with his hands against the boat.
“Have you taken any readings lately?” Rich asked.
“Nah,” Salty said, “just made sure she holds a steady 190.”
Rich grabbed the sextant from the cabin, took a reading, and checked the chronometer on the chart table. He checked his figures with the tables and charts and went back on deck.
“If we adjust our course in an hour to 240 that will put us at Cape May, New Jersey in almost three days,” Rich said and added. “That’s if the wind and weather holds.”
“You got a radio?” Salty said.
“Yeah,” Rich said. “I suppose it would be good to check the weather, but is Cape May good with you.”
“Never been there,” Salty said. “You’re the captain.”
“We could set a 255 or 60 and sail into New York harbor,” Rich joked.
“I’d sooner swim back to Monhegan,” Salty said.