Blue Water Blues

James R. Muri

1. Crew Selection

   I'd given up.

   My ad in 48 Degrees North for crew to help me deliver my newly-inherited sixty-three foot ultra tech cruising cat to American Samoa had brought plenty of applicants.

   Wanted: One crew to assist in delivery of high-tech yacht to American Samoa. Leave soon. Responsibilities: cooking, cleaning, general watch standing, general assistance. Sailing experience a plus, but not required for the right applicant with the right attitude. No applicants with cruise-threatening medical problems or personal baggage, please. See Skipper on his yacht at slip A-21, Tacoma Marina. Drop-in interviews only.

    So who showed up? Druggies, juicers, people looking for an escape from the law, cruddy drifters, suspicious-looking guys who eyed the cat with lust in their eyes, slobs looking for a vacation. Day in, day out I'd promised to get back with them. But I hadn't.

   As I said, I'd given up. I'd decided to take the cat single-handed. Not impossible at all, of course, as the boat was fully equipped with hydraulic winches, electrically furling sails, huge fuel reserves for its twin turbo-powered Yanmars, and all the electronic nav goodies. The boat's entertainment system had been freshly stocked with fifty movies that I hadn't seen. Nice library of classic books I hadn't read. No problem. Of course, I wouldn't get much sleep either, since I'd have to limit myself to fifteen-minute snatches of sleep interrupted by a minute of looking around for stray ships, all the way across the Pacific. I'd done that for shorter crossings, and my body had adapted okay. But then I had to re-adapt after making landfall, which didn't go quite so well.

   So I stretched out in the captain's stateroom that early June afternoon, hatch open for the cool breeze, and took a nap.

    You may ask what my wife thought of this weird adventure, or why she didn't leap forward to take that vacant crew slot. Easy: I didn't have one. She'd gone her own way two years earlier, having dazzled one of her college students sufficiently that he, in turn, dazzled her, a woman ten years his senior.

   Good luck to them both, I thought with false sincerity. They'll both need it.

   Buddies? Friends? I had plenty of both. But none of them had three or four months to spare. So there I was, asleep on my bunk, when a knock on the boat woke me.

   "Hello? Is anyone here?"

   A feminine voice, I instantly recognized as I surfaced out of my doleful slumber. "Yes. I'll be right out." Jerking myself back into my shorts and "Skip the Puyallup, Do Me Instead" T-shirt, I emerged on deck.

   For an instant I stopped breathing. An angel had descended to stand next to the cat. An angel in soft, blonde hair, brilliant blue eyes, and starched white short-sleeve button-up shirt with white shorts that almost qualified as bun-huggers. Long, lithe legs. Narrow waist, sweetly demure but obvious breasts. Barefoot, white sandals dangling from her left hand, white purse hanging from a strap over her shoulder. I guessed her age at late teens, her height at five-eight, weight maybe one-twenty. A young boy stood alongside her, holding her hand.

   During the interval between our meeting and my breath returning we took the opportunity to size each other up. She didn't look impressed. And no wonder. Two days' worth of black stubble coarsened up my already coarse face. My hair needed a trim a month earlier. And of course, my attire - informal, and my hygiene - limited.

   "I'm the skipper," I informed her when sufficient breath had made its way into my lungs.

   She held up a copy of 48 Degrees North. "Is this crew position still open?"

   So I had a fairy godmother after all, I thought. "Yes."

   "Are there any - conditions?"

   "Just that you're willing to work and learn, you don't have any medical conditions that will imperil the crossing, and that you don't bring any personal - uh, issues - with you. You'll need the usual travel documents. Have you ever sailed before?"

   "A little," she declared, squinting up at me.

   I realized that I stood between her and the sun. "Please. Come aboard." I reached down and offered her a hand. She declined it, instead stepping up the boarding ladder and taking a seat in the cockpit. The young boy - ten? - grinned and scampered aboard, his head swiveling in a vain effort to see everything at once.

   "Wow," he said, climbing up into the helmsman's seat. He grabbed the wheel. "Is it fast?"

   I almost laughed. The boat had been six years in the making, a joint effort between myself and my lifelong buddy. He'd developed a name in yachting circles as a cutting-edge designer, and he'd employed me as his hydrodynamic engineer, a role I fit well because I did it for a living for a major aerospace firm which shall go nameless. And then he'd died during a winter race, hit in the head by an accidentally gibing boom on a friend's boat during a hotly contested mark rounding, and knocked overboard. The autopsy showed he hadn't drowned, he'd been killed outright.

   His grieving widow simply gave me the boat. "It's yours," she said. "You and he designed it. He'd want you to have it."

   A boat worth close to a million, I thought dazedly. So I sold it to a buyer in American Samoa, on the condition that I first complete building it, then deliver it.

   "Yes," I told the kid. "It's either fast or very fast, depending on how the skipper chooses to tweak the underwater fins and foils and so on."

   "How fast?" he asked, all eagerness and enthusiasm.

   "Twenty-five knots ought to be doable in the trades," I told him. "Faster if necessary."

   He frowned. "That's all? I go faster than that on my bike!"

   The woman shushed him, then introduced herself. "Cherry Treat," she said, holding out her hand. Her eyes waited for my comment.

   I decided to skip the obvious jokes and took her hand for a single shake. "Pleased to meet you, Ma'am. Skipper Randy Haller. Most call me 'Hoop'n', or just 'Hoop'.

   "What should I call you?" she asked, showing no sign of understanding my nicknames.


   "Okay. And this is my - son, Timmy."

   "I'm Tim," the young boy insisted. "Timmy is a sissy name."

   "Hi, Tim," I said. Then I turned to his mother. Couldn't be, I decided. Far too young to be his mother. However, she didn't seem the type to like the 'you're much too young' sort of compliment, so I let that thought slide. "Does he have travel documents too?"

   She reached into her small purse and held out two passports. "Look for yourself," she offered.

   I declined. "Never mind. I'm not the one you'll have to satisfy. Are you serious about wanting to crew?"

   "Yes. I don't get seasick, I can handle a winch, I understand the basics."

   "The winches are all hydraulic," I told her. I looked at Timmy. "And are you wanting Tim to join you on this trip?"

   She nodded. "Of course."

   "But shouldn't he be in school?"

   "He's been home-schooled. Do you have a computer on board?"

   "Several," I said, knowing where she was headed.

   "Well, I have schooling software. I'll teach him along with my other duties, if that is okay with you."

   "It is if your husband isn't an issue, and you can you cook."

   For a second she hesitated. "My husband is not an issue, and I can cook. Do we have a cabin?"

   "The entire starboard amah is yours," I said. "There are double staterooms fore and aft in it, complete with desks, hanging lockers, dresser drawers, and you each have a full lavatory with a shower."

   She smiled at that. The already bright day became incandescent. "When do we leave?"

   So, she'd decided to allow me to employ her as crew. Okay by me, I thought, realizing that she'd interviewed me at least as thoroughly as I'd interviewed her. "I have to lay in the food supplies and make a few adjustments to some of the hardware on the boat, so I think about three days from now we'll pull out. Will that be enough time for you?"

   "Yes. In fact, why don't I start immediately? Give me your food list and I'll shop for it all. You do what you have to do to the boat."

   I had to confess that I didn't have a list, that my usual shopping technique involved going up one aisle of the supermarket and down another until I decided I had enough food.

   "Then let me worry about the menu. How much refrigeration do you have aboard?"

   "About twenty cubic feet," I told her, impressed. "Half of that is deep freeze."

   "Then you get to work, and I'll get to work. Do you have cash, or should I just charge the food?"

   I gave her ten one-hundred dollar bills. Part of me warned the other part of me that I'd never see her again. "Trip should take about a month. Provision for two. Stock mostly non-perishables."

   "Okay. I'll be back in a couple hours," she said. "Would you mind watching Timmy? Maybe he could give you a hand. What do you like to eat?"

   "We won't need seafood," I assured her, eyeing the enthusiastic rascal suspiciously.

   "I know what a crescent wrench is," he bragged as he turned the wheel. His mother climbed down the boarding ladder, cast one more look over her shoulder at us, and walked away.

   I had to watch. Wow. Liquid poetry. Male heads popped up from various nearby boats.

   Take it easy, Hoop. It's going to be a long trip. And she's much too young. I turned to Tim. "Do you know what a cotter ring is?"

   "No, sir."

   "Well, let me show you. And then you have a job to do."