Bullying is a phenomena that has long plagued us and it is a theme I explore in this book. I am grateful to Glen Canning who allowed me to dedicate this book to the memory of his daughter Rehtaeh Parsons. Despite the seriousness of the theme, there is much joy and light to be found as this adventure story unfolds. I strive to leave the reader with hope.
Press play to hear chapter one, or scroll down to read.
Shortening sail: reducing sail surface to maintain a boat’s stability in high winds by furling a jib (rolling it upon itself), or shortening a mainsail by lowering it and tying down one or more of the rows of reef lines.
“Do you think he’s dead?” asked Will, staring at the thirty-seven-foot sloop that sailed through the storm chop, a ghost boat with nobody at her helm.
Harley shrugged. She didn’t know, but it was likely. They’d caught up to the sloop called Blue Water Penthouse ten minutes ago and Harley had let out the storm jib so they could slow down and shadow her. Harley, who had recently repaired a sail for Blue Water Penthouse, had recognised the sloop before they could read the name on her stern.
They yelled across to her empty cockpit and tried to reach her on the ship-to-shore radio. There was no answer other than the wind humming through the rigging as if it were unsure how to answer if her skipper was alive or not.
The ship-to-shore radio crackled from the cabin. “Sweet Surrender, this is Sambro Point Coast Guard. What’s your verdict, Harley? Does Blue Water Penthouse have a skipper? Over.” Sweet Surrender was the two-masted schooner Will and Harley were sailing.
She flashed Will a questioning look. It was the first doubt she’d shared with him since they had left Lunenburg. Harley had a lot of poise for a seventeen-year old.
“I should go aboard and have a look,” said Will. The Coast Guard had said that if someone was on board and hurt, they’d send a rescue boat or a chopper, as soon as one became available. They were quite busy in the aftermath of the storm, which had blown much harder than predicted. The owner on record for the boat was Waldo Watson, the real estate tycoon from Maine. He obviously had expected the strong winds and had shortened sail by furling his jib and foresail, and reefing his main sail too.
“We’re going to keep an eye on the boat, see if we can see him. Over.”
“Right you are, Harley. You and your cousin Will be careful now girl and keep us posted. Thanks for calling it in. Over and out.”
A double pulley the size of a football hung from a line that reached down from the masthead over the far side, and Will and Harley watched it as it bounced off the water, then, when the wind shifted, whistled and clattered around the cockpit.
“If that hit Waldo, he could have been knocked out cold,” Harley said over the hum of the wind. “And if that happened, he could be … anywhere,” she added, staring into the double wakes that floated back toward Lunenburg.
“He could be lying in the bottom of the cockpit,” said Will. “Or he could have crawled down to the cabin and passed out before he could call for help. He could be there now, bleeding.”
Will didn’t tell her about last night’s dream. He didn’t tell her that, lately, his dreams had a habit of coming true. And he didn’t tell her that, in his recent dream, a pulley swung murderously at him, and a face appeared — a skeletal face with eyes closed and teeth showing — waking him with a start. Now, he was seeing that same piece of rigging swinging at the end of a line.
When Harley didn’t answer, he prodded her with, “We need to go aboard and be sure.”
“It’d be very hard in this rough sea. We could fall overboard, or bang into the hull and smash up a boat we don’t own.” But her argument about protecting property wasn’t forceful. Damage to Sweet Surrender, the schooner they were hired to sail to Halifax, wasn’t as worrisome as the risk to the person who was going to jump from one bouncing boat to another. They both eyed the swaying, jittery pulley that seemed to taunt, “Go ahead, just try it.”
The tender towed behind Blue Water Penthouse was a ten-foot Zodiac. It would safely get you from your anchorage to shore but Harley had to steer clear of it as it bounced around with no predictable pattern in the wind.
Harley looked to Will and shrugged her acceptance of the risk.
“I’ll get us as close as possible and you’ll have to jump. Stand on our safety railing and hold on to our stay when I get close,” she said, pointing to one of the stays — the steel cables that, bolted to the hull, kept the mast stable.
Harley started the diesel engine to move into position, then eased the throttle as Sweet Surrender came closer to Blue Water Penthouse. The jump would be risky, but both Will and Harley were wearing orange-red storm suits that not only kept them dry, but would help keep them afloat if they fell in.
Harley edged them closer until the two boats were parallel. Will tightened the Velcro fasteners on his gloves, and then climbed onto the safety railing. He held the stay with both hands.
As soon as he was abreast of the other cockpit, he made a move to step off, but a sudden movement of the ocean pounded the boats together with a bang. Harley threw the throttle in reverse and spun the wheel to starboard, pulling them away to the left, the jib flapping its objection to the change in course. Will’s right foot swung out over the ocean for a moment before he secured his grip and steadied both feet on the safety rail.
Harley tried a second time, inching her hull closer to Blue Water Penthouse whose wheel was tied in place, keeping the boat on a predictable course.
Will could feel his heart pounding and knew he had to make a go of it this time or risk losing his nerve. Despite the spindrift blowing in his face, his throat was dry from the tension. As soon as he was close to the cockpit again, he leapt. Just as he did, a sharp gust of wind caught the sails and straightened Waldo’s boat. Will hit the railing with his forearms instead of his hands. Blue Water Penthouse heeled back over and he grabbed the railing. Harley moved Sweet Surrender away to avoid crushing him between the hulls. Safe, he thought — till he heard Harley scream over the wind.
The pulley flipped off the railing and whipped toward him. He raised his left arm just in time to protect his head. The padding of the foul-weather gear partially absorbed the impact that stung and numbed his left arm. Unable to hold on with only his right hand on the railing, he held his breath as he slid along the hull into the ocean.
His storm suit’s buoyancy kept him from going deep. He popped up to see the back of Waldo’s boat — the stern —as it pulled away from him. The cold water took his breath away but revived the feeling in his bruised arm. Above him were the two lines that towed the Zodiac behind Blue Water Penthouse, but, stretched, the lines were too high to reach. Because the wind-whipped water was blinding him, Harley had gunned the motor in reverse and used her boat as a windbreak for him
He scissor-kicked into the air, grabbed the two lines, and then walked himself hand-over-hand to the Zodiac.
He shrieked. There, dragging at the side of the Zodiac, was Waldo Watson.