Here's another story, and this time it does have some knitting content. It is a true story of an event that happened on one of the knitting cruises I did a few years ago; only the names of the places, people, and boats have been changed (actually, very thinly disguised). It's kind of long, 6700 words, so save it for when you have time to read. :) Hope you like it.
A Saturday twilight filled the September sky as the schooner Josiah Beale ghosted into Sandy Cove. It was the end of another blissful day of the annual Knitting Cruise, and as the resident knitting instructor on board, I was looking forward to a quiet evening, with perhaps some knitting by oil lamps down in the mess room, followed by a quiet drink on deck. As we passed the ledge at the entrance of the cove, Capt. Brenda Miller gave the order to drop the jibs. The deck hands had readied the anchor at the bow, and as the Beale came about, Brenda gave the hand signal to drop the anchor. The chain fell and fell, until finally the anchor hit the bottom with a rattling thump and we were in for the night. Ahead of us lay the lights of Glen Harbor, with the traffic sounds of Route 1 in the distance. To port lay the lights of cottages and houses; to starboard lay a forested shore, and Windameer, the only other schooner in the cove that night. We were at sea, but not too far from civilization.
The anchor had barely settled when a little motor vessel, being driven haphazardly and at far too high a speed, came racing in past the ledges, zipped between the Beale and the Windameer, and headed straight for the rocks ahead. We all watched in horror, sure the movie-like scene would end in a fiery explosion upon the granite rocks, but somehow the daredevil driving the boat managed to swerve about just in time, and zoomed back up the cove toward us. He had turned his lights out when he entered the cove, obviously outrunning, or trying to hide from, somebody. He slowed as he approached the Beale, pulled over close to the shore, and cut the engine.
“What an idiot!” was the consensus among the passengers, who figured it was some kid goofing off. At that moment, the galley crew rang the bell indicating dinner was ready. As I turned to go below, I looked aft over the transom at the view behind us out in the bay. I noticed that there was a long, wide path of light in the darkening northern sky, just above the horizon. Odd, I thought; it didn't seem like Belfast would be close enough to light up the sky like that, but no other town in that direction would be big enough to cause that large a glow. The inviting, spicy aroma of a pork roast helped me dismiss the phenomenon from my mind, and I went to join the feast.
Dinner was wonderful. With full stomachs, and after the day's sun and invigorating sailing, nearly everyone had gone to their bunks by nine o'clock, joking about how tiring their relaxing vacation was. I, however, was damned if I'd go to bed that early, looking forward to the later evening hours when I could be alone on deck, stargazing, with a glass of good scotch in my hand. I sat on deck a while, looking up at the lights around Route 1, listening to the sounds of Rockland, just out of sight, thinking about how weird it was to be so close to such a large town, and yet seem so far away from it. Next to me, the radio crackled softly, bits and pieces of its static-y conversations filling the air. The Coast Guard had been trying all afternoon to make contact with the people aboard a boat called the Puffin, which had run aground near Dead Man's Ledge and at last report was taking on water. They hadn't been heard from since about 3 that afternoon. They must be all right by now, I thought. Bet their day was ruined, though.
Capt. Brenda and Nathaniel, the deck hand, were in the galley, finishing up some wool caps they were knitting I went down to join them. They were just congratulating themselves on their successful completion of some very stylish and warm hats, when Jenny, the first mate, appeared at the top of the companionway, out of breath.
“Brenda, you better get up here. There's a woman yelling on shore, says she needs help, there's someone in the water!”
I never saw anyone go up a companionway as quickly as Brenda did, with Nathaniel close behind. She had gone from giggling knitter to steely-eyed ship captain in a snap, confronting the emergency with no hesitation. As she sped back to the box where flashlights, life preservers, and the radio lay, she yelled orders to Nathaniel and Jenny to start lowering the yawl boat from the davits. They were already racing to comply by the time the words left her lips.
Brenda grabbed a heavy duty flashlight and a pair of binoculars, and rushed to the port side, aft, where in the distance one could hear splashing sounds, a man's voice yelling and swearing, and a woman alternately crying and yelling, “Help! Help! He's in the water!”
“This is Capt. Brenda Miller, of the schooner Josiah Beale. We are sending a boat to you. Just hold on!” she yelled. Then, muttering, “Damn, I wish I hadn't taken that spotlight off the boat last week!”
“What spotlight?” I asked.
“We keep one on board for night sailing,” she said. “I took it off the boat last week because we aren't doing anymore night sailing this year, and the light is huge, it takes up a lot of space. Heh,” she chuckled, “I am definitely leaving it on all season from now on.”
Finally, Brenda found the source of the commotion in the water and played her flashlight on it.
There was, indeed, a man in the water. It was the idiot who had so recklessly driven the boat in earlier. A very distraught blonde woman was on shore, though she looked unsteady on her feet, possibly from too many alcoholic beverages. It was clear that if the man was in danger of drowning, it would be due to drunkenness. He was next to several boats moored near the shore, and there were even a couple of kayaks tied to a mooring line next to him. All he had to do was hang onto the kayaks until he was sober enough to kick his feet and move towards shore.
“Leave me alone! Go away! Get the hell away from me!” cried the man in the water. He was flailing around, clearly unaware of the close proximity of the safety that the kayaks offered. “I don't want any help. Leave me alone!”
“Help him! Help him! He doesn't know what he's saying. He's been drinking!” the blonde insisted, thus becoming the target of a torrent of threatening and abusive curses from her immersed companion.
Whom to believe? It didn't really matter, since probably neither of them should have been anywhere near the water in the state they were in. Jenny and Nate kept lowering the boat.
“Jesus,” Brenda muttered. It was one thing to save someone who was in danger, but quite another to save a person from his own stupidity. It was still her duty, although suddenly it seemed more of a chore than it was before.
The watery, swishing sound of someone rowing a boat caused Brenda to swing the flashlight around in the opposite direction. It was Captain Bob of the Windameer, whose yawl boat had already been in the water from his visit ashore earlier that evening. Upon hearing the sounds of the woman screaming for help, he had climbed down into the boat and was rowing toward the problem. He had a bigger flashlight, and a bull horn. Brenda belayed the order to lower the Beale's yawl boat.
Capt. Bob quickly pulled past the Beale and was soon nearing the man in the water.
“I am Capt. Bob Lancer of the schooner Windameer,” he said into the bull horn. “Do you want assistance?”
All he got back was more foul-mouthed denial from the man in the water, and more hysterical pleas for help from the woman on shore. It was a real pickle. He couldn't just leave the guy in the water, but he didn't relish the thought of trying to pull the man into the yawl boat by himself, either; he'd likely end up in the water with him. He did a little swearing himself, and then took a couple more strokes to come up even with the man in the water. He pushed an oar out to the man.
“Take ahold of my oar, and I'll pull you in!” he ordered.
All it got him was a face full of salt water. The man splashed water at him and flailed off, kicking up even more water into Capt. Bob's face. Bob rowed up next to him, stuck out the oar, and repeated his order to the drowning man, and got more water in the face.
Bob decided to let the man have his way. He rowed back toward the Beale and came along side.
“Evenin', Capt. Brenda,” he greeted her.
“Evening, Capt. Bob,” she replied. “You look a little wet there.”
“Yup,” he said. Then, looking back toward shore, he said, “What an asshole.”
“I know,” she agreed. By now eight or ten passengers had come up on deck, having heard the splashing and swearing and screaming going on. The berths were below decks, and water carried sounds all too well.
“I guess you saw, I tried to help him outta the water, but all he did was splash me and move off a little,” he said. “But that damn woman on shore keeps screaming ….”
“Oh, my God!” one of the women passengers yelled, looking northeast and pointing.
Everyone turned to look, and gasped. Truly, it was an amazing sight. The entire northern sky was on fire. Blazing lime green and red and blue lights, like brilliant flames, filled the sky with huge columns that stretched from the horizon to the apex of the night sky, marching in a stately yet voluptuous fashion from west to east. It was the Northern Lights, larger and more brilliant than I had seen in Maine in forty years. And on a September night, no less. It was always a treat to see Northern Lights, but when you see them on the ocean it's even more beautiful. The huge horizon, free of interfering trees or buildings, offered a magnificent stage for a heavenly show. It was an amazing sight, and even more amazing that no one had noticed it until that moment. The lights were putting on a monumental display, and we had all been ignoring it.
But the two ship captains had to keep ignoring it. They had a “situation” to deal with, whether they wanted it or not.
“What do you want to do?” Brenda asked. “Want us to put a boat in and help you grab him?”
“I'm afraid if you do, he'll just go farther out from shore, and then he'll be in real trouble,” Bob declined. “Plus, with another boat in the water, and with it so dark, there's just more chance of one of us hitting him with a boat, or an oar. No, think I'm gonna call the Coast Guard and see what they say to do.”
Neither Bob nor Brenda was saying so, but it was clear that both of them saw the whole situation as a lawsuit waiting to happen. It could so easily be a case of damned if you do, damned if you don't. As business owners, captains of windjammers were all too commonly made the targets of frivolous lawsuits from passengers and other people. As captains, they were bound to give assistance to those in danger at sea. If they tried to save the man and accidentally injured him, they'd be sued; if they didn't try to save him and he died, they could face charges.
Bob climbed back down into his boat and pushed away from the Beale.
“Good luck!” Brenda called.
By now all the passengers were on deck. Those who had come up earlier had rushed down to wake up anyone who was still sleeping below, and get them to come see the aurora borealis. I knew it was truly a once in a lifetime event, something I'd never see again. Soon the whole ship knew about the man in the water and the woman on shore, too; we began to exhibit the behavior of a tennis crowd, alternately looking southwest, to keep an eye on the man in the water, and then wrenching around northeast, to see the Northern Lights. So much excitement! So much to see! Such an unusual cruise this was turning out to be. Chit chat abounded, and there was much congratulating of Brenda for providing a great light show, complete with a drama on the side.
“Quiet! Quiet! There's something on the radio!” cried Ben, one of the older men on board.
There was a brief crackle of static, and then an official-sounding male voice.
“Say again, say again, we didn't quite hear you,” he said. It was the Coast Guard.
“Mayday! Mayday! This is the sailing vessel Puffin! We have run aground …Dead ……edge and are taking on water quickly. There are four people on board, two adults and two children. Please send help immediately! We're sinking!Please, if anyone is hearing this, come and help us!” a frantic voice exclaimed. The radio transmission was unclear, filled with static and often cutting out.
“Say again, say again,” came the calm Coast Guard voice. “What is your position? What is your position?” Apparently, the Coast Guard hadn't been able to hear it well either. The aurora borealis, so brilliantly on display, might prove a deadly beauty for the people on the Puffin. It interfered with radio transmissions.
This brought everyone on the Josiah Beale to a standstill. It was very quiet. It seemed we should do something, but what to do? Help the man in the water? Sail out at night to Dead Man's Ledge, try to find the Puffin and save the family that was sinking? I knew Brenda had taken off the spotlight that she used for night sailing, but I also knew other captains sailed at night without such a light. Yet, windjammer captains couldn't afford to take risks with passengers on board.
In the distance, we all heard Capt. Bob radio the Coast Guard. He had gotten back to Windameer, climbed aboard, and was calling the Rockland station. He had a charter this week; a couple who wanted the whole boat to themselves, so there was no noisy chatter on his decks; we could hear every word he said and every reply from the Coast Guard, if we all kept quiet. It was like listening to a radio play. Meanwhile, we kept cranking our heads around to see if the man in the water was still there, and then snapping our eyes back to the Northern Lights.
“Yeah, I have a person in the water here, but he is refusing assistance from me. There's a woman on shore who says he needs help, but when I get near him he just swims off,” Capt. Bob was saying.
“What is your location?” the Coast Guard voice asked. Capt. Bob gave him the exact location.
“How long has the person been in the water?” asked the Coast Guard.
“Oh, probably about twenty minutes. I've already tried to help him, but he won't listen to me. Can you send someone out to assist me?” Bob asked. It puzzled him, usually the Coast Guard comes right away when informed of a problem.
There was a reply we couldn't hear, an angry retort from Bob, another reply from the Coast Guard, a reply from Bob, and then he signed off. Almost immediately, we heard a cell phone ringing on the Windameer, and Bob answered.
“Yup,” Bob said. Then, after a moment, “Yup, I tried that. No. No, he did not. Yes, his girlfriend asked for assistance.”
“Heh, the Coast Guard doesn't want an audience,” Brenda chuckled. To our puzzled looks, she replied, “Everything you say on the radio goes out over the air and everyone can hear it. Apparently, whatever they're telling Bob, they need a little privacy.”
Meanwhile, Bob was listening to what they were telling him over the phone.
“What? You're kidding, right? That's what you want me to do?” he obviously sounded frustrated. “All right. Yes,” he said. Even from forty yards away, we could hear his heavy sigh.
The radio gave a little crackle. “Mayday! Mayday!” cried the voice. “We have two children here! Please send assistance…”
“Say again, what is your location?” the calm voice of the Coast Guard man had acquired a little bit of an edge to it.
The Northern Lights had turned mostly red and yellow above our heads. The display had dimmed slightly from its previous spectacular intensity, as if unable to compete with the excitement below.
We listened as Bob climbed down into his yawl boat for a second time this evening. This time he brought one of his crew with him. We listened to his progress as he rowed toward us. As he came even with the Beale, Brenda called to him.
“Captain Bob! What's up? Need any help?”
“No,” came his tired reply. “The Coast Guard wants me to row over to that idiot and stay with him, but I'm not supposed to pull him out of the water unless he asks me to or if I think he's in danger of dying.”
“You're kidding. How long do you have to float with him?” Brenda asked. “Is the Coast Guard sending a boat?”
Another sigh came from Capt. Bob. “Nope, they can't send a boat. They've got everyone out looking for that boat sinking around Dead Man's Ledge, or taking on water, anyway. I just have to stay with him until they can send someone, or until he climbs into the boat, or until I think he's dying. Jesus,” he said.
We all watched as he rowed off toward shore. Brenda and Nate turned on the two large flashlights and shone them towards shore. We couldn't see where the man was. The woman was gone, too. It occurred to me that I hadn't heard any splashing or swearing for a while. And the woman who had been so hysterical moments before had suddenly become silent. Capt. Bob and his first mate were playing their flashlights over the waves, looking for the man, but they couldn't find him, either.
We kept looking a long time. The Northern Lights had dimmed and almost disappeared, and one by one the passengers yawned, commented on how late it was, and wandered off to their bunks. I'm not sure exactly when it was that the search for the man in the water turned into a search for a body, and not a man. Despite the hot summer we'd had, Maine's ocean waters were cold. If the man had been in the water all this time, he was surely dead by now; no one could last three hours in the chill water, especially if he were drunk to begin with.
A noise farther out became the focus of all of our flashlight beams. We were just able to catch a glimpse of the blonde in a little rowboat, managing the oars badly, hurriedly pulling around the point. Soon she was out of sight. She appeared to have been alone in the little boat. Why had she stopped calling for help? Why was she leaving so quickly? The answer seemed obvious. Had we witnessed a murder, before our very eyes, under the Northern Lights?
“Mayday, mayday!” squawked the radio suddenly, and then static. “….Puffin…..sinking ….children…..”
“Say again, say again…..” repeated the Coast Guard.
There was nothing we could do, but keep on looking. By now the only people left on deck were Brenda and her crew; Ben; another passenger named John, and I. Ben was a retired Navy Master Chief Petty Officer, and was finding the excitement quite entertaining. Plus he wanted to be handy in case there was anything he could do to help. That was probably also the reason John stayed on deck; he was currently a firefighter in Boston, but he had been in the Marines and had been a policeman for a while before he'd switched to fighting fires. I, on the other hand, knew I probably couldn't help Brenda, except to give her moral support.
A motor in the distance grew steadily louder, heading in our direction. It was one of the small new, fast boats from the Rockland Coast Guard station. There were four men on board. They drew up next to Windameer and talked briefly with Capt. Bob. The conversation carried over the water, and though we couldn't make out the individual words, it sounded serious. The Coast Guard personnel were, as usual, very no-nonsense. After a bit, Capt. Bob climbed over the side into his yawl boat and rowed over to where he had initially found the man flailing about in the water. He was followed by the Coast Guard boat, it's huge spotlight waving here and there over the water. The spotlight was very bright. The two vessels stopped, and there was more discussion. Then the Coast Guard boat maneuvered about the area, searching with the spotlight, to no avail.
On shore, a car slowly drove down the lane. We watched its headlight glitter through the trees. It stopped at the nearest cottage. Blue lights came on; it was a Maine state trooper. Two tall, uniformed men in distinctive brimmed hats emerged from the car and approached the house. What sounded like a very large dog began barking frantically from within. The troopers knocked, and were admitted.
“What's that all about?” I wondered.
“Dunno,” Nathaniel asked. “Maybe they want to see if the people in the house heard anything. Or something.”
We all waited in anticipation to see if this new action at the house would be worth our attention, ignoring the Coast Guard searching the water. Poor Capt. Bob had returned to Windameer after sitting idly nearby for a while. The radio crackled briefly. A nearly full moon began to rise from behind Islesboro. The Coast Guard boat pulled up near shore and two men got out on shore to look around there.
Farther down the beach, the troopers eventually emerged from the little house, a woman with them. She was tall, with long, dark hair in a braid down her back. The trio made their way down a steep path, flashlights in hand, to the shore. Even in the dark and at some distance, we could tell the woman was distraught. She was crying and anxious, and it was the first time I saw someone who appeared to actually be wringing her hands. She and the troopers began their own search of the shore and woods, as she desperately called a name that sounded like “John”.
“What the heck is she wearing?” Nathaniel asked. The woman seemed to be wearing a long skirt and frilly blouse. She appeared to be barefoot.
“If I were going to be running around on the shore in the dark, and at this time of year, seems like I wouldn't be barefoot in a skirt!” Jenny said.
“Nope,” Brenda said.
“Maybe she just didn't change after she got home from work,” I said. “She seems pretty upset.”
“Still, you'd think she would at least put some shoes on,” Brenda said.
It was interesting, watching from the water as the Coast Guard on the left searched, and the woman and the state troopers on the right searched, growing closer. Neither group could possibly be unaware of the presence of the other, yet they seemed to be studiously avoiding any actual contact with each other. It was kind of weird, actually.
After a while one of the Coast Guard men approached the two troopers and made contact. They stood talking to each other as the woman continued, searching and calling. The other three Coast Guard guys got back in the boat and motored farther up to shore where the woman in the rowboat was last seen, disappearing around the point. They shined their huge spotlight on the shore at that point and revealed for the first time, to us, a small dock, with steps leading up to a tiny little camp under some pines. They brought the boat up to the dock. The two biggest Coast Guard guys got out and went up the steps to the building where they stood outside the door for a while, having a discussion.
“Bet they're flipping a coin to see who has to knock on the door,” Nathaniel joked, and we chuckled.
The winner of the coin toss knocked at the door. There was no answer. He knocked again, and shouted. Again, no answer. There was more quiet discussion. Then they tried the door.
Apparently, it wasn't locked; the two men went into the cabin and we could hear them asking loudly if anyone was there. A few moments later they came out and walked quickly down to the boat. There was more discussion. It seemed no one was in the cabin, alive or dead. The fourth Coast Guard man had rejoined the group after his discussion with the state troopers, who had accompanied the woman in the skirt back to her house, and left. The Coast Guard boat pulled away from the dock and began searching around in the water again.
“The thing is, once the Coast Guard is notified of a person in the water, they can't give up the search until the person, or his body, is found,” Brenda explained. “I think they're probably getting a little ticked. If the guy is still alive, they really want to find him, and if he is still alive and they find him, I wouldn't want to be him. If he's dead….,”her voice trailed off. Living on the coast of Maine, we all knew the story. All too often a fisherman lost his life to the ocean, and weeks or months might pass before a body was ever found, if it were ever found at all. And the currents were strong in this particular cove.
The night drew on, with little result. The radio had become quiet. There was no more word of the Puffin, sinking somewhere in the dark. There was no grisly discovery of a body in the water. The northern lights were long gone. Those of us left on deck had grown tired of small talk. Brenda sent Jenny and Nathaniel to get some sleep, but she stayed on deck herself. The Coast Guard boat moved around the point, out of sight from us, but still continuing its search. The temperature dropped several degrees. I shivered, and it turned into a yawn that became cavernous and continual. As much as I wanted to know the end to this strange story, I had to admit defeat and go to bed.
Back in my bunk, with the wool blanket pulled up around my ears, I listened to the quiet snores of the sleepers in the little cabins around me, and I wondered about the children on the Puffin, taking on water on a ledge in the moonlight. I wondered if they were sharing the current with the body of a rude, drunken swimmer who drove a boat too fast….
A loud noise woke me, but the first impression I had was of cold. I was freezing. The temperature had dropped, and the one wool blanket I had on the bunk just wasn't warm enough. Sleepily I sat up, to grab the second blanket folded neatly at my feet, and was brought swiftly to reality when my head smacked painfully against the overhead, located about eighteen inches above my face. Fully awake now, I realized that I'd been disturbed by the incredibly loud sound of a helicopter that seemed to be hovering over the deck just above me. The sound was so loud that it almost couldn't be heard: it filled the air, it filled my head; it sucked all the sound-space from the air and replaced it. It was all I could hear, which meant that I could hear nothing. It was as loud as total silence, which should have been all that I could hear, below decks in a schooner on Penobscot Bay at 3 a. m.
I guessed the Coast Guard had brought in a helicopter to search for the poor devil in the water. It seemed kind of pointless, though. If he's been in the water this long, he's surely dead by now, I thought. Why don't they just let us all sleep, and find him in the morning?
God, that's heartless, I replied to myself. But man, that helicopter was damned loud. I decided to go up on deck and have a look. I'd never seen a helicopter search and rescue before. Wishing I had packed my flannel pajamas, I decided that the tee shirt and shorts I was sleeping in wouldn't do the job, so I turned on the light and dressed quickly in jeans and a sweatshirt, wool socks and sneakers. As I dressed, I smelled coffee from beyond the forward bulkhead, where the galley was. I reflected briefly on the distraught woman I'd seen on shore, barefoot in her frilly blouse and skirt, calling a man's name. I wondered what the children on the Puffin were wearing. Suddenly I felt very safe and warm, bundled up in warm clothes, on a safe boat and with the promise of a hot beverage before me.
I grabbed my little flashlight and clambered up the companionway. Brenda was on deck; I'm sure she never got any sleep that night. Over our heads the helicopter was meandering through a grid search pattern, its huge spotlight pointed down on the water. Coast Guard personnel in several small boats were on hand as the brilliant circle of the spotlight traced its way across the waves, left, then right, back and forth like a pendulum of light suspended from a giant mosquito against the stars. After a while the helicopter's spotlight moved to the wooded hills that framed the cove, covering the beach, then the next twenty yards into the trees, then the next twenty yards.
It wasn't till then that I noticed that the hill was literally crawling with people.
“Who are all those guys in the woods?” I asked Brenda.
She gave a little laugh. “They've called out just about every emergency personnel in the area to look for this guy. I've seen at least three firetruck crews, two ambulances, and about seven state troopers arrive since midnight. And there are a bunch of National Guard guys in there, too. They haven't found a sign of him yet. Poor bastard.” She turned aft and looked out at a variety of lights in the distance, south, towards the Rockland breakwater. “There are boats looking all over, following the current in case he floated away.”
“I guess there's no hope he's alive,” I said.
“Nope,” she replied. We were both quiet for a while. I shivered.
“There's coffee in the galley if you want some,” Brenda said.
“Thanks,” I said, and went forward and down into the galley. Brenda had fired up the big old wood cookstove and had made a large pot of coffee. She had been cook on the Beale long before she became its owner and captain. I lifted the heavy coffee kettle and poured the steaming liquid into the heavy, white ceramic mugs. The coffee was hot and strong; I took a sip and then cradled the mug in my hands, feeling the heat seep into my fingers as the coffee warmed me from within.
Back on deck, I saw a touch of light had brightened the horizon. Morning was coming. Both the Beale and the Windameer had turned on their anchors, swinging around in the turning of the tide. Now we were facing out toward the sunrise.
“Ever hear who the woman was that came down to the beach?” I asked Brenda.
She shook her head. “No,” she said.
“How about the Puffin? Did it sink?” I didn't ask about the kids on board.
“Haven't heard a thing,” Brenda said. “The radio's been quiet.”
So, I sipped my coffee and watched the stars fade out as the eastern sky grew lighter and pinker. I'd curled up in a comfy spot among the neatly-stowed tarps used to make a roof over the deck for the passengers' convenience in case of rain. The helicopter flew off south eventually, the Coast Guard boats returned to the Rockland station, and the troopers, the firetruck crews, and the ambulance personnel all got back into their vehicles and returned from whence they came. But I never saw them go. I fell asleep on the tarps.
“You're going to get a sunburn,” a voice said.
It was Nathaniel. He was right, the sun was shining right in my face. It was a beautiful day. I got up and stretched and looked around. It was amazing, really; around me was a postcard-perfect picture of a sunny Maine scene. The water was calm, gulls flew lazily in circles above, sailboats bobbed at their moorings around the cove. In the distance a lobster boat revved its motor as it moved along to another set of traps. It was surely a different place from last night, with a boat sinking, a body in the water, and the mysterious northern lights glowing above it all.
A few people were on deck already. I couldn't believe that everyone had slept through the noise the helicopter had made; apparently I was the only one disturbed by it. I went below to my cabin, washed up, and made myself a little more presentable for daylight viewing. And smiling at Nathaniel's comment, I put on some sunblock.
Back on deck, I saw the queue had already formed for breakfast. The chatter was pretty evenly divided between how gorgeous the day was and how delicious the breakfast, and the events of the night before. I looked over at Windameer, and saw movement on her deck too. So, I thought, life goes on as normal. I glanced down into the water, half expecting to see a man floating there. No, not quite normal for everyone, I decided.
After breakfast most of the passengers went back down to their bunks to wash up and get ready for the day, and to do some packing. We would soon head back to the Beale's home dock. The trip was over.
Captain Bob headed towards us in his yawl boat. He wanted to have a chat with Brenda before he raised the anchor and took off. He pulled up next to the starboard davits and reached up to grab the Beale's rail, steadying himself.
“Bob! How's it going?” Brenda greeted him.
“Good, good, Brenda, and you?” he replied.
Their voices lowered and they had a conversation clearly not meant to be overheard. Most passengers wouldn't have heard it anyway, being below decks, and I walked aft to give them some privacy. After a while Capt. Bob went back to the Windameer.
Getting underway always required a bit of energy, and most of the passengers helped: the anchor was raised with a great deal of grunting and pumping, and the sails were raised with a great deal of heaving and tugging, and then the wind caught us. The Beale glided gracefully into the bay like a magnificent swan.
“You've got to tell us, you know,” I said to Brenda, back by the wheel. A group of us were gathered there, waiting to hear the news. “What happened? Did they find the man? What about his girlfriend? Who was the woman in the skirt? And what about the Puffin, did it sink?”
Brenda laughed. “Bob told me as much as he knew, or at least what he overheard. First off, the Puffin is fine. She did take on some water, but never sank. And some guy came along in a lobsterboat and took off everyone on board long before they were in any real danger. Some guys from the North End boatyard went out and towed the boat back for repairs last night.”
Needless to say, everyone was pleased to hear this news. Not knowing about the Puffin and the fate of her occupants had provided an undercurrent of even deeper fear and sadness to the events surrounding the search for the missing, drowning man
“The woman in the skirt was the man in the water's sister. That's her house, where the state troopers went, and apparently the little camp over on the point belongs to her family. Her brother and his girlfriend were staying there, and the sister knew he'd been drinking yesterday. When she heard him yelling in the water, all mad and everything, she was sure either he would drown or he'd drown his girlfriend. Guess they tend to fight a lot. So anyway, his sister freaked and called the police. And at the same time, we had already called in the Coast Guard. And at some point, somebody involved the National Guard - they provided the helicopter and some searchers. But they never found the guy, or his girlfriend. At least, not yet.”
So the mystery was to have no end. In a life where all mysteries on TV ended resolved, one way or another, we all felt a little cheated not to know the end of this one, after having been witness to its unfolding throughout the night. It was unfinished, and unsettling not to know what the ending was.
We reached the dock a couple of hours later, in sunshine and warmth, safe and dry and happy. The Beale's vacationing passengers exchanged their goodbyes with the new friends they'd made on board, and made us locals promise to let them know the fate of the man in the water, if we ever found out what had happened to him. I went home, took a shower, went to bed, and slept for the rest of the day.
A couple of days later I was in the Post Office picking up my mail, and I ran into a friend I hadn't seen in a while. We chatted a bit, and she introduced me to her nephew, Mark. I hadn't seen him since he was in fifth grade. He had become a grown man, twenty-three years old. He was in the Coast Guard now, stationed in Rockland. It was lucky for him to be able to serve so close to home.
I saw my chance, and pounced on it.
“So, do you remember last Saturday, that guy drowning in Sandy Cove? And there was a big search for him all night long, with state troopers, and firetrucks, and a helicopter?”
A strange expression crossed his face, kind of disgusted and embarrassed and angry, yet amused too. “Oh yeah, that was quite a thing. Sure had us hopping for a while. How'd you hear about it?” he asked.
I explained about having been there on one of the windjammers in the cove. “So, did you ever find the guy? Or his girlfriend?” I asked, dreading the answer.
“Oh sure,” Mark replied. “One of the state troopers finally went to the guy's house, in Rockland. The idiot had just walked home and was passed out in bed, so drunk he hadn't heard the phone ringing off the hook, his sister was calling him all night long to see if he'd gone home. All that searching, all that time, all those people, and he was just home in bed, safe and sound.”
I was glad the rude man had lived through his ordeal, but still I couldn't help thinking, it wasn't the right end for the story. He should have died. There should have been grief and mourning and resignation to the dread power of the sea……
Later, in the local newspaper, I discovered that the search had cost the taxpayers $50,000. So, I guess there'd been a tragedy after all.