Cargo of Hate: A Sailing Story

Cargo of Hate: A Sailing Story

by Kermit R. Mercer


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Cargo of Hate: A Sailing Story by Kermit R. Mercer

Single again and after so many years sailor Allen Reed readies his wooden sailboat Sturdy for the summer season on Lake Ontario. With expectations of old friends and new acquaintances to brighten his wistful mood he sets sail on a rather blustery day for Port Hope, Canada. However, the trip is dangerous and he is nearly overwhelmed by the sea conditions. The next few weeks of the summer will become both a personal awakening for him and the most frightening and memorable challenge to date in his life.
Having just moved into his forties which is a sort of turning point in life for most of us, he reflects on his early introduction to seamanship and the people who influenced his knowledge and attitudes in those formative years.
In spite of his personal struggles the lake will keep him busy with little time for regrets. As yet unknown to Allen, an international situation is unfolding on the Canadian north-shore of Lake Ontario, and he is sailing on a collision course toward those tragic events as chosen by the Fates.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781466963276
Publisher: Trafford Publishing
Publication date: 10/22/2012
Pages: 198
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.45(d)

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Trafford Publishing

Copyright © 2012 Kermit R. Mercer
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4669-6327-6

Chapter One

Gonzalo: Nay, good, be patient. The Tempest, W. Shakespeare

HE STOOD AT the seaward end of the east jetty looking out over the windblown, scrambled water of Lake Ontario. It was near the middle of summer, the middle of the day, and the middle of Allen Reed's life. Showers of spray were being blown from the waves that were breaking against the west jetty passing high over the wet rocks coming down midstream in the channel in miniature chaotic showers.

The picture had remained the same for the last twenty-four hours repeatedly on the marine weather channel. "Winds twenty-five to thirty knots with occasional gusts to thirty-five." Allen had arranged his vacation a month ago, and now this powerful weather pattern was holding for at least another twenty-four hours. There would be no crossing of Lake Ontario today unless both boat and crew felt the need of physical challenge and the risk of damaging consequences.

* * *

He looked out over the arguing water again, recalling his early boating memories when the sailing masters had been young men returned only recently from World War II and not yet comfortable with home and office. Life had changed them. They could never return to the early carefree days of youth. It was possible that sailing once again gave them that sense of comradeship and adventure, but now they had some control over the depth of the adventure.

They spent their weekends working in the boatyards, enjoying the comradeship and light adventure they now deserved. They were the "old men" to Allen; and his midshipmen teenage companions—who were running about with paint, rope, and canvas—were willing, most of the time, to tackle and complete any unsavory task handed out by these sailing masters.

It was difficult for these veterans to dwell on the loneliness and tragedy of the past war years with these eager young faces before them listening to their every word and mimicking their every action. They would test the youthful faces repeatedly with questions such as the following:

"Did you gentlemen come here only to learn sailing?"

The answer would come back in unison.

"No, sir." Then from the sailing master.

"What then, gentlemen?" Again, and in unison.

"To go in harm's way with confidence, sir."

There might be a rather long wait and then.

"Very good, now to the paintbrushes on the double."

After scraping, sanding, caulking, and painting for days, the two lifeboats they had been working on for the summer boating season were launched with, of course, two of the fastest bailers aboard.

The first two weekends of the year were devoted to oar drill in the lifeboats. Naturally, there would be a moan from the small future naval material. The answer from the sailing master would come back.

"Blisters, gentlemen, the only way to make great sailors is through blisters; now all together, OARS."

Occasionally, a sailing master might become a little loose with his language. For instance:

"Gentlemen, there are only three types of people in lifeboat drill: those rowing, those bailing, and those bitching."

They were warned.

"Do not to repeat what you just heard."

Of course, they did not repeat it, but they did shorten it to RBB. From that time on, whenever they faced lifeboat drill or any other distasteful task, schoolwork included, one of them would, in a loud whisper, say, "RBB again." It was the closest they ever came to any real salty talk in those days.

As Allen grew older, he reflected in depth on how those men had influenced his early life. They had passed on to the young boys their easy comradeship and their firm diligence to the important aspects of seamanship, such as safety at sea and the responsibility of leadership. In a short period, they had instilled these boys both the technical aspects and, through reading assignments, the literary lore of seamanship.

Each year at a spaghetti dinner late in the fall, the graduates of the Midshipmen's Program were named and welcomed as young men worthy of a berth on any boat in the club. This solemn occasion was then closed by handing each boy a shot glass with a few drops of whiskey; then at the ringing of a ship's bell, each of the new "worthy young men" was expected to "close the hatch," much to the uproarious amusement of everyone present.

* * *

Now years later, here he was, standing, looking out at the grim spectacle of rough water. The wind had raised the seas several miles offshore to nearly two meters and even higher at Center Lake. The short steep wave shapes and breaking tops this day would be punishment for both man and boat on the lake. Because of their shape, these seas were more brutal in many ways than even larger seas of the world's oceans. Occasionally, the strong windblasts would rock him off balance as he stood looking out on the lake at the watery turmoil.

* * *

He had been alone now for two years. Evelyn, his wife for nearly twenty years, with some warnings, had moved out to capture that elusive dream—freedom. Within two years, she had married again to an acquaintance where she worked. Allen had been devastated. His loyalty and love had not been enough, perhaps not enough to find anyone again. Since that time, he had said to himself, "Why search and perhaps find someone only to be hurt again?" His confidence in himself and in romance with anyone was shattered, most likely, for all time. Forgetting is not a simple act. He would still think of Evelyn on her birthday and holidays and on those special times or places that people share.

Allen Reed was a teacher of industrial arts at a nearby school and spent his summers sailing the lake in his thirty-two-foot cutter Sturdy. The little boat was both his summer cruising home and his hobby. Sturdy was one of the last remaining traditional wooden boats in the area. Most of the others had been sold to museums or left to decay in their cradles, abandoned because of the exorbitant amount of time these boats demanded for upkeep, safety, and tender loving care for beauty.

Sturdy was built to live up to her name. She was a full-keel, double-ended, heavy displacement yacht with a generous ten-foot beam. Allen, after acquiring her, had spent many months rebuilding and refitting her until he had the type of boat he remembered sailing in as a boy. No high aspect rig outside or sterile white plastic below, but instead the warm glow of wood in the saloon and soft lantern light in the evenings.

Sturdy had a strong "stick" with heavy stainless steel standing rigging and surrounding her deck a double safety line in strong stanchions set in wide-backing blocks. Below in the saloon, Sturdy presented to visitors a comfortable nautical picture of warm teakwood, of books, paintings of boats, and a small galley. The bulkhead contained highly polished brass equipment: a chronometer, barometer, and gimbaled lamps from which hung a brass-mouth foghorn hanging from a lanyard. Located on the starboard side of the saloon was a well-stocked library to satisfy the sailor on those quiet evenings or rainy afternoons where the only adventure was between the pages of a book. At the hatchway, he still maintained a flag locker, one of the last sailors to do so. Very few boats on the lake kept even a code chart anymore. The only answer he could get from a "hoist" was from the two Canadian Sea Scout vessels, and for Allen to raise a hoist was not always easy when singlehanding in a running sea.

He enjoyed singlehanding where a sailor's time is totally his own. There is a quiet, personal satisfaction among singlehanders of taking a boat alone in "harm's way" and arriving safely at their destination. They are a group of people who, above all, possess three important attributes: mental strength, physical strength, and nautical understanding. At times, coming off the open waters, the harbor entrances can be treacherous with the crossing of outlet waters from the rivers meeting with high seas from recent squalls or a rude cross chop between vertical cement constructed jetties. Other times, he could enter a harbor quietly, secure Sturdy at a wall or anchorage, tidy up, pour himself a scotch and a splash, sans ice, and settle back with one of the books from the totally jammed ship's library.

On these summer trips, he would meet old friends and make new friends. They would all gather on one of the boats to wash down the crackers and cheese with Nelson's Blood or whatever was available. Here, they could catch up on the latest nautical disaster or fortunate windfall that may have happened to their friends and listen to the embellished sea stories and other trivia that go well with friends and spirits whether rain or shine.

Since Evelyn's remarriage, no one inquired about her anymore; but there were always moments during a pause in the conversation when Allen felt that his closest friends, by their silence, wanted to know the direction his life was moving. Later, when the same stories were beginning to be repeated in the saloon, he would take his leave, not a simple task with these rowdy sailors. He would return to the quiet of Sturdy's decks, and in the dark, the inevitable loneliness would settle around him. Sturdy would have no part in this and always bobbed gently in the harbor chop, leaning into the sea wall, pushing against her fenders with a friendly rub as if to say, "I'm ready, let's go."

* * *

His mind returned to the present. The wind was still blowing strong, and he had planned to put varnish on Sturdy's bright work, but with all the dust in the air, it was not practical. Instead, he thought it was a good time to go upstream and visit his friends Frank and Margaret Whiteson. Frank had retired some years ago and, until recently, had enjoyed good health. Allen had not seen either of them since Valentine's Day, and it was now into summer.

He went below and in a few moments, reappeared on deck carrying oars, lights, a PFD (lifejacket), and a cushion which he dumped into Sturdy's eight-foot dinghy. He cast off the fore and aft lines and pushed out into the river. The little outboard buzzed to life on the second pull, and he brought the bow around downstream.

Because the wind was keeping everyone off the lake, there were a number of fishing boats on the river moving up and down, hoping for a hit on a bass. Allen's home area on Lake Ontario was the south shore, and if the wind had blown from the south or southwest the seas, nearshore would not have been such a problem, at least for the first mile. Regrettably, with the present strong west blow for the last twenty-four hours, the nearshore waves were over one meter high, and it was impossible for the anglers to try their luck on the lake.

He pulled into Frank's dock and secured the painter, allowing the stern to swing around downstream with the current and wind. Frank's sloop, the Deneb, was secured nearby alongside his dock. Before going up to the house, he checked the lines and looked into the bilge of the little sloop to see if all was well. Margaret always appreciated this because it saved sending someone down to check the sailboat every day or so. He walked up the dock and saw that the stair treads leading up the bank were in bad shape and needed work very soon. Everything seemed quiet as he climbed the steep bank and crossed the yard. The little garden near the house appeared unkempt, not at all usual. Their car was in the drive, perhaps they were resting. He hesitated at the door, not wanting to disturb them, but his concern won out, and he knocked.

Margaret came to the door and opened it.

"Hello, Allen. What a pleasant surprise; come in," she said.

"Hi, Margaret, how are both of you this summer?" he asked.

"Well, as good as expected," she answered. "I was just going out to get the mail."

"Well, for a cup of tea, I'll perform that meager service for you," he said.

"How about a cup of chamomile, Allen?"

"Okay, the perfect thing for a windy afternoon. I'll be right back with your mail." And he went to check the mailbox.

"I will tell Frank that you are here."

He came back with one piece of mail and a magazine and went inside through the open door. Frank was sitting in his favorite chair. He walked over, shook his friend's hand, and spoke to him. In a few moments, Margaret brought in the tea and a small stack of cookies. Allen saw Frank close his eyes and rest his head back on the chair. Margaret started to get up, presumably to awaken Frank, but Allen motioned for her to stay and said he would rather talk to a pretty girl anyway. They talked about Frank's health, Margaret's health, and Allen's future.

"I would say that my future is in teaching and boating, at least for now, and no, there is no young lady that I am keeping secret from you," he said with a grin.

Allen had two favorite women friends to accompany him to social events—one, his cousin, Jane; and the other, Penny—a friend of many years. Penny, a divorced single mother, managing two young boys, enjoyed an occasional evening at the movies or a party and felt comfortable with Allen. It was a chance for her to see and meet other people. On special occasions, she would invite him to her home for dinner, and he would play ball and talk man-talk with her two boys. Penny was a good friend, but there was no magic in their relationship that would have brought them together. For Penny, the magic was there, but she knew Allen was not aware of it.

His cousin Jane taught in the same school as Allen. She was unmarried, and together, the two of them attended various school activities which worked well for both.

An hour had passed since he had stopped to visit Frank and Margaret, and he felt it was time to depart, mentioning that he was going across the lake to Port Hope as soon as the weather improves.

Margaret answered, "I heard on the radio that the wind should go down this evening, and that was about an hour ago."

Frank had turned to the television and did not acknowledge Allen's "goodbye." Allen looked at Margaret; she was tired, and he could see it in her eyes and face.

"So long, Margaret," he said. "You take care of yourself."

"I will, Allen," she answered. "You watch out; it's a treacherous place out on that water, but you know that."

"I will. So long," he replied as he left.

* * *

He recalled the memories of early times spent with Frank as he walked across the lawn and down to the dock. During Allen's younger years, Frank had taught him and the other boys the ways of seamanship, pointing out the moods and dangers of the lake waters. Frank, during the summers of his college years, had worked on the "Big Lakes" as a seaman on the "Lakers." They carried everything from taconite to wheat. During the summers of his later years, Frank would take several of the boys across the lake in his sloop Deneb, long before the dawn of today's electric sailors. In those days, there was no GPS, no VHF radio, no NOAA weather broadcasts. It was all done with a barometer, a deviated compass, a lead line, and strong coffee.

If they were becalmed on the lake, they would hoist the dinghy from its cradle on the coach roof using the boom and vang tackle, swing it out, and lower it into the lake. Then two of them would get in with one at the oars and the other at the tiller and tow the sailboat. The boys would switch off with every bell or, sooner, depending on the conditions. This would continue on until a breeze found them. Many miles were gained this way. Even as he thought about it, Allen could still hear the squeak of oars against the thwarts, hour after hour, as the little procession slowly pushed aside the lake waters. The off-duty crew would be on deck, sacked-out or swatting flies or both, waiting for the "Helm" to shout, "Cats paws, half-mile off the port quarter." Everyone would stir slowly—probably another false alarm—then stare out across the quiet gray lake waters for any sign of a breeze. Each boy was hoping for a small gale to blow away the flies.

* * *

For the last adventure of this windy day, he went downstream to the State Boat Launching site, pulled his dinghy up on a sandy piece of the bank, and went into the Black North Restaurant for dinner. Because of the high winds on the lake, there were very few people around Point Breeze except for a few hardy souls fishing out on the jetties. Most of the fishermen who had been trolling on the river had tired, pulled out, and left. A few locals were chatting at the bar. One of the fellows who worked at the marina recognized Allen and nodded. Allen went into the dining room and sat down so that he could see the channel outlet and the lake. Sarah, the server, came in and smiled when she saw his familiar face. She knew he was a teacher nearby and regularly came in for dinner. They exchanged a few words of greeting, and she took his order for a chicken dinner and a glass of beer.


Excerpted from CARGO of HATE by KERMIT R. MERCER Copyright © 2012 by Kermit R. Mercer. Excerpted by permission of Trafford Publishing. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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