Now I had just been trying to think of something attractive I could carve for the Cap’n. I wasn’t thinking of his reaction. The gift-giving got off to a real bad start with the card that suggested that he wasn’t getting any younger. Then Cora and my wife gave him the inflatable floatation jacket. It was a beauty. It was a trim windbreaker, but if you went into the drink, all you had to do was pull a little lanyard, and the jacket inflated. Like a lot of Maine coastal males of his age, the Cap’n couldn’t swim. The local water was cold enough to discourage it except among the Summer Complaints, and there were no pools in the area in those days. The ladies’ concern was his safety, but he saw it as a veiled reference to his age and incapability. Then came my cane. That ripped it.
Out came the pipe. The Cap’n filled it, tamped it, and lit it. He slowly puffed it to life and looked at the interloper in the family – Me. “Wes. It’s time you showed me how well you’ve mastered the piloting I’ve been teaching you. When we are done with Psyche at Spinney’s, you are going to sail us all home.
Sail Psyche home from Spinney’s round Ocean Spray Point and past those snags barely awash at low tide called the Three Widows?
Spinney ever-helpful coached me on the task. He advised that I motor out to avoid the crowded anchorage, and only then set sail. We started on the high tide, and the way home was charted for me once I was beyond Ocean Spray Point. A small amount of overconfidence set in as I rounded the point. I attempted to fly past as I had seen the Cap’n do it many times. I failed to account for a night of high winds stirring up heavy surf on the shore. I almost drove us aground and could feel the sand churning under the drop keel. Scared, I put on a confident face and rode out the close call. Beside me, the Cap’n blanched but said nothing. Behind me, I could hear Cora, my wife, and her aunt gasping. The rest of the journey was uneventful until we came upon the mooring. Dropping sail, I made my final approach under power. I sent the Cap’n forward to handle my usual job of picking up the mooring. My wife reluctantly went forward to secure the jib. While doing this, she bent over while the Cap’n was bending over. She accidentally shoved her father off the bow and into the water.
In slow motion, this is about what happened next. I slipped into reverse to avoid accidentally running over the Cap’n. The Cap’n’s wife Cora started screaming for someone to throw him a life jacket, and my wife ran back to the cockpit to grab the cane, you do remember the cane, don’t you? About this time, my wife remembered that they had made the Cap’n wear the flotation jacket, and started hollering at him to “pull the thingee!” He yelled back, ” What’s a thingee?” I hollered, ” THE LANYARD!!!” The Cap’n pulled the lanyard and puffed up like the Michelin tire guy. My wife frantically reached out with the cane to give the Cap’n something to grab onto but failed to remember the old injunction that you always keep one hand for the ship and one hand for yourself. She went into the water with the Cap’n.
The Cap’n set out dog paddling towards the skiff tied to the mooring, but the way he was puffed up by the jacket made it impossible for him to get into it. My wife swam to the transom of the skiff and heaved herself into it. In the meantime, I gave the wheel of the boat to Aunt Grace ( the only one of us not in a panic), went forward with a boat hook, picked up the mooring, and secured the boat. By that time, my wife had found the release valve on the floatation jacket. After it deflated, he was able to pull himself into the skiff. He was mad as a wet cat. He reached for his pipe to find that all the contents of the jacket were wet – pipe, tobacco, and matches. His signature move ruined the Cap’n became madder. When upset, he habitually filled his pipe, tamped the tobacco, lit up, puffed, and at last pointed the pipe at whoever had annoyed him. Me usually. “That’s the last time I’ll trust my boat to some jacked-up Navy Brat son of a snipe!” this last being a slur on my naval service, and a slur on my father serving as an engineer in the merchant marine. The Cap’n, of course, had been a Bridge officer.
With all the confusion, the cane floated away. The Cap’n ripped off the floatation jacket and tossed it after the cane.
It took a while to get everyone ashore and settled. By silent agreement, little was said about the day’s events. But plenty of meaningful looks were passed between the Capn’ and me. It was agreed that the saviors of the day had been my wife and aunt Grace.
Next week I was taken to the Harbor Diner for lunch on Spinney and the crew. They wanted all the details. Spinney regretted that the cane had gone adrift, but handed me an order for three canes. The Cap’n never let me take the wheel again. I was OK with that.