Dave (everybody called him Shark Boy) and his father sat in the cabin of the Flying Circus looking at one another as they listened to the tropical storm from the east intensifying. The wind in the rigging changed pitch until it was screaming at them, the wild thrumming of the shrouds and stays harmonizing together into a weird banshee wail of doom. Jenny, his dad’s new sailing student, eventually came out of the “V” berth to join them, her face full of concern.
At that moment, the captain’s cell phone rang. It was NY Dan trying to contact him.
“How’s the weather out there, captain?” Dan asked.
“I’ve seen worse,” replied the captain.
“Captain, Boss Penny is keeping her place open all night and all the other crews have come ashore except yours and Dream Weaver’s. I’m getting ready to cast off Big Jessie’s powerboat and pick up Jinni from Dream Weaver. Unless you say otherwise, I’m planning on getting you too. How’s your new student holding up?”
“Jenny’s OK,” the captain answered, “but this is her first tropical storm experience.”
“Captain, the National Weather Center just upgraded the storm south of us to a category 3 hurricane and it should be here in about 24 hours.”
“Sorry to hear that,” said the captain. “Come on out, we’ll take you up on that boat ride. We might as well hunker down at Boss Penny’s until this one passes.”
The captain closed his cell phone and was barely into his rain gear before they heard the approaching roar of four 220 horse, outboard motors from Jessie’s powerboat. Everybody scrambled topside, and Dave quickly secured the hatch-boards and slid the hatch cover closed. Dan gently manipulated the fly-by-wire control sticks, and with two motors in reverse and two in forward he delicately maneuvered the powerboat within stepping distance of the sailboat’s transom. Without hesitation Jenny, the captain and Dave leaped aboard and Dan hurriedly backed away from the Flying Circus and changed course for the Dream Weaver.
“Dan, that was some fine boat handling back there,” said the captain. “A lesser skipper would’ve clobbered my transom.”
“Thank you kindly Captain, it wasn’t bad for a NY City kid.”
By the time they had pulled alongside the Dream Weaver. Captain Jini was topside on her boat and had already finished battening down the hatches. Dan executed a similar maneuver to the one he did at the Flying Circus and Jini leaped safely onboard; he then reversed his course and headed for shore.
Jini (Dave’s Mom) and Jenny (his dad’s new sailing hand) hesitated a moment, but finally nodded politely to each other. Everybody was so relieved to be heading for the safety of Boss Penny’s bar that no one wanted to start up any unpleasant confrontations.
No sooner had they reached the bar and shook the water from their raingear than the power went off. Not to worry—they closed the hurricane shutters on the windows and lit the kerosene lamps, while Boss Penny filled her coolers with ice.
Jini and Jenny, along with several of the captain’s previous lovers and other island girls started their own party while the men told tales of past hurricanes. They recalled Hurricane Hugo in 1989, because he sank almost everybody’s boat. “I lost Touché (55’ wood sloop) over in Little Cruise Bay to that storm,” Dave’s dad said with a note of regret.
“Yeah, I remember Hugo,” said another captain, “that bastard blew 140 mph for hours, stopped for fifteen minutes, and then blew over 200 mph in the opposite direction. Puerto Rico registered 220 mph on their airport anemometer before their roof and their anemometer took flight.”
“Hurricane Marilyn was no piker either,” said Dave’s Dad. “I rode her out aboard Hirondell (43’ wood yawl).
“Pop, people ask me why you risked your life and stayed aboard that night, but I tell them, ‘that was before I can remember’ so I don’t know. Why did you take that risk?”
After a silent pause, the captain gave a slight smirk, but refused to say anything further. It never was in his nature to rat on anybody—especially on himself. Somebody else changed the subject, and said, “Listen, the wind has stopped blowing,” the mystery of why Dave’s dad did what he did that night remained just that—an unsolved mystery.
The captain stood up and said, “We’ve only got 24 hours to get ready for Earl so I’m done with the jaw-jacking,” he glanced at Ryan and Shark Boy and the three of them walked out into the dark.
Surely-surely, said one of the partiers, Ryan, the Captain and Shark Boy aren’t going to stay aboard during Earl…