Plain, unadorned, nicked and scratched, canvas decked, handmade fiberglass cockpit, and desperately small. Twenty-five feet six inches, she lay in the slip docile as a cow, knowing, perhaps, that her fate was in the hands of others.
I crawled into her bilges, paint worn and tar-spotted; poked into lockers, dirt cemented in cracks and joints; squeezed the settee cushions, upholstered in brown vinyl cracked by age; pulled up the floorboards, thick, crudely cut teak planks. My heart was sick. This boat had been in my dreams for a year and a half—ever since I’d read a line by Eric Hiscock: To my mind, the best pocket cruiser is the Vertue. From that moment—what did I know?—my boat was to be a Vertue. And her beauty and seakeeping prowess and the adventures we were to have had swelled in my mind.
I climbed back on deck. Standing on the dock watching me with a black sullenness was Philip, who had found Kainui before I had, who had fallen in love with her, who, while trying to scrape together her purchase price, had neglected to put money down to keep her his. The morning after I had first spoken with Peter Kinsey, Kainui’s owner, to see if she were still available, I went to my bank, was promised a loan (later rescinded), and that evening, less than 24 hours later, offered Peter to purchase a first option. He said no, I trust you. Which only pumped my anxiety—I wanted something binding. But he’d stayed to his word.
I climbed the mast, to check the masthead. Philip’s eyes followed me up.
“Are you going to buy her, Russell?”
“I think so,” I said. Philip didn’t hear the doubt in my voice and stalked off.
Peter shook the genny out of its sailbag and ran it up the forestay to give me a look at it. I watched over his shoulder as he knotted a rope through a grommet in the sail. He handed me another line and I copied the knot I’d seen him tie.
The genny was sky-blue and rippled in the light air.
“Do you want to take her for a sail?”
“No, that’s OK.” I’d never sailed, didn’t have a clue what it was about and I didn’t want him to sell the boat to Philip because he thought I’d get myself killed.
We were done. Peter—five inches taller, broad muscled chest, calloused rope-worn hands, master sailor just back from a four year cruise in the south Pacific where he’d married a Tongan beauty, had a son, and, on the passage north from Hawai’i, had survived an epic storm which had upended Kainui—looked down at me skinny, enspectacled, nerdy, dropping book-learned sailing terms desperately trying to sound like I knew what I was doing. I looked up at him, my feet standing uncertainly on the deck of a plain-Jane boat so small that the two of us upset her trim.
“Well?” he asked.
“I’ll take her.”
I have friends who’ve told me that they knew they were making a mistake on their wedding day; who had kept putting one foot in front of the other hoping something would stop the onrush of events until the “I do” was said and the ring slipped on the finger.
At the bank, I handed him the check, he signed over title and the British Admiralty papers—Kainui was registered in Hong Kong where she had been built—and we settled accounts. He owed me 6 dollars and some change and I told him to keep it.
“This is my tip?” he asked.
Embarrassed, I said nothing. I thought it’d be too uncool to ask for it.
That night, with Katalina and little Nicky asleep in her arms, we watched a Steven King movie about a rabid dog trying to attack a woman trapped in a car. It was a metaphor I didn’t really need to have my face rubbed in.
Peter drove me back to the marina. It was dark, the sodium lights a sickly yellow. I walked the dock to Kainui’s slip and stepped onto her. She rocked, meeting me, and I dropped below, unstuffed a sleeping bag, and lay on the settee staring at the overhead.
I didn’t know then what she would come to mean to me. That was still to come.
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