Damn the Rules

by Howard Faxon

Tags: Violent,

Desc: Action/Adventure Story: I'd grown up on commercial fishing boats. I'd had my leg cut off, gotten shot and damned near killed. After a turn-around that let me salvage a big factory ship things started looking up.

My left leg stank. It didn't heal after the accident and the infection spread until it finally started destroying the bone. I hobbled into the emergency room hoping they would do something for me.

The first thing the nurse asked was, "Do you have any insurance?" "Nope. American Tuna fisheries has better lawyers than me. Either help me or I'll die on your door step. Your decision."

The rot had gone too far. They cut my left leg off just below the knee. It took over a year of physical therapy to get me walking again after the surgery. They came after me for payment again. "Call American Tuna. Mention case number xx-xxxxx-xxxx. I'll let you guys deal with the run-around for a while. They already bankrupted me."

That set the wolves loose. Never piss off a hospital's accounts recievable department. They don't stop at drawing blood. They go after that pound of flesh nearest the heart too.

The fishing company's insurance company had siezed dad's fishing boat after he died. The port bow quarter was pretty well destroyed but there she was, sitting on blocks. I cried to see her sitting there, half wrapped up in dirty visqueen, helpless and defiled. She'd been sitting on blocks for almost four years since the collision. I'd spent most of my childhood on that ship helping to pull in cold water fish and shrimp. They had to 'auction' off the hulk by law. I bid ten bucks and won. I limped aboard and ran my hands over the woodwork that I'd polished for years. The yard master took pity on me and let me work in a corner of his property unmolested. I slowly, painfully, hauled all the old mattresses and upholstery out to a skip. I didn't have much income but I gradually repaired the gap in the framing members with a welder then patched the hull. I tore down the engine and rebuilt it, restoring the compression. Once I got her sealed up I did odd jobs to buy epoxy paint, flo-coat and spar varnish. I smiled when she gave me a place to sleep out of the weather.

It hurt the hell out of my stub but I worked as a line cook six days a week. It made me enough cash to replace the batteries, buy a twenty pound propane cylinder when it was needed and pay for the electric bill. I ate cheap at work and used the bathroom there to dump and shower as well. After I got off work I gradually re-packed the final drive shaft bearing where it penetrated the hull and rebuilt the rudder gearbox. I replaced the zincs as I could afford to buy them.

Once I finished with the hull I worked a shift running a harbor tug at night. I had the certs and had nothing else to do at the time. I socked away every spare penny.

I got the "Green Dolphin" refloated. It was a heady experience for me. I still lived aboard her as I had no place else to go.

The local ship captains and the harbormasters steered little delivery jobs to me. Just feeling the ship move beneath me made up for a lot. Still, she felt like a ghost ship with just me aboard.

The fuel prices were eating me alive. A seventy-seven foot fishing boat consumes an amazing amount of diesel fuel. I did the numbers on a spreadsheet. I was operating at a loss as a delivery service. I couldn't run the nets without a crew of at least three which meant a payroll and food, so add a cook. I couldn't fish commercially without a license. Even if I could find one available I didn't have the six thousand bucks available to buy in. Even then, there was no guarantee that I'd break even, much less put anything aside to maintain the ship. It was a losing proposition any way I looked at it.

All I could figure out was to sell the boat and buy a smaller one. I'd gotten her into good working order and you could damned near eat off the engine room floor. I'd taken a wire brush to any rust down to the bare metal and painted it over.

I packed up all my personal stuff, the laptop and the food in the galley then put the old girl on the market. Several other commercial fishermen in the harbor had watched me put her back into running order. It was June when a short bidding war topped out at 180,000 dollars which I snatched up. I paid a tax accountant to tell me that if I didn't reinvest that money I'd be in for a major bill come April fifteenth.

I went looking for another trawler, about half the size of the Green Dolphin. I saw a couple Bristol Bay aluminum hulled craft that caught my eye. At 44 feet LOA and with a 14 foot beam they looked pretty sturdy. The boat I admired the most had a power reel on a tower for use with a drift sock or a gill net and a small boom crane to move cargo on and off the stern deck. She guaranteed to be a cold boat with that aluminum hull. The twin Volvos looked to be in pretty fair shape and with a little work she'd make a decent live-aboard as well as a near-surface or near-shore trawler. The big hydraulic pump had a few years on it and the grain of the metal showed on her hull which gave me some bargaining power to drop the price. Once I took title to her I renamed the boat "Walking Liberty". I originally was going to make it Silver Dollar because that's what the hull looked like to me--coin silver; but the name just hung right with me. Besides that's the name of an old silver half-dollar.

Once I had her dry docked I used a MIG welder to add some thickness to her hull then ground and buffed her smooth. It was an amazingly time consuming process to follow the original hull lines. However, once I finished the surveyor came up with a hull thickness of 3/8 of an inch with 1/2 inch at the bow and stern--better than new. I got rid of the mish-mash of electronics in the wheel house and put in a Raymarine chart display integrated with the radar, GPS, digital charts and a high resolution depth finder that made for an excellent fish finder. I made sure that the navigation stack and the autopilot could keep the boat on station since I proposed to work her single handed. There was a duty bunk just aft of the pilot's chair and the stove was just aft of that.

The big hydraulic pump looked to be in pretty sad shape--oxidation had nearly eaten it away and all the pipe joints looke permanently fused with rust. I had to take the ship to a shop to have it replaced. Then I electrically tied it to the hull with a heavy braided grounding strap and attached the biggest sacrificial zinc I could find to the thing. I got that ship insured for her replacement cost and documented the hell out of her so that the insurance company couldn't screw me over. It cost quite a bit to get her surveyed after I'd made my repairs and upgrades. I had a copy notarized and filed along with the insurance policy.

I went out fishing on her a few times and came to the conclusion that she was a goddamned iceberg. I bought a foam insulation applicator. After stripping down the crew space and covering anything sensitive with visqueen & gaffer's tape all the control & power runs were covered by PVC pipe cut in half and glued down. Then everything got a conformal two inch coating of foam that stuck directly to the hull. Construction adhesive was used to secure an interior shell and I painted it. The last step was to screw handholds to the overhead. Believe me, it made a big difference. A few 12-volt fans here and there moved the air around to eliminate any residual cold spots and a little propane powered heater/fireplace made the living space positively cozy.

I figured where to mount a little bitty stacking washer and dryer pair to do my laundry so I could stop using a five gallon bucket and a clothes line. My only other big expense was a new ice maker to keep the catch alive. The holds weren't refrigerated, just foam insulated and stainless steel lined. I had to shovel ice over the fish after they were caught, sorted and dropped into the tanks.

I suppose shrimping and commercial fishing are hard lives but it was how I grew up. I'd go to sleep about one in the afternoon. About eleven or twelve at night I'd wake, have a quick breakfast and motor out to the beds. By three thirty I'd be chumming, dropping the net and bringing it in. I'd open the purse onto the deck and use a long handled gaff to discard any octopus, jellyfish or trash fish by throwing them over the stern. The rest of the catch went into the deck tanks. The stern didn't have a railing because that would damage the net so I had to wear a harness and a safety line. Hopefully by five or five thirty I'd have caught enough to make the day worthwhile and I'd head for the market dock. It took some work to transfer the catch to different sorting bins then call for a cart to take my marked bins in for the morning auction. Out of whatever didn't sell I made a stew for dinner and ground up the rest for chum. Finally, I had to bleach and wash out my sorting tubs and get them back on board. I couldn't call the day complete until I'd filled the diesel tanks, checked the engine oil and filled the fresh water tank for the icemaker.

I had to be a lot more watchful than the factory ships as I fished shallow and the fish moved around. That fish finder was a God's send.

I'd been sailing under the wire for too long and knew it. I'd lived on the water and knew about everything that could happen as well as how to fix it, but I didn't have any paper certifications for fishing to prove it. I wasn't much good with 'book' learning (that dyslexia thing) so I sweated to read those manuals. It took up every bit of my spare time until I figured that I had it down cold. Then I applied for and took the the tests for my new captain's ticket. I'd been eighteen when we'd gotten run down by the factory ship. I was twenty-three when I got my final commercial papers.

Once I was legal the studying didn't stop. I bought a new computer and CDs with all the fishery regulations listed by state, species and area. I had to figure out what species I could legally catch by seine net, minimum lengths, numbers or weight per boat or fisherman and what fish were subject to closed seasons in different fisheries. Since I surface fished I had to keep throwing back the damned Mahi-Mahi because I couldn't take 'em by net, dammit. They were a good, profitable fish but they had to be caught by hook. Whoever thought that one up should have been cut down for chum.

There were fish markets all up and down the Atlantic coast with Boston being one of the most important, but I didn't compete with the bigger ships. I ran live, prime catch and delivered to the pricier markets like Portland Maine. It wasn't that far from Boston but the market was different.

It was gale season, early winter, and I'd moored for the time being to clean and get some maintenance done. When you're fishing, you fish. There isn't any spare time to do anything else. I suppose that's why fishing boats always look like hell. Time spent cleaning them up came right from your pocket or your sleep time. Anyway, I was spending some of my hard-earned cash relaxing in a diner, eating something besides fish as a treat. Roast beef, gravy and mashed potatoes might not sound like much to you but it was bloody ambrosia to me.

A skinny guy sat down across from me at my table with a cup of coffee in his hand. He had blue eyes and curly red hair under his cap. It was pretty distinctive. "You must be a fisherman."

"Yeah, why d'ya say?"

"You're about worshipping that pot roast. I'll bet you know two hundred ways to cook fish and about despise all of 'em about now."

I couldn't help it. I laughed. I roared until I cried. He had me. I settled down and finished my dinner, then ordered a piece of cherry pie. I stuck out my hand to him. "Jim McKnight. Captain and owner of the Walking Liberty."

"Sam Carlson." We shook. He said, "You look like you're running single-handed. If someone painted a picture of a tired fisherman they couldn't go wrong showing a picture of you. If I tried to talk you into hiring on a crew member would you listen?"

I sighed. He was right. I was worked down to the bone, where it was getting dangerous from making inattentive mistakes. "Yeah, I realize the need."

"If by hiring me the ship can bring in a third again her average take then you can afford my pay and will have enough splash besides that to put some away. How do you fish? Hook line? Gill net? Seine net?"

"I won't touch a hook line. It's too dangerous. I run a shallow purse sein and work the wet box live catch market up in Portland. It's given me the best dollar per pound of any market I've tried."

"With a bait man and three guys on harnesses the summer tuna runs stretch from Cape Cod up to PEI. If you put in a couple fighting chairs you can charge twelve hundred bucks a day for seat when the big ones are running. The trick is, you give up a hundred of that per seat to the broker that advertises and schedules for you. Both of those markets won't shut your normal net operations down if you have a second crewman."

I sat there quietly thinking about it as I sipped my coffee. The cold-raised tuna market was insanely hot and I'd never heard of a lift pole operation go under for lack of money. Lack of management, sure--There wasn't any reason that we couldn't run a short boom trolling operation while hauling a purse sein, either. The ship was speedy enough to work further north to get the better sushi-grade tuna.

The ship would need some safety gear like a small rib boat but I could manage that. I had well over sixty thousand in the bank. "Let's go see what we can do for a berth for you. I live aboard to keep the expenses down and to do cleaning & maintenance whenever I have a spare minute. I paid my bill and left a tip, then led the way out to my little honda hatchback. Down at the docks the Walking Liberty looked like the runt of the litter in amongst all the bigger trollers and gill netters. Still, I'd managed to not only keep my head above water but stay solvent enough to pay for regular engine and drive train maintenace, insurance and licenses while still putting a little something away most months. True, I didn't spend much more than I had to.

There were good things and bad things about hiring on crew. I wouldn't go crazy quite so fast with someone else to talk to, but I'd pay for that with a loss of privacy. I'd gain in a more diverse diet and hopefully be able to eat something that I didn't cook myself but it meant putting up with someone else's tastes. That we could arbitrate. The insurance would have to go up and I'd be saddled with paying a salary. If I wanted to wet-box live tuna I'd have to have a couple holds combined to make an eight foot long cold box or two. Just a couple would make for a good day's catch and keeping them on ice would bring top dollar.

Hell. I was in a rut. What was I going to do? Go bankrupt? I didn't have any notes out so I was pretty healthy, financial-wise.

I slept in the wheelhouse on the watch bunk. If I was going to run with a crew I'd have to make different arrangements. There were two bunks in the bow but they didn't have any mattresses. I could get that fixed in short order with one phone call. They'd be delivered before evening.

Sam looked over the galley and started asking questions. "You own a crock pot?" "Nope." "Ought to get one. When's the last time the galley cooler and reefer got cleaned out?" "Umm, never." "We'll get that done, and check for expiration dates, freezer burn, stuff like that." "Sounds like a good idea." "How old are your linens?" "No idea." "Ought to see to that."

I got the feeling that I'd bought into more than I wanted to. I was getting that gritty feeling under my skin. I wasn't comfortable with the way things were going. "You're not my wife, Charlie. I've been alone a long time and I'm set in my ways. Don't pull all this shit at once or we'll be parting ways real quick-like."

He blushed. "Gotcha, cap."

The storm had finally tapered off but the temperature had dropped like a rock during the final 24 hours of it. The ship was covered by a thick rime of ice--up to three inches thick in places. "Fuck this. I'm not going out until all this mess gets melted. Life's too goddamned short."

I called a marine engineering firm for an appointment to get a couple short trolling arms installed. They'd be guyed to a short standing mast to support their weight and to bring them in when not being used. I had a hot water pressure washer that I normally used to clean the working deck after a catch. I used it to get the ice off the wheelhouse and off the windshields, then made it over to their dock.

We stayed on board while the work was being done. What the hell else were we going to do? Spend money on a hotel? Sam convinced me that owning a crock pot was a good idea. We went looking for one that would fit in the bucket sink so that nothing would hit the deck in heavy seas.

A week later we tried out our new tuna rig. We didn't screw around. We ran 160 pound braided line baited with nice, oily mackerel. I wondered why nobody else was out. Well, I found out. We didn't catch a damned thing the whole day. Overnight we motored south for the gulf coast. The dawn light saw us baiting up and putting out lines again, three lines per side. It was "Fish On!" around the islands near Titusville, north of Cape Canaveral. We threw back the females and took the males. The yellowfin were running! When the ice boxes were full we closed up shop and headed north, making all speed. We were out of there by four in the afternoon. Number one yellowfin was going for seven to eight bucks a pound. We brought over eight hundred pounds to the dock, uncut. Cut down we lost about twenty two percent. Once they were graded Sam and I headed and gutted the fish, cutting free the cheeks and around the back of the head as well as the livers for our own use. The cheeks we'd cook up and the rest would go for bait. At 850 miles each way our fuel costs did a good job of eating up our profits. I wanted to try the banks off of North Carolina.

We found a small bluefin fishery protected by the islands. I think it was the livers that did it for us. We harvested more than the day before. We had 'em stacked up on the deck, covered with ice and tarps. It was our day for fishing as we ran the sein on our way back up the coast where we ran into a decent haul of brown shrimp off the grass beds on the flats near the coast. We were low in the water with product when we hit the market dock. We'd sure given our ice maker a work out! We more than doubled our income overnight and had less costs as we'd fished a closer range. It was maybe 440, 460 miles instead of the 850 we pulled the day before. We'd hit a magic path for the short term. We went back three more times before the tuna stopped hitting. We only caught three more on the fourth day. Luckily the shrimp tended not to move so we made enough runs to fill our tanks. They'd been feeding for most of a year, so weren't tiny. Most were in the 11 to 13 CM range. We hand-picked a bucket of big 'ol fellas some 16 to 18 CM long that brought in a pretty penny because they were still alive on ice. Hell, they were all alive, but these were downright frisky because we kept changing out the water for 'em.

I must have had the touch that season because we had a big share of the market. With scarcity comes value, eh? I shook my head. My dad would never believe it--me, a shrimper! We were running a sein with a two and half inch mesh with dropped out a lot of the little ones. When the Coasties came along side to give me the evil eye (a compliance inspection), they were happy with my net but shook their heads at the trolling booms. When confronted with all those expensive licenses they couldn't say a thing. They'd been seizing boats that were out of compliance so I'd been pretty careful. Sam and I broke out the peppermint schnapps after that little visit.

"I thought we were screwed for sure." "Nope. I'd heard talk that they were seizing ships so I made damned sure to keep our licenses on the up and up. Why do you think there's so few ships bringing in shrimp this winter? The Coast Guard has about shut down the independents." "Well, whatever the reason, we're sure cleaning up at the fish market." "Yep. Come end of the shrimping season in February we can afford to take a month or more off." "Damn! We won't know what to do with ourselves!" I got a little smile. "Yep. I kind of wonder what it'll feel like."

I didn't tell Sam about the extended insurance policy I'd taken out. Some coastal fishermen had flat out dissappeared, boat and all. My bet was drug smugglers but my hardon for the factory fishing boats extended to suspecting them of running down their competition in the dark and not looking back. I had a pair of AA-10 combat shotguns and a couple cases of real expensive shells--rockets, really. One case held high-explosives while the other held armor-piercing incendiary rounds. The day I buried my dad I promised never to be unarmed on the water again.

We fished the shrimp beds right up until the last day of the season. The restaurants about bought us out of house and home. After the season they couldn't advertise 'live shrimp' as they'd be back to selling from frozen stock. The locals were funny about that.

It was time to white tornado the boat. I took up the bilge deck, siphoned everything out and power washed the lower reaches. I took up all the bilge pumps and checked them carefully, replacing the impeller in one. In foul weather they could be worked very hard for extended periods of time. That was why I kept a couple spares, extra hose and worm clamps.

There were a couple of little eyelet filters just before the diesel fuel injectors that had to be at least examined. I wasn't really happy until I ran them through an ultrasonic bath The big fuel and oil filters were replaced on general purposes and the oil was replaced. The hydraulic fluid was sampled and put under a scope. We were fine. All the hose clamps below decks were tested and tightened. I hand-inspected every fuel and oil hose, then did the same thing for the water lines. The big hydaulic pump was doing fine after all my grounding work. That reminded me to get the zincs replaced then since we had the time rather than wait for the schedule to expire.

The boom crane was taken apart and rebuilt, as was the power reel. The net was full of patches so I bit the bullet and bought a new one. I took in all the powerline reels from the trolling rigs to have them cleaned and lubricated as their daily dip in fresh water didn't get rid of all the salt.

Inside, we emptied and sanitized the cooler and the freezer. The food was carefully inspected before either being re-shelved or tossed. Then it was time to pull an inventory with an eye towards recipes. The canned goods with loose labels or rust got pitched too. Everything got washed, painted or rubbed down with oil. Finally, I invested in a couple of big, two-handed random orbit sanders designed for the auto repair industry. I bought a short case of bonnets, two five gallon buckets of light grit polish and two buckets of paste wax. We had her up on jacks and gave her the business. By the time we were done she looked brand new. The flo-coat below the waterline looked great and everything else just shone.

The last thing I did was have a pair of fighting chairs mounted at the stern corners with high foot rests. four of deep sea fishing rigs finished our preparations. I'd done everything I could, down to replacing the wiper blades on the pilot house windows. We settled down with a few beers on those fighting chairs and relaxed.

Come the end of April I was going nuts with nothing to do. The wax on the superstructure had been a supremely bad idea as it peeled away and looked horrible. I polished it all off by hand before taking us out to the Carolina shrimp beds to catch the first, lucious nets of the season.

What I saw froze my blood. The Feast of Tampa, the same damned factory ship that had run down our ship and killed my father, was stripping the beds with drag nets. Not only was it illegal as hell it was destroying the grass beds where the brown shrimp bred and grew--for decades. I brought us along side and set the autpilot to track that ship. I couldn't see its wheelhouse from mine, but that was alright. I packed an AA-10 and a couple sling-bags of shells over my shoulder and climbed to the superstructure. When I saw her pilot-house windows I ran two rounds of armor-piercing/incendiary through the side window closest to me. I reloaded with high explosive and fired, over and over again. She slowly came to a halt, dead in the water. I took a round from the factory ship high in the left side ribs. It felt like getting hit with a baseball bat, then it started to ache, bad. I slowly came down from the superstructure to be confronted with Sam, holding a little Walther PPK. His voice was flat. So were his eyes. "You had to do it, didn't you. You stupid bastard. They hired me to keep you out of the way, but you had to stick your nose into what didn't concern you. Too bad." He fired three times, hitting me in the left shoulder, the hip and the belly. the putz missed anything immediately fatal. I fell off the access ladder and landed on the deck, hard. I could see him coming towards me, probably to finish the job. I still had the shotgun stock clenched in my right fist. I kicked out, bringing around the barrel and pulled the trigger. The last round I had chambered was explosive. Sam's upper leg blew to hell, taking Sam's chance of living to see the next day with it. His blood flowed like it came out of a bucket.

I crawled into the wheelhouse and up into the chair. Lord, it seemed like it took a day and a night. I radioed for rescue and made damned sure to claim that factory ship as salvage. I tied a rope onto her anchor chain and started the long tow back to the Norfolk yards. I remember hanging on until the Coasties came. I had to make them promise to treat me on board--keep me on board until the factory ship was handed off to the port tugs, validating my claim. They took the .32 caliber bullets out of me and cleaned the body that used to be Sam off the deck and walls.

I woke up in the hospital. I had to lay on my side to keep from compressing a wound. I was insured so the damned accounts receivable dogs stayed away from me.

I got a visit from a federal marshal. Sam had been Samantha--a trans-gendered European assassin. The Japanese company that had bought StarKist and the American tuna factory fleet had been caught making payoffs, and a few captains in the Coast Guard had been caught pocketing the proceeds. There wouldn't be any more unsupervised factory ships in U. S. waters.

It hurt in a place way, down deep. It wasn't that Sam was female and had betrayed me. Sam was crew and had betrayed me.

Once I got out of the hospital I stripped the ship and put her on the market. Along with my savings that gave me enough to live on until the court case judging my claim against the factory ship came up. I didn't get around too well with all those holes and the missing leg on the same side. I leased a first floor efficiency apartment. The doctor gave me a mirror hangar for my car to let me use disabled parking.

I graduated from crutches to a zimmer frame to get around by the time the case came up. This time I had a decent lawyer. Our case rested on the fact that the factory ship had been taken while performing illegal acts of ecological terrorism. We had photos of the ship with her nets out at the time I disabled her. Not only was she ceded to me but the company was fined half a million dollars a day for each day that it could be proved she was illegally fishing in U. S. territorial waters. From the looks of her holds and the ship's logs she'd been fishing at least twenty two days. I put her up on the market as-is for eight million. It sold for six and a half before taxes. I paid forty percent to the government off the top.

I was too beat up for commercial fishing so I sold my boat. When the Walking Liberty sold I had four point four million in the bank. I split it into two fisherman's credit unions besides putting a quarter of a million in a Chase Manhattan account that I could access with a debit card. I'd been burned enough. I was out of the fishing business.

I didn't know what the hell to do with myself. I'd been fishing for a living since I was old enough to stand on a ship's deck. I did know one thing--I wasn't going to live with some noisy stomping bastard living on my ceiling, an alcoholic chick on the dole with a screaming baby or four screaming pre-teen brats trying to kill each other next door. I took my checkbooks, my bad attitude and my zimmer frame shopping for a new boat.

I checked out boats until I was blue in the face! Houseboats didn't do it for me. Trawlers seemed to have all the living space broken up into little bits here and there, all separated by ladders. I complained to the yacht dealer about what didn't work for me. He asked me to let him work on it for a while.

He found a single-cabin thirty-seven foot Nordic Tug that looked pretty good to me. There were still a few things that needed work. The galley was all electric. I invested a lot in getting an LP gas system installed. I had two big 100 pound tanks laid on their sides on the aft salon roof. The original owners had a swing arm crane installed for the ship's boat. It'd handle the propane tanks easily when full at nearly 200 pounds each. I had a Force-10 three burner gas stove and oven installed. There was no ship's boat at the time of sale. I bought a fourteen foot rib boat with a half-covered pilot's station (open stern) and a ninety horse Johnson outboard. Once it was mounted on new support blocks it blocked the radar, so the transducer had to be re-mounted.

The pilot house electronics were for shit, but then I was used to a commercial setup. I had a new Furono chart plotter, radar, GPS and fish finder installed. It already had a 7001 autopilot, which I'd worked with before. There was a seat in the shower which I needed. The shower was improved upon to give me a sauna when I wanted one. The wheelhouse windows had a nice feature installed that I'd not seen before--they opened up from the bottom! They had little arms to hold them in position. I engaged a marine contractor who rebuilt the whole shebang out of much more durable material. The seals he used--let's just say that they passed the fire hose test. I used a pressure washer. The diesel engine had just undergone a refit so I had no worries there. I just made sure to carry a full list of fuel and oil filter spares.

Unlike a working ship she had little or no rear deck to speak of. What was there I took up with an all-weather chair and a gas grill. All I had to keep clear was the lazarette hatch in the deck. Having only one foot and partial use of my shoulder getting on and off the ship was a pain the way it was configured. I had the stern railing taken out down to the deck and re-engineered for easier access. I had the pilot's bench taken out and a nice, air-ride reclining pedestal mounted seat installed in its stead. It was more than comfortable enough to sleep in. I had it mounted on a bearing rack to let it slip from side to side of the bridge, covering the radio station, the helm and what used to be the chart station but in the future would serve as a dining station. All the charts were electronic.

I had the big wrap-around dinette taken out and a twelve-foot-long desk installed in its place with plenty of drawers above and on the end, and a chest freezer installed at the bow end, closest to the galley. I had another one of those air-ride reclining chairs installed at the desk that I'd had installed at the helm. It didn't leave much passage room behind it, but I could turn it and watch a movie in comfort. The thing even had a foot-rest!

She'd been outfitted with a Kenwood AM/FM/CD player and a few speakers were mounted in the outer walls. I figured that I'd have more down time to play with so I had a little home theater installed, then started collecting movies. I bought a few biographies for reading material and picked up some Fordor's guides to places like the gulf coast and the Carribbean. She didn't have anywhere near the range of a commercial boat, perhaps a thousand miles under perfect conditions.

Early that spring she was back in the water, insured and stocked for her maiden voyage under my hand. I named her "Convincing Argument".

I got my spare shotgun back from the Coasties and bought into another couple cases of those grenades that did me so well.

I travelled the coast for a while, checking out the slips and services. I found a place with mimimal services on Canal Street in Delaware City. I had electric and water. That was enough for me. I was still too uncomfortable to drive so I didn't bother getting a vehicle. I used a service that would come down to the docks, take me around and bring me back. Hell, for an extra twenty the driver would carry my purchases inside the boat. I appreciated that kind of service and let my drivers know. No doubt I got better service because of it. The guys knew were the good pizza parlors were, too.

The weather was getting nasty as fall was in full swing. I didn't have any reason to stick around for an east coast winter. I left a couple thousand dollars on deposit to keep that slip open for me, then prepared to make way. I had her pumped out and the diesel tanks filled, then headed for my first offshore port of call--Bermuda.

I found that she was unstable in open water. She porpoised and wallowed like a carnival ride. Something was wrong with the hull geometry, and that was something that I'd never be able to fix. I turned her about and headed back to Norfolk. I was quite dissapointed in that ship. I'd invested all that money into her and found she was a shoreline creeper. And I was the yutz that bought her. Well, all I could do was trade on her manufacturer's name, play up all the improvements and see how much I could get out of her during the spring rush in the boat market. I'd bought her for just over two hundred thousand and had put well over a hundred thousand into her. Once I pulled everything portable off of her I had scrupulouly cleaned then had her surveyed. I was surprised to find that she came in at three hundred and forty thousand. I put her on the market without any expectation of a quick sale. I leased a small one-story house and leased enough furniture to live on and moved my stuff from the ship into the second bedroom for storage. I stored the rib boat in the house's garage.

In the mean time I opened up my eyes to a wider range of choices. I went to the library to use their computers. It was a lot easier to investigate different manufacturers, models and reviews. By damn if I didn't see more and more good things about catamarans. I called a place called Journey Catamarans to make an appointment. I was tired of re-working someone else's boat into what I wanted. I figured that it was time to have a boat built to my specifications. I chartered a plane to get me to Alameda, where the two guys hung out their shingle. They weren't builders, they were designers and contractors.

I ordered what amounted to a stripped-down version of their 47 foot catamaran with no fly bridge, lengthened to 56 feet for more stowage, a slightly longer rear deck and a more open feeling in the salon. I specifically did not want a multi-level living quarters design. What the hell did I want with more ladders? The thing was planned out for one master cabin on the main level along with a head and shower, with two smaller cabins, one in each hull. That gave the designers room for more tanks and roomier engineering spaces. I showed 'em a picture of my half-covered helm rib boat that I wanted to use as a ship's boat. That added some engineering work to design in the load bearing structure for the crane. They did a CAD virtualization of it and we took a few walk-throughs. I arbitrarily set the beam at eighteen feet to give us some working room. They added an arch rather than a dry stack to support all the antennas and the radar scanner. A short-wave antenna and flag cable ran from the peak of the arch to a standing jack at the bow pulpit.

I had made quite a list of my 'improvements' to the Walking Liberty. Those became part of the working specifications.

Because I was disabled I harped on the necessity for a seat in the shower, and had them make it out of wood for comfort. The galley got a working over because I liked a gas hob and a breakfast bar design. They seemed excited at some of the changes we put together. We made The Thing 'almost' maintenance-free by specifying synthetic wood where teak would have been used. I put half down on a fourteen month expected delivery in Norfolk. A hundred and fifty thousand bucks--poof. Hell, it was going to be shipped over from China anyway so the destination didn't matter.

I took the specs for all the beds and got linens ordered. The galley had spaces for a few small appliances like a mixer, crock pot, turkey roaster and a big covered electric fry pan. I bought good quality units and stashed them in their boxes. Heavy-lift pull-outs in the galley were designed in to make moving the appliances around a breeze. I bought the pots, pans, dishes and flatware that I'd want. The big shower I'd asked for had a wet/dry sauna head installed and a wood seat wide enough for two that would protect a person's back and sides. The Thing also had a thirty gallon hot water heater. I'll bet that by now you can figure out what I fell into calling her. Yep. The Thing.

Somebody got a nice Christmas present. The Convincing Argument sold! With three hundred and forty thousand back in my pocket I felt a lot better. Still, I pitied the guy that got stuck with her. Horse trading is a serious business.

I spent the holidays being driven around town, taking in dinners and shows. I'd been a "Carhartt's" kind of guy for a long time. I changed my buying pattern. I bought some good wool shirts and pants as well as a good synthetic loft coat. I'd once bought a pair of military surplus pants from Eastern Europe. They were made of wool whipcord. I couldn't wear 'em out! From then on, that's what I bought.

That winter I buckled down to learn the management side of things. The Coast Guard had a few courses on ship's operations and purser's duties. It interested me so much that I just kept on taking courses there for a while. It was good to be able to bounce ideas off of someone else. My viewpoint and experience from the fishing industry helped me talk with guys that captained yachts, tugs and ran some of the big container ships and distribution ships. I learned a lot about how the other boats out there operated. We all thrived on coffee and spent a lot of our morning hours talking back and forth at a diner near the school.

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