Vacation Folly

by Howard Faxon

Tags: Fiction, Post Apocalypse,

Desc: Post-Apocalytic Story: A man without a life outside of work was forced by HR to use up some vacation hours or be penalized. He drives to the east coast and discovers a fascination with the ocean and those beautiful little boats that sail on it.

I’d been working for the county for eleven years, ever since I was fresh out of college at 22. I decided to use up some of my accumulated vacation pay. To tell the truth, I was told by HR that if I didn’t use up some of my accumulated time off I’d get an official censure which would count against me when the next cycle of raises came around. It was in the early spring of 2003.

Well, that sent me into a flurry of activity, delegating everything that I could. I wasn’t the top guy in the IT department, but I was about number 3. I didn’t handle the router infrastructure, the county firewall or the Cisco IP Phone system.

I packed a suitcase, an eight quart cooler and two big 30-gallon plastic storage containers into the back of my little red S-10 pickup before I headed off in a direction I’d never gone before--East, destined for the Atlantic coast. I had it in my mind to use the interstates to quickly reach coastal Maine, then poke my way south staying within a stone’s throw of the shoreline. It was too cold to camp unprotected overnight but I took along a few things to make a roadside and fireside lunch if the mood struck me.

I started at Bangor which was just a name I’d heard and a point on the map to me. Shades of “MASH goes to Maine”. It took four days of dedicated highway driving to make it there. Bucksport and Belfast gave me my first taste of the sea. And I do mean taste! The wind was up and the April spray covered everything at the docks. Still, I stood there enthralled watching the ranks of boats bobbing and tossing amid the whitecaps. The noise of the foam-covered rollers breaking against the seawall filled my senses. It was damned cold. I stopped in at a little restaurant near the wharf both to warm up and fill my belly. The special was the daily catch. That made me grin so I went for it. My plate was filled with big strips of breaded, pan-fried haddock and garlic mashed potatoes. If I ate like that every day I’d weigh over three hundred pounds. It was the best five-eighty that I paid for a dinner in a long, long time.

It was an interesting drive down the broken coast to Rockland. Not far from there lay Portland. It had a much different feel than the other seacoast towns that I’d seen, it being a college town and had an active shipping port. I stayed for a few days, not willing to make my vacation a “This is Tuesday so it must be Paris” type of whirlwind tour that would leave me with a vague nasty taste in my mouth and the dissatisfaction that I had done nothing more than watch a travelogue.

I certainly didn’t know the city. I splurged on a limo to gain the services of a guide. He found us an over-the-top seafood buffet. Then, protected by our jackets, we swigged beer out of the bottle while sitting outside behind an old bar, taking in the harbor view and talking for a while. That night made it really feel like I was on a vacation.

The next morning was sunny with a little wind off the sea. I was enchanted by the flashes of sunlight glistening off the small waves in the harbor. Seeing all the sailboats in their serried ranks I began to wonder at their construction and what it would be like aboard a modern sailboat. I visited a medical clinic to get something to keep me from getting the pukes, then looked through the newspaper advertisements for a day charter. It was so confusing that I finally sucked it up and asked at the hotel’s front counter what I should do. He set me up with a man with a 28-foot sailboat. Jim took day charters and fishing charters to make a living. We bargained back and forth until we reached a price of $460.00 for two days under sail and either gunk-holing or laying by overnight.

His boat was single-masted bermuda-rigged sloop. She was rigged for single-handed sailing with two power winches. At least that’s what he told me. The terminology sailed right over my head until he talked me through it. I learned the difference between a line, a sheet and a stay. I learned what happens to the boom when coming about and to stay very aware of what the tiller was doing.

Before all that, though, we spent a quick 45 minutes at a grocery store picking up some grub. I picked out firm bread, sliced cheese that didn’t crumble, sliced roast beef, mayo and mustard. He nodded. “Verr’ good. That won’t be coming back up too quick if the seas turn rough. Get nothin’ heavy or greasy, mind ya.” I showed him the scopolamine patches I’d gotten from the pharmacy. He smiled and seemed to relax a bit at my foresight. I bought some raisins, apples and a couple packages of instant red beans & rice that could be eaten cold out of the package. He cocked his eye at my purchase. He said, “I’ll have to try some ‘a that m’self.” and picked up a couple different heat-n-eat food packs, including dirty rice and pinto beans & rice. We finished up by buying instant drinks--coffee, tea and hot chocolate.

Once aboard he handed me a rain suit and a hat with a long brim and a long back. “Whatever yer wearin’ if it ain’t waterproof it’s gonna get soaked.” It was good stuff--Gore-Tex. Expensive! He checked the tread on my shoes. I was wearing a pair of New Balance shoes with a high gripping coefficient. He grunted. “They’re not deck boots but they’ll do ya.” He stowed the food while I changed to fleece unders and waterproof overs. He showed me the weather report with the water temperature--it was in the low forties while the air temperature was in the upper fifties. He handed me a self-inflating vest and looked at me real serious-like. “Buckle this on and don’t take it off unless you’re below deck. Even then, keep it handy!”

I was surprised at how roomy the cabin was and how many familiar conveniences I found. I was warned not to waste water as we only had eighteen gallons of drinkable water. The toilet, or ‘head’, was a composting unit that didn’t need a sludge tank. The boat had a Volvo 18 HP diesel engine which Jim said was overpowered for the size of the boat but the next lower size was, in his words, “too puny”. Besides, it was a real comfort to have all that thrust available if the sea got ‘frisky’.

The engine featured a big alternator capable of fast-charging the two banks of three 12-volt batteries he kept in the bow. I noticed a boxy little kerosene heater mounted against the fore-wall of the main cabin. The brass plaque on the front said “Dickinson Marine Newport”. It had two controls--fan speed and temperature. Jim turned it on low at night to take the chill off and to dry us. It was an amazingly comforting appliance. Who’d have thought to have a fireplace aboard a boat?

There was no oven, but there was a two-burner alcohol stove. It was on gimbals to keep it level even when the deck was pitching in complex gyrations.

I saw two midget bunks in the fore peak or bow, and two six-foot bunks in the main cabin that served as benches during the day. I’m five foot eight so it suited me just fine. The bench cushions were covered in a very durable synthetic canvas. It made a lot of sense since when sailing alone or with just two people, whoever was off-watch would no doubt want to bunk down close to the gangway leading to the cockpit.

Jim showed me how the auto-tiller worked, which used a tall blade on a pivot to drive the primitive auto-pilot. “It don’t work for crap in variable winds or a gale, but just movin’ along she works fine.”

All in all, it was an eye-opening experience. First we sailed inside a deep inlet after which Jim took me out over the deep water where the waves were hypnotic in their rhythm, almost like a heartbeat. I could tell that I’d be doing this again.

He tossed a hook and line over the side while I manned the tiller. We had fresh baked fish along with a side of red beans and rice for dinner. Breakfast was oatmeal with bananas, canned milk and a little sugar. I got a few lessons on sail handling and running close-hauled to the wind.

At the end of the second day we came into dock under power as the wind was gusty and uneven. I got another lesson in line handling and how to tie off to a cleat. I helped clean up the garbage that always accumulates, then changed back to my own clothes. I wrote down the information from the labels of what he loaned me. We shook hands in parting and I handed him an extra fifty. I said, “This is for making my first sail something really enjoyable. I’ll be doing this again”.

It sure opened my eyes as to what sailing was about. Or so I thought.

I drove down the coast, through Portsmouth, Gloucester and Salem. The traffic was really picking up coming into Boston which really put me off, so I followed the ring road around the city. There were eight lanes in each direction! I’d driven in downtown Chicago traffic. Big city congestion didn’t terrorize me but it was like eating liver--if I didn’t have to do it, I damned well wouldn’t. I passed by the big three--Boston, New York and Philadelphia after which I ran through the middle of Washington DC and down to Richmond. I wanted to see Portsmouth and Newport News with all the big military ships.

All that floating armor plate was intimidating as hell, which it probably had been designed for besides the obvious bit of stopping belligerent pieces of flying metal. When compared to the ranks of little sailboats I’d seen tied up further north the difference was absurd.

There was no way to follow the coast south of there as the deep inlets cut into the coastline for tens of miles. Instead I headed back south-west to Emporia to catch 95 and drove south from there. I drove every other day, spending my rest days at a library reading up on sailboat architecture and life. Eventually a day found me despicably tired of interstate driving well before it dumped me out at Savannah. I headed for Charleston to explore part of the Inter coastal waterway and the marinas that dotted its shores.

I took a (relatively) inexpensive room in a run-down motel for the week. The bedding and carpet were musty. I immediately stripped the mattress and pillow, then stuffed it all into the pillowcase to store in the closet. I headed out for a SuperTarget for two cans of Lysol deodorizer, a plastic mattress cover, a new set of queen-sized bedding, a pillow and a pillowcase. I visited a laundry mat to bleach and wash my new white goods then gave them a thorough drying, after which I returned to the motel where I covered the mattress to keep its must out of my laundry. I had a thought. I shifted the box spring in its frame and inspected the inner corners. I found creepy-crawlies. Bedbugs. Out I went once more for a set of bug-bombs, three times the amount suggested on the packaging. I took my belongings, mattress cover and bedding with me. I cocked the mattress and springs out of their normal positions before I triggered the foggers and ran for the door. It was after ten that night before I estimated that everything in that room had expired and I could get some sleep. I should have shelled out for better digs. I was charged 45 bucks a night for the room, then spent eight for Lysol, twenty for clean bedding, eight for a mattress cover and sixteen for the bug bombs!

I stopped off at the building office before going to breakfast. I wanted to insure that no maid service was going to make off with my new sheets and such. Then I slapped down the bill for the insect foggers. “You have bedbugs. I killed the ones in my room. You’d better so something about the rest of the place or you’ll be out of business soon.” The man gave me a pained look, but must have agreed with me because I saw him reaching for the phone book as I left.

I came up on a small marina where I parked and went down to the docks to look over the boats. There were two double-sided floating concrete piers hosting about forty boats that demonstrated long-term connections. I presumed that these were liveaboards--boats that people lived in on a day-to-day basis. I wandered up and down the piers while taking in the sometimes whimsical decorations. Virtually all of them had a heavy power cable leading to a gray painted metal post.

I came up on an older black lady with wrinkles around her lips sitting in a lawn chair, facing out at a sailboat. She seemed quite depressed. I stopped to talk to her.

“I couldn’t help but notice you looked pretty down. Anything I can do?” She looked me over and gave me half a smile. “Nope. Don’t reckon ya can.” She waved a finger out at the boat moored up in front of her. “My old man, Carlos, retired not long ago and bought that thing. He got it cheap as boats go, but Lord did he pour money inta it. The damned thin’ kilt ‘im too. I found him dead as hell a couple weeks ago, sittin’ down there--dead as yesterday’s news. The doc said a stroke got ‘im.”

“Jesus.”

She nodded, then stuck out her hand. “Irene.” I shook with her. “Carl.”

She squinted as she looked me up and down. I felt like a slab of beef. “Ya wanna buy a boat, sonny?”

I should never, ever play poker. My heart raced with avarice. Jesus, to own my own boat!”

“Before I say yes or no, how much we talkin’, and what sort of shape is it in?”

She tossed me the keys. “Go look ‘er over.” The papers along with a survey are on the table in the main cabin. I’ll wait.”

She sure was a canny old bird. She knew that I’d sell myself.

I stuck my nose into every nook and cranny. She sure was clean. All the personal stuff had been cleared out and the food larders were empty, but there were some pots, pans, plates, bowls and miscellaneous kitchen stuff still present. I found plenty of cleaning supplies in a couple of plastic buckets. There was a little sink and a hand spray nozzle to shower within the head. I looked at the drain in the floor and wondered where it went. Back in the main cabin I eyed a long cabinet that looked out-of-place. The advertising literature showed that space as being an upper bunk. Curious, I looked inside. It was partially full of big canvas bags and bundles of rope. Hunh. The sail locker had been moved from the stern to here. It blocked some of the light from the main cabin’s port-holes. However the overhead was painted bright white and since the actual port-hole wasn’t covered the light coming in reflected back down.

The bilge was a little damp but had no real standing water. The chain locker and anchor were at the bow. There was no anchor winch. She steered with a wheel rather than a tiller and there was a big covered compass fastened to the top of the post. I sat down with the paperwork.

She was a fiberglass-hulled Pearson 35 modeled after the Scandinavian Folk boats, 35’ from end to end and 10’ side to side. She was built in 1982 near the end of the factory run. She had 6’2” of cabin headroom and long portholes which gave plenty of cabin light. I was surprised to see no teak anywhere except for a wood grate between the bow bunks. She was single-masted, Bermuda rigged and the main mast was set up for slab furling. A spinnaker and a storm sail lay packed away in the sail locker.

The paperwork said that the original gasoline engine had recently been replaced by a Yanmar diesel that boasted 28 HP, with only 70 hours on the engine hours counter. Both the bottom had been repainted and the zincs had been replaced the previous spring. The hull and deck had been carefully checked for fiberglass issues at the time during the ship’s survey.

I read through the log to look for a history of problems. All I could see was that she was due for oil and water filters. She had a fuel capacity of 60 gallons because that’s what the last refill nearly took. According to the ship’s specs as purchased that meant someone had added a second fuel tank somewhere. I suspected that’s what happened to the sail locker at the stern. Fuel was heavy so the tank was no doubt installed partially below the waterline to maintain the boat’s balance. I needed to find it and check out the penetrations and the feed line. The ship’s specs said that there was a 40 gallon water tank up in the bow but she had no water heater. I pushed the pump button over the kitchen tap and caught some water. It tasted fine. According to the specs it had originally been manual pumped but someone had retrofitted an electric pump into the system to support the demands made by the toilet.

She was rigged for shore power with a fat yellow feeder cable leading into a regulator powering two banks of batteries, four in one set for the utilities and two in the other to start the engine and run part of the navigation electronics. She’d originally had only one AC service outlet in the galley. I counted six scattered about, including a weatherproofed one at the helm. Why so many damned outlets on a 35 foot boat? Christmas decorations? I counted four twist-lock 12-Volt connectors.

The head was a SeaLand “Marine Traveler” portapotty set up for pumping out. The manual said it had a nine gallon tank and used a pint of fresh water for each flush.

A big industrial 12-Volt regulator was put in place to charge all the batteries at once. The 12-Volt to 120-Volt inverter was huge.

Someone had attached a combination heater and air conditioner suitable for an RV to the cabin roof. A commercial refrigerator had been shoehorned into the thing in the field. It held about seven cubic feet shared with the freezer and either 110 Volt or Propane powered while the Force 10 3-burner gimbaled range was run off of straight Propane. All three stove burners worked and so did the oven. I found two thirty-pound tanks in the lazarette. There were some electronics mounted on a weather-protected board mounted to the cockpit wall that I didn’t bother with at the time.

I crawled back out and locked the access way. “All right, you evil old woman. You knew that I’d want it after seeing everything. What are you gonna bleed me for?”

She snickered then got serious. I won’t cut ‘ya too deep, son. She’s insured for thirty eight thou, and that’s the valuation on the appraisal. I’m askin’ for fifteen, as is. The slip is paid up for the year an’ the insurance is good ‘til January.”

I had to ask. “Please excuse my curiosity, but why so little?”

It’s enough to cover what I owe and I need the money now. In a couple of months my teacher’s retirement and social security kick in. Without any payments to make, I’ll be set for life.” She paused for a bit. “If I try to sell her for the appraised value she’ll just sit on the market and I’ll be kicked out of my home.” She looked sad. “I’m too old to keep a boat like this repaired and live on her.”

I noticed that her accent cleared right up. She was in a pinch and she knew it.

I had a lot to think about and not much time to do it. It meant moving, changing jobs, getting out of my apartment and finding a new job. I had over forty five thou in my savings account and just short of three grand in checking. Shit. Fool that I was, I was gonna do it.

“You know of any Harris banks around here?” “You gonna buy it?” “Damned straight I am. I haven’t had a break from work in over ten years and I’m damned well ready for something new.” She waved her hand back towards the road. “Charleston’s about eight miles East. They’s gotta be one somewhere.”

I looked at my watch. It was 9:40 on a Thursday morning. “I’m gonna get my stuff from the motel room and steal their phone book. I should be back by two with a certified check. Can you have the title by then?”

She said, “Make it three or so. It’s in a bank box.”

I wrote down her name and address for the certified check and hot-footed it back to the motel.

“I bought a boat. I need my deposit back.” His eyes goggled. “You bought a boat? What the hell you livin’ in a dive like this for?” I shrugged. “Habit.” He grinned and rubbed the side of his nose. “Gotcha. Good habit to get into.” He rang me out and made me sign a receipt. “Good call on the bedbugs. Thanks. The exterminator said they were just gettin’ dug in.”

The banking section of the phone book sent me downtown. You’d have thought that a driver’s license, a photo on a Citibank card, a firearm owner’s ID and a valid U. S. Passport would have been enough ID. Hell, they had me standing around like a beggar for over forty minutes. I thought that the teller was going to pop out her tampon right there on the floor when I asked for a certified check for fifteen thousand bucks. Then the manager got called into the fracas. “I’ll have to know the purpose of the transaction for any dollar value over five thousand. We have to report it--it’s the law.”

I smiled easily and said, “I bought a boat for half of its appraised value. I’ll need, say, seven thousand more transferred from my savings to checking as well. I’ll have to pay the taxes and registration fees, then equip the galley.”

I had plenty of time to devour a shrimp po’ boy and a glass of tea before making it back to the marina. I stopped off at a Walgreens for a pad of paper and some pens. I’d be buying one hell of a lot of stuff and didn’t want to try and keep it all in my head. That phone book was going to be my friend for a while.

Irene made it back about a quarter after two. We went below to transact some business.

After we traded the title for the check and got everything signed we shook hands. She mentioned in warning, “Carlos said that the chain plate at the bow was loose and needed some professional love.” She wrote down an address and phone number from her purse’s notebook. “These are the folks that took care of the Barbara for us. If any maintenance has been left hangin’ they’d know about it.”

“I appreciate it. I’d hate to get smacked in the face by a big unexpected expense so soon after buying her.”

She wrote down a phone number. “That’s how to get ahold of me if you have any questions. I gotta get goin’ now to piss off my banker.”

She scooted, leaving me with a nearly twenty year old boat that seemed to be taking my measure. I patted the cabin wall. “You take care of me and I’ll take care of you.”

I’d not yet checked my WiFi or phone signal strength while docked. My laptop acquired four bars of signal out of five. Very good! My iPhone (not my choice--it was going back to my boss) registered good signal as well.

I started writing down my first list. I had to fill the larder with long-term foods and staples, then explore the marina and make my face known. They could tell me what my mailing address was and the WiFi password.

The boat’s registration had to be taken care of and the insurance policy transferred. No doubt Irene would have to help me with that one.

Then I had to lock up, arrange for some sort of watchman and get back to Illinois to close out my apartment and job there. It would make more sense to fly back and lease a U-Haul to get my stuff out to South Carolina.

Once I had a GPS to find where I was going and bought into a new phone & contract I’d be ‘employable’. With any luck I’d get a good referral from my boss. I figured that I might as well get things in motion.

<ring><ring><ring> “Hello, This is Roger.”

“Hi, Boss. This is Carl. Have I got news for you.”

“I’m not going to like this, am I?”

“Well, it depends on whether or not you’d like to come visit me on my new boat in North Carolina.”

“You bought a boat.”

“I bought a thirty-five foot motorized sailboat that’s been set-up as a liveaboard. I just signed the paperwork less than an hour ago.”

“Holy crap! When you take a vacation you don’t fool around, do you?”

I laughed. “Not hardly. I paid fifteen large for a boat appraised for over twice that. I own it free and clear. I’ve got a six-month-old certified appraisal sitting right in front of me to prove that I haven’t been shafted.”

He said, “I guess this means you’ll be moving on.”

“Ya gotta admit, the commute would be a real heller.”

He snorted. “Come by when you return for your closing paperwork. I’ll take you out to lunch. You’ll have to get out of your apartment as well. That’ll be a circus.”

“No kidding. I’m not anticipating it with any joy at all.”

After a brief salutation we hung up. Good. Well begun. That gave him the maximum amount of time to find my replacement and hopefully left him with a good feeling about the whole shebang.

I used a rickety dock cart to take my storage boxes to the boat then wrestled them below. It just made sense to get everything stowed right away. I had my bedding, a little Sony radio with a CD player, a few books, the chargers for my laptop, a 6 inch cast iron fry pan, a ten inch cast aluminum dutch oven, a 1.5 quart covered heavy anodized pot that I cooked everything in, rainwear and a couple coats stored away in those boxes. I’d even stashed a little bedside gooseneck lamp in there. I found two hanging lockers over two built-in chests of drawers in the fore cabin. I lifted all the cushions and inspected everywhere for mildew with both my eyes and my nose. I wondered at how he had kept the mildew down. That’s when I heard it. A little compressor and a fan kicked on, hidden behind the bow access wood grate. I lifted it out and pulled my pocket flashlight. I found a dehumidifier without a case. Someone had no doubt taken the case off and re-engineered the thing a bit to fit through the opening. I traced down the water condensate line coming out of it. It headed straight for the bilge. It explained a lot.

I didn’t exactly feel clean after a night in that motel. I closed up the ladder-way and grabbed my suitcase out of the truck. It was a short walk up to the marina offices. I found a pricey little grill, a book and magazine stand and a few shelves full of ‘necessities’ like tampons, Raid, instant rice, coffee, powdered creamer, sugar, French’s mustard, catsup, peanut butter, jelly and bread--stuff that you’d find for sale in any trailer park office.

I also found two sets of shower rooms attached to the restroom facilities, a lounge with a TV turned to what appeared to be a local marine weather forecast along with a shelf of reading material, a nice little coin-op laundry marked “open 24 hours” and a service counter. I gave the attendant my slip number and let her know that I’d just bought the Barbara from Irene Collins. With good grace she took all my information and printed out an ID card for me, then handed me a sheet listing their services and prices. After I asked she turned it over and wrote down the WiFi pass code. I smiled, tipped my imaginary hat and headed off in pursuit of a good hot shower with a bar of strong soap.

Once I’d boiled myself alive and gotten changed I packed away my dubious laundry in a garbage bag and headed out to do some grocery shopping. I knew that I’d be buying mostly canned goods and bottled juices that would last a good long time. I had an oven, so bread pans, oil, flour, salt, sugar and yeast were on the agenda. I’d try to stay with canned goods or plastic jars where I could, limiting my glass container purchases except for the spices and the yeast. I’d seen ghee (clarified butter) in plastic screw top containers. I’d look for it. I couldn’t trust the refrigerator and freezer unit until I powered it up and tried it so I bought some ice for the cooler to keep my roast beef and cheese cold.

I also bought pickles, salt, pepper and the usual suspects for condiments. The tea pot felt suspiciously heavy when I’d hefted it so I had no doubt that it had a good half inch of lime deposited inside. I took the lazy man’s route and bought a new one. I also made sure to buy a roll of garbage bags that were strong, waterproof and would seal properly at the tops. Next on my list were quart and gallon sized zipper-top baggies. I also bought a box of medium-point retractable Sharpies-- laundry markers to label and date everything that got anonymized in the baggies, and to date all the canned goods. I’d learned to like strong, sweet coffee so I bought a bag of espresso grind and a little french press the size of a table-top sugar dispenser. I knew I’d need toilet paper, a couple plastic buckets, glass cleaner, 409 spray cleaner, paper towels, a couple of deep dish-pans, dish soap and some hand towels.

It took me a good half hour to get everything on board then a good two hours to find places to stow everything. Working or not, a lot went into the fridge for organization if nothing else.

I gave that roof-mounted AC/heater unit the evil eye. I didn’t like loud mechanical noises waking me out of a sound sleep and it had already proved to be offensive. I could live with the dehumidifier because it was fairly quiet and muffled by the wood grating. As a matter of fact, I’d feel a lot better about matters with a few more quiet little 12-volt air pushers screwed down here and there. In that climate I could deal with little or no air conditioning at night if I had dehumidified air and some fans to move it around.

I also wanted a nice, quiet heater installed that wouldn’t be a power thief. I didn’t want to rely on the oven for heat.

I called the number Irene left me for the marine contractor that they’d dealt with. I set up a time the next day to meet with one of their reps. I wanted a Dickinson Newport propane-fed heater installed on the wall between the fore cabin and the main cabin, a couple circulation fans as well as a couple ducted explosion-proof fans mounted in the lazarette and the bilge to keep any propane fumes from building up. Then I wanted that chain plate reinforced by through-bolts and an under-plate. Finally, I wanted the fridge/freezer tested and evaluated for efficiency and all the bilge pumps tested, including the no doubt rarely-used manual pump. The boat had about twenty years on her and the manual pump was probably original equipment. If it didn’t have two automatic bilge pumps installed in the sumps then by damn I was going to buy another and have it installed.

I walked around the deck with a turnbuckle key to check the tension on all the mast stays, then inspected the deck penetrations where the mast dropped through the deck, through the cabin and down to the keel-block. It took some contortion but I finally got to the packing box where the drive shaft penetrated the hull and checked it for an ‘unusual’ amount of moisture. Everything checked out.

I walked around flipping switches and checking bulbs. I evaluated all of the lights for LED compatibility, then looked up the socket types courtesy of the Internet. I placed an order with Lowe’s on-line to get the bulb replacements, a set of metric star-drives and a good quality metric ratchet wrench set delivered to the front office and held for me. The notes on the engine’s diagram noted that all the screws and bolts were metric. All I owned were SAE and they were back in Illinois. The rest of the afternoon I spent checking out the pilot’s instrumentation and radios. Then I pulled the manuals and read through them. I logged my change of ownership as well as the dry-box and mast inspections. I looked up the filters and hoses listed in the engine’s exploded diagram then ordered a hose kit, all the filters for the oil and fuel systems, a gasket kit, a spare water pump, a spare oil pump, an alternator, a heat exchanger pump and a belt set. I asked myself what would really screw me up if it died. I ordered a reserve pump for the potable water tank. I also picked up a roll of hundred-mile-an-hour tape, worm clamps of various sizes and several lengths of hose. I could always find storage space for spares like that even if I had to sacrifice a fore-bunk.

After doing a bit of thinking and Internet research, I decided to buy a Yamaha propane-driven generator and stash an extra two 30-pound propane tanks in the lazarette. There was room for eight, but I wanted some air circulation room held in reserve. If the batteries had to be charged and the engine was down I could run that puppy for roughly 52 hours per propane tank at about 10 watts, which would nicely charge the batteries and run one frugal AC appliance at the same time.

The electronics inventory included a marine radio with a loud hailer, a Furuno 10-inch chart display with an impressive array of pre-loaded charts, (granted they were a few years old) an integrated depth finder, an engine management panel, a GPS add-on and a heading/knot module for the Furuno chart display as well as most of the tiniest little radar system that I’d ever seen. It was another Furuno add-on. It was missing the radome, cable and transceiver to be mounted on a pole at the stern. It was all damned complicated. A previous owner had thrown a lot of money at the electronics and never completed the pass.

I had a toasted cheese sandwich and a couple of Sam Adams beers for dinner. The bedding smelled a little funky but not bad--kind of like they’d been washed in old-style liquid Lysol. I’d smelled lots worse in hotels. I spent the first night in my new boat luxuriating in the idea that I had an apartment that nobody but God could kick me out of, before I fell asleep.

After waking I had a whore’s bath (face, neck, pits and crotch), boiled up some water for oat meal and sucked it down with brown sugar, crushed pecans, raisins and canned milk. A couple cups of powerful Turkish coffee wound me up for the day.

I did a finger test of all the surfaces inside the oven and around the range. Most was pretty clean, but I found a few sticky spots. Upon pulling out the range assembly I found a lot of accumulated gunk. The propane supply hose was the old, dangerous type consisting of bare coiled copper tubing with no cladding. I went out for industrial-quality detergent, Tri-Sodium Phosphate degreaser, a sharp putty knife and a pair of rubber gloves.

I was just about finished with my cleaning when I heard a knock on the hatch frame. I shouted out, “Come aboard!” It was the rep from Charleston Marine Engineering. I took him down my tick list of items that I’d taken the time to write down the previous evening. I asked if using through-bolts and a reinforcing plate would do a proper job. He said, if they engineered a large enough backer plate, no problem. I gave him the go-ahead for the chain plate work, the fans, the extra propane tanks along with their tie-down frame, the generator, the heater and the refrigeration and bilge pump systems testing.

I showed him the Furuno instrumentation and asked if they had anyone experienced in its configuration. He was pretty confident that they did, so I scheduled a follow-on appointment in a few weeks for after I got back from Illinois. After he left I went out to find the proper flexible reinforced and armored LP gas hoses, a pint can of paint, a brush and a box fan. I painted all the normally hidden surfaces in the range bay with a good high-temp white epoxy paint. It would be evening before everything was dry enough to put back into place, even with the fan blasting away at it, but that was the price of doing business.

I assumed that the wrong gas supply hose on the stove meant that there probably was the wrong style gas supply hose on the refrigerator too. Even if I was wrong it would be good to have a spare.

I went out to buy a new cell phone, a VHF hand-held for the boat and a decent GPS with nearly-current data files and a big 4x4 inch color screen--top of the line for the day. I planned to keep that in the truck. The main office gave me a suggestion as to who to contact for security. I contracted for a one-month policy with them and gave the guys from Charleston Marine Engineering rights to work on the boat while I was out of town. I gave the office, the engineering office’s secretary and the security office my new cell number then called in for an as-available dead-head executive charter to the O’Hare, Midway, DeKalb or Sugar Grove airports. I did my laundry and packed my suitcase in preparation while holding myself ready for an on-call seat. Dead-head executive charters offer low-priced seats to known destinations as the planes have to get back to their home FBOs. (fixed bases of operation) It can cost less than a third of standard air-fare and it involves a lot less bullshit and NO overbooking. It didn’t take long to get a call-back.

I took a taxi from Sugar Grove to St. Charles, where I rented a U-haul cube truck. There was no problem with leaving my job with the county. In fact I got a very nice “fuck off and leave already” party from the guys. They pitched in and bought me a very nice self-inflating life jacket which I crowed over, saying that I’d never have to worry about getting drunk and falling overboard again. I got more than a few envious looks when I showed off the pictures I’d taken of the Barbara. At the end of my presentation I said, “I can honestly say that any of you are welcome to come out to Charleston when you’re on vacation and spend some time aboard. You’re all good people.”

Roger was the head of all IT for the county, a very demanding position. Still, he arranged a hole in his schedule to take me to lunch. We were sitting down at a local watering hole with good burgers and grilled skirt steak sandwiches, not to mention wonderful deep fried onion rings and breaded mushrooms. It was all high-cholesterol pub grub but it was the best in the valley. Roger said, “I did a little reading about owning and operating a sailboat. You’re going to have to take a schedule of professional courses and take their associated tests before you can legally take her out on the water.”

I nodded. “I anticipated that. I can still live aboard her without breaking any laws before earning my captaincy certificates. I anticipate getting that done within a year or two, as time allows. Finding another job will take precedence.”

He grinned at me while sitting back with his hands laced over his belly. “I’ve no doubt that you can make a good run at a Juniper certification and a BDIFBY cert for the Palo Alto management.”

I was intrigued. He’d pulled a new acronym out of his hat. “What the hell is ‘BDIFBY’?”

He laughed. It’s the most respected cert in the business. Been Doing It For Bloody Years.”

I couldn’t help but grin. “Hell, yes. Cisco, Juniper, Novell, Microsoft DNS, all of the above.”

“I know that you’ll hit the ground running. Have your prospective employers call me directly. I’ll make you sound like the guy behind the curtain.”

“Maybe I should just get a T-shirt made that says, ‘Oh, Great Wizard!’”.

He said, “Better watch out for Toto. You have to stay grounded.”

“I’ve been bitten by that lesson a few times.”

We parted with grins and a good hand-shake. He didn’t even stick me with the check. Remarkable.

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Fiction / Post Apocalypse /