The entrance to Aukland Harbor came up on my port bow about ten that morning. Aukland wasn't a port I'd usually make. I prefer smaller, less busy places, but there was a reason for this stop. The jib on my Catalina 30 had ripped on my way down from the Cook Islands. My spare had gotten me this far, but I didn't want to risk any more open water with only a repaired sail as a backup. Aukland was a place I'd be sure of finding a sailmaker who knew his stuff.
Other than the ripped jib, my trip from the Cook Islands had been fantastic with consistent wind and nice water. Any day on the Alice Claire was a good day. Days like I'd just had made me realize just how good my decision had been.
Fate was toying with me that day, my destiny teetering on the edge of one single sentence. My boss layed off one of the guys in my department and told me I'd have to pick up the slack. I thought about it for a minute, maybe it was more, but it didn't seem like more. I'd just turned forty, had been alone for a year and it didn't look as if that was going to change. I didn't need this crap anymore. In five minutes, my email with my resignation, effective immediately, was on it's way to him. In another five, I'd cleaned out my desk, and was out the door with a box under my arm and a smile on my face.
Sailing had been my addiction since I was a kid in an eight foot centerboard on an inland lake. I had a small daysailer for the weekends, and had learned a lot in the relative calm of the waters around Southern Florida. When I saw the Alice Claire, I knew she was the boat I needed for what I had in mind. After some refitting and rigging for blue water, she and I set out to see the world, starting with Bermuda and then working our way across the Atlantic, around Africa, and on to Indonesia.
With Motuihe Island to my starboard, I dropped the sails and started the Yanmar to motor in to the harbor. In another hour, the Alice Claire was safely moored and I was talking to customs. Once they were satisfied, I pumped up the rubber dingy, and was on my way to shore.
I found a sailmaker's loft a few blocks from the wharf. He knew exactly what I wanted because he had one that had been ordered and never picked up. All he needed was a day to find it again in the piles of sails that littered every part of the loft except the cutting floor.
That suited me, as I had some other things to do while in a large port, attending to my finances being one. The eight-hundred and some dollars the sail was costing me would eat pretty deep into my reserve cash. After the sweet young lady at the bank I visited assured me I could pick up my money in the morning, it was time for dinner.
There were restaurants everywhere, it seemed, but none in which I felt comfortable in my usual shore clothes – kahki slacks, a light cotton shirt and deck shoes. Finally, I came across a place called "The Bluestone Room" that looked pretty casual. My burger came with pineapple and eggs and the Monteith's Original was perfect to wash it down.
I still had some time to kill before going back aboard for the night, and I'd read a little about the Viaduct. It seemed like a just the place for a few more beers and maybe a little fun. A bar called "The Car Park" caught my eye, so I went in. It seemed to be a lively place, and there were lots of women showing lots of skin. The seat I took at the bar had a great view of everything.
Midway through my second Monteith's, I was watching a pool game when a soft, female voice asked if I lived in Aukland. I turned to answer, but the smiling face framed by bobbed dark brown hair stopped me for a second. The short, black dress was hugging some very delicious curves.
"No, Ma'am. Just stopped in Aukland for a new sail."
She smiled again.
"Oh, my, you're an American. Where from?"
"Florida, but I don't live there anymore."
"Where do you live now, then?"
"She's not a where, she's a a sailboat."
She climbed onto the stool next to me, and in the process her little black dress rode up her thigh. It was a very nice thigh too, and made even moreso by the black lace tops of her stockings. I was thinking how nice that nice thigh would probably feel.
"That sounds fascinating. You simply must tell me all about it." She held out her hand. "I'm Estelle, by the way. What's your name."
"Craig, Craig Nelson."
Estelle shook my hand.
"You actually live on your boat? All year long? What do you do in winter?"
I was telling her where I planned to spend the winter months when a guy in a suit came up and grabbed her by the arm, and none to gently, I thought. She'd winced when he pulled her off the stool.
"Stell, where the hell have you been? You're embarrassing me in front of my friends."
"Danny, I – I just came up for another beer and met Will here. He cruises all around the world in his sailboat. Isn't that wonderful?"
"Sounds like a bloody fucking waste of time to me. Now get your buns back over here with us, where you belong."
Estelle gave me a weak smile as he dragged her off through the crowd.
That kind of killed the evening for me, so finished my beer and went back my boat for the night.
The next morning, I picked up my money and my new jib along with a case of Monteith's, two bottles of good scotch, some fresh food, and a few new fishing lures, and then took a cab back to the harbor. It was tight getting all that into the dingy, but in an hour, everything was stowed and I was on my way out of the harbor. Once I cleared Rangitoto Island, I set the sails and steered a course North by East, and then North between Little and Big Barrier Islands. The Alice Claire was on her way to open ocean and bound for New Caledonia. I set the autopilot and went below for some lunch.
I suppose when nature calls, the real salts would hang their ass over the aft rail, but I don't like hanging on to the backstay to keep from falling overboard. I had the urge, and went to the head. If it had been on deck instead of in the cabin, I'd probably have fallen overboard from the shock.
"Hi", Estelle said softly as she waved her hand at me and smiled.
I shut the door to the head and looked around. Yes, I was on the right boat. I opened the door again.
She was still sitting there on the seat in the little black dress and heels she'd worn at the bar. The only other thing she had with her was her purse.
"Estelle? How the hell did you get here?"
"A really nice man brought me here in his little boat after you left. I told him I was your wife and you had to have our little boat to get back after you got done getting stuff for our trip."
"How did you find her?"
"You said your boat was the Alice Claire and that she was a Cat something or other in the marina. He seemed to know all about sailboats so it didn't take him long to find yours."
"But why in the world would you do such a thing?"
"Danny", she spat. "I was in Aukland on a holiday of sorts and met him. We hit it off, I thought, and ended up going out. I guess he thought that meant I belonged to him. After he saw me talking to you last night, he got all pissy with me. When I told him I'd had enough, he told me to fuck off. I slapped him in the face and walked out. I suppose he was just drunk, but I didn't like him at all right then. He turned out to be a real horse's arse."
"So you decided to stow away on my boat instead of going back to him?"
"Well ... it seemed like a good idea this morning. You're not going to throw me overboard, are you?"
"No, I'm going to turn around and take you back."
She stood up and grabbed my arm. There were tears in her eyes.
"Please don't do that. He knows where I was staying and he'll find me. After I embarrassed him last night, I'm a little afraid of what he might do. Just let me stay until you get somewhere with an airport so I can fly back home."
I've never known how to react to a woman crying. I just stood there looking at her.
"I have some money with me if that's a problem. If it's not enough, I can get more when we get to someplace with a bank. Please let me stay. I don't want to go back."
I went back up on deck to think. The nearest place with an airport was Norfolk Island, seven or eight days out, and I wasn't sure there were any regular flights out of there. After that, it was New Caladonia. That would be another six anyway.
I was leaving New Zealand further astern by the second and there was nothing but open sea ahead, an open sea I thought I'd have all to myself. I was still thinking when I heard the quiet padding of bare feet behind me.
"I was wondering ... would you have anything I could wear besides this dress? When we get somewhere, I'll buy some clothes, but until then..."
Damn, now I had to give her my clothes too.
"Go down in the front cabin. There's some shirts in a locker that'll be way too big but they'll keep you from sunburning everything. There's some pants there too. Maybe a pair of my shorts would fit if you use something for a belt."
I hadn't meant my boxer shorts, but I had to admit they did a lot for her ass. The white T-shirt was also interesting. She'd tied the tail in a knot around her middle and that pulled it down tight over her breasts. Her nipples made some very delicious bumps in the front of that shirt. Estelle grinned when she saw me looking.
"Do I look OK, I mean, what I have on?"
"Doesn't matter much. We're not gonna see anybody but each other for the next week or so."
"It matters to me. Since you've been so nice, I wouldn't want you to have to look at an ugly woman."
She hitched up the boxer shorts.
"These keep slipping down on me, but they feel nice. I can see why you wear them."
"I don't unless I'm on land. I just wear shorts or slacks when I'm on the boat ... and you look OK."
"Thank you, I think. So, you're naked under your pants, right now?"
"Yep. That bother you?"
"No, I guess not."
Estelle watched me for a few seconds, then asked, "So what do we do now?"
"Just what I'm doing."
"You're not doing anything."
"That's right. I'm damned good at it too."
"Do you ever eat? I wouldn't ask, but I missed breakfast this morning."
"When I'm hungry. I'm not hungry yet."
"Oh ... well, what if I fixed us something? I can cook."
I showed her how to light the alcohol stove, gave her a canned ham and the dozen eggs and one loaf of bread I'd gotten.
I had to admit, her ham and egg sandwiches were pretty good. Even though the beer was warm, it was pretty good too. Estelle ate like she was starved.
That afternoon, I hooked a small shark. Estelle did a another great job with that shark and a can of peas.
Nights on the ocean are beautiful, nights that can only happen at sea. There were a million stars twinkling in the deep black sky, the swell was low and gentle, and the wind sang a quiet tune through the rigging. I was checking the compass when Estelle came up the companionway with two glasses.
"I though you might like a drink before bed. I don't know how you like your scotch, so I didn't put anything in it."
"Neat is just fine."
Estelle looked up at the sky for a full minute.
"God, it's beautiful out here. I never knew there were so many stars."
"All the lights on land wash them out."
"Is it like this all the time?"
"Unless the weather get's rough."
"It must be wonderful to see this every night. That's why you do this isn't it? The sailing, I mean."
"It's one of the reasons, yes."
"What's the other?"
"Oh, I got tired of people telling me what to do. Out here, my boat is the only one who tells me that, and she's pretty quiet most of the time."
"Sometimes I wish I could just chuck it all too. It must be nice."
We sat there, watching the stars until I saw her yawn.
"I think you need some sleep. Take the aft cabin. Don't worry, I won't bother you. I usually sleep on the quarter berth by the chart table anyway."
Estelle drained her glass and then went down the companionway. I stayed up for another hour, checked my course and the autopilot, and turned in too.