I was strangling in my job and my life. I found myself grinding my teeth before going to work every morning. I drank myself into a solitary stupor every night. I'd worked myself into an unendurable present and a grim death spiral. I could see no real way out but a complete break in occupation, lifestyle and habits. What was a more divergent lifestyle from a chair-born computer management job than that of a mechanic? I'd once been a bench tech and found that I had the knack. I took night school classes in welding, diesel engine repair, automotive spray painting, servo control systems, basic fiberglass repair and HVAC.
I included a change in location with my break. I'd always wanted to move to the north-west where I could experience both the mountains and the sea coast on a daily basis. After several months of research using the Internet from work the Puget Sound area became my targeted home. I was full of hope, expectation and excitement.
Quitting my job and securing a decent reserve was just a matter of perseverance. I found a crappy little Isuzu Trooper for sale in the paper. It needed brakes, tires, shocks and an oil pump, but then it was good to go. It had a box hitch already mounted. I installed a trailer light harness, bought a six foot cube trailer, loaded up and took the slow lane west.
I got a job at the docks and a cheap apartment in Bremerton, across the bay from Seattle proper. I had more money in the bank than I thought I would have from my accumulated vacation hours. After the last six years of only taking sick days it all built up.
I found a gutted 48 foot long steel-hulled tug boat with a twenty foot beam. She'd had a run-in with a low bridge and lost. The gross profile had a broad bow and a flat, high stern. She had a nasty beat in the drive shaft that the owner couldn't shake. I stole the hulk for 14 thousand. For another ten thousand I leased a construction slip for eight months with 100 amp metered electrical service. It became my project boat. I took weekly pictures of my progress, inside and out. Rather than keep them in electronic form only, I printed the photos and mounted them in an album, annotating the photos on a sheet of paper on the facing page. I worked eight hours a day at the docks and six hours a day on the ship stripping it down. Let me tell you, it was a grind. However, the pounds fell off of me and I stopped drinking.
In 1990 I bought a copy of Turbo Cad and started laying out the ship. That took over a month to get it right. All the electrical runs were planned and the fresh water, grey water and the black water runs as well. I gave an engineer at work a couple thousand and a copy of my.DXF files to evaluate the plans under full-blown CAD with beam analysis, then give me a critical survey of it. I got the okay to build to my schematic and bought a TIG welder. I was about to make that first cut.
The hull was already dry-docked, so first thing I ripped out the steering gear, propeller, drive shaft and shaft support blocks. I rebuilt the stern to accommodate a hydraulically controlled and powered water-jet. The Caterpillar engine had low hours and would push it along fine. It boasted 330 horsepower. I cut a run through the hull for bow thrusters and installed the support hardware.
I had the engine, lower deck, all the tanks and the keel's ballast pulled out. Then I sand blasted the inner hull and treated every flat, crease and crevice with an organic rust-stop paint. Next the hull got a sprayed-in two inch coating of polyurethane insulation. The stuff was sticky as hell when applied and adhered wonderfully to the paint. Then the keel ballast weight, the tanks and the runs for the tanks were bolted back in. My next step was to install and secure the hydraulic pump and all the big hydraulic lines to power the stern drive and the bow thrusters.
I had designed a bow-to-stern wiring pan for below the lower deck that could be accessed by hatches. That went in, then the lower deck. The engine was installed along with all the mechanical room subsystems such as the battery farm, separate engine starting batteries, the genset, a blower system, the bilge pumps, the battery charging system, the power inverter, the service disconnect boxes, the oil filters, fuel filters, the fire suppression system, the HVAC, the water pump, the water heater and a little bitty water maker. Some of the pieces and parts came out of salvage yards. A lot of the interior wall paneling came to me that way. The cat diesel was a generic marine engine so spares were not hard to come by. Properly mounting all the service runs was more time consuming than installing the systems themselves, even though I took my time to lay out the mechanical room with an eye towards maintenance. All the monitoring and control lines that fed up to the bridge had to be properly labeled and terminated at each end.
Next went in the head along with a fairly large (7'x4') tub and a hand spray nozzle. Across the passageway was a stores locker, then a stairway up to the top deck and the master berth just inside the bow. Watertight bulkheads separated the engine compartment from the passageway and the passageway from the stairs. I made sure that all the passageways and hatches were wide enough to accommodate the furniture and what came next.
The storage locker hosted a small (5 cu. ft.) propane/110 Volt chest freezer, a washer/dryer combination and a lot of shelving with cages to keep the goods from taking a flying leap while at sea. The freezer was mounted as close to the centerline as I could get it, and the shelves for the bulk canned goods were laid in there as well. Do you know how much crap you can store in a five cubic foot deep freeze? It's scary! If the IQF meat portions are prepared with condensed stowage in mind they are frozen between two plates to keep them relatively thin. This doesn't work for roasts or whole birds, of course, but it does wonders for chicken parts, steaks and chops.
Another wiring pan went in just under the top deck. All the hatches that accessed the wire trays had synthetic gas-proof seals to make the trays separate fire zones. That way they didn't screw up the bulkhead isolation.
Top deck hosted the raised pilot house, the galley and the salon. A pair of waterproof doors opened off the stern onto a bolted and welded-on steel mesh deck to allow for European-style, high density docking, and access to the ship's boat that hung on davits above the salon. It was a fourteen-foot high-walled self-righting aluminum craft with a 3/4 cabin to protect the helm, powered by a 45 horse Yamaha outboard. It was a sturdy little work boat that would get me anywhere I wanted to go without an argument.
I wanted plenty of light so six 24-inch portholes were mounted below deck and six were mounted in the salon and galley. Instead of mounting halogen cans everywhere I screwed in LED light strips.
Once I got the hull painted with a few coats of epoxy and a final layer of flo-coat I got the zincs bolted on and the ship floated. The hull up to the top of the rail got painted a darker forest green color and everything else an orange-yellow. It was all done in a nice, tough epoxy that wasn't supposed to chip. The pilot house windows were 1/2 inch tempered glass. All the exposed metalwork around the port holes, pilot house windows and access ways were done in marine stainless steel, along with the screws holding them. I'd seen ships that had standard steel screws used to fasten the shielding in place. The rust marks were obvious and avoidable. The only thing that was painted white were the radar mast and the lifeboat davits.
I stole the pilot house design (and some of the parts, if the truth be told) from a 41' Seahorse that had been scrapped, thus the name of my ship, the Seahorse. I liked the look of the forward-leaning glass and the layout of the bridge. I hand-welded the superstructure out of 3/8 inch T651 low-corrosion, high strength sheet aluminum. I leased a water-jet cutter to cut the sections and TIG welded them together. Rather than out-source the bending of the sheets I cut everything at matching angles. Thank God for that CAD program and CAM integration with the cutter or I would have screwed up the complex angles on the support frame in nothing flat. At over 800 bucks for a 4x8 sheet my materials costs were high enough without fuck ups. I scuffed it all up with a wire wheel and applied liberal coats of epoxy paint inside and out, sprayed polyurethane foam all over the interior until it was three inches thick then laid in the various runs and the interior wall panels which covered them. Again, the inner panels got the epoxy paint treatment.
The hull was extended an extra three feet up to form a bulwark rather than running posts and chains. I felt it gave more protection and looked better, despite the weight penalty. (I learned the number one secret to CAD/CAM integration. Define your zeroes and work from them. As long as everything is talking the same units of measure and you don't lose registration, it's damned hard to screw up once that's under control.)
Instead of building in a breakfast nook I made use of a deep breakfast bar design. It made good illumination easy with LED light sets screwed underneath the cabinets. The deck sole had multiple coats of epoxy paint with a little sand added to the final coat. It was rough on bare feet and soft soled mocs, but it gripped wonderfully well when wet. The bow deck and the helm were made safe the same way. The mechanical spaces were soled in expanded steel mesh to avoid any grit in sensitive systems.
I didn't believe in keeping propane tanks in an internal locker. Me no go boom. I had four 100 pound tanks in a vented locker off the stern. I used armored flexible couplings everywhere that the lines were exposed in the hopes that this would prevent stress fractures. I had a little gas grill mounted at the stern as well, opposite the gas locker.
I spent several weekends listening to a little transistor radio while I worked on the bridge panels. I had to double-check each run before I terminated and labeled it. I used a little label gun that went through batteries like grain through a goose, but the labels it put out were very nice.
The first day I had her afloat I sat on a stool with my elbows resting on the breakfast bar and closed my eyes. I could feel the ship move under me. My baby was coming to life.
It's amazing what you can find for sale in a marine wrecker's yard. I bought an twenty-two thousand dollar Furuno navigation system and radio-telephone for twenty percent of retail. I had to buy the radar mast unit and the navigation actuators new, but in comparison to a fully-equipped fresh-out-of-the-box installation that was a major steal. I found a new-in-the-box water maker for a couple hundred bucks as well. It only pumped out about two to four gallons an hour but that was enough for my uses. Hell, I could wear dirty clothes for a week at a time or use the shore side facilities when not plugged in.
Speaking of facilities, I knew that I was low and slow off the plate. I had to find a live-aboard slip before the time ran out on my construction slip lease. Thank God I was under fifty feet long! The prices skyrocketed if you were above that. I found a slip at the Port Orchard Railway Marina. They had well-lit parking, card-key security, reasonable services including laundry, showers, wireless Internet, pump-out and propane, and were less than a mile across the inlet from where I worked.
It grated my ass to do it, but I had to take the captaincy courses to get my papers. I spent a winter's worth of weekends grinding through the coursework. Let me tell you, a winter spent in the Seattle/Tacoma area will make you a firm believer in woolens. I bought a couple good shirts, vests and pairs of pants from Filson. Their wool whipcord is unequalled. Their Mackinaw cruiser is worth every penny. You just have to keep your head and fingers warm. Smart wool socks are a blessing as well.
I was ecstatic to get the Seahorse Coast Guard Certified. Yay! The inspector said she was over-built, but there wasn't anything wrong with that. I got high marks for a home-built. She bobbed up like a cork during the righting test, probably due to the concrete ballast bolted to the ship's keel. Once I got her insured I moved everything to the ship, gave up my apartment lease and moved the ship to the marina. The cost was about a wash once I figured in the lease, electric, fuel, live-aboard fees and insurance, but it bought me a much nicer neighborhood. My slip was at the end of an outer dock so I had fewer neighbors than most.
My port-side neighbor was Betty. She was living aboard a little bitty 32-foot sailboat. I goggled at that because she was nearly six feet tall. How she stayed warm and comfortable over a Seattle winter in a sailboat with a four and a half foot cabin overhead confounded me. She took her boat out regularly to sail the back bays for her 'mental health'. She was always cheerful. Betty was a full-time student. I kept cool around her, but wow, did she fill out a pair of shorts!
Sam was a little bullfrog of a guy with a basso profundo voice. I didn't know where he stuffed those organ pipes he used but he sure had 'em! He lived aboard a great big Sunseeker Manhattan 62 that looked out of place slumming up here in Seattle. He was some sort of investment banker and was always hosting parties. His ship was tied up nose-to-tail with mine.
The noise from his parties didn't bother me as the insulation that I'd used did a good job both thermally and acoustically. A little stereo with some Bose book-shelf speakers scattered around sounded wonderful. I initially had some problems with the sound quality in the salon, but a thin sheet of unfinished rough-cut maple glued to the overhead took care of the high frequency echoes.
Amos came out most weekends to work on his Hatteras '36. He was the fourth member of our dock that I recognized. Everyone else was a absentee landlord and just used the place for storing their craft.
I invited everyone over for dinner one cold, misty Saturday in November. My salon was still pretty sparse but everything else was taking shape. I was short on serving space for four so I stood in the galley to eat while they crowded around the counter. I dished up a nice crock pot full of burgundy beef stew with fresh bread and sweet butter. All I had to drink was fruit juice since I'd given up booze, but nobody seemed to mind. Since I was the new guy on the block I got thoroughly quizzed about my ship. When I brought out my photo log to let them dig through it they were visibly impressed.
Sam said, "You could pick up quite a bit of cash doing repair jobs around the marina."
"Ever hear of the job that refused to die?" He looked at me curiously. I used to be a computer tech and did some programming on the side. Now, I wasn't a professional or anything like that. I didn't even have a contract. That was my downfall. I took on a programming job where the customer kept adding things and adding things and adding things ... they thought that they could get it by me on the original agreement. I had to quit them cold turkey because they refused to pay any hourly fees. I got burned pretty badly on that one."
Amos nodded. "I do antique car restoration and repairs. It's hourly or hit the road. People are greedy."
Betty was looking around. "You could do with some rugs. It's all unrelenting yellow in here."
I asked her "If you know anywhere around that I can pick up some fall colors in woven or braided rugs, let me know. I'm also after a big, overstuffed red leather recliner. That should outfit me to a tee." She nodded happily. "I'll ask around the design school."
It wasn't long before I got the address of a carpet store that had a reputation for good prices. I bought a 5x10 foot braided rug in browns and reds, and a 2x10 foot braided runner rug in the same colors.
I put an ad in the paper--"Wanted: big red leather chair, looks unimportant. Comfort the prime consideration. I want something I can fall asleep in comfortably and wake up equally comfortable."
I must have driven over a third of the city and tried over thirty chairs. I finally found myself at an old mansion that looked like it had been built for a lumber baron. The chair looked like a hippo had sat on it. I sat down and smiled. Whoever had reupholstered it was a master. It was both massive and massively ugly but wonderfully comfortable. I could lay in it sideways and nothing would dangle off the end. It was a little difficult to get out of, but a two to three inch block under each foot would fix that. I paid twelve hundred for it and one twenty to get it delivered. It was a good thing that the stern waterproof doors were a double set with a removable center post or we'd never have gotten the thing inside. It took up a good part of the salon's real-estate. However, it was a great place from which to watch a movie, read a book or take a nap.
I was puttering around one weekend checking out the views near Point Defiance park when an idiot that had no idea what he was doing out on the water swamped a chain of kayakers. Two of the six didn't recover. I hit the button for station-keeping, grabbed a couple of life preservers and dove over the rail. I got a young man out of a bad situation by flipping him back up, but the young lady that was travelling next to him had taken a hit from a shoreline stone and was bleeding copiously from a cut above her ear. I got her upright and stable, then looked back at my ship. It was then that I realized that I hadn't lowered a rope or a ladder. Fuck.
The kid had recovered and agreed to help. I had him squat down in the water with his feet in my crossed hands. I had my feet on the bottom and gave him a powerful 'alley-oop' that damned near tossed him over the side. He scrambled up and over the rail once he caught a foot in a scupper. He let down a life preserver ring on a rope. I got the girl's head and arms through the ring and he hauled her aboard. I had him lower it again and tie off the rope as I was way too heavy for him to haul aboard. I hand-over-handed it up the sixteen feet of freeboard, over the rail and to the deck. I lay there with my arms on fire for a long delicious minute. Then I got my ass up, checked my GPS coordinates and called for emergency services.
An air ambulance soon showed up to take care of our sleeping princess. A coast guard boat closed in on our joy-rider and damned near had to blow the idiot out of the water before he hove to. I used a boat hook and a couple of lines to secure the kayaks to the stern. I got my guest into a warm shower and a pair of over-sized sweats, then did the same for myself. He availed himself of the radiotelephone to contact his folks while I made way back to my slip. I told him where we were headed so his folks could meet us. In the mean time I threw our clothing in the washer.
Our clothes weren't quite dry when we tied up. I put out the gangplank. My salon was a zoo for a while. The dryer 'dinged and I got us both into our regular clothes (well, him not so much, since he had been wearing a pair of board shorts, a kayak skirt and a polypro water shirt). I loaned him a sweat shirt and pants in the name of propriety. We all headed off to the hospital to see how the girl was doing.
I was sure that if I were the nurse on duty I would have wanted to go hide somewhere when our little circus came to town. Hospital staff don't get paid enough. They see people at their worst--in pain, panicking and frantic. We didn't get to see the girl, but we were told that she was under observation for a fairly serious concussion and her parents were with her. Everyone concerned relaxed. The kid's parents arranged for a pickup truck to get the kayaks from me the next day. Life went back to normal.
My back was sore the next day from the full-power adrenaline-fed 'alley-oop' routine. I had to take it easy for a while. I indulged in a hundred buck massage after a couple of days to break things free and stretch the muscles that had been insulted. Once I told the masseur what had happened I got a great massage. Best hundred bucks that I'd spent in quite a while. I took a card from the guy. If I fucked up my body in the future I knew who I'd go to.
After that, I tied a two-inch thick synthetic rope to a bitt off the stern with a knot every two feet. It would last in the sun and weather.
I was surprised that the newspaper picked up a freelancer's movie of the whole thing and turned it into a feature article. It must have been a slow news day. I found out from the news article that the girl I'd rescued was named Cindy Fetzer and the boy that had had a problem recovering his kayak was Martin Lee.
A couple of months later I got a Lion's club award for five grand and a humanitarian plaque during their yearly appreciation dinner. That paid for a nice little propane fireplace in the salon, a Ryobi pressure washer and a refill on all four propane tanks.
Everybody forgot about the older guy in the graying crew-cut. Life continued on as it always seems to do and I relaxed into the patterns of my day-to-day.
Despite everything, some people were just bound to have bad luck. Cindy's family was wiped out due to a nasty furnace explosion that left grisly singed chunks of her parents and sister scattered over her home's front yard. She was saved by being at a girl scout sleep-over, otherwise she would have likewise been turned into chum.
Her friend Sandy knew where I lived. I woke up early one morning to a knocking on my door. "Mister, I need a place to stay."
After I did due diligence to find out what the hell happened, I offered her a key and a bunk I put together in the stores locker.
I started in on the ferocious process of adopting a minor. After several months of mind-bending futility a judge said 'fuck it. He's got history.' and approved the adoption despite all the whines, screams, hyperventilation and indignant parading of the Seattle tribe of do-gooders. I got Cindy enrolled into the fourth grade and life was good.
She wanted a pet. I drew the line at cats and dogs. Cats hurled fur and pissed everywhere. Dogs shed fur and pissed everywhere. We lucked out and found bandit, a hand-raised raccoon. She couldn't knock anything off of a shelf as it was all secured aboard ship. She knew how to piss and shit in a toilet so we declared her an honorary human. She adored life at sea. Every time I went fishing she was right there, hanging off of a beam and waiting for the catch to come in. She adored pawing through a net's catch for the sweetest treats.
Bandit slept next to Cindy. Next to Cindy? They shared air space. The funniest thing I ever saw was Cindy trying to brush Bandit's teeth. Oh, Jesus. The foam flew everywhere.
Poor Bandit caught a bullet during a daylight snatch and grab. They came in from sea-side to bypass the site security and must have used a sledge to take out the rear hatch. We came back to one hell of a mess. There were two bodies lying on the salon deck with Bandit's teeth locked into one of their throats. I put out a Craig's List bid for forty thousand bucks for the eyeballs of whoever led my ship's break-in. I received a couple of DVDs and a pair of eyeballs in the post. They were movies that had been stolen from the ship. I paid off. The insurance paid for most everything stolen and got the heavy doors replaced. I had a car alarm installed aboard ship.
Cindy wanted to die. Her best bud had cashed it in. I felt helpless, unable to offer her any advice. The poor kid cried into my shirt a lot that night and for several weeks afterwards. Eventually I gave her the eyes that came in through the contract. She threw them over the side and straightened up. Childhood came to an abrupt ending for her. Being an adult sometimes sucks cheese.
Gracie came aboard from a final recourse pet adoption service. Gracie was a ferret, and a sweeter little girl I swear that you've never seen. she'd crawl up my chest and nibble on my chin while chirring at me. Eventually she wormed her way into Cindy's heart. Soon things approached normal again.
I have an evil secret. You see, I play the bass sax. there isn't much call for a bass sax in a modern band, unlike a bass guitar. It takes a real good pair of lungs to pump out a riff on a bass sax, but when you made it, baby, God loves you. It's one hell of a thing. Every once in a while I'd get Mabel out and we'd wail away out on the deck, scaring the birds and attracting the fur seals and sea lions. She was a 1921 Martin and she was loud!
Sometimes when I played Cindy came out on deck with a dish towel and hammed up honking her nose, then flipped the towel at me when she'd finished and ran away giggling. In the words of the late, great Jimmy Durante, "Everyone's a critic!".
The Seattle music scene was guitar crazy but I did find a couple of jazz venues. I found one group that I couldn't help but think 'they really need some bottom' every time I listened. Finally I couldn't stand it any longer. I brought Mabel along one night. When they started playing I kicked in with a little repetitive background riff. Everybody on stage stopped. "What the hell was that?" I let out a 'honk' and waved from the audience. "Get your ass up here on stage!" The rest of the night went pretty well. I became a regular on Friday nights. It was a lot of fun even though I didn't rake in the coin or anything like that. Cindy got curious about what I did on my weekend nights, and wanted to find out what all the fuss was about. We all crammed into that Isuzu one night and went down to the club. It was late when we got back to the ship. "Not bad, pop. Not bad at all."
Over the past few years I'd applied myself at work and learned enough machining go get a decent raise. When I proved that I could set up and cut a bolt with a specified thread then case harden it to a proven ASTM hardness I got my tool and die maker's ticket. the fact that I'd used a CAD-CAM controlled remote cutter when building my ship's superstructure and had the pictures to prove it sure helped.
I noticed that Cindy was depressed as hell. She'd sit at the bow and look out over the water. I asked her what the problem was. In the usual teen-aged response, I got back 'nothing'. I damned near had to beat it out of her but she was being shat on by girls in gangs at school. I went to see the principal as soon as I could. I was informed by his highness that the school could not be held accountable for actions of the students during non-supervised periods. I thanked him for his time and came back the next day with an axe handle. I beat him within a fractional inch of his life, being certain to fracture his jaw, cheekbones, shoulders, hips, knees and elbows. When I was arrested I asked for an immediate trial with plenty of press coverage.
The school code had this interesting little passage that stated the school was responsible for fostering a safe environment conducive to learning as long as the student was on school grounds. I got a hundred hours of community service, cops got beats on the school grounds, Cindy got a three hundred grand damage payoff and the principal got a brown parachute after he healed up. I didn't mind working the parks and hospitals during the weekends. It got me outside and meeting girls. I got a few dates with cute nurses too. One of which was Kari.
Kari was a curly-haired blonde that crinkled her upper lip when she grinned. I thought she was cute as hell. She was a surgical nurse with weird hours, but we managed to get together to bump uglies now and then. She really appreciated getting foot rubs after her shifts and I didn't mind giving 'em. As long as she was okay with me cuddling with her I wasn't going to bitch. She wasn't all that keen on living aboard a boat, but she got used to it. At least she didn't get the pukes at a moment's notice, thank God. The fact that I had a big, fat tempur-pedic mattress helped a lot.
We'd passed Port Angeles and were out on the deeps, fishing for our dinner when a huge-assed wave came at us from the west. It covered the entire horizon from north to south. I said, "Tsunami coming. Everything land-side is fucked. I'm estimating that it's twenty, thirty feet high way out here. As it gets closer to shore it'll get stronger and higher. Boys and girls, we're not getting any sleep for a while." I called it in to the coast guard. They'd already gotten the NOAA warning, but the GPS points from me and others helped to solidify their projections. We hung out over the deeps until the wave's energy had expended itself and back-washed back out to sea. I kept the satellite radio on so we could keep up with the news. Seattle, Brunen and Bremerton were hit pretty badly. Tacoma was fucking gone with virtually no survivors. The 'inner' cities that had no direct exposure to the path of the wave, like Redmond and Renton, weren't damaged too badly. We motored back to Bremerton to see if our dock was still there. we were lucky--the tsunami had run right over the harbor, only flooding it for a while and thrashing the silt. A lot of the boats were fucked up but the facilities were still there. Kari's hospital was wiped out. I spent the last few hours of my community service along with a lot more helping to pull people out of the debris where the Seattle harbor district used to be. It was three weeks before I went back to work, three weeks of steady, back-breaking thankless work trying to dig people, then bodies out of the storm-tossed trash. Cindy kept up right beside us. If she couldn't be out there tossing aside 2x4's and wallboard she was making coffee and sandwiches with the best of them. There were a lot of heroes that never got commendations for their efforts that month. The Hawaiian volcano eruption might have fried a lot of people in a short period of time, but the aftermath left a lot of mainland people's lives shattered.
I joined in the dirty little business of recovering abandoned craft that had been pulled out to sea then scattered and beached all over hell. I held out for their salvage values rather than the pittance the insurance companies tried to stick me with. It was quite lucrative. I claimed over fourteen million, nine and a half which I banked after taxes. I netted some seven million all told by donating the difference to the hospital reconstruction fund. Hell, I got a wing named after me and I never had to wait for a medic in the emergency room again.
Kari accepted my hand in marriage. Cindy was ecstatic to have a mom again and Kari was philosophical about the whole thing.
For our wedding I took us up the inside passage to Alaska in late spring. We were damned tempted not to come back. However, the vicious siren of duty called us back to our jobs and school.
Cindy was torn at how many of her friends and acquaintances didn't make it. The loss of her parents had hardened her as to how fast and brutal people could be taken from you. Instead of being broken and horrified she was only saddened and did her best to comfort her surviving classmates.
I did a lot of hull and keel welding for a while. I had proven experience at the task, so what I didn't do myself I inspected and signed off on for the shop. If the work was questionable I insisted on an X-ray analysis. Our shop kept its reputation for unimpeachable quality. Once again I got a raise. Management tried to change my job description to that of a pure manager, but I refused. I let them know that my highest value to the operation was in quality control and high-end shop work. We evolved into a shop that was underwritten by the machine tool vendors. We trained the trainers. It took over a decade to get that proficient but we persevered.
My faithful little Isuzu Trooper finally rolled over and died. I replaced her with a crappy little short-bed Ford crew cab pickup. Oh, it got better gas mileage but it had all the personality of a dead fish. You know the one--the one you had to tear the cooler apart to find because it had slipped behind the shelves.
Not that we had that much free space aboard ship, but I spent some of my free weekend mornings ghosting through the estate sales and auctions in the area. It was very, very rare that I found anything worth putting down money over, but the occasion did arise. Kari had tastes in art that intersected mine only peripherally so our purchases were team efforts. I did, however, pursue and secure unmounted emeralds and rubies. Purchased in this fashion they were not inflated by anyone's idea of artistic mounts or embellishment. We agreed to invest in well-known houses and artists for investment purposes, though usually such works were discovered and bid into the stratosphere before we could secure them. Due to the windfall I harvested from the tsunami, I had the backing to purchase any truly magnificent find that came to light. I had buy orders out for any stained glass windows or lamp shades from Tiffany Glass Works that came on the market anywhere on the West coast.
I wasn't a young man any longer. A physical life kept me flexible but my hair and beard had grown in mostly white.
Poor little Gracie didn't wake up one morning. For a ferret she had a good run. Cindy buried her at sea. She sat at the bow the rest of the day remembering how chipper she had been. All in all I thought that it was a good send-off.
After she graduated high school we sent Cindy off to college to discover what sort of person she had inside of her.
Kari and I learned more of each other's nasty little tendencies as all married couples do. We grew closer.
The hospital administration tried to change her job description to all-management without any pay scale adjustments. I told her she always had another choice. I told her to quit.
"Then what the hell am I going to do?"
"Simple. Do what you do best--incorporate with a lawyer and become a licensed patient advocate. Scare the hell out of them for living. I'll bet you a pound of bananas that you'll enjoy the hell out of it. You already know all the nasty little secrets. Now it's time to shine a light on 'em."
Damn! She got death threats! Both the Seattle Times and the FBI got copies of the source material.
One morning before work we looked at each other across the breakfast bar. We both looked like hammered shit. I didn't remember seeing all those wrinkles on Kari's face. Her eyes looked dull, like she had the flu. It just popped out of my mouth. "I'm retired as of this minute. I suggest you join me." She looked at me as if I were a pod-person. "Come on, now. We've got a metric butt-load of cash in the bank and we're sitting on a Christly SHIP that hasn't been off her mooring lines in over a year. It's a wonder that the zincs haven't corroded away and taken the hull with them. Whaddaya say we get the ship assayed, cleaned, serviced and re-certified, and then go find someplace to relax and spend some money?" The grin on her face said it all.
We called into our respective jobs as dead. We packed our bags and had a limo pick us up at the harbor and drop us off at the Marriott in downtown Seattle. I knew who to call to get a top-grade job done on the ship. After all, I used to work for them. I wanted that diesel rebuilt from the block on up. I expected good things from my boys.
We settled back into our in-suite spa with a fruit and cheese plate accompanied by a few bottles of sparkling wine. When we had finished with our nibbling and our frolic we dressed for going out. I called down to the concierge to get us a reservation at a top end steak and seafood place, and then find us a place to enjoy some laid-back live music. I paid the front desk clerk a hundred bucks to get the spa filters and water replaced and slipped the concierge another hundred for his services. The spa had smelled a little funky, covered up by copious use of bleach. It took away from the flavors of our appetizer tray. I mentioned that to the concierge to reinforce the message my cash was telling them.
I was greasing the wheels for top flight service since we'd probably be there for a couple of weeks. With any sort of coordination he'd be able to get us reservations at the ten top steak houses in the city so we'd have someplace different to try each night. After that we'd take pot-luck. I made arrangements with a limo company to reserve cars and drivers for us from nine in the morning until midnight. We had shopping to do and weren't about to be shy doing it.
We dropped over a hundred and fifty a plate at the Metropolitan Grill. We agreed that you get what you pay for. We stuck around Chopstix for a while until it was time to go to bed. The entertainment was 'okay'. I'd had a better time playing scrabble, quite frankly. Hopefully for their longevity it was an off night.
In the morning we took a pad and pen with us to the hotel restaurant where we planned out our purchases over the next few days. We wanted new bedding, pillows, towels, robes and carpets. We'd probably get new drapes for the port-holes and stern waterproof doors as well. I called the shop to have the rough maple sheet scraped off the salon overhead and have it replaced with aromatic cedar that had been roughed up on a band saw. I then spent some bucks tracking down a couple quart cans of cedar oil to dab into the surface.
That night we tried The Brooklyn for dinner and spent some 'quality' time at the Liquid Lounge. The Brooklyn was fusion-pretentious. I thought that the LL would be a good venue with the right acts.
We spent some time buying into higher-end wardrobes. I spent the early mornings with Kari keeping in shape in the hotel exercise facilities. We ate at Daniel's Broiler which was quite good and nowhere near the price of the Metropolitan. Our entertainment that night was the best so far--we went to the New Orleans Restaurant. The music suited us to a "T". We knew where we'd be returning for entertainment.
Sullivan's was all right, but it didn't quite strike that comfortable note with us.
The next night we tried Jak's Grill. We felt right at home. That's where we went for the rest of our vacation.
We bought new Helly Hansen storm gear and deck boots. The ship's navigation gear needed new charts because of tidal drift. We needed a new jet pusher because of long term corrosion. All the batteries were swapped out and the water-maker was replaced. The Seahorse was recertified and declared sea-worthy after three weeks in the shop. I had the ship expertly cleaned from bow to stern, the galley stores totally cleared away and had Sysco rebuild my stores. I didn't want to tear into some twelve-year-old soup pack and poison us. Everything aboard ship that had a registered life span was replaced, down to the penicillin, Bacitracin ointment and Advil in the medical chest.
I trained Kari in watch-taking, use of the electronics stack, river navigation protocols and radio protocols.
"Howard, should I take the full captain's course?"