The Benbow Cafe looked out on the harbor like an ancient seagull facing the wind. MaryAnn was the only waitress, been there since the sea came in from the ocean. The old cook, Luther, had been a Merchant Marine seaman. All he could do was flip over eggs and burgers, so the Cafe wasn't on anybody's healthy eats list. But then the men who came in liked it that way - beer and grilling keeps America strong, least that's what Luther said.
The harborside was a gathering of boat designers and small-time builders trying to squeeze out a living where they wanted to live. The harbor was beautiful if you liked overhanging trees and wooden ships and plank walkways along the wall. In his wood framed shop Nick Bukopolis sold tackle, fishing gear, anchors and sails and all manner of ship stuff hanging from the walls and the ceiling. Sitting up on the shelves were old dusty models of clippers and whalers - he would have had a pirate's beard but his wife wouldn't let him. He could talk to men who worked on the sea, so they made a passable living.
Down the street Barclay and Sons still tried to stay in the wooden boat building trade. They'd been here since they made Whitehalls and lifeboats for the whalers and coastal fishing schooners. Those high masts were long gone except in postcards, so Barclay had to specialize in tenders and dinghies and prams. All they could do was dress up these little tubs to look like big ships. That seemed to work for the tourist crowd, but not the working man's lot. The men who fished only cared for what would make their work easier, what would keep them out of trouble. So in the winter Josh Barclay designed and built fishing boats and an occasional lobster boat.
Maury Steeples came in the Cafe around 2 in the afternoon. A quiet man, he sat at his usual small table by the window. He did more staring out the window than talking, so MaryAnn knew to bring his hot black coffee, steaming like a stevedore. He put down the money for the coffee without looking up. He was turning over in his mind a new commission for a yacht, whether he should take the money or not. Maury was like a few of the old men, he lived on a 35-footer he had built years ago, so he didn't really need so much money. It was more about what he wanted to do when his grandkids were not all over his boat. He'd often say, 'It's really about what do I want to do last in my life.' Nobody answered that, it was almost a tradition here that you don't get buried, you go out to sea in a small boat and don't come back A few of the men knew he took painkillers for his spine; they didn't want him thinking too much about what comes last in a man's life...
Maury unfolded a piece of drawing paper, thick enough to crinkle open. With a pencil he drew a few lines on it, sweeping the pencil along the paper's length for one side of a boat, then the other side the same. He stared out the window, like he was looking through a spyglass to an earlier time.
Josh came in, sitting a few tables away from Maury. They'd known each other for 40 years without being close friends. Josh had gone on down to New York to work in shipyards, Maury stayed here to fabricate metal hardware for the Navy. Josh liked noise and men all around him working, Maury liked the silence of thought.
Josh said looking for MaryAnn to come over, 'What you got, Maury, a boat that'll fly?' He laughed.
But Maury didn't. 'Not yet. A dinghy. Nine feet, to sail and row.'
'You know it's gotta be one or the other, you know that,' Josh said when MaryAnn came over with Josh's usual split pea soup with cheese and beer.
'Compromise,' was what Maury said to himself.
'Ain't no such thing anymore. Either it does one or the other. Especially now that the Coast Guard has more rules than Carter's got Little Liver Pills.'
Maury looked straight at Josh. 'That's what folks want.'
'They don't know what they want, nobody knows boats nowadays. They think it's a plastic toy for your tub.'
'No argument there, but still they pay greenback dollars.'
'You don't need the money,' Josh said, halfway hoping Maury would turn the job down so he could get it.
'Gonna do it, anyway,' Maury said with a firmness in his voice, looking at Josh. He knew what Josh was thinking.
'It don't matter what you design, folks nowadays'll slap a motor on the stern, toss the bow up in the air an' take off.'
Maury knew this, but he didn't care. He didn't do motorboats unless they were 25 footers with a cabin and such. He drew a few more lines. Just then another one of the boys, Ned String came walking between Maury and Josh, leaning over to see what Maury had, then he took his usual seat down there by the other window. The afternoon was getting on. Ned had gone over to fiberglass, even though it was as messy as a syrup factory. Still Ned said he could cure up a boat in three or four days, be off for the weekend, and still make his payments. Ned had been a boy in the old shipyard days when men worked six days, then came in after church to clean their tools, making practically nothing for their effort. He'd never go back to that.
Ned sat down. 'New one, Maury?'
'Yep. New one, sail and row dinghy,' Maury said. 'About 9 feet.'
Ned could be cantankerous but he knew Maury had never left the old days. He said without inflection, 'You know at 10 or 11 feet they're twice as good performing.'
'The guy specified 9 feet,' Maury said, a bit irritated.
Ned said, 'Must be a tender. Trouble is, you can't draw the bow you want to, ain't no room for an afterrun, an' you have to have a long skeg - you end up with a tub. Part this and part that. Might as well build a box with sloping ends.'
Josh laughed. 'Now you know a box with sloping ends ain't gonna get any rave reviews. But you can always find some sucker an' say, 'Oh she'll do it all - row, sail, and motor - the perfect dinghy right here at your disposal.' '
Ned said, 'You'd say that Josh.'
MaryAnn laughed at them, sitting off in her own corner. She knew these three weren't gonna eat much.
Josh countered, 'I like a beautiful boat, no matter what it does or can't do. If I'm gonna look at it all day, I want it to be worth looking at. To me, that's all sheer.'
Ned said, 'But what's a sheer? We're not dragging nets over the side, you know. A little 8 footer looks just as good with a straight sheer, more buoyancy when you heel, more room, more comfortable in bad weather.'
Maury finally spoke up. 'If you've got some flare you oughtta have some sheer. But Ned's right, some height to the topside makes the crew more comfortable, so they'll use the boat more. No flare and no topside means the boat'll just sink in the waves too much. You'll be touching Davy Jones Locker with your whisker pole.'
'An' in a dinghy,' Ned said, 'you can see the whole sheer at once. Bad sheer, bad career, I say.'
Then in came David Somerset. He designed yachts for the wealthy, so he was wearing a suit and tie. He liked to listen to the talk in the cafe, sometimes leaving a few hours later without saying anything. He was consummately polite, but no personal touch. He'd never worked with his back like Ned and Josh. He spent his life at a drawing board or in drawing rooms. He came to the counter where MaryAnn stood for him.
'I'll have the cheese sandwich,' he said smiling with that absent manner.
MaryAnn gave the order to Luther, who turned to get to work. Soon Somerset heard the crackling of the cheese and bread on the grill.
Josh turned to Somerset, several tables away. 'Say, have you ever designed a little dinghy?'
'Not of my own. I always look at previous ones, adjust them to the client and be done with it. It's too hard to make a little boat look good and move well at the same time.'
Josh and Ned didn't answer that right away. What Somerset said made sense, even if they weren't expecting it from a yacht club dweller.
Maury looked up at Somerset. Maury was a practical man but an independent one; Somerset knew his own crowd and he was loyal to them. They envied each other secretly. They had exchanged letters without ever saying so.
'He's right,' Maury said looking down at his drawing. 'Hard to do.'
Ned said, 'But you know what, if you're a fisherman with 100 pounds of catch an' your own weight, a flat-bottomed dinghy will get you home through the chop...round bilged won't do that. They look classy but if your livelihood depends on it, a thick flattie will do the job. What you'd want is buoyant ends, long waterline, wide at the beam, lift at the stern. But you don't get any of that in a dinghy; if it isn't 12 feet. You just can't do it.'
Maury said, 'A dinghy has to have full ends, rocker, and stability. Otherwise you'd get tossed. Deadrise came about so you could get volume without adding width or length. It makes a dinghy sit deeper, but you get a safe boat that'll still fit on the deck of a ship.'
Ned said, 'That's why they have prams; plenty of volume with square ends without too much length or width. A pram won't win a beauty contest or a race, but it'll give you stability in a small size. Beyond that, all you can do is change the bottom.'
Everybody knew Josh was gonna talk about flat-bottoms, which he loved. He said, 'Thing is, with a flat-bottom you can beach her, get out of her without swimming lessons, and row in shallow water. Just the thing around here. I don't see how Somerset or anybody would ever want a lapped dinghy, anyhow.'
David turned to Josh. 'It's only because I'm getting paid to give the client what he wants. I don't see that as a compromise. My designs are strictly pleasure and racing, anyway. My clients, they don't work for a living but they have the funds to keep boatbuilders working. I see it as the rich creating the demand so good men can work and take care of themselves. It's a circle of benefit. What's wrong with taking care of your family the way that you can?'
Maury got between Josh and Somerset. 'You can approximate the turn of a bilge somewhat with rocker and flare. On a 10 foot waterline, performance would be about the same, anyhow. But you have to have some rake to the stem. If you do, the flare takes care of itself. I like to think I design from the stem along the waterline to the stern. By the time I get there, the thing is done. Still you have to have freeboard, you have to have room for thwarts and seats and such.'
'Yeah, well,' Ned said, 'that sounds all very cute but I've seen some of your dinghies with the thwart too low and the oarlock too far back. That one Cutie Pie, only an octopus has arms long enough for that oarlock position. I say oarlocks 9 inches behind the thwart, an' that skeg was so small a mouse couldn't hide behind it. You can't tow a dinghy without a skeg at least two feet long and one foot deep, otherwise it ain't a skeg it's a midget's nose.'
Well, Maury got up. He put his drawing in his pocket so no one would see what he had. When he stood up, it was like time to turn the record over. Everyone took to eating what they had, not talking. Josh left, mumbling he had work to do. David then finished his cheese sandwich, leaving his usual tip and returning to the yacht club. The sun was coming down, casting long shadows upon the harbor like a blue watercolor.
The next Monday, MaryAnn saw the boys coming in. Snickering to herself she thought, they loved a pile of lumber more than they do people. She couldn't understand this. That lumber, it doesn't talk, it can't make you dinner, it can't love you back. Such fools, no wonder the young girls go off to college.
Maury was there at the Cafe.
MaryAnn said, 'You ol' boys, I bet you love boats more than your own kids.'
Maury said, 'I won't deny it.'
MaryAnn and Luther and a few of the regulars at their tables chuckled. When David Somerset came in, he didn't know what they were talking about so he just laughed with them like he did.
Maury was smiling, so everyone in the cafe knew he'd finished the dinghy and sold the plans to some younger fella.
David thought about dinghys, saying, 'The trouble is that nowadays my clients don't want the 100 foot yacht any more. They seem to like 40 feet, as if they were in love with the number, not the yacht they took. I suppose it's a matter of not having enough crew, today. Yachting has gone from the rich man's sport to the loner's enclave.'
Maury mused, thinking about the smaller space on smaller yachts, 'The shorter the dinghy, the wider and fatter is has to be.'
David said, 'That makes it less attractive, in my estimation, less worthy to be designed.'
Just then Josh came in, kinda snorted at what David was saying, and sat at his table waiting to pounce at whatever was being said. MaryAnn knew them all enough to stay away while they were like this - it was like getting out of an ambush.
'What I like to do with a dinghy,' Josh said as if he were talking to himself, 'is get down on a sheet of plywood, bend my chines as much as they can, draw the lines right there for what the wood will allow. If the chines don't bend much, it's a pram; if they bend more, it's a skiff. I let the wood tell me what it will be, like the boat's in the wood trying to climb out into my imagination. That's how I do it.'
'An admirable method, I'm sure, but not for me,' David said softly. 'I can't see any boat less than 12 feet. The yacht owners I deal with want a three panels per side, a miniature ship. They like one that looks like their yacht, even to details inside the hull.'
'Vanity, vanity, all is vanity, saith the preacher,' Josh said.
David turned away.
Maury looked at Josh, wondering how he could enjoy insulting people. Maury knew, whatever a man has been given in life he isn't to be blamed or praised. It's just what you're given. Somerset never hurt any of these guys, he never took a commission away from them, and to be honest the wealthy probably made work possible for everyone. These days, those old yachts and coastal schooners stay alive as windjammers for vacations - what's so wrong with that? Keeps the designs alive, keeps skills going, and no creation on God's earth as beautiful as a schooner on a reach under the morning sun.
Ned came in, sat down where he always does. He saw Maury didn't have the drawing paper he had before, the job was done. Ned said, 'Feels good to get a job over with, don't it,' he said to Maury, with a nasty twinkle in his eye. 'When it's done, it's done; but with wood boats you never finish the upkeep'. Ned was always saying, If you have a wood boat better learn the skills or pay for 'em.
'It is,' Maury said, not thinking of any of that. 'I gave it a bilge panel with some tuck to the stern quarters to keep the man out of the stern bench. Better trim, that way.'
Ned nodded. 'Does he sail it?'
Maury then turned to him, 'I drew a sprit sail, but he only motors it - electric motor. In fact, it ain't a motor at all. He puts this big fan in the stern, then he whirls the boat around to fish from it. Goofiest sight I've ever seen, he stands astride the midframe fishing while that fan goes a-blowing.'
Ned chuckled, 'Well at least there's not gonna be an oil or gas spill in our harbor. Is it stable?'
'I guess it's stable enough for him. I showed him the stability curve, but he said nothing, so there it is.'
Josh came into the cafe, hot and sweaty, tired and loose-lipped. He turned to Maury, 'You finish that dinghy?'
'Yeah,' Maury said, holding to a slight smile. 'Customer liked it, paid cash on the barrel-head.'
'Best kind,' Josh said. 'What was it?'
Maury knew once he said, all the armchair analyists would toss in their two cents. 'He wanted a three panel skiff, like a dory with a bilge panel. So I got out the plans to a Thomson skiff, took out one strake, adjusted it for his weight and fishing tackle and there it was, waiting for me.'
But he didn't get the usual dad-blamed insulting chatter he expected.
David said kindly, 'I've noticed that. To be a good designer you have to know the lines from the past. That's how you keep from spending your best years discovering what has already been solved.'
But Josh didn't like that. 'That ain't right, gov. What that means is you're taking someone else's idea, someone else's way of thinking. In the end, it ain't you. You have to be yourself, 'cause everyone else is taken.'
Now that sounded through the cafe. But still, David kept to his own method.
'That may be true, but you can burn plenty of paper and someone else's money with a design that doesn't work. I believe in following along with what has worked in the past. If I can give it my own alteration, so much the better. The point is, a boat should be safe, enjoyable, and available.'
||The Docksider in Northeast Harbor ME Northeast Harbor
'So,' Maury said, suddenly interested, 'how do you work?'
David said, 'As I design for yachts, I begin with the interior and wrap the deck around it. The sails come, and the construction method goes on it last. I can do this because my clients all end up with carvel or fiberglass. They want the cabin to feel like they're on land while someone else does the sailing or motoring. To them, a boat is simply a floating living room.'
Maury said, shaking his head, 'I can't do that. For me the cabin comes last, since I'm interested in how it sails. I fit whatever cabin will fit the waterline, and the waterline is based on the client's budget and purpose for the boat. My first question is, how are you going to use it? My second question is, how much can you afford...right now? And then, I ask, how will you maintain it?'
Then David got serious. 'I have to say, my clients aren't so practical as that. To them a boat is a source of pleasure and beauty, like a Winslow Homer.' He was proud he'd said that, surrounded by all these wood-choppers.
Ned said, 'I draw a waterline. The topsides might have more deadrise underneath, less, they might have hard bilges or soft, laps or carvel but I see the waterline first. Then I see the forefoot and afterrun together. Then I just fill it in, laps or joints, whatever, long or short, it's the waterline I'm interested in. It's about how I want the water to go underneath and around.'
Josh said, 'Like Bolger.'
Ned said, 'Yeah. I don't know about his pea dream, but when I was a kid I watched water come off ships.'
'That Bolger, the interior of his square boxers had practically nothing inside,' Josh said, nearly spitting the words out. He'd had customers come back at him for the lack of comforts in the Bolger boxes.
Maury said, 'Maybe he got that from Francis.'
David interrupted, 'That's what I mean about knowing what's already been done. It might even help you find your own style. Usually, the solutions of the past are simpler than they are now.'
Josh said, 'Well, whatever you geniuses do is all right with me, but I still know a dinghy is all about the bottom. If it ain't got rocker, you might as well lock 'er. You look at the prams from Scandanavia, you see that. They were meant to be used, to be rowed, that's why they originally were round bilged.'
Ned said, 'Never could stomach lapstrake. They make too much noise.'
'Yeah,' Maury said, 'but the laps keep the water from building up friction. Bad designs build up friction near the midframe, then release it, tipping the bow up and down. If you sit on the midframe you can mitigate this some, but it'll still make a slow boat in light air. A fiberglass does the same thing, but you can't detect it so much.'
Josh was not satisfied with that. 'So I guess you say a square ender is just as good as a pointed bow, eh?'
'Not exactly,' Maury came back. 'A pointed bow with flare might be a bit dryer and slightly better under sail, but the real difference is in rough water. In light air, it might even sink more than a pram bow. The best compromise I ever saw was a 6'8" Murray Peterson pram or the Petey Dink from Atkin. No snap to build, but what a little miracle. You finish it the way it was designed, you think you've seen a glimpse of heaven.'
'Not so, Daddy O. I seen a Fenwick Williams pram, 20 inch topsides, more rocker than a duck's back, 3 feet abeam on the waterline, a beauty. Flat-bottomed with runners, flare-sided, rows in a glide. I'll take it any day.'
Maury couldn't resist. 'Aren't you Mr. Fiberglass?'
'That's how I make my living. But for somehow, folks don't take to fiberglass in little boats like they do wood.'
MaryAnn said quietly off to the side where she was, 'I like little wood boats, they're cute.'
They all heard her, she knew they thought she was silly. David said, 'That's what I mean about a boat giving pleasure before anything else. Of course the days of the workboats are long passed.'
Maury said, 'Gone but not forgotten, and I think I know why. It's because a boat comes out of yourself. When you see something of yourself out there in real life, it makes you feel less afraid. When you never see anything of yourself in the world, you feel alone, lonely in the way that no one else can alleviate. Maybe that's what David means by looking at designs of the past, seeing where a man like you has come from. Everything else gets mixed with stuff that smells. Life ain't what it used to be, your life didn't turn out to be all you wanted, your wife ain't like you at all, an' what they're showing at the drive-in don't mean a thing to you. But when you design a boat and put it together out of wood, something of yourself shows up. And it can't be changed.'
Josh said, 'Well, dad-blamed it, that stuff's too deep for me, I'd need a shovel for it.'
With that everyone laughed, stood to pay their bill and made their way out the door.
Now this was one of those dawns fog came creeping in along the rooftops. Some of the fishermen didn't go out until nearly midmorning, so MaryAnn and Luther knew the boys wouldn't be around until late in the afternoon, near dusk. And she was right.
'Here they come, right on time, just when I'm putting new napkins out an' filling the salt shakers an' got the tables spic-and-span to go home,' she lamented, wiping her hands on her apron. 'They couldn't at least wait until tomorrow.'
'I had 'em do it that way,' Luther said grinnin' crooked teeth through his moustache.
'You would,' she tossed back at him, popping her hand towel. She knew all of these neat and sparkling tables wouldn't last an hour now that Maury and Josh and them were coming in the door. They were as dirty as a kid in a pig pen. She wondered if men liked being dirty, you know like it was the curse of Adam - you are dust and to dust you shall return. Luther laughed at her getting put out by them all. She said, 'Just look at Josh, he looks like he spent the day swimming in sawdust.'
'Why don't you welcome them in,' he said at her, grinning sarcastic.
She spun around, her apron twirling. 'Why don't you do an honest day's work, you fat old geezer.' Pointing at Luther's belly, she said, 'I think I'll call you Watermelon Man, 'cause you look like you swallowed it whole.'
'Dinner muscle, that's what this belly is. Took years to build it up to this. Majestic, I say, that's what I am.'
MaryAnn laughed, turning away. She went to the door to hold the little door bell quiet as Maury and Josh and David came in together, Maury holding the morning paper, looking glum.
Josh sat in his usual spot. He was a mess. Maury and David came in together, talking about some boat thing. MaryAnn went to get the coffee for them all.
She said barely loud enough for them to hear, 'I was just about to get on home.'
Josh said, 'What for? You ain't got no husband to be home for. You belong to us, to this nightspot of glamour.'
Luther laughed. Then Ned and Nick came in, humming some hippie tune out of the '70s. Ned was always humming something. He put a quarter in the juke box, for Get Together by the Youngbloods.. Luther didn't like that hippie stuff, he turned away to his kitchen, tossing a pan around, banging those long spoons he had hanging from the ceiling. He was a Merchant Marine vetern, he hadn't gone out into the Pacific to die so some hippie could lay around in a spray-painted van playing a guitar, no sir. But these guys kept Luther in business, so he had to turn his back.
Maury said to himself - even though he knew they all were hearing - 'I heard about that guy, Stayer, who nearly drowned trying to get out to his yacht in a dinghy through rough water. Guess even that needs some experience, like Slocum. Here it is in the paper, happened last night.'
'Tough, I'd say,' Josh said, looking at the paper on Maury's table.
'Working on the sea is dangerous work, my old skipper used to say that,' Maury said, pointing to the story. 'Paper says Stayer'd owned his yacht for 10 years, but still the sea will do what it will.'
David hadn't heard of this. 'That happened last night?'
Josh said, 'Yeah. The guy was up here on vacation. His Peterson ketch was anchored out in the bay. He came to shore in an inflatable, he was going back for the night. But weather came in last night, tossing waves on the tide. I guess he never had much experience with inflatables before.'
'Maury said, 'Never did like inflatables. They're like pillows waiting to be punctured. He should have stayed ashore. Dinghies are only for getting you out to your boat, not roughing a storm.'
Maury knew what Josh would say. 'Naw, old man, it might not matter what dinghy it was if the waves are reaching for the sky. But I agree, dinghys are for gunkholing, gliding around, lazy afternoons. You don't launch a dinghy from the shore when it's blowin' 20 or 25 knots. The only way to make a dinghy seaworthy is to have some ballast and some experience with it. The guy had a motor, he was sitting in the stern seat, tipping that inflatable out of the water. Maybe if he'd been rowing..'
'Maybe so. It's always good to make friends if you cruise in a new place, if'n you need help.'
'Yeah, I'll go with that. Something to be said for heavier small boats. Works for me,' Josh said.
'Still, I don't like it. I'd rather have a wider bow out of the water, more buoyant, no diving in and leaping up when you're gettin' pushed,' Maury said. 'Look at the best dinghy ever, Columbia. Bow just on the waterline, stern just out, little skeg, an' a daggerboard forward out of the way. It's got a fairly wide forefoot, beam right on the rowing seat, nice soft afterrun longer than the entrance, perfect design. That's old Captain Nat for you.'
'Maury,' Josh said, spinning his straw around in his coffee, 'you is always in the past. Nowadays, Ned is right to go for fiberglass; folks don't care if a dinghy can outsail another one by a few feet around the harbor. They want what they want, a boat they can have. With that long boom goofy sail, your damn Columbia looks like a porpoise.'
MaryAnne laughed, even though she didn't know what they were talking about.
'Ever noticed,' Maury said, 'how close that sail is to a lateen Sunfish sail? Just lace the boom to the mast with two feet of boom before the mast, an' you've got a Sunfish sail. The old captain got it again, 50 years before any of us. With the board before the thwart, plenty of room, too.'
'Yeah, but 10 strakes per side, too much work, too much,' Ned said. 'I'll take something like a Michalak Mixer, three paneled bottom, simple topsides, easy boat to build. The trouble with sailing a dinghy is you have to add so much gear, spars, a sail lacing, pintles and gudgeons, cleats and such - too much cost, too much stuff. An' then if you don't catch your skin on some screw, the boom tatoos your skull.'
'Tell you what, ol' man, we'll borrow the Columbia from the Museum, you can take her helm. She's at 11 1/2 feet; I'll build a Bolger Teal at 12, an we'll have a race. Planks against plywood, wha'd ya say?'
David had been listening to all this quietly. 'All right, then. To be fair, sail area will have to be the same, how about a loose-footed sprit rig? I tell you what, the perfect sprit sail is off the Atkin Little Peter, about 45 square feet with a high peak and no boom. I'll borrow sails and sprits from the yacht club members, we'll have ourselves a little race around the buoys and back. Tacking out to Buoy 7, on the beam to Buoy 5, and then back downwind to the dock. Herreshoff against Bolger, planks against plywood, now this might be something worth braggin' about. Next Saturday morning, dueling at dawn.'
MaryAnn said, 'I'll make a poster with Dueling At Dawn on it.' She giggled.
Maury then thought. 'What about a prize?'
Luther chimed in, 'No prize, but what about punishment for the loser?'
'Like what?' they all asked at once.
Luther had this twinkle in his eye. 'The loser has to spend the night in the jail.'
MaryAnn laughed, 'But that's too cruel. How about the loser has to serve the winner dinner right here, this coming Saturday?'
David said, 'Now that's only fair.'
So they all agreed.
The fateful day came like D-Day. Everyone was up early, before dawn down at the restaurant. The town had seen MaryAnn's poster in the window, talk was all over the harbor, bets got tossed around, kids came out, and even the high school cheerleaders with their pom-poms and saddle loafers lined the dock. You'd think there was going to be speeches by chubby politicians, or something. And the mayor, Stubby Dunkimin, did come out to see if he could get some votes by passing out chocolate doughnuts. He did get the cheerleader vote, after they told him they had a union, so they had to vote to see if they wanted to vote for Stubby.
Just then Maury drove up with the Columbia on his trailer. He backed in into the harbor water while Ned had his Teal on his cartop. Probably in violation of some code, but who cares when you've got money floating around like this.
The excitement caught on with everyone. The cheerleaders made up some cheer like,
'Two, four, six, eight, which boat looks like a crate?'
But then Ned's gang from the yard started doing a kind of Old Folks Wave - arms only, no bending the back with this crowd. They chanted, 'Planks make you a crank, but Teal's the Real Deal!' Or something like that.
Ned and Maury rigged their boats. The sun peeked through the harbor masts, stirring a reflection on the water, a quiet ripple of time coming. Now the tension mounted. Ned and Maury maneuvered their skiffs toward the starting pier. MaryAnn, sitting by the bay window in the restaurant saw out at sea hints of fog coming. Rarely was the wind ever from the west, but she could see it coming.
The mayor guffawed. 'On your mark, get set, be off gentlemen!' he barked out, even though the cheering drowned him out. Maury got Columbia off the mark easily, gliding over the chill water until both boats could catch a breeze. Then Teal's bottom, so slightly in the water, caught up with Columbia near the first buoy. They turned across the wind till their sails filled on a reach. Teal tilted slightly in the crosswind, Columbia merely rolled on her arched bilge. They paced side by side with Teal moving slightly ahead. Then they reached the last buoy. MaryAnn saw the fog coming down upon both skiffs. The wind had freshened, booms flung up as the skiffs got around the mark, Columbia burying her bow till Maury had to get aft, balancing her. Ned laughed. He thought he'd catch Columbia. Teal's flat bottom didn't bury but it did roil somewhat. Their bows were nip and tuck.
Then that grey twinkling fog caught them both, curling over both boats. Ned and Maury yelled at each other - 'Where are you - don't aim to starboard - I'm right on your beam!'
Suddenly, in the deepest fog, MaryAnn heard a crack of wood! They'd hit each other, right at the finish line - but who hit who - and who was first?
The crowd on the dock leaned into the fog, straining to see whose bow might emerge first...but they didn't see a bow - they saw two old men swimming for shore. They were sloshing, they were spewing water out of their mouths, they were slapping water, nearly drowning, but finally the cheerleaders threw them life preservers with a rope to pull them ashore. They sat there breathing heavy when the two skiffs came drifting out of the fog, one on top of the other.
The mayor yelled, 'Who won?'
Maury spitted out, 'I swam further than you!'
Ned spitted right back, 'That's because you had to - you rammed my bow!'
'No, you did!'
They went on like this till the crowd left.
Luther and MaryAnn stood at the window, laughing at this ridiculous scene.
'See,' Luther said, 'it ended just like I knew it would.'
'How's that?' MaryAnn asked, her hands over her laughing mouth.
'They're just like two blind penguins eating either end of the same hot dog - they just had to meet.'