Sunday, September 1, 2013

Smiling In the Sunshine; Prologue

                                                        It Was All A Dream

   “Goodbye, Sam,” I said, and I pulled the trigger. I don't know who was more surprised, me or Sam. I know Sam was surprised as hell that I had the nerve to shoot him in his stupid movie-star face in the first place, but what surprised me was that the damn beat-up old shotgun didn't make a huge roar and blow Mr. Handsome's head clean off. Of course it didn't. What happened instead was the gun made a loud “click” and a little plastic bullet more or less trickled out the end of the barrel and bounced off his forehead. But at least he let go of the girl he was dragging around by the arm and stared at me with a very surprised look on his face.

 “What the hell! Are you insane? I can't believe you were going to shoot me, you sonofabitch!”  He was really pissed.

     “Shut up, Sam,” I said, re-loading another shell into the barrel of the shotgun, “Or I'll shoot you again.” Which was actually pretty funny, because I was planning on shooting him again anyway, as soon as I could jamb a shell into the chamber and cock the gun and so on.  I sure as hell didn't want to get into a big wrestling match over the gun and I really didn't want to get into one of his goddamn movie-star fistfights, complete with witty threats and manly bon mots and all that crap. I had been in a drunk-ass wrestling match more than once in my illustrious career, rolling around punching and sweating and grunting and cursing. It was too much like sex and it always made me slightly uncomfortable afterward.
     But Sam wasn't crouching like a jungle beast preparing to spring or or drawing back his mighty sinew to deliver a knockout punch. No, he was still standing there cussing and glaring and just being pissed off. I couldn't help but think how typical it was of him that he would be more outraged that someone would try to kill his wonderful self than be frightened about it. But by that time I had the gun loaded and aimed at his head again. I could hear shouting and confusion in the saloon behind me and someone yelled “Don't do it, Blix!” and that gave me pause. Who was doing all this shouting? Just a moment before it had been only me and Sam and the lithe, beautiful femme fatal he was dragging around by the arm. Now who the hell else was in here?

     “Just stand right there,” I said to Sam, “And you might get out of this alive.”  I didn't really want to shoot Sam. I just didn't want to share the treasure with him. And he was such a pain in the ass about money that I knew who would get the best of the deal if I let him live. So, yeah, in a way I did want to shoot the sonofabitch. I was definitely sick of his “me first” crap and his movie star handsome bullshit. I backed away and turned around. Rusty was sitting at the bar, and over in the corner by the jukebox was a small cluster of tourists, all talking at once. The saloon had been closed since Molly's death and no one was supposed to be in here. And even though it had only been a few days since she passed away the place was boarded up and just dusty as hell and there was water dripping from somewhere overhead. “How the hell did tourists get in here?” I wondered as I walked over to the bar.

     “Wow, man, I can't believe you were going to blow Sam's head off like that!” Rusty said. He was really excited. “What the fuck, man! Are you crazy?”

     “Shut up, Rusty,” I said. “Let me get a grip on this. How did those tourists get in here, anyway?” I turned towards the corner booth where the gaggle of frightened witnesses had been babbling and pointing at me but they were gone. The girl was sitting there instead. She was wet, her diaphanous white blouse clinging provocatively to her heaving breasts. She was very beautiful and very frightened. On the table in front of her was the shotgun. Sam walked over with a ratty piece of paper in his hands. It was the drawing of the map that would lead us to the map.

     “Are you done fucking around, now, jackass?” Sam said. “Can we get back to work?” He spread the paper on the bar top. He was the boss. “Now look, the way I see it is we've got to cut this trench right through the concrete here going towards the rear door. That will be your job, Blix.” He was standing way too close, in my space and in my face, as usual. Mr. In Charge. He turned to Rusty. “Now you, Rusty, will...”

     “Excuse me just a minute,” I interrupted quietly. I slid off the bar stool as casually as I could, then I suddenly exploded across the room, jumping onto a booth seat to gain some spring action and dove through the air towards the girl in the booth. She was beautiful and frightened and too surprised to move. The tourists in the corner started babbling again. I grabbed the shotgun and spun around fast before Sam could make his move. He and Rusty were standing at the bar, looking at me like I was crazy. Sam had the map in his hand. I was moving closer to him, shotgun pointed at his face. Sam gave out one of his big dramatic “Here we go again” sighs and put the map on the bar. He was obviously planning to give me a good old-fashioned Hollywood ass kicking for my own good.

     “Good-bye, Sam,” I said. I pulled the trigger. Another loud click and another pathetic blue plastic bullet trickled out of the end of the barrel. This one didn't even have enough force to make it to his face. It just made a weak little arc and bounced off his chest. He was wearing a really expensive- looking white shirt, some kind of pirate get up, open at the chest. The girl in the booth tried to suppress a giggle, but I could hear her anyway. There was water dripping somewhere.

     My name is Blix Dixon. I woke up this morning and decided that I couldn't take it any more and it was time to just put it all down, write it all down and maybe get some of this stuff out of my head.  I mean, you don't have to be Sigmund Freud to see the symbolism of dreams like that one. Everyone has their story to tell and this one is mine. Not my life story or anything as mundane as that; who cares about all that stuff? No, I mean the story of what happened the summer after my second wife left me and I lost the house and my life fell apart and I got into the drinking and sailing and hell raising on the beach. 

 And meeting Ponce deLeon.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Smiling In the Sunshine: The Crooked Angel

 The Crooked Angel
Blix and Cromwell drink some breakfast and talk to cryptic Molly

   I walked into the Crooked Angel Saloon on a painfully bright Sunday morning in March. The atmosphere inside was the very essence of a Florida beach bar at ten in the morning: the fragrant smell of stale spilled beer , stale cigarette smoke and stale foiled dreams. Molly was behind the bar, rinsing glasses and running water and doing all the things a bar owner does on a Sunday morning before opening time. I walked past her toward the back, headed for the Men's room. As I walked past I didn't say anything, just raised my hand in the international sign of “I'm hungover” and kept moving. Molly smiled her beautiful Sunday morning smile and reached for her second-best brand of Vodka. The saloon was empty. It would not open until noon, but at noon I would be rigging my catamaran on the beach and I wanted a Bloody Mary now. I went into the Men's room and over to the urinal. Someone was in the toilet stall.

     “Someday I'm going to start a Sunday without having to smell that,” I said.

     “Smell what?” came a voice from the stall. “The lovely smell of roses?”

     “Yeah, the lovely smell of roses. I didn't see your drink on the bar. You going straight on me?”  The sound of ice tinkling in a glass came from inside the stall.

     “Jesus,” I said. “You got a TV and newspaper in there too? At least wash your hands when you're through.”

     “Yes, mother,” Cromwell said. I zipped up, washed my hands and went back into the bar and sat on the stool in front of the tall drink Molly had made for me. A medicinal Bloody Mary, two parts Absolut vodka with four parts Crooked Angel house mix, four dashes of tabasco, two big olives and a celery stick. I took a sip.

     “Yow! Good stuff! Thank you, me darlin'.”

     “You're welcome, me darlin'. Is Cromwell awake in there?”

     “As awake as he ever gets. By the way, isn't there some health regulation concerning food consumption in public toilet stalls?” She was leaning over the rinse sink, giving me a wonderful view of her perfect Florida bar-maid chest. Molly had bought the Angel with savings from her earlier career as a dancer. While some of her co-workers were investing in drug abuse and bad boyfriends, Molly had bought Walmart stock. She straightened up, stretched deliciously and gave me a green eyed wink.

     “No doubt. Everything is against the law in Florida. Including serving drinks before opening time.”

     “This isn't drinks,” I said. “It's breakfast.” Cromwell came in from the back, shaking his empty glass, rattling the ice to show Molly it was empty.

     “More breakfast, please, miss,” he said. Cromwell is the tall, dark and handsome type, and knows it.   Molly took his glass. He sat down on a stool and turned to me. “Now then, Blix, what is on the schedule for today?”

     “Let's see,” I said, holding up a blank white cocktail napkin, “Ah yes, first will be drinking, followed by sailing, then more drinking, then, later: sailing and drinking.”

     “Hmm, a busy day,” Cromwell said. “Will we have time for lunch?”

     “I think so. Yes, in fact, it says here that we're scheduled for lunch with cocktails at the Yacht Club. We'll be dining with the Commodore.”

     Molly laughed. “Yeah, right. Like they're going to let you two kooks anywhere near the Yacht Club, after that thing with the seagulls.” She set Cromwell's fresh drink in front of him.

     “Did I say Yacht Club? Oh, I see, must be a typo, actually we will be dining alfresco on the beach, enjoying delicious cold sandwiches prepared by chef Molly of the renowned Crooked Angel Culinary Academy.” I put the napkin back on the bar. Cromwell picked it up and held it at arms length, as though studying it in detail. Molly took it away and threw it into the trash can behind the bar.

     “Okay”, she said. “Two club sandwiches and two drinks to go then you two bastards have got to get out of here. I've got real customers coming in and I want to be ready.” She went into the kitchen to put together our lunch, giving her tail a shake for old time's sake. We watched her leave, then looked at each other. Molly makes really good sandwiches. We both lifted our drinks, taking measured sips so that when the glasses were back on the bar there would be equal amounts remaining. We knew exactly how long to make the drinks last so that Molly would have time to fix the club sandwiches, get them wrapped up and return to fix two extra strength Bloody Marys in red plastic cups. It was part of our Sunday morning pre-sail ritual. We were following well-established steps that would soon result in our being out on the ocean on board my eighteen foot catamaran. Some days it would be on Cromwell's boat, but today it would be on mine. The ritual had evolved naturally, the end result of our need to get through the morning and out on the ocean with as little effort as possible. Sunday mornings in Ruby Beach are not a good time for excess effort or confusion. Cromwell spoke.

     “Who is this Al guy?” he asked.


     “You said we were going to be dining with Al Fresco at lunch.” Inane conversation was part of the ritual, a way to get the vocal chords warmed up, set the tone for the day.

     “Oh, Al,” I said. “Right. You are going to like this guy, Crom, a very interesting character. His full name is Alain de Cordoba Fresco. He once served as court jester to the King of Spain, in the late Fifties, but after the revolution he came to the U.S. where he had a very popular children's TV show at a local station in Kalamazoo, or maybe it was Kokomo. He apparently made so much money there that he was able to retire here to Ruby, where he spends his Sunday afternoons on the beach, eating lunch with strange men.”

     “Sounds like a good guy. But what if we 're not strange enough for his taste?”

     “Oh, don't worry,” said Molly, coming in from the kitchen. “Cromwell and Dixon are strange enough for anyone's taste. You two make the Cat in the Hat look normal.” She set the wrapped club sandwiches on the bar. They had a very satisfying heft about them, as would the two drinks to go. It was all part of the ritual.

     “Indeed, me darlin', indeed. But then, what is normal, anyway?” I put a ten dollar bill on the bar.

     “More,” Molly said. I looked at Cromwell. He looked at Molly. Molly rolled her eyes.
“I know,” she said, taking the bill from the bar top. “On the tab.” She threw the ten into the tip jar. We each took our wrapped sandwiches and our drinks and turned towards the back door of the Crooked Angel.

     “By the way,” I asked as we were walking out, “How much is the tab these days, anyway?”

     “You don't want to know,” said Molly, leaning on the bar and giving us both a very direct look and an ironic little smile. “You really don't want to know.” Cromwell pushed the rear door to the saloon open with his foot and we stepped out into the painful sunshine. The door closed behind us.

     “What did that mean?” he asked.

     “We really don't want to know,” I said.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Smiling In the Sunshine; Supplies

Cromwell and Blix Prepare for the Journey

     The parking lot behind the Crooked Angel was empty except for two vehicles: Molly's sleek vintage Porshe Carrerra and my not so sleek vintage Chevy Step Van. It sat in the far back corner of the lot, next to the little beach shack that I was renting from Molly while I regrouped, as it were; while I attempted to pull myself together after the divorce. Cromwell and I carried our drinks and sandwiches across the parking lot to my truck for the ride to the beach. The beach is only a half a block from the Crooked Angel, but we have coolers and sails and ropes and so forth that pretty much stay in the truck, and these have to be transferred to the boat.   
      My truck is a forty year old Chevy step van, like the big box trucks used by parcel delivery services and bakeries. She has an aluminum body and a strong eight cylinder motor. In the twenty years I have had her she has served as a work truck, camper, party wagon, office and sometimes home. These days she is a crew bus and on weekends headquarters for our beach sailing. Ruby Beach has one of the last beaches in Florida that allow motor vehicles to drive on the sand. Driving on the beach is a rare privilege and makes for the perfect situation for launching our beach cats. My boat was waiting on the beach with the mast rigged and ready to go, sitting several yards above the high tide line.  All we had to do this morning was get the beer and ice loaded then raise the sails and go.

     “How much beer do you have in the truck?” Cromwell asked.
     “Not near enough,” I replied. “Less than a case.”

     “OK,” he replied. “I'll run into the Seven Eleven and get a case and a couple bags of ice.”  He handed me his drink and sandwich and started across the street . I stepped up into the big truck and put the drinks in the cup holders on the engine cover. Then I went into the back and pulled out a medium sized plastic cooler. Reaching under the bench seat I slid out a case of Red Stripe beer (in the hard-to-find cans, not the stout little brown bottles. No glass on the boat!) I made a layer of twelve beers in the bottom of the cooler.  Next would be the ice, then another layer of six beers and the plastic tray for the sandwiches and cigarettes and cell phones and so on. The rest of the beer and extra ice would stay here in my truck, in a big fishing cooler that was kept permanently on board for just that function. This regrouping of my life after Mona was taking a lot of beer. I sat in the driver's seat and took a sip from my Bloody Mary. A pair of gulls were swooping and dipping over the parking lot. 
     Cromwell came out of the store with the beer and ice and crossed the street. I went into the back and opened the rear panel doors and he handed up the bags of ice, then the beer. We finished loading the coolers and sandwiches and went into the front and sat on the black and red reccarro racing seats I had put in a year earlier. Cromwell and I reached for our drinks. He raised his in a toast.
     “To the Beach!” he said.

     “To the Beach!” We touched the red plastic cups together and I started the engine.

Smiling In the Sunshine: The Keeper at the Gate

The Keeper At the Gate
The Guardian is no match for the boys

     We pulled out of the parking lot behind the saloon and turned onto Coronado Avenue. There was a pretty good breakfast crowd at the Little Lighthouse Restaurant, but otherwise things were still quiet. Soon enough the tourist trade would come pouring in, filling the art shops and boutiques that line both sides of the Avenue, as well as the four or five saloons that make up the drinking scene in Ruby Beach. We are a small town, really. It was only a few hundred feet to the beach ramp. As we pulled up to the toll booth, there was the Atlantic Ocean. On this crystalline day in March the sea was brilliant azure close in, with dazzling white breakers gently slapping the morning sand. Further out, where we would be going, the ocean was a far darker hue, rolling along in large smooth waves that would give us a fast, undulating ride across the surface. 
     The sky was clear and blue, except for the seagulls that flocked constantly along the beach, waiting for handouts. The beach vendors were pulling in and setting up for the day. They all drove step vans like mine, pulling large trailers from which they would dispense hot dogs and sodas and bicycles for rent and kites and lounge chairs and all the other accoutrements of a tourist's day at the beach. We paused at the toll booth. The elderly lady working the booth stuck her head out.

     “Five dollars please.” she said.

     “No, ma'am, I said, “”We're not going to the beach. We're just dropping off some supplies to some of the other beach wagons, then coming back.”

     “You say that every week and I'm starting to think you don't really come back.” She knew how this was going to turn out but I admired her effort.

     “There must be a mistake,” I said. “I'm new on the job and this is my first day on this route. This is my supervisor right here...” Cromwell leaned over towards the driver's side and gave the poor lady a stern look.

     “Lady, we've got almost two-point-five metric tons of ice in the back of this wagon and it's melting fast. Plus I've got to train the new guy here and this really isn't part of the program. But if a lousy five dollars is that important...”

     “No, Sir, but I'm sure I remember you from last week and they told me to watch out for you boys and one of you is named Blix and...”

     “Blix?” said Cromwell. “What kind of made up name is that? Sounds like bad info to me, ma'am. I'm Fred and this is Joe and we really gotta get this ice to the vendors down here.” She was beaten from the start and we all knew it. It looked to me like she was trying not to laugh and I know that someday I will be punished for keeping a straight face in these situations but until then it is all part of the game.

     “Well, OK, but I'm watching you boys and you better come back through here pretty quick or else.” She was grinning pretty big now. This was a cool old lady. Hell, everybody in this town is cool. “By the way, what's in those red cups?”

     “Training Juice, ma'am,” said Cromwell as I headed the big truck down the ramp onto the sand.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Smiling In the Sunshine: Old Phil Stine

The Country Corner
Old Phil Stine Buys Some Beer

     Old Phil Stine was paying Clark the Clerk for his six pack of Red Stripe beer and his Swisher Sweet cigarillos at the counter of the Country Corner Gas Stop when he caught some incongruous movement out of the the corner of his eye. Phil looked out the double glass doors and saw some grungy kook getting on the saddle of his unlocked stripped down vintage Mongoose Alta bicycle.

     “Sonofabitch!” Phil shouted, grabbing his beer and busting through the doors as the perpetrator pedaled off fast just like the Road Runner in the old cartoons. Clark the Clerk was right behind Phil.

     “That's that fucking crackhead that's been hanging around here lately!” yelled Clark. I'll call the cops!” he said, rushing back inside.

     “Better call an ambulance,” muttered Phil, pulling one of the hefty bottles from the six pack. He wound up fast and let rip with an amazing beer bottle fastball that left one old man at the gas pumps somewhat breathless. The bottle whizzed unerringly with no arc and no wasted time right into the back of the head of the fleeing bike thief. He went down fast, the bike becoming tangled with his legs and arms in a kind of strange sculpture of failure. Phil strode over to the tangle and lifted the dazed crook by the lapels of his filthy shirt, lifting him to eye level. He did it with no apparent effort, giving the guy a swift shake to disentangle his limbs from the bicycle. The crackhead urinated in his pants. Phil tossed the helpless loser into some nearby palmettos and reached down to pick up his bicycle and the beer bottle missile.

     “Here,” he said, flipping the beer to the thief. “You might want to wait awhile before you open that.” He turned around and walked his bike back to where he had left his remaining beers. Clark the Clerk came out of the store. He was still excited.

     “What the hell?” he said. “What the hell? The cops are on the way!”

     “Well, then, you can tell them all about it when they get here”, said Phil, peddling off.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Smiling In the Sunshine; Elegant Misogynism

Elegant Misogynism
How my boat got her name

     We pulled onto the beach, heading north up to where my boat was parked about a mile away. As we turned, Cromwell glanced up at the flag on top of the big Lifeguard Tower.

     “Out of the southeast,” he said, referring to the wind direction.

     “Any idea what the tide is doing?” I asked.

     “Coming in or going out, last I checked.” He wet a finger and stuck it out the open sliding door of the truck. “Going out, definitely.” All this silly banter began in the days when we first started sailing these beach cats a few years earlier. Not knowing what we were doing, continually making rigging mistakes and tipping the boat over in the ocean, we developed a program of “fake it 'till you make it,'” creating our own sailing terms and bits of wise sea knowledge which we would share with the tourist girls who inevitably came up to us while we prepared the boat to go out. There were times when we would come crashing in through the bathers on the beach who would dodge this way or that trying desperately to not be run over by this giant brightly colored and apparently out of control beach toy.

     “Avast, there Captain!” I would shout as we narrowly missed one bobbing swimmer after another. “Bear off a lee! Come down hard and away! Arghh!” On the days when the onshore break was particularly brutal and the offshore drinking was particularly strong, it was not unusual for the helmsman to fall off the boat altogether. Then, as we pulled the boat back onto the beach, the girls would come around.

     “That was beautiful!” they might say, “but why did one of you jump into the water like that?” Usually it was Cromwell who would try to sneak one last slug of rum before coming in, miss his timing as the boat crested a wave and “jump in” by falling over backwards off the boat.

     “Well, Miss, you see, on days like this when the wind is agrarian out of the south and we have a riptudial tidal flow, certain maneuvers take place that call for adjustable ballast.”

     You could say just about anything. And we did. And the foolishness didn't end; we would continue it into the evening, sitting at one saloon or another with the usual local crowd. It became our inside joke, setting us a little apart from the others. It ultimately became an inescapable habit, this goof-speak, and somehow created a kind of elitist cache that was worth a few drinks now and then and certainly garnered us a great deal of leeway with the Beach Patrol and the bartenders of Coronado Avenue. All due to this perception that we were in on something that the others were not. I once overheard a drunk at the bar say, “Those guys are such elegant speakers.” Indeed.

     There was my boat just ahead, sitting pertly on the sand, waiting. She knew we were coming. Her name is the Bitch, because she is one. I did not name her in a moment of misogynistic despair, although I have certainly suffered from plenty such moments. She was named by one of my beach bum girl friends, a veteran of many years and many beach towns along the Atlantic Coast and the Bahamas who knew far more about sailing a beach cat than I did. She showed me the ropes, literally, and helping me get my new vessel rigged and launched. On the less-than -maiden voyage we broke out through an unusually rough surf. Summer (the girl's name) was busy as hell pulling on this line and that, steering the boat with one hand and adjusting the sail with the other, all the while cussing like the sailor she was, while I helped by hanging on for dear life and wondering if I was going to get laid. We finally cleared the surf line almost as an afterthought and then shot out towards the open ocean. The boat flew across the rolling sea.

     “Damn,” Summer said, “What a handful! This boat is a bitch!” And the name stuck.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Smiling In the Sunshine: Rigging and Ritual

Rigging and Ritual
Instruction for the beach sailor
     We pulled up next to the Bitch, parking above the tideline. We tossed off the remainder of the Bloody Marys and began the rigging ritual. We would not speak again until after the launch. Cromwell climbed out of the side door of the van as I went into the back. I opened the double rear doors and then lifted the big mainsail down from the rack, handing it out to the waiting Cromwell. He placed it lengthwise on the boat, taking care that the goose neck fitting on the boom was forward, ready to hook into the mast. I then handed him a mesh bag of child-size life preservers in one hand and the loaded cooler with the other. These he likewise stashed on the trampoline, quickly snapping their respective retaining rings into place. 
     Everything has to be well secured on a beach cat. 

      I handed out the six-to-one main sheet control and the rolled up jib sail. That was everything. I turned and looked around the cabin of the old step van. I really loved that truck. I had had a lot of good times back there. I stuck the keys in their secret stash and climbed out of the back to join Cromwell. 

      We both got into position at the front of the boat, facing the ocean, holding onto the dolphin striker from behind. Saying nothing, I lifted. If it were Cromwell's boat, he would have lifted first. But today it was my boat and it was my turn to give the cues. We lifted the boat, pulling hard, almost straining, to break her loose from a week's worth of drifting sand. She quickly broke free, and we started to pull, dragging her across the beach like a pair of two-legged draft animals. She came along readily enough. We pulled her to the water's edge. So far less than five minutes had elapsed since our arrival. While all our efforts looked sleepily casual, we were actually moving as quickly as possible. It was partly due to pride of practice and it was partly due to our honest eagerness to get out on the water. But also a lot of it was the never-ending theater of being a local sun bum in a beach town. The tourists were always watching, waiting to be entertained. We always tried to oblige. “Never waste an audience,” Cromwell liked to say.

     At the water's edge we spun the boat around 180 degrees, stern to the sea. We lifted the bow high, helped by the natural slope of the beach. This allowed any accumulated water to drain from the hulls. Leaving a braced Cromwell to hold her up, I went around to the back and checked for drainage. Nothing. The Bitch is a pretty dry little boat. As I bent down to screw in the drain plugs Cromwell lowered the boat. As soon as I was through replacing the plugs, he spun the front of the boat around so that she was bow to the wind.  I joined him at the front of the boat, each of us standing with the mast between us. I hooked the twisted shackle on the halyard to the headboard at the top of the mainsail. Cromwell carefully slid the bolt rope into the luff groove on the trailing edge of the mast. When I saw that he was ready, I began to pull steadily on the halyard which ran through a pulley at the top of the mast, some thirty two feet overhead. The bright green mainsail rose smoothly into the morning sunlight. Cromwell had a hand on each side of the sail as it went up, guiding it into the luff groove. In just a few easy heaves the sail was up. I pulled the main halyard sideways, with just a certain twist and the twisted halyard ring clicked into the hook at the masthead. 

 That twist of the wrist was a learned thing. 

      I secured the main halyard on a cleat mounted near the base of the mast. I then slotted the down haul car into the luff groove, threaded the end of the down haul line through a pulley on the mast and gave a strong heave to tension the main. This too was secured to a cleat and the main was ready. 

      While I was securing the main, Cromwell had taken the jib sail and hooked the jib halyard to the top of the sail, connected the zippered luff pocket to the fore stay and started pulling up the jib. I finished my work with the mainsail, turned just in time to grab the clew of the jib, which was flapping eagerly in the freshening morning breeze. The Bitch was waking up, and when the Bitch was awake she wanted to sail! So did we. Our actions were a little more crisp now. We were getting closer. The ritual was almost complete. The vessel we had to drag to the water only moments before was now quivering in our hands, a thing alive, with a mind of her own and ready to go! 

      We snapped on the jib sheets and the main sheet with its six-in-one pulley system, then clipped the system into place on the traveler spanning the stern of the trampoline. That was it. Everything was ready.

     A small group of tourists were gathered to watch this apparent magic act and their yearnings were palpable. They wanted to be us! I looked at Cromwell, and he looked at me and winked. It was the first time we had acknowledged each others presence since we got out of the truck. We kept straight faces, but we were smiling inside. I nodded significantly toward the Northeast, into the ocean. Cromwell went forward to the port bow and pulled the Bitch around a little from her position pointing into the wind and aimed her into the direction I had indicated. He pulled the boat forward into the waves as I pulled on the main sheet, taking up slack and letting the mainsail taste a little of the wind. One more strong heave and the Bitch was floating. I pushed on the hull from behind. When the water was knee deep I jumped onto the trampoline, pulling in on the main until it grabbed a wing full of wind. Cromwell was pulling on the port bow when the sail caught and suddenly he was the one being pulled! He swung onto the hull like an Apache onto a running pony, slid down into the middle of the tramp and grabbed the jib sheet, pulling it in until it too was taut and full of wind. We're off!

      The first set of breakers crashed into the bow of the boat. These little three foot waves are candy and silk stockings to the Bitch. She rose up through the foam and wave, thrusting her bows clear and dripping into the sunlight, gave her characteristic little shudder of joy and that was it. We were at sea. The ritual was complete. Well, it was almost complete.

     “You got any beer on this tub?” asked Cromwell.

     “I think so,” I said. “There may be a warm beer stuck in there somewhere. Take a look.” He reached into the ice chest. He pulled out two frosty, dripping Red Stripes.

     “Here you go, Cap,” he said. Now the ritual was complete.