NaNo: halfway through
Squeaking along on wordcount …
After a week of paper grading and a weekend of sailing and boat-related stuff, the two-day advance on my wordcount had evaporated. Tonight (Sunday) is the halfway mark of NaNo, and I barely eked out the 25K halfway wordcount (actual total 25,023) just before midnight.
I do like what I came up with … it’s an account of my main character’s first up-close encounter with a high-performance racing sailboat. The fictional boat is named after a pirate ship, Avenger. However, there’s some question exactly which ship of that name is intended – the real one that prowled the Caribbean in the 1720s, or the movie one from 1944. I’m not sure myself which one it is, but I’ll figure it out eventually.
This is the most recent passage from Murder on the Sports Desk. The scenes leading up to the event are totally fictional, but Hannah’s first encounter with Avenger is absolutely what I experienced when I first set foot on an Etchells.
“Just feeling a little low, that’s all,” Flash said. “Maybe if I get some time out on the water, I’ll feel better. I haven’t had Avenger out in a long time.”
“See, there you are,” Hannah said. “Just get out sailing tomorrow, and things will look better for you.”
“Why wait for tomorrow?” Flash asked. “We can go sailing right now.”
“We?” Hannah asked. “What do you mean, ‘we’?”
“Look, you’ve been saying you’re going to come sailing on Avenger with me for a couple of years now,” Flash said. “Let’s do it now.” He got up, pulling Hannah up by her arm.
“But I have papers to grade …” Hannah protested.
Flash riffled through the stack of papers next to Hannah’s laptop. “Looks like you’re almost through with them,” he said. “You can finish them off after we get back.”
“But it’s getting late,” Hannah said. “By the time we get the boat ready to go, it will be late afternoon, and we won’t have time to sail.”
“We’ll have enough,” Flash said, pulling Hannah toward the companionway. “You’ll see.”
“But my health …” Hannah said.
“Has been an excuse you’ve been making for far too long,” Flash said, now prodding Hannah up the companionway. “Don’t sell yourself short. You can do more than you think you can do.”
“But that boat,” Hannah said, stumbling slightly into the cockpit, “it’s so … scary. I like boats that are more like my living room, like this one – which actually was my living room not too long ago.”
“You need to challenge yourself,” Flash said, stepping out of the cockpit onto the dock steps and leading – no longer pulling – Hannah along. “Get out of your comfort zone, try something new.”
Hannah tripped on the top dock step and found herself falling forward, into Flash’s arms, and she felt the strength of them around her as he held her up. She smelled the scent of his musky sweat and the cigarettes that he smoked, ordinarily a smell that would have repelled her. “But … but …” she said, her voice trailing off into a whisper.
“But you’ve run out of buts,” Flash said, helping her to stand upright on the pier but keeping an arm around her to guide her along toward where his boat was berthed. “Come fly with me.”
Hannah found she was no longer resisting Flash’s force, and soon she was face to face with Avenger, long, low, sleek, and black, looking very much like a shark, waiting to devour whatever prey came into its path. The boat was fully rigged, with a mainsail on the boom, a jib hanked onto the forestay, and lines run to a spinnaker in a bin on one side of the boat’s cockpit. All the halyards were hooked up, the sails were ready to hoist, and all but two of the docklines had been cast off. Flash had clearly planned and prepared for this supposedly impromptu sail. She stopped short. “You already … you ...” she said. “You tricked me.”
“No,” Flash said. “I knew I was going to get you to come sailing with me today.”
“But I can’t …” Hannah said.
“You don’t have to do anything,” Flash said. “I single-hand this boat all the time. If you want, you can help with jib trim, but you really don’t have to be anything more than just a passenger if you want.” He stepped onto the boat, holding Hannah’s hand. “Come on aboard.”
Hannah stepped onto Avenger’s deck. In a way, it was so simple. The deck was flat and clean, and it was the same level as the pier she was stepping off of, with only a gap of a few inches of water to step across. The boat barely rocked as she stepped onto it. Physically, there was nothing, absolutely nothing, momentous about the act of setting foot on Avenger.
But there was something else that felt tremendously important. In some ways, the very simplicity of boarding the boat marked a change – never before had she boarded a boat in such a way that the term “boarding” seemed like inflated verbiage. “Boarding” implied at least some effort, such as stepping over a gunwale or climbing steps or even using a gangplank. Boarding wasn’t supposed to be as easy as taking a small step sideways.
That difference, however, wasn’t the only thing that made stepping onto Avenger significant. There was something else, something Hannah couldn’t quite fathom, about the boat. She seemed to feel a vibration coming from it, not a physical vibration, but almost a psychic aura, that was unlike anything she had ever felt before. Resonance, that’s what it was, like when a particular note is sounded near a string that is tuned to that note; the vibrations in the air will cause that string to vibrate, too. Avenger was causing her to resonate.
How was this happening? Hannah found herself asking. Why? What was it about this unabashedly aggressive, streamlined, high-performance boat that resonated with her, a completely lazy and unambitious sailor? And why had this resonance begun the moment her foot touched the deck? She didn’t believe in fate or predestination or anything like that. If a boat was going to appeal to her, it should be only after she had had some experience with that boat, learned about its strengths and weaknesses, evaluated whether it was right for her. No boat should set her soul humming the instant she touched it. And yet this one did.
Flash sat down on the deck near the tiller. He slapped a spot on the deck a foot or so forward of where he was sitting. “You sit here,” he said. “If you want to trim the jib, you can sit more forward – here are the jib sheets.” He pointed to a pair of lines run through cleats near the front of the cockpit. Hannah realized that, along with the jib sheets, there were at least two dozen other lines used to operate the boat. About half of them were arrayed along the front edge of the cockpit; most of the rest ran through a console at the center of the cockpit, and a few came to the edges of the cockpit. She realized that this boat had more strings to pull than she had ever thought possible on a sailboat.
She sat where Flash indicated, and as she did so, the resonance between the boat and her increased. She should have become discouraged at seeing all of the different lines that this boat had – she wouldn’t expect that she could possibly understand them all. But that didn’t seem to be the message the boat was sending out; it seemed to be challenging her, urging her to set her sights higher. Wasn’t that what Flash had been telling her only a few minutes ago?
Flash untied the dock lines, tossing the stern line onto the broad, flat aft deck of the boat and leading the bow line to the corner of the pier, where he cleated it. The wind was coming at about a 45 degree angle to the dock, so the boat was soon pointed into the wind. Flash came onto the boat and raised the mainsail. Then he went to the pier, untied the dock line, and gave the bow of the boat a shove out into the channel as he hopped onto the boat. He dashed back to the cockpit, took up the tiller, sheeted in the mainsheet, and Avenger was underway.
Oh, and the sailing this weekend … My ace guest helmsman didn’t show up. The guy who was going to do committee boat duty bailed, so Pat filled in as emergency substitute (again). The wind was extremely strong, much more than Cornhusker and I could cope with by ourselves on Black Magic. So I joined Zorro as crew and Cornhusker helped Pat on committee boat duty. Saturday was rough; Sunday was rougher. I have a lot of bruises – and two broken nails.