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Great reviews Are Coming in! Get Your own copy! Tell Your Friends!

Hey there friends of Bluff Island Rescue Service –

Well copies have been for sale at this site here – so please get yours!  And Please, if you’ve read the book and liked it – please recommend it to your friends – and perhaps even your blogger friends ; – )

Also we have tee shirts!  When ever I see someone with a tee shirt it is so great!

So: here is the latest review:

“I read your book (practically non stop) the first weekend after I received it. I loved it. It made me laugh many times and it filled me with tears many times. I am going to read it again. There were so many places where your insights really rang true to me and helped me understand myself better.”  Jane Player Vancouver

And I’m happy to come to your book club or speak at your group!   Just let me know!  Best, Stephanie.


08 2010

Celebrate the New Publisher for BIRS

Hey there all, Blackfoot Press of Los Angeles will be the publisher for Bluff Island Rescue Service!

We are starting to sell books here on the blog – so if you’d like please order now.

If you are in Los Angeles, please join us for the first reading, a special sneak peak for our Blog Friends –

Monday 7 pm August 16 in Hollywood – please send me a message for complete info!


07 2010

Bluff Island Rescue Service Tee Shirts!

Hey there BIRS folks –

I have tee shirts!  Please let me know directly if you’d like to order one  – and – even more excitingly – if you’d like to host a reading at your house!  Just invite your friends or book club, and we’ll get it going!

Oh, and of course, I’d love to hear your marketing ideas!  As viral as possible.

Love to you all, FYI – I just read through the whole book again – and I’m so excited to share the whole thing with you – may I say, it only gets better as it goes. ; – )

Thanks so much!



06 2010

This should go on the cover….

a sail on Dulcibell

Tell me what you think…….

Tee shirts coming soon!


06 2010

Photo from Duck Island Trip.

Looking out to sea


05 2010

BIRS UPDATE from the Author

Well readers of Bluff Island Rescue Service, that is the end of Part 1.   Thank you for your kind comments and for reading this far. It means a lot to me.

Much exciting stuff happens in Parts 2, 3 and my favorite Part 4.

My plan has been to only put Part 1 on the blog.

When the book comes out –  I am planning to come to do readings/book parties in San Diego, throughout Los Angeles, in San Francisco, Bend, Oregon, and Seattle.   Additionally I will be doing events in Syracuse, Cazenovia, Toronto, NYC and Washington DC.    I would love to come to your house or town.  If you’d like to invite your friends who might enjoy the book, and have me come to a reading with books, please email me and we’ll set it up.   Again,

Spread the word, and thanks again so much for your support.


05 2010

Chapter 19 SMS

It is fall.

We are spending more time in Syracuse, and my parents are fighting. A lot. My father goes away by himself for the weekend, up to the River, and my mom lies in the bathtub for hours. When he comes home she tries to cook his favorite dinner but has left piles of laundry on all the sofas in the living room. So they start to fight.

“I’m having a nervous breakdown.” She keens in a high sobbing moan, “Why don’t I just kill myself?”  She lies on the floor, her wide, soft body made repulsive by the distortions of her mind.

“You’re nothing but a useless, fat, stupid cow,” he tells her.

Then she peels herself off the floor and starts to throw her other pair of fat pants into a suitcase.

“I’m leaving, I’m leaving!” she screams. She has said this many times before, but this is the first time that she’s dragged a suitcase downstairs. And this is the first time Rufus and I think she might really go. As she pulls her suitcase behind her through her front hall, Rufus grabs her leg and screams, “Mommy, Mommy, don’t go Mommy!” She drags him across the floor towards the door to the front porch as Jake ridicules her.

“You’re not going to get very far.  You’re fucking psycho, just like your mother.  You can’t even drive.”

“I’ll take the bus,” she says. I always thought I wanted her to stay, but tonight I just want her to get away from Jake. The coat closet is right in front of the door. She pauses there to pull her ugly thrift store coat off its hanger, and put it on. It is greenish brown with a huge weird collar and a strange plaid pattern. It is the ugliest coat in the world, and I love my funny sad mom and run across to give her a little hug and hold Rufus’ hand while we stand on our little porch watching her walk halfway down the block into the dark towards the bus stop dragging her suitcase. Then she is gone.

I let go of the breath I’ve been holding, and step back inside. I can’t look Jake in the face; instead I start to pull Rufus upstairs to go to bed. But before we get to the first landing, she stumbles back into the house, falling defeated just inside the door again.

“You’re back, fat cow.” Jake says. She walks past him.

I hesitate on the landing, looking down at them…three, two, one, they are on the floor fighting, the house is shaking and I turn the corner with Rufus and take him to his room. I put on one of his records to block out at least some of the noise.

The next day, I come home from school, and the house is quiet. I walk through calling softly, “Mom. Mom?” My insides clutch as I walk into each room: living room, sewing room, bedroom. I keep thinking I will find her, that I will walk into the room where she is hanging by her neck, swinging slightly, her face unrecognizable. I sit alone on the love seat in the living room watching the room get darker and darker. When she comes in and cheerfully tells me she’s been at the neighbor’s, I am angry with her because I was so worried. Whenever she is a little bit happy, I’m mad at her about it.

After dinner, the phone rings. “I’ll get it!” my father calls out gaily as he takes the stairs three at a time, up to his attic. He picks up the line, then runs back down the attic steps and slams the door to his study shut, just across the hall from my room. I can hear him run back to pick up the red phone at his desk. “Hello, how are you?” I hear the intonation through the heating vent that connects our rooms. I curl up on the floor near the vent, realizing that the mumbles of what sound like a long tender conversations have become a pattern this fall. His sweet voice continues and I stare at the pink gingham wallpaper my mother chose for my room in the new house. Jake’s voice comes through the vent soft and loving. I close my eyes and pretend he’s speaking to me.

Now it is the third Saturday in October. We are at the Island. It is so cold, Jake even says maybe we won’t come back for Thanksgiving, but I know we will. Mom is far in the back of the house, in the kitchen. I am bundled up, sitting at the bar in our living room, drinking my own little glass of sherry that Jake has given me while he tries to help me have some friends:

“Making friends gets a lot simpler when you’re old enough to drink.” I watch him as he looks out at the gray water through the window.

“You just have to say, ‘wanna go for a beer?’ and that’s it, people either go or they don’t.” I’m optimistic about this strategy because it’s working already. Here I am sitting up at our bar and Jake is talking to me. I spin on the spinning bar stool while he is talking, then I see it: it is a silver lighter. Like a Zippo lighter, the kind army guys have in movies. I pick it up and open it, while Jake says,

“If they don’t want to be your friend, fuck ‘em.” The manly lighter has very girly fancy engraved initials on it: SMS. Who would spend money on that? Who is SMS? And how did SMS come to leave a lighter on the bar of Bluff Island?

“What’s this?” I hold up the handsome brushed stainless steel into the dirty late afternoon light of the room. I expect him to walk over to me, look at it in my hands, and shrug maybe. Instead, he lunges at me, moving faster than he runs up the stairs for the phone, and grabs the lighter from my hand.

“Give that to me.”

I look at him. What he has done has told me everything. Suddenly I know.

“Who’s SMS?” I ask.

“A guy from the marina,” he lies. I know the guys from the marina. Guys from the marina don’t have girly shit on their Zippos. The voice on the other end of his phone is SMS and he is bringing her here. We look each other in the eye, and he realizes I know. He has a big secret and now I know it. As he stares at me, he does not say, “don’t tell your mother.” He doesn’t need to.

I look him in the eye. I slide down from the bar stool and walk through the dining room, down the scullery hall, towards the kitchen. Towards Mom. I can feel him watching me. I am willing him to tackle me, to take me down, then I can start screaming. Mom will come out of her fog in the kitchen, and his injustice will enable me to tell all. But still, I don’t hear him behind me. Not yet. The warm air hits me as I push open the heavy swing door into the kitchen. Mom is sitting in front of the heater, wearing a sweater and a coat, huddled over a thick Daphne DuMaurier novel as if that’s what’s warming her. She squints up from it, pushing her glasses up on her nose to see me. The door closes behind me,

“Hi, honey,” she says. Her hair is sticking out.


Now that I’ve come all this way there is something I must tell her.

Daddy talks on the phone. Daddy grabbed a strange lighter from me.

I cannot say that, he would ridicule that away.

Mommy, Daddy brought someone here who left a lighter and I know something is going on.

How am I supposed to talk about something I have no idea about except from movies?  Instead, I say it again—


Now I hear Jake’s footsteps sounding down the scullery hall. His footsteps stop just on the other side of the kitchen door. I feel the lighter in his pocket through the door. Telling her about it would help her finally leave him.

She smiles at me. I love her crooked smile. I don’t want her to go away.

“D’you want something to eat? A snack?” she asks me.

I want to tell her now, but I am afraid. I am afraid of her darkness, afraid of what Jake will do to me, afraid that saying anything will cause one last fight, will cause everything to change forever.

“What have you got?” I ask her even though I know there are three chocolate-covered grahams in the freezer, and two bananas on the counter.

“Well…” She puts a little scrap of yellow paper in the DuMaurier, and stands up, pulling her coat around her, and goes to the refrigerator. I know he can hear me now, but I will not be afraid of him, I will not be afraid that he will hit me. I do not care, because it would be so wrong.

“Mom…” I start again, talking to her butt, which is sticking out from the refrigerator.

“Um, Mom…”

Jake pushes the swing door in like he and the lighter haven’t been listening. Mom starts talking, half to herself.

“How about some potatoes. Is it too early for dinner?” She looks across our heads at the clock on the wall.

“Hey why don’t we get started on those steaks?” Jake says, the most cheerful ever. “Let’s make a fire.” He smiles and holds open the door for me into the hallway to the dining room. Cold air rushes into the kitchen as I hesitate. I turn back to see her pulling tomatoes out of the fridge. She is happy we are getting along. I pass under my father’s arm, out into the cold little hallway. I walk back into the dining room and kneel in front of the huge fireplace. I pull apart a newspaper from the summer and start scrunching up reviews of films we didn’t see, scores of games we never knew about and listings of events we’d never consider attending. My dad surprises me by kneeling down next to me.

“It’s nice when your mother’s in a good mood, isn’t it?” I nod. By not saying anything, I can keep them both happy. The tension in me pushing me to tell gives way to a weakening wash of gray betrayal that flows into my stomach. So what if I don’t tell my mother? So maybe my mother won’t know he’s making a fool of her. I turn and look at him. He is pulling logs off the pile, logs we chopped together that summer. Did he know SMS then?

I ball up a story about Nixon and throw it into the fireplace. My father hates him. Then I ball up a picture of Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward. My mom loves them. As every second passes that I don’t tell her, the gray seeps into me deeper and deeper, convincing me that acquiescing is the better course. When the wood and paper are stacked according to our scientific configuration, it is time to light the fire. I lean back on my heels, and look at the weight of something, the lighter, in Jake’s jacket pocket. But he doesn’t reach into his pocket. Instead, he reaches up, over my head and pulls down the cardboard tube of long matches. He hands them to me; he thinks I’m grown up enough to light the fire. Even though I used to beg him to be the one to light the matches, today I don’t take them. Not at first. Then I do.

I stare into the flames as I light the fire: first here, then there. In an hour or two we will all sit and chew on our steaks, and they will taste good. Mine will taste different, because now I’m holding Jake’s secret. Mine will taste different because now I’ve done it; I’ve picked a parent. I should never have to do it, but now it is done. There is no going back, and really, no matter how many times I do think about it, I can’t let myself think twice about it. I must be ruthless. Besides, if mom ever really finds out, it will push her over the edge, and I don’t want that to happen.

Maybe SMS is just a guy from the marina.

End of Part One


05 2010

Chapter 18 Johan Lloyde

Like a prisoner, I secretly hold on to what I want to do, and who I want to be, but I hide it, deep inside, like Terry Malloy, I hide to survive until Karl Malden shows up to give me a pep talk.

This summer day, we have been waiting for hours in the mainland heat at Mercer’s Marina. I have looked at all the silly boat names, walking along the maze of narrow little docks: their names are things like Dor-Dic 5, Our Escape or Splendor. I could never imagine my parents combining their names into anything—Jake and Aleta—would spell Jak-Al. Nope. Sometimes people combine their kids’ names: Stufus?

Our boat—his boat—is coming. This is the boat Jake is going to build the interior of himself. It’s called a sail-a-way package. That means the boat is set up to sail, but has no cabin.
“You’re going to put the cabin in?” I ask him.

“And you’re going to help me,” he says.

“Can I name it too?”

“No, the new boat is going to be called Johan Lloyd.”


“Johan Lloyd was the true first person to discover America.”

“I thought that was Columbus.”

“Actually, long before Columbus, there were the Vikings, but after them, Johan Lloyd discovered America, and I have written an article about him.” He pulls out an ornately tall narrow book. It’s a hardcover magazine called American Heritage. He opens the magazine to his article: “Johan Lloyd: The True Discoverer of America.” And now Jake is going to call our new WestSail 32, a 32-foot cutter with a sloop rig, Johan Lloyd.

Something about this new boat gives me the courage to ask Jake why we can’t have clothes that aren’t secondhand:

“We know what is really important,” is what he tells me. And here comes what is really important…. Standing in my rotting sneakers, nothing prepares me for the sheer height of a  twelve-ton boat with a twelve-foot draft elevated on blocks on a trailer truck. It is hard to understand that all this is for us. Well, for Jake. It’s hard to understand what it must have cost to bring this truck all this way with his boat on it. Still, she is the most beautiful boat I have ever seen, and I love her more than I have ever loved a thing.

Jake has chosen her to come with red sails. Deep, dark brownish red sails that go with her teak trim. Johan warrants its own boxes of perfectly polished antique brass lamps on gimbals, GPS systems and sheets of four-hundred-dollar marine plywood. And the reason she needs all this as Jake slowly but surely builds her interior (with my assistance) is because Jake will be sailing her solo transatlantic. Everything must be “capable of withstanding a north Atlantic gale” he says again and again. He is building his dream, and his dream is to be away from us.


05 2010

Chapter 17 Drama Class

When we get back to Syracuse, Mom has gotten the insurance money.

Uncle Ronnie made her his beneficiary when he went to Vietnam, and he didn’t have time to change it to the baby, everything happened so fast. So Mom buys a house with the money. Once I hear her talking to her first friend in Syracuse, our neighbor, Sherry Tyler, about having her dead brother’s son come live with us, but nothing happens. My parents are still calling each other names, still wrestling each other to the ground frequently. Mom threatens to kill Jake or herself a few times a week.

But now Jake has started teaching a night class, on Wednesdays. He goes out to the bar afterwards with the graduate students. So Wednesdays the house is quiet and Mom and I can watch movies. One day she calls me in to see On the Waterfront. It is the best movie I have ever seen.

“Mom,” I ask her, “who made this?”

“The director,” she says. All I can think of is Marlon Brando as Terry Malloy pulling himself into that warehouse, blood all over his face. The director. The director. That is what I want to be. The director. That and, even though he’s kind of like a truck driver, I’d like to be a director and married to Terry Malloy.

“Mom, how do you get to be a director?”

“Um…I think a lot of people get into directing from acting.”

“Mom, how do people do acting?” The idea of being someone else is very appealing.

“They take acting lessons, I guess.”

The YMCA where I have been taking swimming lessons also offers drama classes, and since I’ve done all the levels of swimming, now Mom takes me on the bus every Saturday to acting class. My teacher’s name is Anne. She has short black hair and smiles at me like I’m not wearing thick glasses. I can be myself in her class. One day we do what Anne calls a trust exercise. She takes the kids in the class to an abandoned upstairs floor of the Y, and we blindfold each other and wander from room to room sensing what is in each room. When I take the blindfold off, the brightness of the piles of discarded costumes burns itself into my eyes. The Drama Class makes life at home with my family feel a little more doable. This winter, I have a friend in Anne, and am having my own little bit of an adventure with acting.

When the YMCA wants to do a commercial for their summer program, they ask Anne to recommend a young performer to star in it. She recommends me. When she tells me they want me to do their commercial, I can’t believe it,  and I’m instantly disappointed because I’m so sure I won’t be allowed to do it. And just as I was surprised by the color after the blindfold, I am shocked when my mother gives me permission, and even takes me on the bus to the television studio out in Liverpool where they will record me.

I wear my favorite outfit—my uniform really—a red and blue striped t-shirt, and my one pair of blue jeans. Anne tells me to spin around and to imagine I am seeing all sorts of different things here and there. They will put in the graphics later, she tells me. I spin and turn and gesture at invisible words and pictures with abandon, and I have a blast. Mom takes me home, and I never think anyone will see it. But a week later, the commercial starts turning up during the local programming—a lot. I am spinning and smiling and gesturing at cheesy graphics in my unfortunately horizontally striped shirt and geeky glasses several times a night throughout the dinner hour. I gird myself against the onslaught of teasing I feel sure I’ll get at school. But I am surprised.

“Is that really you?” kids ask.

“What’s it like to be on TV?”

“You were really great in that commercial.”

I come home with a bounce in my step. I really like this acting thing. At home, I am talking with Mom about what I want to do next.

“Mom, maybe I can try out for a play or something,” I say.

“Maybe,” she says and smiles. Jake, I’m sure, must be very proud.

“What do you think of the commercial, Jake?” I ask.

“Ah—No Opinion.” He says it like a headline, and like he definitely has an opinion.

“So Mom, Anne says we can start doing whole plays now…”

“That’s nice honey.” Now Jake chimes in again.

“We’re going to start going to the Island in a couple of weeks.”

“Do we all have to go?” I ask.

“You can’t stay here,” he says and goes back to his Newsweek. I look at Mom. She shrugs. I want to argue, present facts and figures, be in two places at the same time. Everything I want to say piles in on itself into a collapsing heap. I get up and walk upstairs to my room and close the door and pick out one of my grandma’s quilts from Oklahoma, and walk into my closet and put the quilt down on the elevated part behind the hanging rack and climb onto it, and sit there, cross legged, willing myself to be anybody else.

Later, we all sit down to eat dinner. I swallow during a pause in my parents’ conversation. Jake cocks his head like he’s just heard the sound of the rare puzziwuddle bird.

“I hear corks,” he says, looking at me.

“Corks?” I say, taking the bait.

“Jake,” says my mom, like he shouldn’t be naughty.

“You didn’t hear that cork?” he said.

“I don’t know,” I say. I don’t know what he’s talking about.

“When you swallow, it sounds like you’re swallowing corks,” he says.

“What?” I say.

“Jake, leave her alone, she’s a tongue thruster.” This is my mother’s attempt to defend me; the dentist attributes my overbite to the fact that I am part of the small percentage of the population who pushes their tongue against the back of their front teeth when they swallow. “Well, tell her not to make a bloody great noise when she swallows.”

I decide to eat my dinner no matter what he says. And I take another bite, and try to swallow during the conversation, but before I can, my elbow is on fire. Jake has chopped it with the side of his hand. He has smashed my elbow.

“Get your elbows off the table.” And I look at him looking at me. I’m holding my elbow and I don’t know if I’m crying because he hit my elbow or because I don’t understand why he is attacking me, or because I’m so goddamn mad I wish he would just stop this, this crazy mean shit. I wipe my eyes and take a deep breath.

“You’re eating like a trawler man,” he tells me, and then goes back to his plate. “What’s a trawler man?” my brother asks. I stare at Rufus as if to burn him while Jake mockingly demonstrates,

“A trawler is a fishing boat, and the men on it have to eat at sea,” he hunches over his plate, protecting it, his elbows on the table. “So they hunker over their plates like this.” And he distorts his face trying to look like a stupid lunk, putting his head close to his plate and shoveling in his food. “I want you to have good table manners,” he says. “I don’t want you to be swallowing corks the night the man you love is going to propose. Because then you’ll swallow and he’ll change his mind.”

“What’s your problem Jake?” I don’t cry, I just stare at him across the table. My mother shrinks in her chair. My brother pushes away from the table. Jake puts his fork down.

“You’ve gotten a big head over this commercial thing,” he says.

“What?” I don’t understand.

“You’ve gotten a really big head.”

“What do you mean, ‘big head’?”

“It’s when you think you’re better than everyone else”

“That’s not true,” I say.

“It is,” he says.

“Well it’s a good thing for me to feel better than I have been. I’m glad I have a big head.” I can see he wants to smack me, grab me, but instead he speaks.

“Only you would have a big head over such a stupid commercial.” And he goes back to eating his dinner. Pushing the food onto his fork with his knife with a little smile on his face. I stand up and leave the table. The door swings behind me,

“Get back in here!”  he says.

I stand in the dark hallway and wipe the tears that won’t stop no matter how much I want them to. I can’t wipe them all away.

“Get back in here.” He is bellowing now. I stick my chin out and turn around. I march back into the kitchen and sit in my seat, staring at what is left of my food. I pick up my fork to eat. He stares at me:

“Big Head is definitely a problem,” he says. I start eating and try to swallow silently.

He has chosen me to be him. He has chosen me to be hurt in the same way he has been hurt. I dream his memories: in a duffle coat on an old English train, by myself with sixty other kids, with a small bookpack, and I look out the window, and the grass is green, very green, English green, but I blink and I see the gray rubble of what I’m leaving behind, the steaming rotten buildings still too hot to search. And I am six years old, and a little Polish girl sitting next to me can’t stop crying. Her name is Stephanie. And when the man across from me wants to propose, my table manners won’t matter because he will be hurt the same way I am being hurt right now. Even though I don’t know that yet, I do. And that is what I will say when I am being married:  “I do.”


05 2010

Chapter 15 Summer, 1972

Jake and I are in town,

and while Mom is getting groceries, we walk into Hungerford’s Hardware Store. We came in to replace our worn rope with supple bright white nylon line. While Hungerford’s son is measuring out the rope, Jake finds a big bin of new charts. He carefully sorts through them all to choose which he’ll get. I look up from where the Hungerford son is melting the ends of our new nylon bowline to see Jake carefully pull a chart out, and beckon to me. He takes me to a low counter on the side of the store and unrolls the chart. I don’t know why he would want to get it, because there’s not much on it, just a white expanse with little lines around the edges and a few spots. Nothing like the crowded river charts we use every time we try sailing Dulci on a new route around Grindstone.

“What do you say,” he says, “we go here?” And he points to a tiny little yellow blob in the middle of the huge white space.

“What is it?” I ask.

“Duck Island.” He stares at the tiny blob like going there will save his life. I know we are in for it when he turns to the other Hungerford son and adds to our order, “one hundred feet of seven-eighths line for an anchor cable.”

“What are we going there for?” I ask him.

“Practice,” he says.

“Practice for what?”  He looks around and kneels down; he doesn’t want the guys in the store to hear him,

“I am going to build a boat and sail it solo across the Atlantic.”

“The Atlantic Ocean?”

“Yes.” I am imagining my father alone and surrounded by a pack of icebergs when a Hungerford interrupts.

“How do you want that line?” Jake goes to finalize the details, and I look down again at the chart. Dulcibella is a 23-foot O’Day Daysailer, perfect for an afternoon sail, but not equipped for much else, despite having two slim bunks in the tiny cabin. I’m measuring the distance with the scale markings on the side when Jake comes back.

“How long will it take us to get there?” He looks long and hard at the chart.

“Three or four days.”

“Can we come?”

“Sure.” He smiles at the tiny spot of yellow that is Duck Island. I smile at him. I’m happy that we’ll all be going.

As soon as we get back to the Island, we start packing up Dulcibella like a North Sea trawler, cramming the side bins with cans, installing the new anchor, and keeping the old one as a spare. Now we are just waiting for the first north wind so we can sail west. One morning we know it’s turned when Jake wakes us all up by shouting, “Ducks! Ducks! Ducks!” And now we know that today we are taking our O’Day Daysailer into Lake Ontario. I help Mommy pack the milk and cheese and cold beer into a cooler.

As much as we love Bluff Island, we are grateful for a change of scenery. Apparently, even people on remote islands have to get away from it all by going to even more remote islands.

We make good progress on the north wind, then need to start tacking into the west as the wind changes to it’s regular south-westerly groove.

“Stand by to go about!” my father calls out when he is ready to tack. Mom and I stand on either side of the cockpit, each manning a winch while Jake works the tiller. Rufus must go into the cabin for safety reasons when we go about. It’s my job to let go of the sail, and mom’s job to pull it in.

“Ready about!” Now I stand ready to let the tight sheet of the sail off its little cleat.

“Hard A Lee!” He calls out and pushes the tiller downwind and the whole bow of the boat crosses over the wind, and the sail starts to flap, and when the sheet gets a little loose, I untie it super quick and let it go, and Mom starts pulling in on the other side, and now Dulcibella is headed 90 degrees across the wind from where we were going. I go help mom pull the new sheet in the final few inches. I help her put a winch handle in the winch and crank, crank, crank it in. Then holding it tight, we make the sheet fast on the new side. We all have a job. We are all working together. The cool clean wind blows into my smiling face. This is good. Jake quizzes me on seamanship.

“You’ve anchored on a north shore, the wind is coming from the south. During the night, the wind moves into the north and blows you toward the shore. Your anchor is dragging and your engine is out. What do you do?”

“Sail off?” I guess.

“Nope. Your boat is being smashed on the rocks, think fast!” Jake is laughing and teasing me, but I can’t think of anything else.

“Just tell me, please!”

“Put your back up anchor in your dinghy and row off shore, then drop the back-up anchor, row back to the boat and start winching in the new anchor line to pull yourself off the lee shore.” I do a mental checklist:  we have two anchors on board, and the blow up dinghy is scudding along behind us. We are prepared. I like how Jake is preparing me for self-sufficiency.

It takes three days of sailing all day then anchoring at night, sleeping and cooking in our tiny boat with four people, no galley or toilet or sink but finally we get to Duck Island.

Rounded grey stones, about four yards deep, line the beaches. The stones make musical sounds as we walk over them. Here in the middle of an inland ocean my weight makes the rocks settle and clink against each other.

“No human being has heard that sound in a thousand years,” pronounces Jake. I look down at my feet, and the little broken songs of the stones ring out special just for us. We walk from the one harbor with a lighthouse through open fields of hay and pastureland. I like this place: there are rutted roads where every hour or so, another person walks by. Because we are visiting their island, they are friendly to us and we are friendly to them. We walk all over Duck Island; I fall in love with its bluntness. We are on an Island with other people and we don’t have to hate them. I want to stay on Duck Island forever.

There are only two bunks below in Dulcibella, so my mom has one, and my brother has the other. I sleep on the floor in between them. Daddy sleeps outside on the floor of the cockpit with a sail over him against the dew. This trip, Daddy has been rereading Kidnapped to us. When he finishes tonight’s chapter, he takes a picture of his family ready for bed. I am in a pink flowery nightgown with princess puff sleeves. I take my glasses off so I’ll look cute for the picture. I am in my spot on the floor flanked by Rufus and Mommy; we are all smiling, brown as berries on our family island trip away from the Island.

In the night, a squall blows up from the west. It is like a sailing training question:  “A storm comes up from the west, do you ride it or wait it out?” Jake decides it is just what he needs to get some training for the Atlantic. Once we leave the safety of Duck Island Harbor, and the westward waves start hitting us, and the wind is blowing us faster and faster away from Ducks, it’s clear we cannot go back no matter what ancient mariner’s trick we employ. Each wave feels like it will blow Dulcibella apart. I sit up with Jake in my usual spot in the cockpit, until I’m slapped with a gigantic wave from behind.

“Stephie, time to go below,” he says in a low voice. I want to argue to stay, but I know better.

“Aye-aye, sir.” I say, and time my crossing to the hatch with the waves. What had been a cozy place to sleep has become chaos: towels and clothes have been tossed everywhere. Mommy and Rufus are throwing up again and again into a bucket; they have wedged themselves into a corner of the bunk. Whatever this is, it is serious. What ever this is, I would rather be in the wind-scoured cockpit then down in this cabin. I stagger to the steps, up to the hatch, hold on, and poke my head out into the screaming wind. I’m ready to argue for my ascent, but when I see the waves towering over my father’s head, I am speechless; I didn’t even know waves could be larger than a boat, but these are much, much higher than our boat. Next we are on top of the wave and it’s only sky around us and that is when I notice that Jake has a line tied across his body to hold him into his seat – he yells at me:



“THEY’RE JUST SEA SICK!” He roars back.

“WHAT’S THAT?” I yell, pointing at the rope across his waist, outside of one of the cheap green rubber raincoats. He’s not tied in exactly, he’s just leaning against the line which is helping him to stay in his seat, high up in the cockpit as Dulcibella is blown up onto her side by the storm.

“IT’S A LIFE LINE,” he yells back.


“IN CASE THE WATER TRIES TO SWEEP ME OVER!” Another wave towers up again, first ten, then twenty feet above him. I look back at my mother. She is so sick right now, and even if she weren’t, she doesn’t know how to handle a boat. I cannot even allow the possibility that he might be swept overboard, allow for what could possibly happen if first one big wave filled the cockpit, then another filled the cabin. All I know is that I must be up and out of the cabin, up in the cockpit with my dad. He might need help. I need to be riding through this storm with him.


“NOOO, STAY BELOOOW!” he calls out of his square mouth.

Determined not to be lumped with the sick ones, determined to have crucial information to save whoever of us might be left if the storm becomes more aggressive, I brace myself into the hatch and stay there. I stand by and watch the twenty-foot rollers rise up behind his head again and again, but more striking than the waves is my father’s huge smile. I have never seen him happier—strapped to a boat inadequate to the task, his family captive passengers below.


04 2010

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