Wharfinger Yarns

by: Ralph E. Ahseln  10/2011

Part 1


“Well, Stub, it’s just another typical mid-October day out there. “ Puffs of steamy breath followed each word from the old Wharfinger’s mouth. As he came through the door of the office, his tail-less Tom cat, Stubby, arched his back and gargled a bit of a meow. That’s about all the cat ever did since the day the Wharfinger had adopted him. Angela, the old woman and local dumpster diver, brought the cat to him a few years back. She’d found a stray kitten in a bag in one of the garbage cans. It had been badly mauled. It’s tail, or where a tail would have been, was missing and only a bloody stump remained. “A cruel thing to do” the old man had thought at the time. For several days he had nursed the kitten back to life. As a reward, the cat took up permanent residence in the marina office where the Wharfinger worked and lived. They’d been friends now for almost 10 years.


It WAS one of those typical mid-October days. The sky a flat dirty gray and what you couldn’t call rain, was falling. It was more like a foggy drizzle. It would get you wet for sure, but you didn’t need an umbrella or a raincoat. It was like being in a cold Steam bath. The air was sticky and hung a dampness on everything . The old Wharfinger shuddered a little and walked to the smoky wood stove. There he could dry the mist from his sweater and warm the chill in his hands. Stubby “grumbled” a complaint about the cold draft the old man had brought in. It was just a normal day for this time of the year.


Fall was the slow season for the marina. Occasionally a few boat owners would come down to check on their boats. Once in a while one of them would stop by to chat and drink some of his day old coffee . It didn’t happen too often and mostly the old man and Stubby were alone. Today was like most days, dull but busy. He had just finished his daily rounds, checking on the moorings and power cords, while the cat slept. He didn’t mind the loneliness. He was used to it. Sometimes somebody would stop by with a pie or some cookies. “We were worried about you being alone down here” they’d say. He’d smile and thank them. They’d go away and leave he and Stump alone again. He DID like the pies though.

The old Wharfinger was headed to the stove for a second cup of that foul brew he called coffee, when the wall phone rang. Although you couldn’t really call it a “Ring”. The bells had rusted so badly over the years, that now it sort of rattled and buzzed. There weren’t many phone calls anyway, so when it did make noise, the sound scared the old man and made Stubby Yeowl.

“Manger’s Marina. Dockmaster here”, he answered. (The phone hadn’t worked well in years, so he had to shout to be understood). “ Well fer goodness sakes, it’s Gil. What cha callin’ fer at this hour, friend? “, he yelled.

It was Gil Waynham, the head salesman for the Castaway Boat company across the bay in Port Tacsea. They deal in boats that are hard to sell. Home built or out of business manufactures, vessels in some kind of distressed condition. The word in the industry was that Castaway Boats sells
“Dreams gone bad”.
“Hey, old timer, All our dock space over here is full. I wonder if you might have a slip that we could rent for a spell? “ Gil said. “We’ve got a 40 foot beauty that needs to be seen, and your place is perfect for it. You got room ? “.

Manger’s marina had been used by Castaway many times, and they always did right for them and the old man too. There was always “something extra” for him after each sales, so he didn’t mind giving them good locations for their boats. “Gil, I have the perfect spot. ‘A’ row, first slip at the head of the ramp. Folks will be able to see your For Sale sign from the parking lot.” The old man shouted.

Gil sounded relieved when he answered, “GREAT! our delivery kid, Billy, will be bringing her in tomorrow morning. Look for them about 9. OK ? “. “Sure, Gil. Glad to hear from you again. I’ll make sure all is ready. Tell Bill that I’ll be on the dock to give him a hand bringing her in.” “Wow, that’s great Old Timer. I knew that you’d have the best spot for us. Thanks. I’ll talk you again real soon.” Gil yelled back.

The old Wharfinger smiled to himself. He knew that Gil would only be calling again when he needed a mooring, but, that was OK. He liked Gil and hearing him once in a while was good enough.


10 minutes to 8 o’clock, the next morning, the old man was standing at the head of finger pier ‘A’ , slip one. In the distance he heard the low rumble of a diesel engine coming closer to the marina. Then out of a thin morning fog and turning into the marina entrance, came the boat. Slowly and smoothly the young man, Bill, brought the vessel alongside of the slip. “Good kid, A crackerjack boat’s-man! ” the old man thought. Bill brought the boat to within 6 inches of the dock bumpers and stopped it dead in the water. Lines went over and the old man secured bow, stern and springs without the sailboat ever touching the dock. The young man carefully moved off the boat and onto the dock. “Excellent docking, Bill.” The old man said. “Well, I didn’t want to bump this baby. Isn’t she gorgeous?” Bill said, with awe. “Just look at her. I wish I could afford it, I’d buy her in a flash”.

Now, for the first time, the old Wharfinger, looked at the 40 foot Pilothouse cutter ketch sitting at her moorage. For a moment, he couldn’t say a thing. He was dumbstruck. She was breathtaking! Every part the hull, cabin and decking of this beauty was Wood and the hardware of polished Bronze! A Strip Planked Cold-Moulded work of art ! Every part of her had been laid up and color matched. That was the most amazing part of all.. The strips of wood were, every individual piece, of different colors and grains! But matched! Every piece, every strip had to have been carefully selected. It must have taken days or weeks just to make each section fit together. Each color and texture blending into the next, from dark to light, until all seemed to have been “painted” on. Even the wood grains were closely matched. Swirls and edges, all connecting together. The effect was to make the eye move from one part of the boat to the next as one might look at a painting in a gallery.

The overall color of the vessel was from a deep reddish darkness to a creamy Cafe au lait. Starting at the waterline, moving up the topsides and finally, to the top of the pilothouse cabin. The only variation on the color theme was the wheel. It was a Honey colored wood and completely different in style and form from the rest of the boat. Whereas most of the boat had the look of a man’s handicraft to it, the wheel had a feminine quality. Not delicate, but a gentleness. It was a lighter color than the rest of the boat and had carvings of vines and leaves about the spokes and hub. It was as though the builder had purposely made it to be totally unique from the rest of the boat.

“Ain’t she awesome!” Young Bill exclaimed. “We’ve identified at least 9 different kinds of wood on her. The wheel is a stained Pecan. The only use of that kind of wood we’ve found. You’ll have to go below. The whole insides is Incense Cedar. Gosh, the guy must have spent a fortune on the wood alone. Be sure to look at the fittings? They’re all molded bronze. I guess the guy had another hobby of metal working too. They’re sure sexy. Dude, you’ve got to take a look at the whole darn thing. Just awesome man, AWESOME! “.

Young Bill was jumping up and down while he was talking. The old man smiled at the kid’s excitement, But he had to admit, this was a boat of the likes HE’D never seen before. One could easily get excited about this unusual vessel. It was hard not to. You just couldn’t stop looking at it. “I’ll take a good close inspection later on. How soon will the boat be open for viewing?” he asked. Bill answered that he’d call Mr. Waynham on his cell phone to find out. After a few minutes, the young man said, “Mr. Waynham says that you have total control over who goes onboard and when. He says that he trusts that you’ll know how to handle it. The keys are on the Galley table. He’ll call you if there’s any change in plans. I’ve got to call a taxi and get back to the company office. There’s another delivery today. See ya Dude!”. With that, Young Bill ran up the ramp and was gone.

The rest of the day the old Wharfinger made his rounds in the usual fashion, but he kept coming back to the new boat over and over again. This time he adjusted the FOR SALE sign so that it could be seen a little better from the parking lot and ramp. He paused to stare at the boat again. He couldn’t get over how it would draw him back. Each time he’d find some new detail that amazed him.

Who ever built the boat hadn’t missed a thing either in maritime design excellence or aesthetic treatment. The effort that had gone into its plan and building was astounding. The work must have taken most of a lifetime. “Where is the artist now?” The old man thought. He reasoned that it must be what all too often happens . When these special ‘Do it Yourself’ projects come on the market, usually, boats like them are never sailed by the owners. They either lose interest as soon as the boat has been finished, or they die, never to experience what had been their all-consuming addition. “It’s kind of sad, when you think of it. “ The old man muttered to himself as he walked away..

They started coming just before it got too dark to see well. The gray skies still allowed enough light to get a brief look at the boat. First it was only one or two people, then a half dozen. All of them stood at the top of the ramp looking down at her. As darkness fell, more showed up until there were 10 or 12. All standing in awe looking down at AMARANTHINE. It was her name. Dark purple letters painted on the buff oaken transom. In cursive font, set off by golden edges. Tasteful, like the rest of her.
Amaranthine !
None of the visitors spoke a word or came down the ramp to meet the old man, they just stood and quietly stared. Everyone must be struck by the beauty of her.” He explained to himself.

The old Wharfinger spent a restless night that night. His dreams about Amaranthine sailing the world.. With him at that golden wheel. The next day, late in the afternoon, more people came to stand at the top of the ramp or in the parking lot. He counted 30 individuals all standing staring at the boat. No words were spoken or efforts made to inquire about the boat. He even went to the bottom of the ramp to try to talk to the crowd, but they slowly moved away as he came near. He shouted out to them that “The marina is Open. Please come down if you’d like to look around.” But no one answered, they would just give him a nod, a thin smile and walk away.

It was almost too dark to see anything when the old man noticed a young couple standing in the crowd. They must have been in their late 30’s, nicely dressed as though they were going out for a dinner and a show. Standing between them was a little girl. The old man guessed to be 10 or 12 years old. She was smiling at him and holding hands with the young couple beside her……..

Part One…..

To be continued...

Part 2

Part 3