Wharfinger Yarns

by: Ralph E. Ahseln  10/2012

Part One…..

Creaking and groaning, straining at the load, the crane began lifting that beautiful FUJI 45. The old Wharfinger stood at the door of his office-home watching, expectantly. Just what he might see when they got that sailboat out of the water, was making the old man shake.

It had started a couple of weeks ago. Stumpy, his tailless cat had made such a racket early one morning that the old Wharfinger had to get up. He let Stumpy out to do whatever cats do in the morning. His wood stove had gone out and the morning air had an early Fall chill about it. He got the fire going and rinsed out the coffee pot. Adding a big spoonful of new grounds, on top of yesterday's old, meant that this morning's brew was going to be strong enough to strip paint.
Stumpy yowled at the door wanting in, the coffee started bubbling to the top of the beat up percolator, then the phone rang. Quickly opening the door for the cat, and moving the pot to the back of the stove, he got to the phone after a few rings. The old fashioned wall phone jangled one last ring as he lifted the earphone from its hanger.

" G'-mornin', Manger's Marina, " his voice still had a, too early in the morning, rasp.

A woman's cheery voice answered. " Do you have slips available for a 45 foot vessel? ".

"Yep, sure do. One near the ramp just opened up. Cost ya 5 dollars a foot. 'Lectricity extra". The old man wheezed. " Ma'am, I gotta tell ya, we ain't no fancy marina here. We ain't like those Yacht Clubs across the way. No toilets or showers neither. Ya sure you'd want 'ta come here ? " He said in his "kindly" voice

"How soon can we move a 45 foot sailboat in? " she chirped.

"Umm, give me 24 hours to wash the goose poop off the walkway, and it's yours". The old man's noticed his voice began to chirp like hers.

"Our boat is in need of some clean up. Can we do that there ? " she asked.

"Sure, Ya can do anything but scrape the bottom. There's government rules against it. Anything else is OK " He now sounded like the cranky Old Wharfinger he was.

"Perfect. We'll be coming in 4 days."

"I'll have the lease papers all ready for you when you get here", he grumbled.

"Bye, until then" She chirped.

"Nice talkin' to ya ma'am ". He replied. Trying hard not to sound chirpy himself.

The old Wharfinger hung the phone earpiece back on its hook, grabbed his cup and poured some of the black liquid that had been boiling all this time.
It was going to be a long day he thought. A long day of push broom and hose downs. It was going to be tough getting months of bird droppings off the walkway at the slip.
A long day in foul weather gear and boots. A long day of pain in his arthritic hands and feet.
By now the office had gotten warm and Stumpy had curled up on the pillow by the wood stove. The old Wharfinger thought to himself, "That old cat has the right idea. I'll do the clean up this afternoon... Maybe. I got 4 days to get it done." He rambled across the office then sat on the edge of his broken down couch. In just a few minutes he'd stretched out, closed his eyes and was snoring so loudly it woke up Stumpy.

Exactly 4 days after the first call, his phone rang again. It was her.
"Hi there. We're out in the channel about a half hour away from the marina. I'm calling on my cell phone. Can we come in now ?" She hadn't lost her chirp.
"Yep", come on in. Slip A-10. All the way in and close to the ramp. You shouldn't have a problem getting in 'cause there's no other boats on that finger. " He tried to sound cheerful but it wasn't working.

The big 45 foot Ketch rigged FUJI was coming in under its own power, but just barely.
It could have been beautiful if it hadn't been so dirty and trashed. The FUJI pulled in to its assigned slip looking like it had just been resurrected from Hell.
As it turned out, that was almost true.

What would have been a dark blue hull was streaked with crud. Green and black mold dripped from the scuppers. The weather deck and cockpit were in terrible shape. The whole boat from Topsides to coach roof was caked with the detritus of neglect and time. While the masts were still standing, the running rigging looked like broken spider webs. Halyards, what there were of them, were a tangle of chafe and "Irish Pendants". Strung along the decks and over life lines were strands of various kinds of rope. They hung from bow to stern and might have been Sheets or Mooring lines, it was impossible to tell which.
"This is one sick boat" the old man muttered to himself.

There were only two things the Wharfinger noted that looked clean and neat, the couple that stood at the back end of the cockpit.
The man behind the wheel looked uncomfortable and out of place standing there in his brand new yellow foulies. The woman was smiling and bouncing around the cockpit like a rubber ball. The old man could hear her chattering as she moved about.
"Well," he thought, "At least they seem to know how to handle that big old ugly ketch . "

They did bring it in with ease. Lightly touching the fenders against the slip, the FUJI gently came to a full stop. The young woman put a foot down on a step that had deployed alongside the hull. She carefully stepped off and wrapped a dirty black mid-ship mooring line she was holding around a dock cleat. Grabbing one of the other filthy ropes from a life line, she quickly tied it off to the cleat making a secure Spring line. The man, by that time, had slipped off the boat and was tying off a stern line. While a little unconventional, the old man thought, at least they had some idea of what the tidal current would do and had planned well. He figured that they would set a more traditional layout as soon as they settled down.

The man was the first to speak. " Hi there. You the dock manager around here? "
"Yep, Name of Ulfe Edwards. I go by the name of "alf" Been the keeper of this place for 30 years. Who might you be? " The old man wheezed.

"My name is Josh Scott. My wife, Mala and I come from Ashland."
The old man thought the young fellow seemed to be a lot more relaxed than when he first saw him.
"Well, now, that's a long ways from here, ain't it? Not much water down thataway I guess".

He chuckled to himself thinking that they must be the type he sees all too often. Lubbers who decided to dump all they own, sold the house and now thinking they'll cruise the world. Got themselves a "Bargain" boat and are going to spend years fixing it up to do that sail of their dreams.
He'd seen it a hundred times. A young couple with "Sailing Stars in their Eyes".
And likely, They'll find out that the dream turns into hard work and seasickness.
It usually ended up with them selling the boat after one short cruise.
"They always do." .. the old man said to himself.

The Wharfinger noticed that the young woman had disappeared into the boat.
Shortly, she came out of the cabin below and was standing on deck holding a small dog in her arms. Stepping carefully, she got off the boat. The woman, the dog and the young man made their way to the old man's side.

The young woman spoke for the first time since they docked.
"Hello, we talked on the phone. Remember me? " Her squeaky little voice made him wince.
"Yep, sure do. Nice to meet you Mrs. Scott. Shall we all go to the office and fill out the lease papers? He turned and headed away.
"Oh good" she said. "We have a lot of questions to ask you about owning a boat" She tweedled.
" I knew it ".. the old man thought "Damn kids don't know a thing" the bile rose up in his throat.

"Well now. I guess we can talk about that as soon as we got them papers signed"
The old man strained to sound "friendly" and then trying to be social, asked,
"Where 'bouts did you find this boat you got there ? Nice boat when she gits a wash and polish.. and some new rig. She's a great boat that needs some tender care right now, Eh ? "

The lady giggled and said " First, please call us by our first names. I think we'll be around here a lot and I don't want you to call me Mrs. all the time. "

The old man coughed and said, "Well thank you .. uhhh, ... Mala, I will do that.

Arriving at the office, the old man poured himself a cup of coffee and set out the papers the couple needed to sign. As always, Stumpy his cat decided to come out from behind the wood stove where his warm sleeping pad was. One look at the little dog and Stumpy growled, arched it's back and hissed.
The dog barked a squeaky little bark. The old man thought to himself, "Even the dog Chirps".. The thought made him almost laugh out-loud .
"Stump, shut up you old fool" he yelled.

The young woman clutched the pup tighter in her arms and cooed ,
"Biffy", Biffy Poo, calm down, the nice man and his kitty won't hurt you"

For a brief moment, the old man almost wished Stumpy would attack.
"Now Mala, you were saying about this here boat of yers ? "

She started, "Well, it's a complicated story. I'll give you what we know so far.
She was found abandoned and floating off the Washington coast just a few miles North of the Columbia River Bar. A salvage boat got to her before the Coast Guard and he towed her into Astoria. Seems there was a lot of trouble because he'd brought the boat in there. Something about Federal jurisdiction and inspections .. And all that.
It's way too complicated for me to understand. But the salvage owner finally wound up with legal possession of the boat, Only he had to agree to have it inspected because of some kind of government requirements. All that will have to be dealt with sometime soon.
But the salvage guy decided to put the boat up for sale anyway.
We heard about it and went to Astoria to see her. We fell in love immediately and made an offer. Because Josh is a great handy man and wanted to fix up the boat, The guy took our offer without dickering. We did have to agree to assume the responsibility of having all the inspections done. We're supposed to call the agencies pretty soon.
Josh? why do we have to call those government agencies? "

The husband cleared his throat and in a whispery voice said,
"Well, I'm not sure, but I guess because it was a derelict on the ocean and they have to check it to make sure it's ok for us to own it ."
She chirped in, "Tell me again why all those people have to look at the boat ? "
He cleared his throat and said..
"Mala, it's because the boat is from Japan. The salvage guy said that the owner died in that TSUNAMI they had there." He continued,
"The boat broke away when the flood surge hit, and It's been drifting for months out in the Pacific and they want to check to make sure it's ok, or whatever.
I guess it's part of what's called the Japanese Tsunami Debris. "

The coffee cup the old Wharfinger was holding fell from his hand and shattered into tiny bits on the floor.
Stumpy Hissed and retreated back to his place behind the stove !

To be continued...

Part 2

Part 3