27 - Going Overboard

Meg Aitken with flag of Canada photo elenameg.com

[Image 27-1] When the Canadian provisional registration finally came through. Meg re-flags the vessel. For maximum enjoyment, this photo should be viewed while listening to the opening movement of Richard Strauss' Also sprach Zarathustra, really loud.

Knock, knock, knock.

"Meg. Lenna. You there? It's me, Jon."

"Oregon!" I opened the companionway. "Get down here."

"God damn it! You two really know how to stir the shit."

"Aye, you haven't heard the half of it."

Elena translated the girlfriend's death threat.

Jon was sullen. "That Russian is one tough cookie." He stopped, took a deep breath. Shook his head. "Well, shit. I never would have crossed her if I had to cross anyone."

"I wasn't out to grass Harvey's bint! But Jon, the wanker has all our kit. And as you kenned, he poached my credit card."

"I still wouldn't have squealed."

"Why not? We're majorly skint for time. We've got less of a boat than we started with. The fraud squad cancelled my credit card, and I've pulled all the cash I can from that hole in the wall by Gino's."

"The police used your little disagreement with Harvey to get at his girlfriend. They don't give a crap about Harvey or your stuff. Meg, that floozy is a madam."

"What it is, a madam?" Elena asked.

"A female pimp." No sign of recognition. Jon explained it to her. "A woman who sells girls to men as prostitutes. Russian, Ukrainian. Some kind of speciality brothel: white girls to an exclusive clientele. She was in a knife fight. Ended up with her chest hanging wide open. Somehow, she made it back to their gulet and somebody stitched her back together. Have you seen her chest?"

"Ah, no. I have hardly seen her."

Elena Vaytsel arm wrestling photo elenameg.com

[Image 27-2] Sinem and Elena arm wrestle at a fine restaurant.

Jon peeked out a porthole. "Harvey's just some fool; a bumbling idiot with a rich wife, warehoused somewhere in England. He sets up on other people's yachts. Lives a fantasy life."

"You mean, the gulet isn't his?"

"Nope, not his. Some client's. His girlfriend is using it for a brothel. The local police know what's going on but can't do anything about it. Then you come to them with a sob story about getting swindled. They've got their excuse to get on board and toss the joint." He looked at me through his eyebrows. "Don't suppose they told you any of this?"

"Uhhh, no."

"Figures. I should have warned you, but I thought you kind of liked the guy. Thought, maybe you had some kind of deal going on."

"I do. I did. I don't know. I was stupid."

"Not just you. There's a lot of people around this town that want something bad to happen to him. That it hasn't, tells me his girlfriend's got room for him under her roof."

"Roof?" I asked.

"Yeah, mob protection. Russian, not Turkish. But you've got friends; like just about every Turk tied to this marina. I honestly don't know how you did it." Jon put one foot on the companionway's first step, hands on the rails above his head, ready to haul his sizeable frame topside. He stopped. It was absolutely the epitome of I-shouldn't-say-anything-buuuut... "Is this whole sailing thing a good idea?"

Feral kitten, Meg Aitken, laptop photo elenameg.com

[Image 27-3] Meg does a little research while a feral kitten enjoys a rare treat.

Elena and I looked at each other.

"Oh, come on." Jon back-stepped from the companionway. "You've said it yourself, Meg. You have 'less boat than you started with.' Maybe a few weeks left to put it together, and now you've got a serious enemy."

"Not like we have options, Jon! We're sailing for Canada, or we're going to die trying."

"That's what I am afraid of." He sat back down, crossed his hands on the galley table. "To not die trying, you have a lot of work to do. Let's start with your route. You have one?"

Elena got up to make tea. Her hands were shaking and she kept her back to us.

Harvey's planning proposal already had me sold on chancing the Panama canal. Jon wasn't sure a visa-less Russian with a tagged passport was allowed in. "What about the straits of Magellan? Did you check to see if Chile or Argentina will allow you to transit their waters with Elena?" He stopped, chuckled. "Damn it, you get that far south, you might as well go round Cape Horn."

I thought he was serious. "Good point. Rounding Cape Horn sounds like it's the least complicated."

"Really? Know what the weather is like down there? And you are going the wrong way! Against the prevailing weather and current. God damned dangerous. I wouldn't do it. What about the Suez canal, then the Indian ocean? Different side of the world. Different set of charts. You got charts for anything?"

"Jon, stop!" I slapped the table. "I bloody get it. Charts, I need charts."

"I thought we going through Panama." Elena broke in. "If we can not cross canal, then to Novo Shetlandia. No horn!"

"She means Nova Scotia." I said.

"Good! You do have a plan." Jon looked relieved. "Come by my boat tomorrow. I will lend you a book for chart selection and ordering. You won't get any of the charts here, maybe Istanbul, and that will be iffy." He shook his head slowly. "I don't know how you two are going to do it. I don't know how you have done any of the things you have, and now this!" He waved in the direction of the gulet. "But if you are going to do it, and not die trying, you need every second of every day you have left. And still, that might not be enough."

Elena Vaytsel doing boat chores photo elenameg.com

[Image 27-4] Elena distracts herself with boat chores.

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I was up, slurping coffee. With the death threat, Jon's cutting-us-down-to-size, and Elena crying all night, sleep was not happening.

Tap, tap, tap. Sinem came aboard. She left Natalie wood and her sailing kit in the cockpit. "Girls! What is this?"

"Ghar-ells!?" Elena moaned from under the covers.

"Yeah, what's with, girls?" I hoisted my mug of coffee. "We are sailors! Garrr."

"Girls, little city girls! The boat is tied to the dock. The engine is not running. Where is Lenna?" She clapped her hands. "Give me that coffee. Sail covers off. Lenna, up! Check the oil, start the engine. Right now! We shall have sails up before light, or we can be done with lessons, and you can swim to Canada."

Elena Vaytsel at the helm photo elenameg.com

[Image 27-5] Elena took sailing lessons very seriously.

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There was a good breeze mid-bay, and we zipped along under full sail on a beam reach. It was damp, bone-chilling cold and pitch dark. Sinem engaged the autopilot and sent me below deck to get a woolly for Elena. I rummaged around, found something I thought was appropriate and climbed back to the cockpit.

Elena sat there, arms folded across her chest, glaring at me.

"She is not here. You last saw her when you went below for the sweater." Sinem waved around the cockpit. Natalie wood was gone. "OK Meg. It is Lenna out there. Now what?"

My heart thrashed in my chest. Sure enough, Sinem's man-overboard stick was gone. That it could be Elena out there, was terrifying.

"Well, Meg, what!? I am not here and Lenna is out there." Sinem pointed into our dark, foaming wake.

I was frozen. Elena sat on a cockpit bench, stony. She glared at me. In her eyes, I saw fear.

I slammed the throttle into reverse. That was stupid, the engine wasn't running. The yacht was sailing. Think through the problem. I have to turn the boat one-hundred-eighty degrees. Two sails flying. Two really big sails. OK, OK, OK. Deep breath. I killed the autopilot, cranked the wheel, started to turn downwind.

Sinem shrieked, "You want to gybe!? All by yourself, in this much wind? Is the rig going to survive when the mainsail back-winds and comes over?" Bollocks! She was right.

I cranked the wheel the other way and pointed the nose into the wind. The sails started luffing -- crashing and banging. Then I yanked what felt like miles of rope through pulleys, tightening the mainsail as flat as it would go. It caught wind, the boat picked up speed. The huge forward sail was still crashing and banging. "Sod that. I'm furling in the Genoa!" I screamed into the wind. More miles of rope to haul. My muscles were aching. I was running with sweat. It felt like my palms were bleeding. My lungs were burning as I gulped for more air. Done! Forward sail rolled up. Only one big sail to deal with. But I was still leaving Elena in my wake -- no wait, a stupid wooden stick -- oh bloody hell, it could be her. I tacked the wind onto the other side, eased the mainsail, turned away from the wind a little more, checked the compass: backtracking, yay! How long had I been heading upwind, and then downwind, and then, all that mucking about? At least, some light on the horizon. I could almost see the surface. Choppy waves. Huge bay. No man-overboard stick in sight.

"Where is she, Meg?" Sinem chided. "Do you know how much time passed while you sailed away from her? How fast were you going? How much time have you spent sailing back with only one sail up?"

I did the maths. Dozens of square miles. I felt sick, my knees were shaking. My eyes stung. This was Marmaris's completely protected bay. Out there was a wooden stick, a mere analogue for an infinitely precious life. What if this had been the ocean? What if this had been real?

Elena Vaytsel threatens to strangle her sailing instructor photo elenameg.com

[Image 27-6] Sailing lessons were rarely mishap free.

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I was shattered, gutted and frighteningly sobered by the botched man-overboard exercise. Everything was getting far too real for fun. Knackered after a few hours on a protected body of water, wasn't a good omen. What about weeks, maybe months out there? I'd seen the ocean from aircraft in its many moods, and it looked nothing like that picturesque bay.

Sinem wasn't happy. On the way back to the marina, she ignored us and jabbered on her mobile. Clearing the breakwater, she took the helm. "You have a new parking spot. We're going there now."

"What about all our things at the old spot?"

"My uncle is getting it." Gliding by, Sinem waved at a giant of a man piling our things in a wheelbarrow. "That's him, friends call him, Albatross. Then, we are taking the parts of that windvane to my best girlfriend, Nadia. And any other stuff you managed to get from Harvey."

"Not bloody much."

"I think Albatross will help get things from Harvey. He is a good man, my uncle." Then Sinem pointed at the tallest, rockiest, scrubbiest hill around and said, "After that, girls, we are going to climb up there."

Elena flashed her deer-in-the-headlights look. Something I hadn't seen in a while.

"Why?"

"Who needs to be sailors? Who needs to sail across oceans?" She took Elena's arm, squeezed her biceps. "You are in training. This is not a joke. I want you two not to die tomorrow," OK, she had heard what happened, "and not to die in a few weeks, when you will be meeting, for the first time, the open sea."

Elena Vaytsel wears fake Prada photo elenameg.com

[Image 27-7] Elena at the chart table.

[[ updated Apr 24 17:49 GMT ]]