Vacationland, Chapter 25

By Nat Goodale | Aug 04, 2010

An excerpt from the novel "Vacationland," due out in the fall.


The lobsterboat races were supposed to start at 10 in the morning, so Donny and Shelly got out of bed, early for her and late for him, and gathered together a picnic lunch and some beer and some water for Tut, Donny's terrorist terrier, built like a bristly black pig-haired mail box filled with concrete. They steamed out of Lincolnville Harbor at 8 a.m. and made it down the bay for Rockland, the weekend's venue in the summer series of boat races.

It was a lazy hazy sticky day with a mist hanging over the islands to the east and the Camden Hills off to starboard. They got down to the lighthouse and the breakwater by 9 a.m., no reason to push it, enjoying each other's company, a little touching and feeling going on.

The Coast Guard was handy, the big buoy tender anchored off the end of the breakwater at the starting line. Donny paralleled Pot Luck along the line of granite that led out to the lighthouse, just outside the race course that was empty now but given time would be the scene of some wicked fast and loud lobsterboats racing down the line.

It was early enough so that he had the pick of spots. He chose to toss the anchor right in the middle, plenty of space. The bottom there was mud and the hook set good as he backed down and it held fast and the westerly wind blew Pot Luck's stern toward the course. He cut the engine and they settled in for a couple of hours of entertainment. Off to their right was a 42-foot Duffy on anchor. He waved over but didn't recognize the family on board and couldn't see the hail on the stern so he didn't know where they'd come down from. It could be from anywhere along the coast, these races being a popular gathering spot on these weekends, a time to leave the hard work and financial pressures of fishing back at the home harbor, a time to crack some beers and have some fun.

There was as much entertainment in among the spectating boats as there was on the course, maybe more. Off to their left was a raft of two big boats out of Vinalhaven, a real fishing island just south of its sister, more gentrified island, North Haven. Those Vinalhaven fishermen took lobstering real serious and generally harvested the largest landings.

Shelly got out the deck chairs and arranged them facing out across the transom. She set the cooler at their feet so they'd have a foot rest. The sun was coming down hot. She did that magic girl thing and snaked her bikini top up underneath her shirt and tied it off in a way that looked impossible, hardly a bit of flesh exposed. Then she unbuttoned the shirt and shrugged it off and adjusted her top and put her hair up. Donny was mesmerized. So was a guy from Vinalhaven and Donny felt a rush of pride blush over him. Shelly slid her dark glasses over her nose and sat down in a chair like she owned the boat. She cracked a Bud and let out a sigh. She said, "This is nice."

"Yeah it is." It was about all Donny could muster. She pulled over the dog bowl and poured Tut some water, them acting like best friends and Donny just a little side show for them to enjoy. That was OK.

Donny went to the helm and fetched a pair of binoculars then sat down beside his girl. Pot Luck swung on its anchor and was easy on the water in the light breeze. Donny took a swig of beer and they watched the Coast Guard orange inflatable come along the empty course. They looked impressive, what with the 50 caliber machine gun mounted on the bow, the crew of four decked out sharp in dark blue coveralls, side arms and orange life vests and dark glasses. They nodded and Shelly waved. Nice boat, theirs with the twin 225 horsepower Honda four strokes, his with the pretty girl.

The spectator masses were filling in, almost all serious fishing boats, Hollands, Duffies, Wesmacs and hulls from Young Brothers, all of them infested with friends and family. The fishing gear had been left at home and been replaced with picnic tables and chairs and coolers and gas grills. Someone upwind was cooking and Donny got to wanting a sandwich, but he held back and enjoyed his first beer on an empty stomach.

The raft to the south was growing, four boats now, and it looked like the start of a really good party, young guys and gals draped across the pilot house and sitting on the roof, not a one of them without a beer bottle or a bright red plastic cup filled right up with ice and rum and Coke or milk with coffee brandy, good stuff if you could stomach it. For some reason Shelly leaned over and kissed Donny. Tut growled. Shelly said, "Shut up, jack wagon." Tut wagged his tail.

"So tell me how you guys name your boats."

"Some of us are real cute, like Pot Luck with the double meaning. Each name will tell you a little about the lobsterman. Look over there. A bunch of older family guys who name their boats after their kids -- Kimberly Ann, Abigail and Carter, Nickole Lynn, Nicholas Frank and Janice Elaine.

"Then you got the wise guys -- Knights Mare, Sea Cock, Shitpoke and She's All Wet. And then come the dreamers -- Moon Dance, Misty, Odyssea, Rich Returns, Governor, Moon Fish, Rising Son and Thunder." And they came from all over -- South Thomaston, Owls Head, Boothbay, Stonington, Deer Isle, Port Clyde and Cape Jellison.

A 46-foot Wesmac, dry exhaust stack spewing high horsepower diesel fumes, grumbled into the line on the right and headed into the wind. The skipper threw an anchor off the side and backed down and Donny and the near neighbor got nervous about the proximity until all the anchor lines stretched out and the vessels behaved in unison.

The Marine Patrol Protector scooted by; it ought to have a John Law race with the orange Coasty boat, see if the twin 225 Mercs could match the Hondas.

Shelly looked over the scene and laughed. "I thought you said times were tough, the boat price down and bait and fuel way up. It doesn't look like hard times to me."

Donny gazed down the line at the boats all anchored and the folks talking, each pilot house bristling with antennas and upside down buoys showing their colors, life rafts and the radar domes -- Furuno, Ray Marine, Garmin, JCR and Raytheon -- the tops of serious working machines, big deck lights for baiting up in the dark, testimony to the value and reward of hard honest work, the harvesting of a resource known around the world as the best there is -- Maine lobster.

Donny admired the fleet. He said, "This here is an industry celebration and a time to forget about the troubles, put the giant squeeze aside."

Donny was impressed by the turnout. This was a gathering of his brethren, these guys who all went out no matter what the weather or if they wanted to sleep in, fishing hard on their feet all day long. All the boats were working vessels, hoses poking out the scuppers and pumping glistening water back into the harbor, big numbers along the aft topsides and the paint worn off amidships under the Davy where the traps rubbed the side raw.

Over the VHF radios came a staticky rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner." The races started up. Four skiffs came down the course, the outboards pushing them hard and fast, but nothing special, except that it served to remind the whole crowd where they each had started, with a small boat and a few traps.

The anchored fleet of spectator boats was not stable, and some pulled up and circled in and around like sharks for a new and different raft, or leaving the fold to head down the line to participate in their heat. The Instigator was the committee boat and it proudly flew a great American flag over Maine's own banner, both snapping wildly as it trailed the contestants in the present race. They all blew past and churned up a mess of wake that amplified into wave city that rolled out to consume and thrash the spectators.

The wind was calm and the sun was hot and Shelly lay back in her chair and absorbed the rays.

An unofficial and noncontesting lobsterboat sped from left to right, counter to the course, and excited law enforcement, the Coasties and the Marine Patrol Protector gunned their massive twin outboards, dashing in pursuit, blue lights flashing and arms waving. The crowd sharpened its attention and in a better-them-than-me attitude watched the action as good as the racing, but it was a disappointment as the boat was waved off and no one was arrested.

The races progressed, each heat boasting larger and more powerful boats, roaring down the course, some wicked loud and some with a high pitched whine coming off the muffled stack, their bows high and their sterns low and their props digging hard into the water, flat out, wide open.

The neighbor raft was getting rowdy, some serious partying, half naked young bucks with stern man tans, white streaks of bare skin where the work-time suspenders sloped on dark backs, uninhibited scantily clad blanch white girls, all getting a diversion from their nervousness about credit card debt, boat payments and underwater mortgages. They'd tied an inflatable woman to the antenna mast and she looked good. Barbecue smells drifted across the water on the wind. A schooner in full sail slid around the lighthouse and out the harbor. A wild guy on a slippery Jet Ski dug doughnuts then rocketed out into open water toward the shore.

A race went by. Wave city came again, wicked amplitude, and threw the rafted boats against each other like links in a slapping chain, cushioned by great round orange mooring balls hung over the side, skippers riding the rails and keeping a hand on the neighbor's boat, making sure the fenders did their job.

Just beyond the near raft was an even bigger raft of boats called Miss this and Miss that, a raft with a theme. They were tied side by side but bow to stern and were a good mix of open and closed transoms, all with large beams and massive deck space for working large numbers of traps fished offshore -- serious money for serious fishing. They were having a big lawn party, tailgating on their investment, little kids mixed in with parents and grandparents. All this was reported to Donny from Shelly's lips moving underneath the black tin-can sized binoculars.

Donny saw a girl go off the stern of a boat in the middle. "What's happening now?"

"She's retrieving a ping pong ball. Looks like beer pong, must be their last ball, seeing as it's so special."

"What's a girl like you know about beer pong?"

"A girl like me?"

"You know, sheltered and not that worldly about the good life."

"I'll have you know I had the fastest beer at my boarding school."

"You did not. Maybe white wine but not good old cold beer. Too common for the likes of you."

"Are you always so free to display your lesser qualities? I'll show you, if, that is, you have a church key on this miserable tub you call a boat."

"You are alone on my boat and you go to insulting me and her? You numb, or what?"

"Huh?" She drawled and smiled. "Maybe." She slapped him hard across the arm, playful but it stung her hand and she shook it in the air. "Church key?"

"Coming up." Donny gave her a light hearted tap on the head then went below and rummaged through his miscellaneous box of discarded parts and junk. He found a bunch of stuff he'd forgotten, and down deep at the bottom was the church key.

She took it and demanded a can of beer from the cooler. "And make it snappy." A boat race blew by.

She turned the can over and dug a neat triangle in the bottom. She carefully brought the inverted can to her mouth, tipped it up, popped the top and guzzled the contents down in one, two, three seconds. Her lips were foamy and her eyes watered and she smiled and burped.

The wave city hit. Donny rode it out on sea legs and said, "You got culture, that's for sure. We might have a future."

"You got a ping pong ball and some cups? You know how to play that game, don't you?"

"Oh sure, Tut and I play it every night just before bed, he sleeps tight and I sleep sober."

Stanley's boat, a 32-foot BHM, In The Black, came out from around the lighthouse. Donny watched it idle along the line through the binoculars, coming closer, squeezing along the sliver of water between the race course and the sterns of the spectator boats.

Stanley looked over his compass and out the dirty windshield and spotted Pot Luck. He turned the wheel and steered over.

Donny said, "Here comes trouble."

Shelly eased out of her sun bathing lounge and shaded her eyes, turned toward where Donny was looking. Tut came out of the shade and hopped up on the transom and stared at the approaching boat.

In the Black came in slow and Stanley backed it down and floated just off Pot Luck's stern, close enough you could step from boat to boat. Stanley came out of the pilot house and approached his port rail, course grained acne scarred face covered in stubble. His long greasy hair came out horizontal from around his stained John Deere cap, brown T-shirt stretched tight over the gut that hung over his belt.

"Well, well, what have we got here?" The cigarette dangling from the corner of his lip bobbed up and down, his eyes squinting in the smoke. He took it out of his mouth and put a foot on the rail, leaned on his knee. "If it ain't Mr. Big Shot with his mongrel runt dog and his summertime whore." Shelly came right out of her chair, long neck Bud bottle in her hand. Tut bared his teeth.

Donny set the binoculars down on the cooler. "You sure are a classy guy, Stan. I scrape stuff off by boot better than you."

"OOOhhh! That's real clever, Mr. Man, but I got a warning for you. You move off my gear, or you lose it, simple as that."

"It's you who's camping on my sets, Stanley. Believe you me, you want to think long and hard, maybe decide to give up fishing all together, before you get hurt."

"What did you call me?" Shelly was on her toes. "What exactly did you say?" Tut turned his head and looked at Shelly.

"I called you a whore."

Shelly wound up and scaled the beer bottle right at Stanley's head, a straight away fast ball, on the money. It took Stanley by surprise, but he was able to get his forearm up in time to deflect the bottle. It had enough momentum, however, to go right and explode and foam against the starboard skin. Tut barked. Shelly handed the binoculars to Donny, opened the cooler and took out a full beer. She threw it at a port window, but it bounced off the Plexiglas. Stanley ducked down and crouched his way to the helm and gunned it out of there.

Donny stood still, working his fists. He stared at Shelly.

The Vinalhaven raft exploded in cheers and shouts, clapping into the air. Shelly bowed and said, "That went well."

Stanley motored off toward the finish line, a couple of other Islesboro boats down there.

The races wound down and some of the boats pulled anchor and headed out. The entire fleet was Maine built hulls, rounded bows and graceful sheer with not that much freeboard. Ninety percent were glass, only three or four wooden ones like Pot Luck, old fashioned and out of favor but solid and friendly to fish from.

Donny pulled his own anchor and steered out around the lighthouse and headed into the wind that had come around from the north. Tut stood at the bow with his ears flying in the breeze. Shelly came forward and put her arms around Donny's waist, but his mind was on Stanley and the plan for Monday morning.







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