Vacationland: Chapter 34

By Nat Goodale | Dec 22, 2010
Photo by: Daniel O'Connell A aerial view of Islesboro, looking southwest to the Gulf of Maine.

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




The bullet shattered the port side window. The sound was so abrupt and out of place that Donny thought the engine had backfired. Then came the crack of a rifle report.

Donny stood there, disoriented, looking at the window. He peered out into the thick fog and didn’t know what to do. Off the port bow he could just make out the spruce trees on the island. Toward the west was smooth rolling sea and steady mist like skim milk.  From the way the Plexi blew out and into the water, the shot must have come from the west.

He’d been watching the radar and there had been no return on the screen before he pulled the lavender buoy and warp and lobster trap.  Just the blip from Gilkey Bell and the shape of 700 Acre Island, and to the north, the tip of Islesboro where the ferry came in.

The thought of physical danger hadn’t crossed his mind. He was in the middle of molesting Stanley’s traps, the traps that had been set on top of his and had caused the gear to tangle. Donny was systematically pulling the traps, opening the doors and leaving them loose and unlatched. Before he set them back, he pulled offshore into deeper water and tied two half hitches into the warp about half way down so they’d get fouled in the hydraulic hauler. These were the first gentle messages that told Stan to back away. Donny had every right to push Stan off his territory and he expected this to be the end of it.

Of course he wasn’t doing all this in broad daylight. It was best to be subtle. And Stan had the reputation of being whiskey soaked and trigger happy. But this gun play was over the freaking top.

Donny looked up to the radar screen mounted on the ceiling, angled toward the helm. A blip registered just south of the bell. When the next sweep came around the blip was closer to the bell. It was moving fast.

Without a conscious thought, Donny shoved the trap off the rail, spun the wheel and pushed the throttle to the stop. Pot Luck cut a sharp swath. Her stern dug into the water. Donny straightened her out and she rose up then settled down on a plane and her bow flattened for the chase.

When on the water, mundane but vital thoughts run through the brain. The tide was half out and going. The wind was five knots from the north. Stanley had a smaller boat but Pot Luck was faster.

Where was Stan headed? The blip turned east toward the ferry landing and then south into the Gut. The Gut is the slip of water between 700 Acre Island and Warren Island. At low tide you can walk from one island to the other without getting your feet wet. An hour on either side of high tide you can run a boat that draws four feet through without any concern. But the lower the water, the dicier it gets, especially if the tide is going. You get hung up and the water goes out from under your boat and she lists over and you have to wait for the tide to lift her off.

All this swirled through Donny’s mind. The blip kept south and entered the Gut. Pot Luck turned in a sweep and followed. The shores of each island made solid green brackets on the screen. The fog was so thick he couldn’t make out the banks on either side.  Stanley’s blip stayed steady down the middle.

In clear weather, you can see a rock on the west side that acts as a gauge.  If it is anything more than half visible, you don’t have enough water.  Local knowledge goes a long way. Donny didn’t look for the rock in the fog but figured he might have enough water. Stan’s boat drew less than Pot Luck.

Donny kept his boat at full throttle and he was gaining. They were approaching the pinch where the islands were closest and the water the shallowest. Here the bottom was mostly soft if you kept slightly to the east. Stanley was going through at full speed. The wake was more pronounced and Donny knew he was close; any moment Stan’s transom would fill the windshield. Donny swapped looks between the fog and the radar screen.  Stan had almost made it through. Donny looked forward and Stanley’s stern loomed out of the fog. Until now Donny had no plan, but for Christ's sake the bastard had shot at him. Pot Luck was built wicked rugged and her oak stem could take a collision, no problem. That was the plan and Donny braced for the impact.

Then two things happened at once. Stanley, whom Donny could just make out, lurched forward as his skeg scraped bottom, then almost fell aft as his boat came free. Then Pot Luck ran aground.

Maine lobster boats have a longitudinal keel that is the bottommost part of the boat. At the stern, at the end of this keel, or skeg, there is a cutout for the shaft and the propeller. Aft of that is the rudder. All this running gear is protected in the unfortunate event that you run aground.

This most shallow section of the muddy bottom wasn’t long and it dropped off quick once you got through. Donny was thrown forward as his boat lost momentum. If the bottom was soft enough and he had just enough momentum and he kept the prop churning he might power into deeper water.Time slowed as Pot Luck strained against the mud.

If she stopped, she was dead. She stopped. Donny shouted a string of swear words directed at Stanley. He pulled the engine back to idle and shut her down. The sound of Stanley receding into the fog was gently replaced by the muted and dampened sound of their wakes hitting the shore on each side. From above a sea gull squawked what sounded like a laugh.

Donny had work to do. Because of the skeg, when the water went out from under the boat, she would list so far to the side that when the tide brought the water back in it would pour in over the waterway and flood the deck and sink the boat. While she was still upright she could be propped up.

Donny shook off his short boots and got his waders and a short saw from down bellow.  He pulled the hip boots up all the way, set the saw on the rail and let himself over the side into three feet of salt water.

“Damn it!”  The water was just a little too deep and it poured in over the top of his boots and flooded his socks and soaked his jeans from the crotch down.  Donny sloshed to the shore, sat on a rock and raised his legs one at a time, letting the water drain out.  He then scavenged three stout pieces of drift lumber. He brought them back to the boat, measured with his body the distance from the bottom, at an angle, to the toe rail.  He sawed each to length and wedged them at amidships, bow and stern on the port side.

His watch read just past 8:30 in the morning. Three hours till dead low water and at least another three for the water to come back in enough to float Pot Luck. He was at the northern reach of Cradle Cove on the eastern side of Acre Island.  He started to walk along the shore, west and south. On the other end of the cove was Dark Harbor Boat Yard, hot coffee and a dryer.


Nat Goodale has flown planes from Belfast, raised sheep in Montville, and run commercial picnics from Searsport, and now sells Norwegian boats in Lincolnville. He is working on his third book.



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