Blog

ample lady

AMPLE LADY

When Liza, my deckhand, informed me: “Deidre doesn’t like to ride in dinghies”, I knew something was wrong. “What the hell kind of request is that?” I thought, “The guest of honor wants to be picked up at the dock instead of riding in the dinghy out to where the boat is anchored?” But I didn’t say anything. Whatever the problem, I knew I could handle it.
Chartering for finicky clients in the Hamptons, compared to the challenges of commercial fishing in Alaska had proved a piece of cake, so far. I was confident I could manage anything that might breach my horizon in these waters, so it would be no big deal just to motor in and let her step right on board without the dinghy ride; nevertheless, it did seem a little weird.
Normal procedure would have been to take the ten foot tender to the fuel dock, pick up the clients and take them out to the anchored Sundancer, thereby avoiding taking up space at the busy dock of East Hampton’s Three Mile Harbor Marina. Moreover, it had become politic not to tie up at that particular dock in that I had not taken on fuel there the entire season. While Three Mile would have been my choice, I was biased by the cheaper fuel in Sag Harbor.
While the question, “Why doesn’t she want to ride in a dinghy?” along with the feeling, “something is awry”, persisted in my mind, was not going to obsess about it. With not quite a dozen charters under my belt, but every one of them safe and successful, I was still in the honeymoon phase of chartering. It was that feeling you get when you fall in love, so indomitable that you grow blinders obscuring all red flags, allowing you to ignore those precursors and omens of disaster in a new relationship, but which will inevitably emerge from a festering concealment to take a vicious bite out of your behind. So “What the hell.” I reasoned in my euphoria of success, “It’s plausible for someone who wants to sail on a forty two foot ketch to have an aversion to dinghies. Why not? No major concern.” As I assured myself, “Different strokes for different folks.”
At any rate, eager to accommodate the whims of the clientele, I acquiesced and had Liza winch up the anchor in order that we could motor in and be at the dock for the 0900 pickup. She began to pump the four foot galvanized winch handle to the cacophonous accompaniment of the fifty foot chain abrasively rattling its way over the wildcat. From my rearview position in the wheelhouse I watched her on the foredeck as she pushed and pulled the big rod back and forth, my focus on the delightfully rhythmic motion of her ass, a sensual movement that I could not help responding to with a hankering degree of concupiscence. But as arousing as she could be, Liza was off limits, currently living with another woman, and I respected her choice; even though there was a part of me that hoped it was an experimental stage for her, and that I would still know her when, and if, she changed directions.
“Dammit!” I chastised myself, “We forgot to raise the sails.” Distracted by Lisa’s ass, I had forgotten to hoist the sails. It had become standard procedure to pull the hook with main raised, and then when the anchor was secure, sheet her in until the slatting sail caught a bellyful of wind, and instantly sail away. It was risky, of course, surrounded as we were by expensive boats, anchored all around and vulnerable to my miscalculations; however, it was the risk factor that provided the rush of success that could bolster my self-esteem as effectively as a shot of Stoli. But the truth was, it was a moot gesture anyway, because if the wind were at all frisky I would have the engine running as a safety valve. And finally it dawned on me that me frustration was irrelevant since we were only going a couple of hundred yards to the dock and would not have hoisted the sail in any case. It was obvious that the rear view of Liza’s hip action had muddled my thoughts.
As we motored toward the marina my frustration over not being under sail was replaced by qualms I began to feel knowing that I would be docking under the watchful and jaundiced eye of the dock master, Tommy Watkins, a native Long Islander, or in local patois, a “Bonniker”. Tommy, I was certain, would make at least one comment, wry and rancorous, intended to be heard by my clients, about taking advantage of docking privileges for my own commercial benefit. I could almost predict verbatim. “You want me to put this on your tab, good buddy?” or “How’s business, Bubba? Want me to just add this to your fuel bill?” – both tab and bill being nonexistent.
But as we approached the dock, even my apprehension about Tommy Watkins was superseded and diminished to insignificance as it became blatantly clear why Deidre did not want to ride in a ten foot tender, or any dinghy for that matter; for standing there on the dock with the other three clients was as large a human, male or female, as I had ever seen, a quantitative giant. My mind involuntarily sparked with images of Gulliver in Lilliput, and in quick succession came reflections of Jack and the . . . “Oh sweet wounded bleedin Jesus” I thought, “It’s a goddamn female beanstalk giant!” I was spellbound. She was not simply overweight; she was tall and obese. . no, that’s not true, obese was not quite accurate, it was more like a redefining of stout— so big in fact that the culminating humungosity of this woman dwarfed everything around her. It was as if in contrast to her enormity everything on the dock suddenly became diminutive. Her female companions now appeared as Lilliputians. Even big husky Tommy Watkins was diminished, while the fuel pump had assumed the aspect of a doll sized toy.
“Holy shit!” I muttered under my breath, although deliberately loud enough for my deckhand to hear, because what I really wanted to do was to bellow, “What the hell did you have in mind?” But I didn’t even look at Liza, fearing that eye contact would cause me to lose it. Instead, I went for an over- casual. “Fenders out?”
She answered me with her characteristic savoir faire, “All set, skipper.” She had arranged the charter, but mentioned nothing out of the ordinary, only that Gretchen, an editor and publisher of feminist works in Manhattan, and a couple of friends, wanted to charter Sundancer as a birthday present for Gretchen’s girlfriend, Deidre. She later denied ever having seen Deidre prior to the charter, but I didn’t believe her, and it took a long time before she convinced me it was true.
With a determined effort I closed my gaping mouth, clenched my jaw and attempted to affect a nonchalant air, while inwardly I was engaged in a ferocious struggle as I tried to concentrate on docking the vessel, a formidable task even under normal conditions; for normal might well include a capricious and willful five knot current, and if a breeze of any significance were added to the mix, the smallest miscalculation could precipitate a majorly embarrassing episode. If I were to fail to throttle down and put the fifty five horsepower Perkins into neutral in timely fashion, Sundancer, with its mega ton boldness, could take out half the stalwart dock, which had etched its way into maritime history by withstanding the Force 12 winds of Gloria’s category 3 storm.
The drill was for me to bring the vessel slowly into the dock, close enough for Liza, standing on the port gunnel with the spring line in hand, to jump off and with a recently acquired flamboyant flair throw a clove hitch onto the bollard, thereby coercing the vessel to lay gently up against the dock. By the time Sundancer was nestled in place, I would have the Perkins in neutral and without rushing, but with deliberate efficiency, toss Lisa the bow and stern lines, which she would, with graphic pride in her nautical skill, secure in sequence with two perfect cleat knots, after which she would stand and with her feminized version of a swashbuckling swagger, raise her arms while triumphantly declaring, “Voila!”.
And it was this caper that marked the official beginning of the charter, to be immediately followed by our informal welcoming ceremony. We had learned- at times the hard way- that many people develop some anxiety their first time on a sailboat; consequently, we always made an initial effort to be as warm and welcoming as possible, hopefully creating an ambience in which they felt comfortable and secure as they came aboard.
But given the particular circumstance of that charter, even the simple formalities of “Welcome aboard” or “You picked a great day for a sail.” felt banal and counterfeit to me. Liza, on the other hand, was her usual ebullient self as she proffered her effusive greeting, “One of you ladies must be religious, cause this kind of weather can only come through prayer and a pure heart.” which made me even more aware of my inordinate difficulty in focusing, either my vision or attention, both of which at this point had been captivated by, and fixated on, the enormity of Deidre.
Normally, it was during this initial stage of greeting that I made note of each guest, with a conscious effort to remember every name, and detect any signs of nervousness or proneness to seasickness, the idea being that I would know who to keep busy if the water got a little choppy. I feel that I have more than a modicum of talent for reading people and predicting behavior, but in this instance my thought process was garroted by her pervasive largeness that rendered everything else inconsequential.
She was the third person aboard, and as Deidre stepped across the gunnel and put her weight on deck, I thought I was having an out of body experience. Sundancer, a Colin Archer design, was originally built to do rescue work in the North Sea, and was the stoutest vessel for her size I had ever sailed, refusing to heel to any significant degree in anything less than a literal gale. Truth be told, I had sailed Sundancer in sixty knots of wind without the vessel ever feeling as tender as that moment when the birthday girl had her nearly rail under by simply stepping aboard. With the spasticity of a startled turkey, conflicted between amazement and fear, I jerked my head up, alarmed that the rigging aloft would foul on the dock pilings.
The cockpit was a deep, solid structure with two and a half feet from the seat to the top of the mahogany coaming, and as Deidre engineered her way down by holding on to the toe rail on top of the cabin and stepping over the coaming and onto the seat, her flowery print dress, pink and light, rode up to reveal a thunderously massive thigh. The amplitude of that thigh was astounding, but equally amazing was its paradoxical smoothness, a surprising lushness that infused my astonishment with an allurement, sensual enough to cause a subtle ripple in my personal sector.
I quickly looked away only to lock eyes with Bobby Watson, whereupon we simultaneously realized that our spectating had been concurrent and identical, making me wonder whether the sight had a carnal effect on him as well. But as I looked into those granite dark gray eyes, fractionally surrounded by a pair of profusely unruly and copious eyebrows I did not need psychic powers to see that behind his impassive Bonniker countenance was the smug thought. “What goes around comes around.” My speculation was confirmed during our brief eye contact by his allowing the bare hint of a malicious smile, the content unequivocal. “There is justice in this world, since this is a most befitting punishment for your welshing ways.” Helpless to do more than clench my jaw, but wanting to blame him, “You bastard!” I irrationally cursed to myself.
I was anxious for Liza to cast off so that we could leave the dock as soon as possible and be free of any further harassment, speculative or otherwise, from the abrasive ambassador of the local Long Island good old boy network. With the spring line still fast, I kicked the stern out with a short burst forward, and as soon as Lisa brought the line aboard I backed her away from the dock until I had room to maneuver.
It was with major relief that I headed Sundancer up into the wind, well away from the pier, to hold her there until Liza hoisted the mainsail. I was counting on the vessel’s habitual behavior, assured that the moment that big chunk of canvas caught the wind, the craft would lean deep and gently into her naturally fluid motion, embracing everyone with the resurgence she was feeling as she renewed her life, gently rocking in the aqueous arms of her preordained paramour.
Liza enlisted the help of Brandi, a stocky woman with close cropped, sandy colored hair which accentuated a smile that appeared to have no visceral connection with anything other than the muscles of her face. But it was obvious why Liza had chosen her to help raise the sail, for everything about her was indicative of the pride she felt for her physical prowess. From the way her biceps stretched the fabric of the rolled sleeves of her T shirt, it was clear she had paid her dues in the weight room. It was easy to envision her sweating and pumping iron while striving against a rigid distortion of that affected smile. The contrived grin was a perfect crown for the solid stance, all of which, for me and my penchant for warping first impressions, coalesced into a vivid image of a wild boar from Kentucky– a perfect choice for a sail hoisting pas de deux.
After a brief instruction of the ritual she had established for performing the task, Liza un-cleated the halyard, and she and Brandi, with the line in their hands, froze in a theatrical pose, looked at each other, and in unison nodded a three second count, which was the cue for them to sing out, “Laissez, le bon temps, ROULER!” And in a rhythm synched with their hauling on the halyard, they continued chanting it as a refrain; and as almost always was the case, everybody on board joined in, reaffirming the commencement of the charter with everyone involved and hyped to sail.
While the main was being raised I glanced about to make sure we were not drifting down on any of the vessels anchored near the channel, but the nearest vessel, a safe fifty yards away, was the Kinona, a thirty seven foot Concordia yawl. The owner, Melvin Thomas, a friend, was also in the charter business. There were many times when looking at her I was struck by what to me was an aesthetic splendor, which always swept me with a wave of envy of Captain Melvin for her svelte beauty and the lissome sleekness of a ballerina. Now, however, considering the tenderness of such a vessel, I smiled in gratitude for my heavy, massively built, moose of a cruiser, her beamy flush decks able to accommodate several people with ease. “Yes sir” I thought, salving my wounded confidence, “This just might be the little ship to handle the big, the really big, challenge of the day.”
As soon as the main was up and we were headed down the channel under sail, Liza enlisted another of the four women. “Come on, Frieda, give me a hand.” She was the opposite of her partner, Brandi, a very feminine creature, whose long black hair was pulled back in a ponytail, showing a face so artistically made up that every feature was enhanced to beauty queen perfection—all prior to the makeover era.
It was obvious that, affected adversely by the physical activity of sailing, she had no desire to be part of it. “Oh my goodness, I don’t think I could . . .” But Liza took her arm and pulled her up. “There’s nothing to it. It’s easy. Come on, I’ll show you.” Reluctantly, she allowed herself to be coaxed up.
When she stood, there was a sleekness to her body that made me realize why boats were female. She was a “Concordia” with its gracefully sculpted lines; and it was a quick flip for my mind to project the analogous image of the hypothetical breeding of a greyhound show dog. The result would be an aesthetically perfect running animal, but a pet that would have no idea what a rabbit was, much less be inclined to chase one. Much like the Lady and the Tramp, she and Brandi represented two poles of the same species, confirming the old adage that opposites attract.
Under Liza’s direction, who was rigging the port side, Frieda tried to mimic her as she set up the starboard side sheet with which the genoa could be trimmed. She didn’t want to do it. “I’m just not very athletic, maybe somebody else . . “ Liza was firm. “No, no, you’re doing fine. ” With averted fingertips curled outward to protect the nails, Frieda delicately led the line outside the shrouds and through the fairlead and around the winch mounted on the cockpit coaming.
Liza watched her, then said, “No, honey” and gently instructed her, “You need to wrap it the other way round” And in response to Frieda’s bewildered look, she gestured with her hand. “Like a clock.” And encouraged her tentative draping of the line. “That’s it, you got it. Good job.” As she took it and cinched it up. Liza was a wonder with people, a natural motivator, while my perverse machinations were at work trying to figure out the sexual expectations of such a mismatched couple as Frieda and Brandi. Next she had them hoist, in tandem, the one thirty genoa with a line that she explained was the genny halyard.
Ninety percent of the pulling power was provided by Brandi, but it finally reached a point at which even the might and main of the female powerhouse was unable to muscle it any further up the head stay. Liza took a couple of turns with the end of the halyard around the winch on the mast and had Brandi crank while Frieda tailed, holding and pulling on the line as though she were handling a venomous serpent, in unveiled dread of damaging her nails.
When the piece of red tape on the halyard, which I noticed clashed with the peppermint striped shorts worn by Frieda, came even with the mark scratched on the mast, indicating the genny was at its proper height, Liza took the line and with an adroit flourish fastened it with her book-perfect classic cleat knot. She then came aft and trimmed and tweaked main and genny until Sundancer seemed to be inhaling the breeze, eagerly embraced by her pelagic partner in a lithesome waltz as we close reached across the Bay. Gardiner’s Island was hazily visible off the starboard bow.
Holding course until we were pointed well above the island, I turned the wheel over to Liza, who had raised the mizzen without assistance. I wanted to demonstrate how to ease the main sheet without the line becoming a maniacal mess of spaghetti. It was not easy to get their attention, so enthralled with the panoramic horizon of water and sky and Islands in the distance, but I managed to corral their focus with the threat, “If this maneuver is not done right, you can lose a finger.” The skeptical looks challenged me to up the stakes. “Oh, it can happen. . . has more than once . . . actually did in the last Bermuda Race.” Frieda’s fear for her fastidiously manicured nails was manifest as her fingers involuntarily cringed and curled inward, fists pressed to her stomach. Even Brandi’s robotic smile waned a smidgeon.
With my audience now captive, I demonstrated how to release the line from the cleat with one hand and ease the tension while maintaining turns on the winch with pressure from the palm of my other hand, which I did until the genny was drawing properly. This was the cue for Liza to put her on a beam reach and ease the main sheet until the main was just right for the new course. I then tweaked the jenny, and we were pointed less than fifteen degrees above Gardiner’s Island. Brandi was eager to adjust the mizzen by herself, and did a good job. She looked at Frieda, “I don’t allow no luffing, Baby.” She was a fast learner.
With a steady 12 knots of wind, the minimum for Sundance to sail effectively, the conditions were splendid for our landlubber crew, allowing the vessel to cleave her way through the water with an imposing solidity, which I facetiously thought to myself was now augmented and enhanced by the added corporeal ballast. In this fashion the vessel rendered what little chop there was insignificant, conveying a sense of wellbeing so infectious that Brandi in a gravelly voice was motivated to proclaim, “This is great!”
Standing on the gunnel and leaning out while holding on to the shrouds, I was infected with an increasing confidence in anticipation of another successful charter, “What a day!” I assured them. “You’re a lucky bunch. It doesn’t get better than this.” And looking down at the contented group in the cockpit I began to think that maybe I had over reacted. “Sure she’s big, no question about that, but not that big. Having to pick her up at the dock with Bobby Watson watching, that’s what it was, docking under the critical eye of that asshole dock master, that’s what made me over react. She’s a little overweight, that’s all, no real problem.” My spirits, though not yet soaring, were on their way to lofty heights, all signs pointing to a first rate charter. “Yes sir, ladies” addressing radiant faces, “you’ve got yourself a perfect day.”
But I could not keep myself from furtive glances, and something about the massive presence stimulated my penchant for cooking up scenes, usually absurd and often perverse. “What if” I thought, “What if she were on the lee side in a full gale. Could her weight, plus the pressure of the wind levered mast counter balance the six ton keel, and roll the vessel as a fifty foot rogue wave might do?” The sprockets of my brain were beginning to spin fanciful images. “What if she were on the bow sprit in a half gale downwind run with the spinnaker up?” If we plunged into a wave, would she weigh the bow so far down that Sundancer would not be able to rise again, but sail beneath the sea with the fleets of forever” On a roll, my turboed-brain began a fantasy dance. “Could Deidre be a buoyantly buxom figurehead defying all powers of immersion and keep Sundancer perpetually surfing, both typhoon and maelstrom, back and forth across the seven seas into an ultimate ocean of eternity?”
My imagination slipped into an irrational fifth gear as I became intrigued by the incongruity of Gretchen and Deidre sitting side by side, an unbalanced proximity that titillated my prurient interest, leading me to wonder about their moments of intimacy. I speculated. “What if she were on top in a process of reciprocation?” “Oh my God!” I almost blurted out. “Accidental asphyxiation by innocent act of passion. Girl indicted for manslaughter.” I knew it was time to stop, to get off the path of bizarre images of pixilated fantasy down which my surreptitious glances were taking me.
In the midst of my attempt to refocus I was struck by another exotic, but more seriously realistic, juxtaposition. On the other side of Deidre was the companionway. From recent repairs I knew it was exactly twenty eight inches wide, obviously unable to accommodate the voluminous girth that was currently perched next to it. “But what if she has to use the head?” The thought caused me to frown and my palms to moisten. “And even if we did manage to get her below . . .” My speculations breaking out again as I imagined lubricating her body and stuffing it through the opening by shifting the mass as you would do a pillow, but I realized that there would still be the matter of the mainmast, which was stepped in a location where even I had to turn sideways to get by it in order to use the head which was forward of that imposing spar.
Most of the females, affirming their liberty, would simply hold to a stanchion and post their derrieres out board on the lee side, while everyone was supposedly averting their attention. Of course for husbands and boyfriends this often proved the most exciting photographic activity of the charter, the subjects squealing in feigned and sometimes genuine embarrassment. And my mind leaped right on to another “What if” because at that point I couldn’t help positing, “What if Tina were able to hold herself in that position? Would the stanchion bend or the vessel heel to such an extent she would dip her derriere, or so severely that her entire posterior would be totally submerged.” I flagged myself with the silent admonition, “Desist! No more whimsical fancies.” But even as I returned to reality, my clenched jaw joined my wet palms as anxiety indicators of a problem that could be serious, dismissing the alternative of a bucket as too ludicrous for consideration.
On most of our day charters, weather in agreement, we would sail over to Gardiner’s Island, anchor and go for a swim, then have lunch before returning. Had I but an inkling of how the day were to unfold, I would have opted to sail around the bay, poke our nose out into the sound for a little holy roller excitement among the ocean waves; and when back in the calm of the bay we would eat lunch while on a broad reach. But an anchored lunch and a swim had been presented by Liza as part of the package, and I felt obligated. Sundancer stayed on course for the island.
Besides, we were having a delightful sail with lots of pleasant conversation, presupposing an uncompromised normality. I have always been amazed at how people are able to manipulate reality, making it other than it is. There was a college student who was able to ignore the fact that he was blind so effectively that he was able to secure a job as the lighting technician for a live theatrical production. Verbal cues were no problem, and his only concession was allowing the stage manager to signal him with a jab for sight cues. It was one of those times when truth can be more unbelievable than fiction. But given that our sail was going so well, perhaps I was the only one involved in the ironic nudging of reality with capricious ruminations.
As I turned the wheel, rounding up less than a 100 yards off the beach of Gardiner’s Island in seven fathoms, Liza released the forty five pound plow anchor, which exploded into the water, immediately followed by its five eights inch chain clanging its way through the metal runner with a cacophonously violent clatter. With a self-assured smile Liza stood watching, unafraid, and proud to be so close to, and in control of such an ominous sounding, and potential destructive mechanical device.
The irony of it made me smile, as I remembered the look of dread on her face the first time I had let it go with her standing on the foredeck. But now she was the irrefutable master of a deus ex machina in the form of a wild iron beast. I slowly backed the vessel down, setting the anchor, and when the angle of the rode indicated more than a five to one ratio, which was all we needed in those conditions, she set the brake, turned to the guests, and with that buoyant smile of hers and a sprightly little dance step, sang out, “Laissez le bon temp roulet.”
And while Liza and Brandi dropped and furled the sails, Gretchen produced a bottle of Krug and six old fashioned flutes from a scotch plaid mini cooler she had brought on board. As I sipped my token glass I cautioned myself to take it slow, because while it had that delicious dryness for which I have a foolishness, I was afraid I might well need all my wits about me, and then some, before the day was over. In retrospect, a few glasses might have served as a mitigating ally. But even when a second bottle was opened and the amicable pleasantries of conversation between the women progressed into a freewheeling and raucous party- time chatter, I still nursed my first and only glass. I was nervous, quite wary, and scared of what I didn’t know, but felt in the grip of and possessed by a tyrannical feeling of foreboding.
The roots of my fear were soon apparent, however, because just at that moment when my tension felt a wisp of alleviation by the possibility that the champagne induced fellowship would suffice without a swim, my emerging hope was shattered by Brandi, who, as though prompted and cued by my anxiety, stood up, and while taking off her shirt to reveal two push up(as in exercise) enhanced mammaries, growled through the vacuity of her grin. “This is great! Anybody up for a swim? Ha, Ha” Before I could even think of a diverting suggestion, Frieda, the domesticated greyhound, had slunk to a stand, struck a coquettish pose, her hand on a fashionable belt buckle the color of her hair, and with a provocative look at Brandi and a Lauren Bacall movement with her hips, she sang out in a bluesy falsetto, “Laissez le bon temps rouler!” and with a flourish popped loose the buckle.
The proposal was met unanimously with rampant enthusiasm, except for me. Ordinarily I would have been keen for it. Naked women in and out of the water? Absolutely. No question. But I was stymied by the odds of Deidre making it up the rope ladder, not easy to negotiate for a person of normal size. The deck was six feet above the water line, and the concave flair of the topsides combined with the soft chine made the last three rungs at the bottom of the ladder dangle elusively in space. Surely common sense would convince her to forgo the swim, if only her champagne enhanced bladder did not prove more persuasive. The more apprehensive I became the more resentment I felt toward Liza for making swimming such an appealing feature of the charter, and Brandi for advocating it. Oddly enough, I had no ill feelings toward Deidre; it was more like empathy as though we were on the same team.
It was the early 70’s in the Hamptons, and skinny dipping was the norm for most of our clients; nevertheless, I would always move forward and find something to do in order not to stare conspicuously as they took off their clothes. As a professional skipper I tried to be discreet and not disclose how much I enjoyed looking at nude female bodies, and it seemed especially apropos in the presence of those couples who, I suspected, had some serious aversions to males in general and male attention in particular. But to my surprise they stripped with ease, as I, with more than a modicum of delight, enjoyed the scene, peripherally of course. I was puzzled, however, by what seemed the total lack of self-consciousness. But then, thinking about it, I suspected Liza had told them I was a gay eunuch.
Fairly confident that Deidre would not go in the water, and to confirm my professional degree of chasteness I climbed out on the ten foot bow sprit with my back to the group and put my foot on the anchor rode. There were no telltale vibrations, indicating that the anchor was set deep and solid, and not dragging. To be on the safe side, and kill time while listening to the laughing and splashing, I released the brake on the winch and let out a little more scope.
It was after I reset the brake, and turned to go aft, that my fragile equilibrium was viciously slashed in two by a ferocious ambivalence. What I saw was Deidre balancing on the cockpit coaming with one hand on the boom, humongous Deidre, standing there in a pair of silky soft bikini panties, celeste blue, muted to blend in with the filigreed lace at the bottom for an enhanced framing of her legs. Her breasts surged into a semi opaque gauzy bra of identical color and adornment.
It was a paradox. On the one hand, I was overwhelmed as I looked at one of the most aesthetically beautiful sights I had ever seen. She was not fat, not to me in that moment, not at all. What I saw was a large and lovely, soft firmness, sans any flabbiness whatsoever. To me, reeling with amazement, her proportions were Rubenesquely magnificent, and looking at her I knew for the first time the meaning of “female flesh”; and as that Faulknerian concept infused itself in my mind, I felt for a passing instant a veritable sadness knowing he would never see it quintessentially defined as was my privilege in that moment.
And her face, that I was really seeing for the first time as though she had to be almost naked for me to see it, was not a bloated mug. Quite the contrary, it was a visage possessed by an enchantment, whereby the soft mouth defined by its masterly shaped lines bonded with the magical blue eyes, to present an intriguing combination of sensual tenderness; I was overwhelmed.
On the other end of my emotional see saw, at the same time I was appreciating the beauty of this exquisite creature, my anxiety was reaching acrophobic heights. It was clear to me that she was taking off her clothes to go swimming, which meant an inevitable encounter with the rope ladder. Looking into those enchanting eyes, I was convinced she not only perceived my appreciation of her loveliness, but also respected my apprehension over her going in the water, because she smiled at me, holding it for five beats, and sat down. With a deep sigh, a deep, deep inward sigh of relief, I returned the smile, aware of something far beyond aesthetic appreciation.
It was a release. Deidre’s decision to stay on board had made me happy, and not even the boar’s bleating was going to deter me. I was free to acknowledge the day for what it was, and it was a beauty. The water, with barely audible, rippling sounds, was undulating just enough to create an arrhythmic reflection of the sun, and a slack tide rendered what little current there was, negligible, the zephyrs blowing just enough to take the bite out of the sun’s heat. I watched the trees on the island, and listening to Deidre’s soft melodious voice in contrast to the shrillness of those in the water, I found myself in a stress-less state. I began to daydream.
The proximity of the island made me think of the Gardiner heir, whom I had recently met at a party given by Lady Jeanne Campbell, one of Norman Mailer’s ex’s. Bobby Gardiner arrived with a young man he introduced as his cousin, which provoked a sardonic smirk from the boy. With no prompting Bobby began to pontificate in a pseudo Bucklian inflection that was adorned with salivating excess, about the egret feathers on his grandmother’s hat. Counterpointing Bobby was a dark complexioned man whose entire set of teeth, upper and lower, were projecting out of his mouth like a free standing altar for verbal sacrifices, a vivid confirmation of the evolution theory—evidential proof of a great white shark ancestry. Introduced as the Turkish Ambassador, he became embroiled in a non-sequitous repartee with Bobby, in which he castigated his countrymen with incessant and irrelevant allegations that the Turks were, “filthy, a filthy people.”
I was smiling at the weird juxtaposition of the two eccentrics, when I heard her voice. It made me want to have another look. Maybe she would be in a classic reclining pose, and our eyes would lock in a shared awareness, but before I could turn there was a deep throated shrieking, “This is great!” conjuring for me the auditory illusion of a wild boar rutting. I didn’t turn, refusing to be deterred from my respite by Brandi. And with little effort I returned to my recollection of the party and began to recall the image of the Gardiner heir and the Turkish Pasha, vying with each other through their disengaged conversation, consisting of simultaneous monologues. My smile was escalating into a chuckle when my tranquil mood was once again shattered by another of Brandi’s ferociously brutal shouts, “It’s really great!” Only this time it was followed by, “Come on. You can do it. That’s it!” and a furious lurching of the vessel under my feet, obviously caused by the unshipping of a considerable load.
. Whirling with whiplash speed, the first thing I saw were those baby blue panties, the gauzy bra beside them, lying empty, like a still life, on the coaming where Deidre had been standing; and fused into the same fraction of time, I heard and saw a mushroom splash, the peak of which reached the level of the deck, six feet above the water. “Oh shit!” I inwardly groaned. “She did it. She’s in. Deidre’s in the damn water.” And felt myself thrown into emotional fit of irrationality. “It was that fucking wild hog. She coaxed her in!” Agonizing through an illogical mélange of scathing thoughts, I knew it was Brandi’s fault. “If only I had turned and talked to her instead of day dreaming, she wouldn’t have gone in. Goddamn that wild hog!”
Taking a couple of deep breaths and wiping sweaty palms on my shorts, I tried to mollify my anxiety by reasoning with myself. “Come on now. You’re probably blowing it all out of proportion. Is the rope ladder really that formidable? Come on, Skipper, whatever happens you can handle it. You always have. Right?” But it became clear that I had failed to douse the panic mode when I realized my lascivious appreciation was absolutely impervious to the female nudes in the water.
Before Deidre went in I was hoping that they would not stay in long enough for her to change her mind, but now that she was in I was hoping they would never come out, just continue through the next apocalypse. All too soon, however, Liza came scampering up the ladder, announcing it was time for lunch. Initially it had been difficult for her to scale the rope ladder, but she had worked on it until, like everything else, she mastered it; and now was able to negotiate it better than I was, and never scaled it without a reveling glance at me.
As soon as she had gone below to organize lunch, I leaned down the companionway, and in an overtly fierce tone whispered, “How the hell do you think she’s going to get back on board?” She looked at me, shrugged slightly, and with her Mother Theresa of charters smile, answered, “The rope ladder.” In an illogic fury, I flung at her the didactic redundancy, “It’s a rope ladder!” With a more developed shrug, she canted her head, continued to smile, and nodded, “uuum uh.” I was excessively pissed that she was not worrying about it, but I was on the brink of a raging fantod that she was pretending to be unaware of the impending disaster–at least she did not ask, “Who?”
I didn’t offer to go below and help Liza, hoping it would take long enough to organize the prepared lunch for me to devise a solution for my dilemma, the seriousness of which was amplifying for me with every moment Deidre remained in the water. My pondering had borne no fruit by the time Liza began to pass the food up to me, after which she bounded up the companionway steps, leaned outboard and announced, with what, in my distressed state, I was beginning to disdainfully consider her bouncy ebullience, “Le petit dejeuner e voila!” And once again I was reminded of the extent of my anguish, because that was the first time I had seen Liza’s nude body from the rear in this revealing position as she leaned over the life lines without at least a nascent arousal, but in that instance, nada.
Gretchen was the first to tackle the rope ladder, and she and everyone else laughed as she took the first couple of steps only to realize the bottom rungs were free to move in three hundred and sixty infinitesimal directions. Gretchen was small and lithe, however, and with a modicum of effort soon reached the deck. But as she stood up she let me know with the swiftest of glances that I was no longer alone in my high alert concern; nevertheless, with no discernible hesitation or hint of unease she turned and proffered her hand with the cheerful offer, “Come on, Deidre, you can do it. I’ll help you.”
It was only with a grimace that I was able to stifle a burst of nervous laughter at this tiny female, who could not have weighed more than a hundred pounds, but who was offering to . . .and I thought, “It’s like a child trying to land a leviathan with an eight pound test line.” And it turned out to be a precursor, for the ironic gesture of that small arm hailed the beginning of a monstrous struggle, in which I was to play the tormented protagonist.
. Deidre reached up and took the highest rung she could manage with her right hand; then with an immodest effort got the other hand on the same rung. Next she had to pull herself up enough to get a foot on the elusive last rung. Pulling heartily, her optimism, joined forces with the buoyancy of the water, allowing her to get just high enough for her breasts to surface mid nipple, but the physical exertion depleted her resources, and she had to let herself down without even trying for the bottom rung. With a sigh sounding like, “huuwhoooa” she proclaimed, “This is harder than it looks.”
In response, led by the raucous braying of the female jock, everyone laughed an octave louder than was warranted by Deidre’s apt remark. The action of the rope ladder was now the focal point for the group, as each offered their encouragement, while discreetly avoiding direct eye contact. And it did not take a seer to know that beneath every chatty utterance was the collective subtext. “How the hell is she ever going to make it up that ladder?” But Gretchen was not giving up. “Come on, Honey, I know you can do it.” And punctuating the irony of the moment was the dramatic extension of her incongruously frail and humanly limited arm.
In her second attempt, with a flushed face, capillary threatening effort, Deidre was able to broach both breasts totally out of the water. It may seem that I was unduly preoccupied with her breasts; however, it was impossible not to focus on them, since that is what you saw first, for those baroque beauties had become two conspicuous protuberances advancing as an aggressive vanguard. The pair of distended nipples were like two eyes, popping and straining upward, as though by the sheer power of atmospheric penetration, they would be able to bring the entire mass out of the water. Though it was a valiant endeavor, it exhausted all resources so that she simply passed through the zenith of her effort with no attempt to get her foot on a rung before returning to her hanging position.
A three pronged flagrum of futility and responsibility and ineffectuality descended on me in the question I knew was on every person’s mind. “What now, Captain?” a psychical flagellation by the despotic thought, “The success of this charter is in dire jeopardy.” Having no answer, I instinctively retreated into my chameleon’s role of jovial assurance. “Oh yeah, it can be hard getting back on board. Just think about those fishermen, they have a hell of a time with all their clothes on, I mean boots and all.” I had a vague idea what I was talking about, enough to know it made no sense, but hoping to postpone the inevitable, whatever that may be, I kept jabbering. “But no sweat for us. We just put plan B into operation. Liza, you and Brandi get in the water. You guys can push while Gretchen and I pull. She just needs a hand up, that’s all, a little boost.” No one questioned that Frieda had no assignment.
And no one questioned the plan, so desperate were they for something to work. I chose to disregard the faulty logic of the scheme. The truth was, I gave no thought to whether it would work or not, so intent was I on keeping every one busy and actively involved in the fervent hope of some fluke of fortune, or twist of fate. At that point I would have welcomed divine intervention, it being one of those rare moments when I regretted having given up my faith in the efficacy of prayer.
Everyone got in position. Liza and Brandi, while supporting themselves with one hand on the rope ladder, had one hand each on a respective cheek. Gretchen and I on deck each took one of Deidre’s arms. This could not be a pleasant experience for Deidre, I was certain, and the verbal encouragements from her comrades, instead of bolstering her morale, it was clear, were in fact pushing her deeper into inexorable humiliation. As for me, I felt that the only thing keeping me from a daemonic and moiling embrace by the screaming fantods was my tenuous grip on my role as a professional skipper, the one in charge. Moreover, I was feeling a personal angst, because it has always hurt me to see someone feeling bad about themselves, and in this case I was a contributing factor, or felt I was. Moreover, ever since that moment she was standing there in her underwear and our eyes met, I felt a link, curious and puzzling, but a vibrant, irrefragable link.
With fictitious confidence, in other words trying to act like I knew what the hell I was doing, I began the operation with the firm exhortation, “Alright now, we all go at once. Get ready, One Two . . Now!” And this time her breasts fully cleared the surface, as though flung out of the water for some forward reconnaissance purpose. It was astounding. The nipple hue, with each successive emergence had advanced from beige to mauve and now to a final fiery red. For a fraction of a second I felt hope, apparently shared by her, because she reached for the top rung which was pressed on the gunnel. What happened next was freaky, and I have no idea how it happened, but just as she reached for the top rung it lifted off the gunnel, and she grabbed the gunnel instead. The result of the uncanny timing was that just at the same moment her foot found the bottom rung, the ladder came down, with all the force of her inordinate weight, on her hand, now trapped between rung and gunnel.

Her scream of pain plunged me into a quintessential hell of absolute horror, concluding that with all her weight on the ladder the rung was fated to become a guillotine severing her fingers, which I imagined rolling across the deck with me in pursuit, trying to keep them from exiting through the scuppers. Our eyes met, only this time that lovely face was contorted by such a grimacing pain, that I, without breaking eye contact but with a bellow of anguish indicative of the ravenous dread devouring me, and with an enormous rush of adrenalin, did what in retrospect was impossible. I reached down and lifted the over-weighted ladder off of her hand.
Deidre released her hold on the gunnel, and in an amazingly graceful semi-piked position plunged ass-backward into the water, thereby creating another, this time due to her stunt diving body position upon entry, phenomenally large, mushroom shaped geyser that drenched me, even with my head ten feet above water level. Gretchen, on the other hand, clinging loyally to Deidre’s arm, was catapulted into one half of an ungainly and gawky somersault to land explosively in the water on her back. It was top tier comedy, truly outstanding slapstick, utterly unscriptable, and yet, no one laughed . . . not a single chuckle.
Even after it was determined she could still move her fingers, there were only a couple of incipient smiles, anemic hints of humor, as the shroud of despair continued to descend with increased momentum. Even after Deidre herself made the ludicrous proposal, “Why don’t you just tie a rope around me and tow me back?” there were only a few puny attempts to chuckle, including my token gesture of a forced laugh.
The truth was that plaintive entreaty of desperation made me want to weep. Instead, while my panicky thinking was screaming, “What the hell am I going to do now?” I scrambled back once again into my chameleon robe of successful skipper, this time with the smiling reassurance, “Hey, no need to worry. There are lots of ways to get a person back on board. Plan C is a better plan anyway. It’s what I should have done in the first place.”
Her suggestion about being towed back turned my bowels into a nest of writhing snakes, making me think, “That’s just what I need now, a severe case of diarrhea.” But her proposal did remind me about the boom, which I had previously rejected as a serious option—the idea of winching someone aboard with a boom was outrageous. Now, however, we were down to the line, and I was all for “whatever works”.
As I made a mental reference to Chapman I felt a reviving seed of confidence. In Chapman’s Guide To Piloting, commonly known to sailors as the boater’s bible, there were some calculations which had so impressed me when I was studying for my hundred ton Coast Guard master’s license, that the computations were still in my mind, conclusions notable enough for me to retain. On page two ninety eight he states, “. . .with two fold purchase the force gained will be five, so that even if you consider the friction of the sheaves of the blocks. . .” and consequently, according to Chapman, “. . . if the weight of the drum was five hundred pounds . . . the force needed to lift the drum would be one hundred fifty pounds.” My mind on full alert I was able to calculate that with the three fold purchase of Sundancer’s main sheet tackle, we should be able to lift a Cadillac. With the results of my figuring came a renewed surge of optimism, as well as my first genuine smile for a while. I wanted a solution not just for the sake of the charter, but I was feeling a strong connection to Deidre, genuinely personal feelings of empathy.
Unshackling the mainsheet from the main-sheet- horse aft of the cockpit, I had Liza get the bosun’s chair from the aft locker. After securing the chair to the main-sheet block I swung the boom outboard until it was directly over Deidre. Next I had Liza change places with Gretchen who was still in the water where she had so ignominiously been launched by Deidre’s catapulting action, and where she had kept up a continual patter of encouragement; however, I needed Liza in the water with Brandy to provide maximum pushing power, while those of us on deck would have the advantage of the block and tackle.
My blossoming optimism met its first obstacle as I lowered the chair. With everyone watching it descend, the closer the bosun’s chair got to Deidre the more the ensuing juxtaposition made it clear that the seat with its twenty two inch beam could not begin to accommodate her substantial stern. As it got closer and closer to her the damn thing, in science fiction fashion, seemed to be shrinking, an optical illusion of course, but one so efficacious that she looked up at me in total confusion.
Before anyone was able to express the obvious I became proactive and countered, “Oh that’s O.K.” as I directed her, “Just put one leg in. I don’t know why they make those damn things so small. Must think we’re a bunch of midgets.” Then, impelled to ameliorate the chagrin she was feeling, I lied. “Most people only put one leg in anyway.” When the truth was that I had never had anyone on board who could not fit into the seat which was nearly as wide as the companionway.
A terrifying thought struck me. “Oh my God, what if she can’t even get one leg in? What can I do? What’s the alternative? The Coast Guard? No, I am not calling the Coast Guard.” Armed with my Coast Guard Master’s license I prided myself on never having called the Coast Guard. Besides what would I tell them? What would I say when they asked why I couldn’t get her on board? I could be cryptic and challenge them, “Wait and see.” Or terse and simply reply, “Too heavy.” Or unabashedly candid and blurt out, “I got this enormous lady in the water. Please help me.” I would not tell them she was naked, and I would make the others put their clothes on. But I was determined not to call them, and while it would have been fascinating to watch the Coast Guard handle the situation, it would have meant me joining Deidre in her Stygian depths of debasement.
Although it bowed out the lines holding the ends of the seat, Deidre was able to get one leg into the bosun’s chair, allowing me a tentative sigh of relief. It would be a simple matter to hoist her above gunnel level, swing the boom inboard, and let her down on deck. With Liza and Brandi pushing on respective cheeks, Gretchen and I began to haul in on the fall line, but even with the three fold purchase I realized it was not going to be easy. I put my back into it, aware that everyone, even Frieda standing there in fear for her feminine delicacy, was motivated a hundred plus percent.
And we were making headway. It was clear that the two blocks were rounding in toward each other. Once again I began to feel that we might salvage the charter, but just as I thought about looking into Deidre’s face and being blessed by a beatific smile of gratitude, Liza’s voice, reflecting a mixture of attempted cheerfulness and intense physical strain resounded from over the side. “What’s wrong?” Putting a couple of half hitches around a belaying pin in the rail, I leaned outboard and looked down to discover we had lifted her no more than two or three inches.
I was baffled. How could that be? We had definitely made progress, because while hauling on the line I had watched the blocks move at least two feet closer to each other. Then I looked at the boom. I bellowed, “Oh my God!” in strict confidence to myself. “The goddamn boom is bent! That’s impossible.” But it was true. Instead of Deidre coming up, the end of the boom had gone down. I was astounded, totally flabbergasted, but somehow, in the midst of being utterly discomfited, I managed to maintain the façade.
Casting off the line from the pin rail, except for a single bite, I eased the pressure on the blocks until the boom and Deidre were restored to their original positions. Then I called down to the three in the water, “O.K., good. That was just a test; and now I see that I need to get this boom at the proper angle.” As I desperately tried to conceal the deep breathes I was taking to calm myself.
When I leaned over the rail again to check the situation in the water, I looked directly into the face of what my fitful mind had transmogrified into a bona fide wild boar from Kentucky. A feral mug peered up at me on an oblique angle from behind a mammoth derriere. Attempting her unsubstantiated grin, but managing only a grotesque grimace, when our eyes met she blurted out in a voice that under duress had become even more gritty, “This is great! You can do it, Captain!” I wanted to hit her in her smiley teeth with a belaying pin, but managed to subdue my rage into a counterfeit grunt of congeniality before returning to the task of hauling Deidre out of the water.
Again we hauled away, arduously sweating the line, while I watched, spellbound, as the boom bent with fierce persistence to accommodate our efforts, the end going down, the middle coming up, that stalwart piece of Alaskan fir continuing to bend until it was resting on the gunnel; it was a special effects happening. I knew it was not possible but I was witnessing it happen. I should have eased off long before it reached that point, but so mesmerized by the phenomenon, I watched in total fascination to see how far it would bend before breaking. I tremble to think of the terrifying consequences of that boom breaking.
As we eased her back into the water there was only silence as the air reverberated with the thunderous but unheard cacophonies of our thoughts and fears, and the best I could do to fend off total hopelessness was the feeble excuse. “Oh that was my fault; I didn’t raise the boom quite high enough. I just need to increase its angle to the deck.” Reduced to unadorned bullshit, I could feel myself slipping right down past the nadir of my own credibility with the clients as well as myself; and glancing at Deidre, I could see that she too was close to her own rock bottom of ultimate despondency. Her face was wet from the water, but I could see tears running down what I was now seeing as angelic cheeks.
The torment I felt from the raw despair in that face was as great as the frustration I was feeling over having my professional ego trampled by what had become one of fate’s demonic assaults. I wanted to weep, and was certain this was what a broken heart felt like. But I persevered and went through the motions of trimming the topping lift, knowing all the while that if I raised the boom any more it would not reach out board even when flexed; besides, I would never have the audacity to allow such a perilous flexing of that spar again. But what the hell was I supposed to do? What could I do?
Meanwhile, Liza had recovered some of her trademark savoir faire and attempted to reassure the group by telling them that I was probably just playing around, trying to mess with their heads. “He loves to joke around like this.” But I could see that her smile was not resonating with characteristic joie de vivre. It wasn’t what they wanted to hear anyway, especially Deidre, and I realized how desperate Liza must be to say it, because it was exactly the kind of ploy this group with its politico/social stance would expect from a macho ogre.
Moreover, regardless of orientation, anyone with any sensitivity at all would consider such a joke the cruel gesture of a sick mind. I was trapped. Were I to deny it, I would be admitting total incompetence, but admitting such a ploy, well that would mean . . . So I just offered my version of a sad, enigmatic Mona Lisa smile and slowly nodded my head, hoping to throw up a brief smoke screen, simultaneously realizing how fucking convoluted my own thinking had become.
Never, not one time, had I ever had a problem accepting the responsibility of captain for the wellbeing of everyone on board, their comfort, their safety, et al; but right at that moment I was overwhelmed by the outrageous unfairness of it, the feeling of aloneness, devoid of options. In defeat, I was losing all motivation for presenting as an omniscient, all capable master of the vessel. All I wanted was to get the hell back to the dock and be done with this fiasco.
But I couldn’t do it. Just give up? No. Consequently, refusing to allow my demeanor to reveal the true state of my inner turmoil, I shouted with cheerleader enthusiasm. “This is great!” not believing what I had just said, or that I had really said it, but went on anyway with more flim flam, “You guys are learning all about the rigging on a sailboat. Now, the next step is to go to plan D.” with the inference that there was an entire alphabet of alternatives to be tried before reaching the W of Waterloo.
The only thing I could come up with was that if we could get her in the dinghy and tow her back, with Gretchen riding with her, we could arrive at the dock pretending we had chosen to have a little adventure. I asked Liza to bring the dinghy around from the stern where it was secured, and while waiting for her I was aware of how deeply entrenched was the doleful mood of grimness. Gretchen had become reticent, no longer trying to encourage Deidre. And even stalwart Liza, when I told her to stand by with the dinghy and be ready to slip it under Deidre, for the first time had nothing to say. I knew for sure then that we were lost in the middle of a bleak wasteland of despair. Looking down at them in the water, may only consolation was that Brandi had stopped smiling and was silent.
Gretchen and I, with solemn deliberation, began to haul away until once again we had hoisted her as high as the flexed boom would allow. We were then chock a block, the two blocks as tight together as they would go, with nothing to do but hold tight until Liza could slip the dinghy under Deidre. It seemed an eternity, so long that I had time to think of the disparity between our predicament and raising the flag on Iwo Jima. I looked at Gretchen, who looked at me, and it was clear we were close to our limits. I whispered to her, “William Faulkner said that man will not only endure but will prevail.” She looked at me as though my brain was running out of my nose, which may have been the case, but it distracted us from the duress and kept us holding for a few seconds more; and then just when we were at the point of giving up and letting go, Iiza hollered up, “O.K. it’s under her.”
And then we did, let go. Not ease off as we should, but just let go, with the result that Deidre was free falling for a distance of about four feet before landing in the dinghy with such audible force that I was certain she had knocked the polypropylene bottom right out of it, and that when I looked down she would be wearing the craft as a necklace. But when I leaned over the gunnel what I saw was her gigantic form sprawled unceremoniously in the bottom of the dinghy with the line coiled helter skelter on top of her, and her leg still in the bosun’s chair. Enveloped as I was in my dismay, I nevertheless found myself recognizing an aesthetic quality in what I saw that would have ecstasized Dali.
At that point I was resigned to towing her back, anything to end the broken charter, but Lisa and Brandi, with no prompting, instruction or authorization from me, helped her to stand up in the dinghy, where she was able to remain balanced on her feet, probably due to that inherent gracefulness of the obese. In any case this standing position allowed her to put her hands on the rung now resting on the gunnel. Then she got one foot on the second from the bottom rung, and with an all- inclusive cooperative effort of everyone except the captain, who stood watching in a shocked state of stupefaction, they were able to push and pull so courageously that she plopped over the gunnel and onto the deck. She was landed! Amazing Grace, she was landed! I barely managed to restrain a pair of joyous tears.
There was a common sense of intense relief shared by every one of us, while there was a tacit agreement that celebrating would be inappropriate. While they put on their clothes, the few attempts at conversation were designed to ignore the reality of the past two hours, and my instructions to weigh anchor and set sail were accomplished within a morose silence. As for me, relieved of my Sisyphian burden, I was almighty glad to be headed for home, but seriously hoping that I would be able to let her know that what had happened had not damaged what I had come to feel for her, which strangely enough did not seem presumptuous to me.
During the entire sail back to Three Mile Harbor she sat on the deck with her back against the cabin, Gretchen beside her, holding her hand. Deidre made no sound, but a few tears followed the soft contours of her cheeks until they dropped off into space to be caught by her pink shift covered breast. I frequently glanced at her, hoping our eyes would meet and I could in some way comfort her – my feelings were freewheeling — and let her know what a lovely creature I thought she was, a loveliness not marred by what happened. Her eyes remained fixed on the wake astern.
Even with the steady breeze it seemed an interminably long way back. Eventually we docked. Fortunately Tommy Watson was gone. The party de-boarded with the usual amenities; but politeness and civility failed to dispel the aura of a post trauma funk, a tension in no way relieved by Brandi, whose smile was restored, it’s effect more spurious than ever, and whose parting comment was predictable. “It was great. Good job, captain.” But at least I no longer wanted to cook her in a witches’ cauldron.
Deidre did not shake my hand as I hoped she would. There was a tightness in my chest, knowing it was my final chance to make contact. She stood facing me, and my hopes revived as she started to raise her head and eyes that had been looking at the ground. I was so ready to impart a look that would restore and heal, and . . . but her focus stopped at my chest. She said, “Thank you.” and turned and walked away.
After Liza and I were finally alone at anchor, and even after several shots of tequila, the only logical prescription for recovering from that kind of endurance test. Neither of us laughed, and it was a long time before I was able to, or even tell the story. And strange as it is, I have never stopped fantasizing about her, about what might have happened had she not gone swimming, if she had stayed there in her blue bikini panties. Of course it is obvious to you by now, I had fallen more than a little in love with Deidre.
AMPLE LADY

When Liza, my deckhand, informed me: “Deidre doesn’t like to ride in dinghies”, I knew something was wrong. “What the hell kind of request is that?” I thought, “The guest of honor wants to be picked up at the dock instead of riding in the dinghy out to where the boat is anchored?” But I didn’t say anything. Whatever the problem, I knew I could handle it.
Chartering for finicky clients in the Hamptons, compared to the challenges of commercial fishing in Alaska had proved a piece of cake, so far. I was confident I could manage anything that might breach my horizon in these waters, so it would be no big deal just to motor in and let her step right on board without the dinghy ride; nevertheless, it did seem a little weird.
Normal procedure would have been to take the ten foot tender to the fuel dock, pick up the clients and take them out to the anchored Sundancer, thereby avoiding taking up space at the busy dock of East Hampton’s Three Mile Harbor Marina. Moreover, it had become politic not to tie up at that particular dock in that I had not taken on fuel there the entire season. While Three Mile would have been my choice, I was biased by the cheaper fuel in Sag Harbor.
While the question, “Why doesn’t she want to ride in a dinghy?” along with the feeling, “something is awry”, persisted in my mind, was not going to obsess about it. With not quite a dozen charters under my belt, but every one of them safe and successful, I was still in the honeymoon phase of chartering. It was that feeling you get when you fall in love, so indomitable that you grow blinders obscuring all red flags, allowing you to ignore those precursors and omens of disaster in a new relationship, but which will inevitably emerge from a festering concealment to take a vicious bite out of your behind. So “What the hell.” I reasoned in my euphoria of success, “It’s plausible for someone who wants to sail on a forty two foot ketch to have an aversion to dinghies. Why not? No major concern.” As I assured myself, “Different strokes for different folks.”
At any rate, eager to accommodate the whims of the clientele, I acquiesced and had Liza winch up the anchor in order that we could motor in and be at the dock for the 0900 pickup. She began to pump the four foot galvanized winch handle to the cacophonous accompaniment of the fifty foot chain abrasively rattling its way over the wildcat. From my rearview position in the wheelhouse I watched her on the foredeck as she pushed and pulled the big rod back and forth, my focus on the delightfully rhythmic motion of her ass, a sensual movement that I could not help responding to with a hankering degree of concupiscence. But as arousing as she could be, Liza was off limits, currently living with another woman, and I respected her choice; even though there was a part of me that hoped it was an experimental stage for her, and that I would still know her when, and if, she changed directions.
“Dammit!” I chastised myself, “We forgot to raise the sails.” Distracted by Lisa’s ass, I had forgotten to hoist the sails. It had become standard procedure to pull the hook with main raised, and then when the anchor was secure, sheet her in until the slatting sail caught a bellyful of wind, and instantly sail away. It was risky, of course, surrounded as we were by expensive boats, anchored all around and vulnerable to my miscalculations; however, it was the risk factor that provided the rush of success that could bolster my self-esteem as effectively as a shot of Stoli. But the truth was, it was a moot gesture anyway, because if the wind were at all frisky I would have the engine running as a safety valve. And finally it dawned on me that me frustration was irrelevant since we were only going a couple of hundred yards to the dock and would not have hoisted the sail in any case. It was obvious that the rear view of Liza’s hip action had muddled my thoughts.
As we motored toward the marina my frustration over not being under sail was replaced by qualms I began to feel knowing that I would be docking under the watchful and jaundiced eye of the dock master, Tommy Watkins, a native Long Islander, or in local patois, a “Bonniker”. Tommy, I was certain, would make at least one comment, wry and rancorous, intended to be heard by my clients, about taking advantage of docking privileges for my own commercial benefit. I could almost predict verbatim. “You want me to put this on your tab, good buddy?” or “How’s business, Bubba? Want me to just add this to your fuel bill?” – both tab and bill being nonexistent.
But as we approached the dock, even my apprehension about Tommy Watkins was superseded and diminished to insignificance as it became blatantly clear why Deidre did not want to ride in a ten foot tender, or any dinghy for that matter; for standing there on the dock with the other three clients was as large a human, male or female, as I had ever seen, a quantitative giant. My mind involuntarily sparked with images of Gulliver in Lilliput, and in quick succession came reflections of Jack and the . . . “Oh sweet wounded bleedin Jesus” I thought, “It’s a goddamn female beanstalk giant!” I was spellbound. She was not simply overweight; she was tall and obese. . no, that’s not true, obese was not quite accurate, it was more like a redefining of stout— so big in fact that the culminating humungosity of this woman dwarfed everything around her. It was as if in contrast to her enormity everything on the dock suddenly became diminutive. Her female companions now appeared as Lilliputians. Even big husky Tommy Watkins was diminished, while the fuel pump had assumed the aspect of a doll sized toy.
“Holy shit!” I muttered under my breath, although deliberately loud enough for my deckhand to hear, because what I really wanted to do was to bellow, “What the hell did you have in mind?” But I didn’t even look at Liza, fearing that eye contact would cause me to lose it. Instead, I went for an over- casual. “Fenders out?”
She answered me with her characteristic savoir faire, “All set, skipper.” She had arranged the charter, but mentioned nothing out of the ordinary, only that Gretchen, an editor and publisher of feminist works in Manhattan, and a couple of friends, wanted to charter Sundancer as a birthday present for Gretchen’s girlfriend, Deidre. She later denied ever having seen Deidre prior to the charter, but I didn’t believe her, and it took a long time before she convinced me it was true.
With a determined effort I closed my gaping mouth, clenched my jaw and attempted to affect a nonchalant air, while inwardly I was engaged in a ferocious struggle as I tried to concentrate on docking the vessel, a formidable task even under normal conditions; for normal might well include a capricious and willful five knot current, and if a breeze of any significance were added to the mix, the smallest miscalculation could precipitate a majorly embarrassing episode. If I were to fail to throttle down and put the fifty five horsepower Perkins into neutral in timely fashion, Sundancer, with its mega ton boldness, could take out half the stalwart dock, which had etched its way into maritime history by withstanding the Force 12 winds of Gloria’s category 3 storm.
The drill was for me to bring the vessel slowly into the dock, close enough for Liza, standing on the port gunnel with the spring line in hand, to jump off and with a recently acquired flamboyant flair throw a clove hitch onto the bollard, thereby coercing the vessel to lay gently up against the dock. By the time Sundancer was nestled in place, I would have the Perkins in neutral and without rushing, but with deliberate efficiency, toss Lisa the bow and stern lines, which she would, with graphic pride in her nautical skill, secure in sequence with two perfect cleat knots, after which she would stand and with her feminized version of a swashbuckling swagger, raise her arms while triumphantly declaring, “Voila!”.
And it was this caper that marked the official beginning of the charter, to be immediately followed by our informal welcoming ceremony. We had learned- at times the hard way- that many people develop some anxiety their first time on a sailboat; consequently, we always made an initial effort to be as warm and welcoming as possible, hopefully creating an ambience in which they felt comfortable and secure as they came aboard.
But given the particular circumstance of that charter, even the simple formalities of “Welcome aboard” or “You picked a great day for a sail.” felt banal and counterfeit to me. Liza, on the other hand, was her usual ebullient self as she proffered her effusive greeting, “One of you ladies must be religious, cause this kind of weather can only come through prayer and a pure heart.” which made me even more aware of my inordinate difficulty in focusing, either my vision or attention, both of which at this point had been captivated by, and fixated on, the enormity of Deidre.
Normally, it was during this initial stage of greeting that I made note of each guest, with a conscious effort to remember every name, and detect any signs of nervousness or proneness to seasickness, the idea being that I would know who to keep busy if the water got a little choppy. I feel that I have more than a modicum of talent for reading people and predicting behavior, but in this instance my thought process was garroted by her pervasive largeness that rendered everything else inconsequential.
She was the third person aboard, and as Deidre stepped across the gunnel and put her weight on deck, I thought I was having an out of body experience. Sundancer, a Colin Archer design, was originally built to do rescue work in the North Sea, and was the stoutest vessel for her size I had ever sailed, refusing to heel to any significant degree in anything less than a literal gale. Truth be told, I had sailed Sundancer in sixty knots of wind without the vessel ever feeling as tender as that moment when the birthday girl had her nearly rail under by simply stepping aboard. With the spasticity of a startled turkey, conflicted between amazement and fear, I jerked my head up, alarmed that the rigging aloft would foul on the dock pilings.
The cockpit was a deep, solid structure with two and a half feet from the seat to the top of the mahogany coaming, and as Deidre engineered her way down by holding on to the toe rail on top of the cabin and stepping over the coaming and onto the seat, her flowery print dress, pink and light, rode up to reveal a thunderously massive thigh. The amplitude of that thigh was astounding, but equally amazing was its paradoxical smoothness, a surprising lushness that infused my astonishment with an allurement, sensual enough to cause a subtle ripple in my personal sector.
I quickly looked away only to lock eyes with Bobby Watson, whereupon we simultaneously realized that our spectating had been concurrent and identical, making me wonder whether the sight had a carnal effect on him as well. But as I looked into those granite dark gray eyes, fractionally surrounded by a pair of profusely unruly and copious eyebrows I did not need psychic powers to see that behind his impassive Bonniker countenance was the smug thought. “What goes around comes around.” My speculation was confirmed during our brief eye contact by his allowing the bare hint of a malicious smile, the content unequivocal. “There is justice in this world, since this is a most befitting punishment for your welshing ways.” Helpless to do more than clench my jaw, but wanting to blame him, “You bastard!” I irrationally cursed to myself.
I was anxious for Liza to cast off so that we could leave the dock as soon as possible and be free of any further harassment, speculative or otherwise, from the abrasive ambassador of the local Long Island good old boy network. With the spring line still fast, I kicked the stern out with a short burst forward, and as soon as Lisa brought the line aboard I backed her away from the dock until I had room to maneuver.
It was with major relief that I headed Sundancer up into the wind, well away from the pier, to hold her there until Liza hoisted the mainsail. I was counting on the vessel’s habitual behavior, assured that the moment that big chunk of canvas caught the wind, the craft would lean deep and gently into her naturally fluid motion, embracing everyone with the resurgence she was feeling as she renewed her life, gently rocking in the aqueous arms of her preordained paramour.
Liza enlisted the help of Brandi, a stocky woman with close cropped, sandy colored hair which accentuated a smile that appeared to have no visceral connection with anything other than the muscles of her face. But it was obvious why Liza had chosen her to help raise the sail, for everything about her was indicative of the pride she felt for her physical prowess. From the way her biceps stretched the fabric of the rolled sleeves of her T shirt, it was clear she had paid her dues in the weight room. It was easy to envision her sweating and pumping iron while striving against a rigid distortion of that affected smile. The contrived grin was a perfect crown for the solid stance, all of which, for me and my penchant for warping first impressions, coalesced into a vivid image of a wild boar from Kentucky– a perfect choice for a sail hoisting pas de deux.
After a brief instruction of the ritual she had established for performing the task, Liza un-cleated the halyard, and she and Brandi, with the line in their hands, froze in a theatrical pose, looked at each other, and in unison nodded a three second count, which was the cue for them to sing out, “Laissez, le bon temps, ROULER!” And in a rhythm synched with their hauling on the halyard, they continued chanting it as a refrain; and as almost always was the case, everybody on board joined in, reaffirming the commencement of the charter with everyone involved and hyped to sail.
While the main was being raised I glanced about to make sure we were not drifting down on any of the vessels anchored near the channel, but the nearest vessel, a safe fifty yards away, was the Kinona, a thirty seven foot Concordia yawl. The owner, Melvin Thomas, a friend, was also in the charter business. There were many times when looking at her I was struck by what to me was an aesthetic splendor, which always swept me with a wave of envy of Captain Melvin for her svelte beauty and the lissome sleekness of a ballerina. Now, however, considering the tenderness of such a vessel, I smiled in gratitude for my heavy, massively built, moose of a cruiser, her beamy flush decks able to accommodate several people with ease. “Yes sir” I thought, salving my wounded confidence, “This just might be the little ship to handle the big, the really big, challenge of the day.”
As soon as the main was up and we were headed down the channel under sail, Liza enlisted another of the four women. “Come on, Frieda, give me a hand.” She was the opposite of her partner, Brandi, a very feminine creature, whose long black hair was pulled back in a ponytail, showing a face so artistically made up that every feature was enhanced to beauty queen perfection—all prior to the makeover era.
It was obvious that, affected adversely by the physical activity of sailing, she had no desire to be part of it. “Oh my goodness, I don’t think I could . . .” But Liza took her arm and pulled her up. “There’s nothing to it. It’s easy. Come on, I’ll show you.” Reluctantly, she allowed herself to be coaxed up.
When she stood, there was a sleekness to her body that made me realize why boats were female. She was a “Concordia” with its gracefully sculpted lines; and it was a quick flip for my mind to project the analogous image of the hypothetical breeding of a greyhound show dog. The result would be an aesthetically perfect running animal, but a pet that would have no idea what a rabbit was, much less be inclined to chase one. Much like the Lady and the Tramp, she and Brandi represented two poles of the same species, confirming the old adage that opposites attract.
Under Liza’s direction, who was rigging the port side, Frieda tried to mimic her as she set up the starboard side sheet with which the genoa could be trimmed. She didn’t want to do it. “I’m just not very athletic, maybe somebody else . . “ Liza was firm. “No, no, you’re doing fine. ” With averted fingertips curled outward to protect the nails, Frieda delicately led the line outside the shrouds and through the fairlead and around the winch mounted on the cockpit coaming.
Liza watched her, then said, “No, honey” and gently instructed her, “You need to wrap it the other way round” And in response to Frieda’s bewildered look, she gestured with her hand. “Like a clock.” And encouraged her tentative draping of the line. “That’s it, you got it. Good job.” As she took it and cinched it up. Liza was a wonder with people, a natural motivator, while my perverse machinations were at work trying to figure out the sexual expectations of such a mismatched couple as Frieda and Brandi. Next she had them hoist, in tandem, the one thirty genoa with a line that she explained was the genny halyard.
Ninety percent of the pulling power was provided by Brandi, but it finally reached a point at which even the might and main of the female powerhouse was unable to muscle it any further up the head stay. Liza took a couple of turns with the end of the halyard around the winch on the mast and had Brandi crank while Frieda tailed, holding and pulling on the line as though she were handling a venomous serpent, in unveiled dread of damaging her nails.
When the piece of red tape on the halyard, which I noticed clashed with the peppermint striped shorts worn by Frieda, came even with the mark scratched on the mast, indicating the genny was at its proper height, Liza took the line and with an adroit flourish fastened it with her book-perfect classic cleat knot. She then came aft and trimmed and tweaked main and genny until Sundancer seemed to be inhaling the breeze, eagerly embraced by her pelagic partner in a lithesome waltz as we close reached across the Bay. Gardiner’s Island was hazily visible off the starboard bow.
Holding course until we were pointed well above the island, I turned the wheel over to Liza, who had raised the mizzen without assistance. I wanted to demonstrate how to ease the main sheet without the line becoming a maniacal mess of spaghetti. It was not easy to get their attention, so enthralled with the panoramic horizon of water and sky and Islands in the distance, but I managed to corral their focus with the threat, “If this maneuver is not done right, you can lose a finger.” The skeptical looks challenged me to up the stakes. “Oh, it can happen. . . has more than once . . . actually did in the last Bermuda Race.” Frieda’s fear for her fastidiously manicured nails was manifest as her fingers involuntarily cringed and curled inward, fists pressed to her stomach. Even Brandi’s robotic smile waned a smidgeon.
With my audience now captive, I demonstrated how to release the line from the cleat with one hand and ease the tension while maintaining turns on the winch with pressure from the palm of my other hand, which I did until the genny was drawing properly. This was the cue for Liza to put her on a beam reach and ease the main sheet until the main was just right for the new course. I then tweaked the jenny, and we were pointed less than fifteen degrees above Gardiner’s Island. Brandi was eager to adjust the mizzen by herself, and did a good job. She looked at Frieda, “I don’t allow no luffing, Baby.” She was a fast learner.
With a steady 12 knots of wind, the minimum for Sundance to sail effectively, the conditions were splendid for our landlubber crew, allowing the vessel to cleave her way through the water with an imposing solidity, which I facetiously thought to myself was now augmented and enhanced by the added corporeal ballast. In this fashion the vessel rendered what little chop there was insignificant, conveying a sense of wellbeing so infectious that Brandi in a gravelly voice was motivated to proclaim, “This is great!”
Standing on the gunnel and leaning out while holding on to the shrouds, I was infected with an increasing confidence in anticipation of another successful charter, “What a day!” I assured them. “You’re a lucky bunch. It doesn’t get better than this.” And looking down at the contented group in the cockpit I began to think that maybe I had over reacted. “Sure she’s big, no question about that, but not that big. Having to pick her up at the dock with Bobby Watson watching, that’s what it was, docking under the critical eye of that asshole dock master, that’s what made me over react. She’s a little overweight, that’s all, no real problem.” My spirits, though not yet soaring, were on their way to lofty heights, all signs pointing to a first rate charter. “Yes sir, ladies” addressing radiant faces, “you’ve got yourself a perfect day.”
But I could not keep myself from furtive glances, and something about the massive presence stimulated my penchant for cooking up scenes, usually absurd and often perverse. “What if” I thought, “What if she were on the lee side in a full gale. Could her weight, plus the pressure of the wind levered mast counter balance the six ton keel, and roll the vessel as a fifty foot rogue wave might do?” The sprockets of my brain were beginning to spin fanciful images. “What if she were on the bow sprit in a half gale downwind run with the spinnaker up?” If we plunged into a wave, would she weigh the bow so far down that Sundancer would not be able to rise again, but sail beneath the sea with the fleets of forever” On a roll, my turboed-brain began a fantasy dance. “Could Deidre be a buoyantly buxom figurehead defying all powers of immersion and keep Sundancer perpetually surfing, both typhoon and maelstrom, back and forth across the seven seas into an ultimate ocean of eternity?”
My imagination slipped into an irrational fifth gear as I became intrigued by the incongruity of Gretchen and Deidre sitting side by side, an unbalanced proximity that titillated my prurient interest, leading me to wonder about their moments of intimacy. I speculated. “What if she were on top in a process of reciprocation?” “Oh my God!” I almost blurted out. “Accidental asphyxiation by innocent act of passion. Girl indicted for manslaughter.” I knew it was time to stop, to get off the path of bizarre images of pixilated fantasy down which my surreptitious glances were taking me.
In the midst of my attempt to refocus I was struck by another exotic, but more seriously realistic, juxtaposition. On the other side of Deidre was the companionway. From recent repairs I knew it was exactly twenty eight inches wide, obviously unable to accommodate the voluminous girth that was currently perched next to it. “But what if she has to use the head?” The thought caused me to frown and my palms to moisten. “And even if we did manage to get her below . . .” My speculations breaking out again as I imagined lubricating her body and stuffing it through the opening by shifting the mass as you would do a pillow, but I realized that there would still be the matter of the mainmast, which was stepped in a location where even I had to turn sideways to get by it in order to use the head which was forward of that imposing spar.
Most of the females, affirming their liberty, would simply hold to a stanchion and post their derrieres out board on the lee side, while everyone was supposedly averting their attention. Of course for husbands and boyfriends this often proved the most exciting photographic activity of the charter, the subjects squealing in feigned and sometimes genuine embarrassment. And my mind leaped right on to another “What if” because at that point I couldn’t help positing, “What if Tina were able to hold herself in that position? Would the stanchion bend or the vessel heel to such an extent she would dip her derriere, or so severely that her entire posterior would be totally submerged.” I flagged myself with the silent admonition, “Desist! No more whimsical fancies.” But even as I returned to reality, my clenched jaw joined my wet palms as anxiety indicators of a problem that could be serious, dismissing the alternative of a bucket as too ludicrous for consideration.
On most of our day charters, weather in agreement, we would sail over to Gardiner’s Island, anchor and go for a swim, then have lunch before returning. Had I but an inkling of how the day were to unfold, I would have opted to sail around the bay, poke our nose out into the sound for a little holy roller excitement among the ocean waves; and when back in the calm of the bay we would eat lunch while on a broad reach. But an anchored lunch and a swim had been presented by Liza as part of the package, and I felt obligated. Sundancer stayed on course for the island.
Besides, we were having a delightful sail with lots of pleasant conversation, presupposing an uncompromised normality. I have always been amazed at how people are able to manipulate reality, making it other than it is. There was a college student who was able to ignore the fact that he was blind so effectively that he was able to secure a job as the lighting technician for a live theatrical production. Verbal cues were no problem, and his only concession was allowing the stage manager to signal him with a jab for sight cues. It was one of those times when truth can be more unbelievable than fiction. But given that our sail was going so well, perhaps I was the only one involved in the ironic nudging of reality with capricious ruminations.
As I turned the wheel, rounding up less than a 100 yards off the beach of Gardiner’s Island in seven fathoms, Liza released the forty five pound plow anchor, which exploded into the water, immediately followed by its five eights inch chain clanging its way through the metal runner with a cacophonously violent clatter. With a self-assured smile Liza stood watching, unafraid, and proud to be so close to, and in control of such an ominous sounding, and potential destructive mechanical device.
The irony of it made me smile, as I remembered the look of dread on her face the first time I had let it go with her standing on the foredeck. But now she was the irrefutable master of a deus ex machina in the form of a wild iron beast. I slowly backed the vessel down, setting the anchor, and when the angle of the rode indicated more than a five to one ratio, which was all we needed in those conditions, she set the brake, turned to the guests, and with that buoyant smile of hers and a sprightly little dance step, sang out, “Laissez le bon temp roulet.”
And while Liza and Brandi dropped and furled the sails, Gretchen produced a bottle of Krug and six old fashioned flutes from a scotch plaid mini cooler she had brought on board. As I sipped my token glass I cautioned myself to take it slow, because while it had that delicious dryness for which I have a foolishness, I was afraid I might well need all my wits about me, and then some, before the day was over. In retrospect, a few glasses might have served as a mitigating ally. But even when a second bottle was opened and the amicable pleasantries of conversation between the women progressed into a freewheeling and raucous party- time chatter, I still nursed my first and only glass. I was nervous, quite wary, and scared of what I didn’t know, but felt in the grip of and possessed by a tyrannical feeling of foreboding.
The roots of my fear were soon apparent, however, because just at that moment when my tension felt a wisp of alleviation by the possibility that the champagne induced fellowship would suffice without a swim, my emerging hope was shattered by Brandi, who, as though prompted and cued by my anxiety, stood up, and while taking off her shirt to reveal two push up(as in exercise) enhanced mammaries, growled through the vacuity of her grin. “This is great! Anybody up for a swim? Ha, Ha” Before I could even think of a diverting suggestion, Frieda, the domesticated greyhound, had slunk to a stand, struck a coquettish pose, her hand on a fashionable belt buckle the color of her hair, and with a provocative look at Brandi and a Lauren Bacall movement with her hips, she sang out in a bluesy falsetto, “Laissez le bon temps rouler!” and with a flourish popped loose the buckle.
The proposal was met unanimously with rampant enthusiasm, except for me. Ordinarily I would have been keen for it. Naked women in and out of the water? Absolutely. No question. But I was stymied by the odds of Deidre making it up the rope ladder, not easy to negotiate for a person of normal size. The deck was six feet above the water line, and the concave flair of the topsides combined with the soft chine made the last three rungs at the bottom of the ladder dangle elusively in space. Surely common sense would convince her to forgo the swim, if only her champagne enhanced bladder did not prove more persuasive. The more apprehensive I became the more resentment I felt toward Liza for making swimming such an appealing feature of the charter, and Brandi for advocating it. Oddly enough, I had no ill feelings toward Deidre; it was more like empathy as though we were on the same team.
It was the early 70’s in the Hamptons, and skinny dipping was the norm for most of our clients; nevertheless, I would always move forward and find something to do in order not to stare conspicuously as they took off their clothes. As a professional skipper I tried to be discreet and not disclose how much I enjoyed looking at nude female bodies, and it seemed especially apropos in the presence of those couples who, I suspected, had some serious aversions to males in general and male attention in particular. But to my surprise they stripped with ease, as I, with more than a modicum of delight, enjoyed the scene, peripherally of course. I was puzzled, however, by what seemed the total lack of self-consciousness. But then, thinking about it, I suspected Liza had told them I was a gay eunuch.
Fairly confident that Deidre would not go in the water, and to confirm my professional degree of chasteness I climbed out on the ten foot bow sprit with my back to the group and put my foot on the anchor rode. There were no telltale vibrations, indicating that the anchor was set deep and solid, and not dragging. To be on the safe side, and kill time while listening to the laughing and splashing, I released the brake on the winch and let out a little more scope.
It was after I reset the brake, and turned to go aft, that my fragile equilibrium was viciously slashed in two by a ferocious ambivalence. What I saw was Deidre balancing on the cockpit coaming with one hand on the boom, humongous Deidre, standing there in a pair of silky soft bikini panties, celeste blue, muted to blend in with the filigreed lace at the bottom for an enhanced framing of her legs. Her breasts surged into a semi opaque gauzy bra of identical color and adornment.
It was a paradox. On the one hand, I was overwhelmed as I looked at one of the most aesthetically beautiful sights I had ever seen. She was not fat, not to me in that moment, not at all. What I saw was a large and lovely, soft firmness, sans any flabbiness whatsoever. To me, reeling with amazement, her proportions were Rubenesquely magnificent, and looking at her I knew for the first time the meaning of “female flesh”; and as that Faulknerian concept infused itself in my mind, I felt for a passing instant a veritable sadness knowing he would never see it quintessentially defined as was my privilege in that moment.
And her face, that I was really seeing for the first time as though she had to be almost naked for me to see it, was not a bloated mug. Quite the contrary, it was a visage possessed by an enchantment, whereby the soft mouth defined by its masterly shaped lines bonded with the magical blue eyes, to present an intriguing combination of sensual tenderness; I was overwhelmed.
On the other end of my emotional see saw, at the same time I was appreciating the beauty of this exquisite creature, my anxiety was reaching acrophobic heights. It was clear to me that she was taking off her clothes to go swimming, which meant an inevitable encounter with the rope ladder. Looking into those enchanting eyes, I was convinced she not only perceived my appreciation of her loveliness, but also respected my apprehension over her going in the water, because she smiled at me, holding it for five beats, and sat down. With a deep sigh, a deep, deep inward sigh of relief, I returned the smile, aware of something far beyond aesthetic appreciation.
It was a release. Deidre’s decision to stay on board had made me happy, and not even the boar’s bleating was going to deter me. I was free to acknowledge the day for what it was, and it was a beauty. The water, with barely audible, rippling sounds, was undulating just enough to create an arrhythmic reflection of the sun, and a slack tide rendered what little current there was, negligible, the zephyrs blowing just enough to take the bite out of the sun’s heat. I watched the trees on the island, and listening to Deidre’s soft melodious voice in contrast to the shrillness of those in the water, I found myself in a stress-less state. I began to daydream.
The proximity of the island made me think of the Gardiner heir, whom I had recently met at a party given by Lady Jeanne Campbell, one of Norman Mailer’s ex’s. Bobby Gardiner arrived with a young man he introduced as his cousin, which provoked a sardonic smirk from the boy. With no prompting Bobby began to pontificate in a pseudo Bucklian inflection that was adorned with salivating excess, about the egret feathers on his grandmother’s hat. Counterpointing Bobby was a dark complexioned man whose entire set of teeth, upper and lower, were projecting out of his mouth like a free standing altar for verbal sacrifices, a vivid confirmation of the evolution theory—evidential proof of a great white shark ancestry. Introduced as the Turkish Ambassador, he became embroiled in a non-sequitous repartee with Bobby, in which he castigated his countrymen with incessant and irrelevant allegations that the Turks were, “filthy, a filthy people.”
I was smiling at the weird juxtaposition of the two eccentrics, when I heard her voice. It made me want to have another look. Maybe she would be in a classic reclining pose, and our eyes would lock in a shared awareness, but before I could turn there was a deep throated shrieking, “This is great!” conjuring for me the auditory illusion of a wild boar rutting. I didn’t turn, refusing to be deterred from my respite by Brandi. And with little effort I returned to my recollection of the party and began to recall the image of the Gardiner heir and the Turkish Pasha, vying with each other through their disengaged conversation, consisting of simultaneous monologues. My smile was escalating into a chuckle when my tranquil mood was once again shattered by another of Brandi’s ferociously brutal shouts, “It’s really great!” Only this time it was followed by, “Come on. You can do it. That’s it!” and a furious lurching of the vessel under my feet, obviously caused by the unshipping of a considerable load.
. Whirling with whiplash speed, the first thing I saw were those baby blue panties, the gauzy bra beside them, lying empty, like a still life, on the coaming where Deidre had been standing; and fused into the same fraction of time, I heard and saw a mushroom splash, the peak of which reached the level of the deck, six feet above the water. “Oh shit!” I inwardly groaned. “She did it. She’s in. Deidre’s in the damn water.” And felt myself thrown into emotional fit of irrationality. “It was that fucking wild hog. She coaxed her in!” Agonizing through an illogical mélange of scathing thoughts, I knew it was Brandi’s fault. “If only I had turned and talked to her instead of day dreaming, she wouldn’t have gone in. Goddamn that wild hog!”
Taking a couple of deep breaths and wiping sweaty palms on my shorts, I tried to mollify my anxiety by reasoning with myself. “Come on now. You’re probably blowing it all out of proportion. Is the rope ladder really that formidable? Come on, Skipper, whatever happens you can handle it. You always have. Right?” But it became clear that I had failed to douse the panic mode when I realized my lascivious appreciation was absolutely impervious to the female nudes in the water.
Before Deidre went in I was hoping that they would not stay in long enough for her to change her mind, but now that she was in I was hoping they would never come out, just continue through the next apocalypse. All too soon, however, Liza came scampering up the ladder, announcing it was time for lunch. Initially it had been difficult for her to scale the rope ladder, but she had worked on it until, like everything else, she mastered it; and now was able to negotiate it better than I was, and never scaled it without a reveling glance at me.
As soon as she had gone below to organize lunch, I leaned down the companionway, and in an overtly fierce tone whispered, “How the hell do you think she’s going to get back on board?” She looked at me, shrugged slightly, and with her Mother Theresa of charters smile, answered, “The rope ladder.” In an illogic fury, I flung at her the didactic redundancy, “It’s a rope ladder!” With a more developed shrug, she canted her head, continued to smile, and nodded, “uuum uh.” I was excessively pissed that she was not worrying about it, but I was on the brink of a raging fantod that she was pretending to be unaware of the impending disaster–at least she did not ask, “Who?”
I didn’t offer to go below and help Liza, hoping it would take long enough to organize the prepared lunch for me to devise a solution for my dilemma, the seriousness of which was amplifying for me with every moment Deidre remained in the water. My pondering had borne no fruit by the time Liza began to pass the food up to me, after which she bounded up the companionway steps, leaned outboard and announced, with what, in my distressed state, I was beginning to disdainfully consider her bouncy ebullience, “Le petit dejeuner e voila!” And once again I was reminded of the extent of my anguish, because that was the first time I had seen Liza’s nude body from the rear in this revealing position as she leaned over the life lines without at least a nascent arousal, but in that instance, nada.
Gretchen was the first to tackle the rope ladder, and she and everyone else laughed as she took the first couple of steps only to realize the bottom rungs were free to move in three hundred and sixty infinitesimal directions. Gretchen was small and lithe, however, and with a modicum of effort soon reached the deck. But as she stood up she let me know with the swiftest of glances that I was no longer alone in my high alert concern; nevertheless, with no discernible hesitation or hint of unease she turned and proffered her hand with the cheerful offer, “Come on, Deidre, you can do it. I’ll help you.”
It was only with a grimace that I was able to stifle a burst of nervous laughter at this tiny female, who could not have weighed more than a hundred pounds, but who was offering to . . .and I thought, “It’s like a child trying to land a leviathan with an eight pound test line.” And it turned out to be a precursor, for the ironic gesture of that small arm hailed the beginning of a monstrous struggle, in which I was to play the tormented protagonist.
. Deidre reached up and took the highest rung she could manage with her right hand; then with an immodest effort got the other hand on the same rung. Next she had to pull herself up enough to get a foot on the elusive last rung. Pulling heartily, her optimism, joined forces with the buoyancy of the water, allowing her to get just high enough for her breasts to surface mid nipple, but the physical exertion depleted her resources, and she had to let herself down without even trying for the bottom rung. With a sigh sounding like, “huuwhoooa” she proclaimed, “This is harder than it looks.”
In response, led by the raucous braying of the female jock, everyone laughed an octave louder than was warranted by Deidre’s apt remark. The action of the rope ladder was now the focal point for the group, as each offered their encouragement, while discreetly avoiding direct eye contact. And it did not take a seer to know that beneath every chatty utterance was the collective subtext. “How the hell is she ever going to make it up that ladder?” But Gretchen was not giving up. “Come on, Honey, I know you can do it.” And punctuating the irony of the moment was the dramatic extension of her incongruously frail and humanly limited arm.
In her second attempt, with a flushed face, capillary threatening effort, Deidre was able to broach both breasts totally out of the water. It may seem that I was unduly preoccupied with her breasts; however, it was impossible not to focus on them, since that is what you saw first, for those baroque beauties had become two conspicuous protuberances advancing as an aggressive vanguard. The pair of distended nipples were like two eyes, popping and straining upward, as though by the sheer power of atmospheric penetration, they would be able to bring the entire mass out of the water. Though it was a valiant endeavor, it exhausted all resources so that she simply passed through the zenith of her effort with no attempt to get her foot on a rung before returning to her hanging position.
A three pronged flagrum of futility and responsibility and ineffectuality descended on me in the question I knew was on every person’s mind. “What now, Captain?” a psychical flagellation by the despotic thought, “The success of this charter is in dire jeopardy.” Having no answer, I instinctively retreated into my chameleon’s role of jovial assurance. “Oh yeah, it can be hard getting back on board. Just think about those fishermen, they have a hell of a time with all their clothes on, I mean boots and all.” I had a vague idea what I was talking about, enough to know it made no sense, but hoping to postpone the inevitable, whatever that may be, I kept jabbering. “But no sweat for us. We just put plan B into operation. Liza, you and Brandi get in the water. You guys can push while Gretchen and I pull. She just needs a hand up, that’s all, a little boost.” No one questioned that Frieda had no assignment.
And no one questioned the plan, so desperate were they for something to work. I chose to disregard the faulty logic of the scheme. The truth was, I gave no thought to whether it would work or not, so intent was I on keeping every one busy and actively involved in the fervent hope of some fluke of fortune, or twist of fate. At that point I would have welcomed divine intervention, it being one of those rare moments when I regretted having given up my faith in the efficacy of prayer.
Everyone got in position. Liza and Brandi, while supporting themselves with one hand on the rope ladder, had one hand each on a respective cheek. Gretchen and I on deck each took one of Deidre’s arms. This could not be a pleasant experience for Deidre, I was certain, and the verbal encouragements from her comrades, instead of bolstering her morale, it was clear, were in fact pushing her deeper into inexorable humiliation. As for me, I felt that the only thing keeping me from a daemonic and moiling embrace by the screaming fantods was my tenuous grip on my role as a professional skipper, the one in charge. Moreover, I was feeling a personal angst, because it has always hurt me to see someone feeling bad about themselves, and in this case I was a contributing factor, or felt I was. Moreover, ever since that moment she was standing there in her underwear and our eyes met, I felt a link, curious and puzzling, but a vibrant, irrefragable link.
With fictitious confidence, in other words trying to act like I knew what the hell I was doing, I began the operation with the firm exhortation, “Alright now, we all go at once. Get ready, One Two . . Now!” And this time her breasts fully cleared the surface, as though flung out of the water for some forward reconnaissance purpose. It was astounding. The nipple hue, with each successive emergence had advanced from beige to mauve and now to a final fiery red. For a fraction of a second I felt hope, apparently shared by her, because she reached for the top rung which was pressed on the gunnel. What happened next was freaky, and I have no idea how it happened, but just as she reached for the top rung it lifted off the gunnel, and she grabbed the gunnel instead. The result of the uncanny timing was that just at the same moment her foot found the bottom rung, the ladder came down, with all the force of her inordinate weight, on her hand, now trapped between rung and gunnel.

Her scream of pain plunged me into a quintessential hell of absolute horror, concluding that with all her weight on the ladder the rung was fated to become a guillotine severing her fingers, which I imagined rolling across the deck with me in pursuit, trying to keep them from exiting through the scuppers. Our eyes met, only this time that lovely face was contorted by such a grimacing pain, that I, without breaking eye contact but with a bellow of anguish indicative of the ravenous dread devouring me, and with an enormous rush of adrenalin, did what in retrospect was impossible. I reached down and lifted the over-weighted ladder off of her hand.
Deidre released her hold on the gunnel, and in an amazingly graceful semi-piked position plunged ass-backward into the water, thereby creating another, this time due to her stunt diving body position upon entry, phenomenally large, mushroom shaped geyser that drenched me, even with my head ten feet above water level. Gretchen, on the other hand, clinging loyally to Deidre’s arm, was catapulted into one half of an ungainly and gawky somersault to land explosively in the water on her back. It was top tier comedy, truly outstanding slapstick, utterly unscriptable, and yet, no one laughed . . . not a single chuckle.
Even after it was determined she could still move her fingers, there were only a couple of incipient smiles, anemic hints of humor, as the shroud of despair continued to descend with increased momentum. Even after Deidre herself made the ludicrous proposal, “Why don’t you just tie a rope around me and tow me back?” there were only a few puny attempts to chuckle, including my token gesture of a forced laugh.
The truth was that plaintive entreaty of desperation made me want to weep. Instead, while my panicky thinking was screaming, “What the hell am I going to do now?” I scrambled back once again into my chameleon robe of successful skipper, this time with the smiling reassurance, “Hey, no need to worry. There are lots of ways to get a person back on board. Plan C is a better plan anyway. It’s what I should have done in the first place.”
Her suggestion about being towed back turned my bowels into a nest of writhing snakes, making me think, “That’s just what I need now, a severe case of diarrhea.” But her proposal did remind me about the boom, which I had previously rejected as a serious option—the idea of winching someone aboard with a boom was outrageous. Now, however, we were down to the line, and I was all for “whatever works”.
As I made a mental reference to Chapman I felt a reviving seed of confidence. In Chapman’s Guide To Piloting, commonly known to sailors as the boater’s bible, there were some calculations which had so impressed me when I was studying for my hundred ton Coast Guard master’s license, that the computations were still in my mind, conclusions notable enough for me to retain. On page two ninety eight he states, “. . .with two fold purchase the force gained will be five, so that even if you consider the friction of the sheaves of the blocks. . .” and consequently, according to Chapman, “. . . if the weight of the drum was five hundred pounds . . . the force needed to lift the drum would be one hundred fifty pounds.” My mind on full alert I was able to calculate that with the three fold purchase of Sundancer’s main sheet tackle, we should be able to lift a Cadillac. With the results of my figuring came a renewed surge of optimism, as well as my first genuine smile for a while. I wanted a solution not just for the sake of the charter, but I was feeling a strong connection to Deidre, genuinely personal feelings of empathy.
Unshackling the mainsheet from the main-sheet- horse aft of the cockpit, I had Liza get the bosun’s chair from the aft locker. After securing the chair to the main-sheet block I swung the boom outboard until it was directly over Deidre. Next I had Liza change places with Gretchen who was still in the water where she had so ignominiously been launched by Deidre’s catapulting action, and where she had kept up a continual patter of encouragement; however, I needed Liza in the water with Brandy to provide maximum pushing power, while those of us on deck would have the advantage of the block and tackle.
My blossoming optimism met its first obstacle as I lowered the chair. With everyone watching it descend, the closer the bosun’s chair got to Deidre the more the ensuing juxtaposition made it clear that the seat with its twenty two inch beam could not begin to accommodate her substantial stern. As it got closer and closer to her the damn thing, in science fiction fashion, seemed to be shrinking, an optical illusion of course, but one so efficacious that she looked up at me in total confusion.
Before anyone was able to express the obvious I became proactive and countered, “Oh that’s O.K.” as I directed her, “Just put one leg in. I don’t know why they make those damn things so small. Must think we’re a bunch of midgets.” Then, impelled to ameliorate the chagrin she was feeling, I lied. “Most people only put one leg in anyway.” When the truth was that I had never had anyone on board who could not fit into the seat which was nearly as wide as the companionway.
A terrifying thought struck me. “Oh my God, what if she can’t even get one leg in? What can I do? What’s the alternative? The Coast Guard? No, I am not calling the Coast Guard.” Armed with my Coast Guard Master’s license I prided myself on never having called the Coast Guard. Besides what would I tell them? What would I say when they asked why I couldn’t get her on board? I could be cryptic and challenge them, “Wait and see.” Or terse and simply reply, “Too heavy.” Or unabashedly candid and blurt out, “I got this enormous lady in the water. Please help me.” I would not tell them she was naked, and I would make the others put their clothes on. But I was determined not to call them, and while it would have been fascinating to watch the Coast Guard handle the situation, it would have meant me joining Deidre in her Stygian depths of debasement.
Although it bowed out the lines holding the ends of the seat, Deidre was able to get one leg into the bosun’s chair, allowing me a tentative sigh of relief. It would be a simple matter to hoist her above gunnel level, swing the boom inboard, and let her down on deck. With Liza and Brandi pushing on respective cheeks, Gretchen and I began to haul in on the fall line, but even with the three fold purchase I realized it was not going to be easy. I put my back into it, aware that everyone, even Frieda standing there in fear for her feminine delicacy, was motivated a hundred plus percent.
And we were making headway. It was clear that the two blocks were rounding in toward each other. Once again I began to feel that we might salvage the charter, but just as I thought about looking into Deidre’s face and being blessed by a beatific smile of gratitude, Liza’s voice, reflecting a mixture of attempted cheerfulness and intense physical strain resounded from over the side. “What’s wrong?” Putting a couple of half hitches around a belaying pin in the rail, I leaned outboard and looked down to discover we had lifted her no more than two or three inches.
I was baffled. How could that be? We had definitely made progress, because while hauling on the line I had watched the blocks move at least two feet closer to each other. Then I looked at the boom. I bellowed, “Oh my God!” in strict confidence to myself. “The goddamn boom is bent! That’s impossible.” But it was true. Instead of Deidre coming up, the end of the boom had gone down. I was astounded, totally flabbergasted, but somehow, in the midst of being utterly discomfited, I managed to maintain the façade.
Casting off the line from the pin rail, except for a single bite, I eased the pressure on the blocks until the boom and Deidre were restored to their original positions. Then I called down to the three in the water, “O.K., good. That was just a test; and now I see that I need to get this boom at the proper angle.” As I desperately tried to conceal the deep breathes I was taking to calm myself.
When I leaned over the rail again to check the situation in the water, I looked directly into the face of what my fitful mind had transmogrified into a bona fide wild boar from Kentucky. A feral mug peered up at me on an oblique angle from behind a mammoth derriere. Attempting her unsubstantiated grin, but managing only a grotesque grimace, when our eyes met she blurted out in a voice that under duress had become even more gritty, “This is great! You can do it, Captain!” I wanted to hit her in her smiley teeth with a belaying pin, but managed to subdue my rage into a counterfeit grunt of congeniality before returning to the task of hauling Deidre out of the water.
Again we hauled away, arduously sweating the line, while I watched, spellbound, as the boom bent with fierce persistence to accommodate our efforts, the end going down, the middle coming up, that stalwart piece of Alaskan fir continuing to bend until it was resting on the gunnel; it was a special effects happening. I knew it was not possible but I was witnessing it happen. I should have eased off long before it reached that point, but so mesmerized by the phenomenon, I watched in total fascination to see how far it would bend before breaking. I tremble to think of the terrifying consequences of that boom breaking.
As we eased her back into the water there was only silence as the air reverberated with the thunderous but unheard cacophonies of our thoughts and fears, and the best I could do to fend off total hopelessness was the feeble excuse. “Oh that was my fault; I didn’t raise the boom quite high enough. I just need to increase its angle to the deck.” Reduced to unadorned bullshit, I could feel myself slipping right down past the nadir of my own credibility with the clients as well as myself; and glancing at Deidre, I could see that she too was close to her own rock bottom of ultimate despondency. Her face was wet from the water, but I could see tears running down what I was now seeing as angelic cheeks.
The torment I felt from the raw despair in that face was as great as the frustration I was feeling over having my professional ego trampled by what had become one of fate’s demonic assaults. I wanted to weep, and was certain this was what a broken heart felt like. But I persevered and went through the motions of trimming the topping lift, knowing all the while that if I raised the boom any more it would not reach out board even when flexed; besides, I would never have the audacity to allow such a perilous flexing of that spar again. But what the hell was I supposed to do? What could I do?
Meanwhile, Liza had recovered some of her trademark savoir faire and attempted to reassure the group by telling them that I was probably just playing around, trying to mess with their heads. “He loves to joke around like this.” But I could see that her smile was not resonating with characteristic joie de vivre. It wasn’t what they wanted to hear anyway, especially Deidre, and I realized how desperate Liza must be to say it, because it was exactly the kind of ploy this group with its politico/social stance would expect from a macho ogre.
Moreover, regardless of orientation, anyone with any sensitivity at all would consider such a joke the cruel gesture of a sick mind. I was trapped. Were I to deny it, I would be admitting total incompetence, but admitting such a ploy, well that would mean . . . So I just offered my version of a sad, enigmatic Mona Lisa smile and slowly nodded my head, hoping to throw up a brief smoke screen, simultaneously realizing how fucking convoluted my own thinking had become.
Never, not one time, had I ever had a problem accepting the responsibility of captain for the wellbeing of everyone on board, their comfort, their safety, et al; but right at that moment I was overwhelmed by the outrageous unfairness of it, the feeling of aloneness, devoid of options. In defeat, I was losing all motivation for presenting as an omniscient, all capable master of the vessel. All I wanted was to get the hell back to the dock and be done with this fiasco.
But I couldn’t do it. Just give up? No. Consequently, refusing to allow my demeanor to reveal the true state of my inner turmoil, I shouted with cheerleader enthusiasm. “This is great!” not believing what I had just said, or that I had really said it, but went on anyway with more flim flam, “You guys are learning all about the rigging on a sailboat. Now, the next step is to go to plan D.” with the inference that there was an entire alphabet of alternatives to be tried before reaching the W of Waterloo.
The only thing I could come up with was that if we could get her in the dinghy and tow her back, with Gretchen riding with her, we could arrive at the dock pretending we had chosen to have a little adventure. I asked Liza to bring the dinghy around from the stern where it was secured, and while waiting for her I was aware of how deeply entrenched was the doleful mood of grimness. Gretchen had become reticent, no longer trying to encourage Deidre. And even stalwart Liza, when I told her to stand by with the dinghy and be ready to slip it under Deidre, for the first time had nothing to say. I knew for sure then that we were lost in the middle of a bleak wasteland of despair. Looking down at them in the water, may only consolation was that Brandi had stopped smiling and was silent.
Gretchen and I, with solemn deliberation, began to haul away until once again we had hoisted her as high as the flexed boom would allow. We were then chock a block, the two blocks as tight together as they would go, with nothing to do but hold tight until Liza could slip the dinghy under Deidre. It seemed an eternity, so long that I had time to think of the disparity between our predicament and raising the flag on Iwo Jima. I looked at Gretchen, who looked at me, and it was clear we were close to our limits. I whispered to her, “William Faulkner said that man will not only endure but will prevail.” She looked at me as though my brain was running out of my nose, which may have been the case, but it distracted us from the duress and kept us holding for a few seconds more; and then just when we were at the point of giving up and letting go, Iiza hollered up, “O.K. it’s under her.”
And then we did, let go. Not ease off as we should, but just let go, with the result that Deidre was free falling for a distance of about four feet before landing in the dinghy with such audible force that I was certain she had knocked the polypropylene bottom right out of it, and that when I looked down she would be wearing the craft as a necklace. But when I leaned over the gunnel what I saw was her gigantic form sprawled unceremoniously in the bottom of the dinghy with the line coiled helter skelter on top of her, and her leg still in the bosun’s chair. Enveloped as I was in my dismay, I nevertheless found myself recognizing an aesthetic quality in what I saw that would have ecstasized Dali.
At that point I was resigned to towing her back, anything to end the broken charter, but Lisa and Brandi, with no prompting, instruction or authorization from me, helped her to stand up in the dinghy, where she was able to remain balanced on her feet, probably due to that inherent gracefulness of the obese. In any case this standing position allowed her to put her hands on the rung now resting on the gunnel. Then she got one foot on the second from the bottom rung, and with an all- inclusive cooperative effort of everyone except the captain, who stood watching in a shocked state of stupefaction, they were able to push and pull so courageously that she plopped over the gunnel and onto the deck. She was landed! Amazing Grace, she was landed! I barely managed to restrain a pair of joyous tears.
There was a common sense of intense relief shared by every one of us, while there was a tacit agreement that celebrating would be inappropriate. While they put on their clothes, the few attempts at conversation were designed to ignore the reality of the past two hours, and my instructions to weigh anchor and set sail were accomplished within a morose silence. As for me, relieved of my Sisyphian burden, I was almighty glad to be headed for home, but seriously hoping that I would be able to let her know that what had happened had not damaged what I had come to feel for her, which strangely enough did not seem presumptuous to me.
During the entire sail back to Three Mile Harbor she sat on the deck with her back against the cabin, Gretchen beside her, holding her hand. Deidre made no sound, but a few tears followed the soft contours of her cheeks until they dropped off into space to be caught by her pink shift covered breast. I frequently glanced at her, hoping our eyes would meet and I could in some way comfort her – my feelings were freewheeling — and let her know what a lovely creature I thought she was, a loveliness not marred by what happened. Her eyes remained fixed on the wake astern.
Even with the steady breeze it seemed an interminably long way back. Eventually we docked. Fortunately Tommy Watson was gone. The party de-boarded with the usual amenities; but politeness and civility failed to dispel the aura of a post trauma funk, a tension in no way relieved by Brandi, whose smile was restored, it’s effect more spurious than ever, and whose parting comment was predictable. “It was great. Good job, captain.” But at least I no longer wanted to cook her in a witches’ cauldron.
Deidre did not shake my hand as I hoped she would. There was a tightness in my chest, knowing it was my final chance to make contact. She stood facing me, and my hopes revived as she started to raise her head and eyes that had been looking at the ground. I was so ready to impart a look that would restore and heal, and . . . but her focus stopped at my chest. She said, “Thank you.” and turned and walked away.
After Liza and I were finally alone at anchor, and even after several shots of tequila, the only logical prescription for recovering from that kind of endurance test. Neither of us laughed, and it was a long time before I was able to, or even tell the story. And strange as it is, I have never stopped fantasizing about her, about what might have happened had she not gone swimming, if she had stayed there in her blue bikini panties. Of course it is obvious to you by now, I had fallen more than a little in love with Deidre.
AMPLE LADY

When Liza, my deckhand, informed me: “Deidre doesn’t like to ride in dinghies”, I knew something was wrong. “What the hell kind of request is that?” I thought, “The guest of honor wants to be picked up at the dock instead of riding in the dinghy out to where the boat is anchored?” But I didn’t say anything. Whatever the problem, I knew I could handle it.
Chartering for finicky clients in the Hamptons, compared to the challenges of commercial fishing in Alaska had proved a piece of cake, so far. I was confident I could manage anything that might breach my horizon in these waters, so it would be no big deal just to motor in and let her step right on board without the dinghy ride; nevertheless, it did seem a little weird.
Normal procedure would have been to take the ten foot tender to the fuel dock, pick up the clients and take them out to the anchored Sundancer, thereby avoiding taking up space at the busy dock of East Hampton’s Three Mile Harbor Marina. Moreover, it had become politic not to tie up at that particular dock in that I had not taken on fuel there the entire season. While Three Mile would have been my choice, I was biased by the cheaper fuel in Sag Harbor.
While the question, “Why doesn’t she want to ride in a dinghy?” along with the feeling, “something is awry”, persisted in my mind, was not going to obsess about it. With not quite a dozen charters under my belt, but every one of them safe and successful, I was still in the honeymoon phase of chartering. It was that feeling you get when you fall in love, so indomitable that you grow blinders obscuring all red flags, allowing you to ignore those precursors and omens of disaster in a new relationship, but which will inevitably emerge from a festering concealment to take a vicious bite out of your behind. So “What the hell.” I reasoned in my euphoria of success, “It’s plausible for someone who wants to sail on a forty two foot ketch to have an aversion to dinghies. Why not? No major concern.” As I assured myself, “Different strokes for different folks.”
At any rate, eager to accommodate the whims of the clientele, I acquiesced and had Liza winch up the anchor in order that we could motor in and be at the dock for the 0900 pickup. She began to pump the four foot galvanized winch handle to the cacophonous accompaniment of the fifty foot chain abrasively rattling its way over the wildcat. From my rearview position in the wheelhouse I watched her on the foredeck as she pushed and pulled the big rod back and forth, my focus on the delightfully rhythmic motion of her ass, a sensual movement that I could not help responding to with a hankering degree of concupiscence. But as arousing as she could be, Liza was off limits, currently living with another woman, and I respected her choice; even though there was a part of me that hoped it was an experimental stage for her, and that I would still know her when, and if, she changed directions.
“Dammit!” I chastised myself, “We forgot to raise the sails.” Distracted by Lisa’s ass, I had forgotten to hoist the sails. It had become standard procedure to pull the hook with main raised, and then when the anchor was secure, sheet her in until the slatting sail caught a bellyful of wind, and instantly sail away. It was risky, of course, surrounded as we were by expensive boats, anchored all around and vulnerable to my miscalculations; however, it was the risk factor that provided the rush of success that could bolster my self-esteem as effectively as a shot of Stoli. But the truth was, it was a moot gesture anyway, because if the wind were at all frisky I would have the engine running as a safety valve. And finally it dawned on me that me frustration was irrelevant since we were only going a couple of hundred yards to the dock and would not have hoisted the sail in any case. It was obvious that the rear view of Liza’s hip action had muddled my thoughts.
As we motored toward the marina my frustration over not being under sail was replaced by qualms I began to feel knowing that I would be docking under the watchful and jaundiced eye of the dock master, Tommy Watkins, a native Long Islander, or in local patois, a “Bonniker”. Tommy, I was certain, would make at least one comment, wry and rancorous, intended to be heard by my clients, about taking advantage of docking privileges for my own commercial benefit. I could almost predict verbatim. “You want me to put this on your tab, good buddy?” or “How’s business, Bubba? Want me to just add this to your fuel bill?” – both tab and bill being nonexistent.
But as we approached the dock, even my apprehension about Tommy Watkins was superseded and diminished to insignificance as it became blatantly clear why Deidre did not want to ride in a ten foot tender, or any dinghy for that matter; for standing there on the dock with the other three clients was as large a human, male or female, as I had ever seen, a quantitative giant. My mind involuntarily sparked with images of Gulliver in Lilliput, and in quick succession came reflections of Jack and the . . . “Oh sweet wounded bleedin Jesus” I thought, “It’s a goddamn female beanstalk giant!” I was spellbound. She was not simply overweight; she was tall and obese. . no, that’s not true, obese was not quite accurate, it was more like a redefining of stout— so big in fact that the culminating humungosity of this woman dwarfed everything around her. It was as if in contrast to her enormity everything on the dock suddenly became diminutive. Her female companions now appeared as Lilliputians. Even big husky Tommy Watkins was diminished, while the fuel pump had assumed the aspect of a doll sized toy.
“Holy shit!” I muttered under my breath, although deliberately loud enough for my deckhand to hear, because what I really wanted to do was to bellow, “What the hell did you have in mind?” But I didn’t even look at Liza, fearing that eye contact would cause me to lose it. Instead, I went for an over- casual. “Fenders out?”
She answered me with her characteristic savoir faire, “All set, skipper.” She had arranged the charter, but mentioned nothing out of the ordinary, only that Gretchen, an editor and publisher of feminist works in Manhattan, and a couple of friends, wanted to charter Sundancer as a birthday present for Gretchen’s girlfriend, Deidre. She later denied ever having seen Deidre prior to the charter, but I didn’t believe her, and it took a long time before she convinced me it was true.
With a determined effort I closed my gaping mouth, clenched my jaw and attempted to affect a nonchalant air, while inwardly I was engaged in a ferocious struggle as I tried to concentrate on docking the vessel, a formidable task even under normal conditions; for normal might well include a capricious and willful five knot current, and if a breeze of any significance were added to the mix, the smallest miscalculation could precipitate a majorly embarrassing episode. If I were to fail to throttle down and put the fifty five horsepower Perkins into neutral in timely fashion, Sundancer, with its mega ton boldness, could take out half the stalwart dock, which had etched its way into maritime history by withstanding the Force 12 winds of Gloria’s category 3 storm.
The drill was for me to bring the vessel slowly into the dock, close enough for Liza, standing on the port gunnel with the spring line in hand, to jump off and with a recently acquired flamboyant flair throw a clove hitch onto the bollard, thereby coercing the vessel to lay gently up against the dock. By the time Sundancer was nestled in place, I would have the Perkins in neutral and without rushing, but with deliberate efficiency, toss Lisa the bow and stern lines, which she would, with graphic pride in her nautical skill, secure in sequence with two perfect cleat knots, after which she would stand and with her feminized version of a swashbuckling swagger, raise her arms while triumphantly declaring, “Voila!”.
And it was this caper that marked the official beginning of the charter, to be immediately followed by our informal welcoming ceremony. We had learned- at times the hard way- that many people develop some anxiety their first time on a sailboat; consequently, we always made an initial effort to be as warm and welcoming as possible, hopefully creating an ambience in which they felt comfortable and secure as they came aboard.
But given the particular circumstance of that charter, even the simple formalities of “Welcome aboard” or “You picked a great day for a sail.” felt banal and counterfeit to me. Liza, on the other hand, was her usual ebullient self as she proffered her effusive greeting, “One of you ladies must be religious, cause this kind of weather can only come through prayer and a pure heart.” which made me even more aware of my inordinate difficulty in focusing, either my vision or attention, both of which at this point had been captivated by, and fixated on, the enormity of Deidre.
Normally, it was during this initial stage of greeting that I made note of each guest, with a conscious effort to remember every name, and detect any signs of nervousness or proneness to seasickness, the idea being that I would know who to keep busy if the water got a little choppy. I feel that I have more than a modicum of talent for reading people and predicting behavior, but in this instance my thought process was garroted by her pervasive largeness that rendered everything else inconsequential.
She was the third person aboard, and as Deidre stepped across the gunnel and put her weight on deck, I thought I was having an out of body experience. Sundancer, a Colin Archer design, was originally built to do rescue work in the North Sea, and was the stoutest vessel for her size I had ever sailed, refusing to heel to any significant degree in anything less than a literal gale. Truth be told, I had sailed Sundancer in sixty knots of wind without the vessel ever feeling as tender as that moment when the birthday girl had her nearly rail under by simply stepping aboard. With the spasticity of a startled turkey, conflicted between amazement and fear, I jerked my head up, alarmed that the rigging aloft would foul on the dock pilings.
The cockpit was a deep, solid structure with two and a half feet from the seat to the top of the mahogany coaming, and as Deidre engineered her way down by holding on to the toe rail on top of the cabin and stepping over the coaming and onto the seat, her flowery print dress, pink and light, rode up to reveal a thunderously massive thigh. The amplitude of that thigh was astounding, but equally amazing was its paradoxical smoothness, a surprising lushness that infused my astonishment with an allurement, sensual enough to cause a subtle ripple in my personal sector.
I quickly looked away only to lock eyes with Bobby Watson, whereupon we simultaneously realized that our spectating had been concurrent and identical, making me wonder whether the sight had a carnal effect on him as well. But as I looked into those granite dark gray eyes, fractionally surrounded by a pair of profusely unruly and copious eyebrows I did not need psychic powers to see that behind his impassive Bonniker countenance was the smug thought. “What goes around comes around.” My speculation was confirmed during our brief eye contact by his allowing the bare hint of a malicious smile, the content unequivocal. “There is justice in this world, since this is a most befitting punishment for your welshing ways.” Helpless to do more than clench my jaw, but wanting to blame him, “You bastard!” I irrationally cursed to myself.
I was anxious for Liza to cast off so that we could leave the dock as soon as possible and be free of any further harassment, speculative or otherwise, from the abrasive ambassador of the local Long Island good old boy network. With the spring line still fast, I kicked the stern out with a short burst forward, and as soon as Lisa brought the line aboard I backed her away from the dock until I had room to maneuver.
It was with major relief that I headed Sundancer up into the wind, well away from the pier, to hold her there until Liza hoisted the mainsail. I was counting on the vessel’s habitual behavior, assured that the moment that big chunk of canvas caught the wind, the craft would lean deep and gently into her naturally fluid motion, embracing everyone with the resurgence she was feeling as she renewed her life, gently rocking in the aqueous arms of her preordained paramour.
Liza enlisted the help of Brandi, a stocky woman with close cropped, sandy colored hair which accentuated a smile that appeared to have no visceral connection with anything other than the muscles of her face. But it was obvious why Liza had chosen her to help raise the sail, for everything about her was indicative of the pride she felt for her physical prowess. From the way her biceps stretched the fabric of the rolled sleeves of her T shirt, it was clear she had paid her dues in the weight room. It was easy to envision her sweating and pumping iron while striving against a rigid distortion of that affected smile. The contrived grin was a perfect crown for the solid stance, all of which, for me and my penchant for warping first impressions, coalesced into a vivid image of a wild boar from Kentucky– a perfect choice for a sail hoisting pas de deux.
After a brief instruction of the ritual she had established for performing the task, Liza un-cleated the halyard, and she and Brandi, with the line in their hands, froze in a theatrical pose, looked at each other, and in unison nodded a three second count, which was the cue for them to sing out, “Laissez, le bon temps, ROULER!” And in a rhythm synched with their hauling on the halyard, they continued chanting it as a refrain; and as almost always was the case, everybody on board joined in, reaffirming the commencement of the charter with everyone involved and hyped to sail.
While the main was being raised I glanced about to make sure we were not drifting down on any of the vessels anchored near the channel, but the nearest vessel, a safe fifty yards away, was the Kinona, a thirty seven foot Concordia yawl. The owner, Melvin Thomas, a friend, was also in the charter business. There were many times when looking at her I was struck by what to me was an aesthetic splendor, which always swept me with a wave of envy of Captain Melvin for her svelte beauty and the lissome sleekness of a ballerina. Now, however, considering the tenderness of such a vessel, I smiled in gratitude for my heavy, massively built, moose of a cruiser, her beamy flush decks able to accommodate several people with ease. “Yes sir” I thought, salving my wounded confidence, “This just might be the little ship to handle the big, the really big, challenge of the day.”
As soon as the main was up and we were headed down the channel under sail, Liza enlisted another of the four women. “Come on, Frieda, give me a hand.” She was the opposite of her partner, Brandi, a very feminine creature, whose long black hair was pulled back in a ponytail, showing a face so artistically made up that every feature was enhanced to beauty queen perfection—all prior to the makeover era.
It was obvious that, affected adversely by the physical activity of sailing, she had no desire to be part of it. “Oh my goodness, I don’t think I could . . .” But Liza took her arm and pulled her up. “There’s nothing to it. It’s easy. Come on, I’ll show you.” Reluctantly, she allowed herself to be coaxed up.
When she stood, there was a sleekness to her body that made me realize why boats were female. She was a “Concordia” with its gracefully sculpted lines; and it was a quick flip for my mind to project the analogous image of the hypothetical breeding of a greyhound show dog. The result would be an aesthetically perfect running animal, but a pet that would have no idea what a rabbit was, much less be inclined to chase one. Much like the Lady and the Tramp, she and Brandi represented two poles of the same species, confirming the old adage that opposites attract.
Under Liza’s direction, who was rigging the port side, Frieda tried to mimic her as she set up the starboard side sheet with which the genoa could be trimmed. She didn’t want to do it. “I’m just not very athletic, maybe somebody else . . “ Liza was firm. “No, no, you’re doing fine. ” With averted fingertips curled outward to protect the nails, Frieda delicately led the line outside the shrouds and through the fairlead and around the winch mounted on the cockpit coaming.
Liza watched her, then said, “No, honey” and gently instructed her, “You need to wrap it the other way round” And in response to Frieda’s bewildered look, she gestured with her hand. “Like a clock.” And encouraged her tentative draping of the line. “That’s it, you got it. Good job.” As she took it and cinched it up. Liza was a wonder with people, a natural motivator, while my perverse machinations were at work trying to figure out the sexual expectations of such a mismatched couple as Frieda and Brandi. Next she had them hoist, in tandem, the one thirty genoa with a line that she explained was the genny halyard.
Ninety percent of the pulling power was provided by Brandi, but it finally reached a point at which even the might and main of the female powerhouse was unable to muscle it any further up the head stay. Liza took a couple of turns with the end of the halyard around the winch on the mast and had Brandi crank while Frieda tailed, holding and pulling on the line as though she were handling a venomous serpent, in unveiled dread of damaging her nails.
When the piece of red tape on the halyard, which I noticed clashed with the peppermint striped shorts worn by Frieda, came even with the mark scratched on the mast, indicating the genny was at its proper height, Liza took the line and with an adroit flourish fastened it with her book-perfect classic cleat knot. She then came aft and trimmed and tweaked main and genny until Sundancer seemed to be inhaling the breeze, eagerly embraced by her pelagic partner in a lithesome waltz as we close reached across the Bay. Gardiner’s Island was hazily visible off the starboard bow.
Holding course until we were pointed well above the island, I turned the wheel over to Liza, who had raised the mizzen without assistance. I wanted to demonstrate how to ease the main sheet without the line becoming a maniacal mess of spaghetti. It was not easy to get their attention, so enthralled with the panoramic horizon of water and sky and Islands in the distance, but I managed to corral their focus with the threat, “If this maneuver is not done right, you can lose a finger.” The skeptical looks challenged me to up the stakes. “Oh, it can happen. . . has more than once . . . actually did in the last Bermuda Race.” Frieda’s fear for her fastidiously manicured nails was manifest as her fingers involuntarily cringed and curled inward, fists pressed to her stomach. Even Brandi’s robotic smile waned a smidgeon.
With my audience now captive, I demonstrated how to release the line from the cleat with one hand and ease the tension while maintaining turns on the winch with pressure from the palm of my other hand, which I did until the genny was drawing properly. This was the cue for Liza to put her on a beam reach and ease the main sheet until the main was just right for the new course. I then tweaked the jenny, and we were pointed less than fifteen degrees above Gardiner’s Island. Brandi was eager to adjust the mizzen by herself, and did a good job. She looked at Frieda, “I don’t allow no luffing, Baby.” She was a fast learner.
With a steady 12 knots of wind, the minimum for Sundance to sail effectively, the conditions were splendid for our landlubber crew, allowing the vessel to cleave her way through the water with an imposing solidity, which I facetiously thought to myself was now augmented and enhanced by the added corporeal ballast. In this fashion the vessel rendered what little chop there was insignificant, conveying a sense of wellbeing so infectious that Brandi in a gravelly voice was motivated to proclaim, “This is great!”
Standing on the gunnel and leaning out while holding on to the shrouds, I was infected with an increasing confidence in anticipation of another successful charter, “What a day!” I assured them. “You’re a lucky bunch. It doesn’t get better than this.” And looking down at the contented group in the cockpit I began to think that maybe I had over reacted. “Sure she’s big, no question about that, but not that big. Having to pick her up at the dock with Bobby Watson watching, that’s what it was, docking under the critical eye of that asshole dock master, that’s what made me over react. She’s a little overweight, that’s all, no real problem.” My spirits, though not yet soaring, were on their way to lofty heights, all signs pointing to a first rate charter. “Yes sir, ladies” addressing radiant faces, “you’ve got yourself a perfect day.”
But I could not keep myself from furtive glances, and something about the massive presence stimulated my penchant for cooking up scenes, usually absurd and often perverse. “What if” I thought, “What if she were on the lee side in a full gale. Could her weight, plus the pressure of the wind levered mast counter balance the six ton keel, and roll the vessel as a fifty foot rogue wave might do?” The sprockets of my brain were beginning to spin fanciful images. “What if she were on the bow sprit in a half gale downwind run with the spinnaker up?” If we plunged into a wave, would she weigh the bow so far down that Sundancer would not be able to rise again, but sail beneath the sea with the fleets of forever” On a roll, my turboed-brain began a fantasy dance. “Could Deidre be a buoyantly buxom figurehead defying all powers of immersion and keep Sundancer perpetually surfing, both typhoon and maelstrom, back and forth across the seven seas into an ultimate ocean of eternity?”
My imagination slipped into an irrational fifth gear as I became intrigued by the incongruity of Gretchen and Deidre sitting side by side, an unbalanced proximity that titillated my prurient interest, leading me to wonder about their moments of intimacy. I speculated. “What if she were on top in a process of reciprocation?” “Oh my God!” I almost blurted out. “Accidental asphyxiation by innocent act of passion. Girl indicted for manslaughter.” I knew it was time to stop, to get off the path of bizarre images of pixilated fantasy down which my surreptitious glances were taking me.
In the midst of my attempt to refocus I was struck by another exotic, but more seriously realistic, juxtaposition. On the other side of Deidre was the companionway. From recent repairs I knew it was exactly twenty eight inches wide, obviously unable to accommodate the voluminous girth that was currently perched next to it. “But what if she has to use the head?” The thought caused me to frown and my palms to moisten. “And even if we did manage to get her below . . .” My speculations breaking out again as I imagined lubricating her body and stuffing it through the opening by shifting the mass as you would do a pillow, but I realized that there would still be the matter of the mainmast, which was stepped in a location where even I had to turn sideways to get by it in order to use the head which was forward of that imposing spar.
Most of the females, affirming their liberty, would simply hold to a stanchion and post their derrieres out board on the lee side, while everyone was supposedly averting their attention. Of course for husbands and boyfriends this often proved the most exciting photographic activity of the charter, the subjects squealing in feigned and sometimes genuine embarrassment. And my mind leaped right on to another “What if” because at that point I couldn’t help positing, “What if Tina were able to hold herself in that position? Would the stanchion bend or the vessel heel to such an extent she would dip her derriere, or so severely that her entire posterior would be totally submerged.” I flagged myself with the silent admonition, “Desist! No more whimsical fancies.” But even as I returned to reality, my clenched jaw joined my wet palms as anxiety indicators of a problem that could be serious, dismissing the alternative of a bucket as too ludicrous for consideration.
On most of our day charters, weather in agreement, we would sail over to Gardiner’s Island, anchor and go for a swim, then have lunch before returning. Had I but an inkling of how the day were to unfold, I would have opted to sail around the bay, poke our nose out into the sound for a little holy roller excitement among the ocean waves; and when back in the calm of the bay we would eat lunch while on a broad reach. But an anchored lunch and a swim had been presented by Liza as part of the package, and I felt obligated. Sundancer stayed on course for the island.
Besides, we were having a delightful sail with lots of pleasant conversation, presupposing an uncompromised normality. I have always been amazed at how people are able to manipulate reality, making it other than it is. There was a college student who was able to ignore the fact that he was blind so effectively that he was able to secure a job as the lighting technician for a live theatrical production. Verbal cues were no problem, and his only concession was allowing the stage manager to signal him with a jab for sight cues. It was one of those times when truth can be more unbelievable than fiction. But given that our sail was going so well, perhaps I was the only one involved in the ironic nudging of reality with capricious ruminations.
As I turned the wheel, rounding up less than a 100 yards off the beach of Gardiner’s Island in seven fathoms, Liza released the forty five pound plow anchor, which exploded into the water, immediately followed by its five eights inch chain clanging its way through the metal runner with a cacophonously violent clatter. With a self-assured smile Liza stood watching, unafraid, and proud to be so close to, and in control of such an ominous sounding, and potential destructive mechanical device.
The irony of it made me smile, as I remembered the look of dread on her face the first time I had let it go with her standing on the foredeck. But now she was the irrefutable master of a deus ex machina in the form of a wild iron beast. I slowly backed the vessel down, setting the anchor, and when the angle of the rode indicated more than a five to one ratio, which was all we needed in those conditions, she set the brake, turned to the guests, and with that buoyant smile of hers and a sprightly little dance step, sang out, “Laissez le bon temp roulet.”
And while Liza and Brandi dropped and furled the sails, Gretchen produced a bottle of Krug and six old fashioned flutes from a scotch plaid mini cooler she had brought on board. As I sipped my token glass I cautioned myself to take it slow, because while it had that delicious dryness for which I have a foolishness, I was afraid I might well need all my wits about me, and then some, before the day was over. In retrospect, a few glasses might have served as a mitigating ally. But even when a second bottle was opened and the amicable pleasantries of conversation between the women progressed into a freewheeling and raucous party- time chatter, I still nursed my first and only glass. I was nervous, quite wary, and scared of what I didn’t know, but felt in the grip of and possessed by a tyrannical feeling of foreboding.
The roots of my fear were soon apparent, however, because just at that moment when my tension felt a wisp of alleviation by the possibility that the champagne induced fellowship would suffice without a swim, my emerging hope was shattered by Brandi, who, as though prompted and cued by my anxiety, stood up, and while taking off her shirt to reveal two push up(as in exercise) enhanced mammaries, growled through the vacuity of her grin. “This is great! Anybody up for a swim? Ha, Ha” Before I could even think of a diverting suggestion, Frieda, the domesticated greyhound, had slunk to a stand, struck a coquettish pose, her hand on a fashionable belt buckle the color of her hair, and with a provocative look at Brandi and a Lauren Bacall movement with her hips, she sang out in a bluesy falsetto, “Laissez le bon temps rouler!” and with a flourish popped loose the buckle.
The proposal was met unanimously with rampant enthusiasm, except for me. Ordinarily I would have been keen for it. Naked women in and out of the water? Absolutely. No question. But I was stymied by the odds of Deidre making it up the rope ladder, not easy to negotiate for a person of normal size. The deck was six feet above the water line, and the concave flair of the topsides combined with the soft chine made the last three rungs at the bottom of the ladder dangle elusively in space. Surely common sense would convince her to forgo the swim, if only her champagne enhanced bladder did not prove more persuasive. The more apprehensive I became the more resentment I felt toward Liza for making swimming such an appealing feature of the charter, and Brandi for advocating it. Oddly enough, I had no ill feelings toward Deidre; it was more like empathy as though we were on the same team.
It was the early 70’s in the Hamptons, and skinny dipping was the norm for most of our clients; nevertheless, I would always move forward and find something to do in order not to stare conspicuously as they took off their clothes. As a professional skipper I tried to be discreet and not disclose how much I enjoyed looking at nude female bodies, and it seemed especially apropos in the presence of those couples who, I suspected, had some serious aversions to males in general and male attention in particular. But to my surprise they stripped with ease, as I, with more than a modicum of delight, enjoyed the scene, peripherally of course. I was puzzled, however, by what seemed the total lack of self-consciousness. But then, thinking about it, I suspected Liza had told them I was a gay eunuch.
Fairly confident that Deidre would not go in the water, and to confirm my professional degree of chasteness I climbed out on the ten foot bow sprit with my back to the group and put my foot on the anchor rode. There were no telltale vibrations, indicating that the anchor was set deep and solid, and not dragging. To be on the safe side, and kill time while listening to the laughing and splashing, I released the brake on the winch and let out a little more scope.
It was after I reset the brake, and turned to go aft, that my fragile equilibrium was viciously slashed in two by a ferocious ambivalence. What I saw was Deidre balancing on the cockpit coaming with one hand on the boom, humongous Deidre, standing there in a pair of silky soft bikini panties, celeste blue, muted to blend in with the filigreed lace at the bottom for an enhanced framing of her legs. Her breasts surged into a semi opaque gauzy bra of identical color and adornment.
It was a paradox. On the one hand, I was overwhelmed as I looked at one of the most aesthetically beautiful sights I had ever seen. She was not fat, not to me in that moment, not at all. What I saw was a large and lovely, soft firmness, sans any flabbiness whatsoever. To me, reeling with amazement, her proportions were Rubenesquely magnificent, and looking at her I knew for the first time the meaning of “female flesh”; and as that Faulknerian concept infused itself in my mind, I felt for a passing instant a veritable sadness knowing he would never see it quintessentially defined as was my privilege in that moment.
And her face, that I was really seeing for the first time as though she had to be almost naked for me to see it, was not a bloated mug. Quite the contrary, it was a visage possessed by an enchantment, whereby the soft mouth defined by its masterly shaped lines bonded with the magical blue eyes, to present an intriguing combination of sensual tenderness; I was overwhelmed.
On the other end of my emotional see saw, at the same time I was appreciating the beauty of this exquisite creature, my anxiety was reaching acrophobic heights. It was clear to me that she was taking off her clothes to go swimming, which meant an inevitable encounter with the rope ladder. Looking into those enchanting eyes, I was convinced she not only perceived my appreciation of her loveliness, but also respected my apprehension over her going in the water, because she smiled at me, holding it for five beats, and sat down. With a deep sigh, a deep, deep inward sigh of relief, I returned the smile, aware of something far beyond aesthetic appreciation.
It was a release. Deidre’s decision to stay on board had made me happy, and not even the boar’s bleating was going to deter me. I was free to acknowledge the day for what it was, and it was a beauty. The water, with barely audible, rippling sounds, was undulating just enough to create an arrhythmic reflection of the sun, and a slack tide rendered what little current there was, negligible, the zephyrs blowing just enough to take the bite out of the sun’s heat. I watched the trees on the island, and listening to Deidre’s soft melodious voice in contrast to the shrillness of those in the water, I found myself in a stress-less state. I began to daydream.
The proximity of the island made me think of the Gardiner heir, whom I had recently met at a party given by Lady Jeanne Campbell, one of Norman Mailer’s ex’s. Bobby Gardiner arrived with a young man he introduced as his cousin, which provoked a sardonic smirk from the boy. With no prompting Bobby began to pontificate in a pseudo Bucklian inflection that was adorned with salivating excess, about the egret feathers on his grandmother’s hat. Counterpointing Bobby was a dark complexioned man whose entire set of teeth, upper and lower, were projecting out of his mouth like a free standing altar for verbal sacrifices, a vivid confirmation of the evolution theory—evidential proof of a great white shark ancestry. Introduced as the Turkish Ambassador, he became embroiled in a non-sequitous repartee with Bobby, in which he castigated his countrymen with incessant and irrelevant allegations that the Turks were, “filthy, a filthy people.”
I was smiling at the weird juxtaposition of the two eccentrics, when I heard her voice. It made me want to have another look. Maybe she would be in a classic reclining pose, and our eyes would lock in a shared awareness, but before I could turn there was a deep throated shrieking, “This is great!” conjuring for me the auditory illusion of a wild boar rutting. I didn’t turn, refusing to be deterred from my respite by Brandi. And with little effort I returned to my recollection of the party and began to recall the image of the Gardiner heir and the Turkish Pasha, vying with each other through their disengaged conversation, consisting of simultaneous monologues. My smile was escalating into a chuckle when my tranquil mood was once again shattered by another of Brandi’s ferociously brutal shouts, “It’s really great!” Only this time it was followed by, “Come on. You can do it. That’s it!” and a furious lurching of the vessel under my feet, obviously caused by the unshipping of a considerable load.
. Whirling with whiplash speed, the first thing I saw were those baby blue panties, the gauzy bra beside them, lying empty, like a still life, on the coaming where Deidre had been standing; and fused into the same fraction of time, I heard and saw a mushroom splash, the peak of which reached the level of the deck, six feet above the water. “Oh shit!” I inwardly groaned. “She did it. She’s in. Deidre’s in the damn water.” And felt myself thrown into emotional fit of irrationality. “It was that fucking wild hog. She coaxed her in!” Agonizing through an illogical mélange of scathing thoughts, I knew it was Brandi’s fault. “If only I had turned and talked to her instead of day dreaming, she wouldn’t have gone in. Goddamn that wild hog!”
Taking a couple of deep breaths and wiping sweaty palms on my shorts, I tried to mollify my anxiety by reasoning with myself. “Come on now. You’re probably blowing it all out of proportion. Is the rope ladder really that formidable? Come on, Skipper, whatever happens you can handle it. You always have. Right?” But it became clear that I had failed to douse the panic mode when I realized my lascivious appreciation was absolutely impervious to the female nudes in the water.
Before Deidre went in I was hoping that they would not stay in long enough for her to change her mind, but now that she was in I was hoping they would never come out, just continue through the next apocalypse. All too soon, however, Liza came scampering up the ladder, announcing it was time for lunch. Initially it had been difficult for her to scale the rope ladder, but she had worked on it until, like everything else, she mastered it; and now was able to negotiate it better than I was, and never scaled it without a reveling glance at me.
As soon as she had gone below to organize lunch, I leaned down the companionway, and in an overtly fierce tone whispered, “How the hell do you think she’s going to get back on board?” She looked at me, shrugged slightly, and with her Mother Theresa of charters smile, answered, “The rope ladder.” In an illogic fury, I flung at her the didactic redundancy, “It’s a rope ladder!” With a more developed shrug, she canted her head, continued to smile, and nodded, “uuum uh.” I was excessively pissed that she was not worrying about it, but I was on the brink of a raging fantod that she was pretending to be unaware of the impending disaster–at least she did not ask, “Who?”
I didn’t offer to go below and help Liza, hoping it would take long enough to organize the prepared lunch for me to devise a solution for my dilemma, the seriousness of which was amplifying for me with every moment Deidre remained in the water. My pondering had borne no fruit by the time Liza began to pass the food up to me, after which she bounded up the companionway steps, leaned outboard and announced, with what, in my distressed state, I was beginning to disdainfully consider her bouncy ebullience, “Le petit dejeuner e voila!” And once again I was reminded of the extent of my anguish, because that was the first time I had seen Liza’s nude body from the rear in this revealing position as she leaned over the life lines without at least a nascent arousal, but in that instance, nada.
Gretchen was the first to tackle the rope ladder, and she and everyone else laughed as she took the first couple of steps only to realize the bottom rungs were free to move in three hundred and sixty infinitesimal directions. Gretchen was small and lithe, however, and with a modicum of effort soon reached the deck. But as she stood up she let me know with the swiftest of glances that I was no longer alone in my high alert concern; nevertheless, with no discernible hesitation or hint of unease she turned and proffered her hand with the cheerful offer, “Come on, Deidre, you can do it. I’ll help you.”
It was only with a grimace that I was able to stifle a burst of nervous laughter at this tiny female, who could not have weighed more than a hundred pounds, but who was offering to . . .and I thought, “It’s like a child trying to land a leviathan with an eight pound test line.” And it turned out to be a precursor, for the ironic gesture of that small arm hailed the beginning of a monstrous struggle, in which I was to play the tormented protagonist.
. Deidre reached up and took the highest rung she could manage with her right hand; then with an immodest effort got the other hand on the same rung. Next she had to pull herself up enough to get a foot on the elusive last rung. Pulling heartily, her optimism, joined forces with the buoyancy of the water, allowing her to get just high enough for her breasts to surface mid nipple, but the physical exertion depleted her resources, and she had to let herself down without even trying for the bottom rung. With a sigh sounding like, “huuwhoooa” she proclaimed, “This is harder than it looks.”
In response, led by the raucous braying of the female jock, everyone laughed an octave louder than was warranted by Deidre’s apt remark. The action of the rope ladder was now the focal point for the group, as each offered their encouragement, while discreetly avoiding direct eye contact. And it did not take a seer to know that beneath every chatty utterance was the collective subtext. “How the hell is she ever going to make it up that ladder?” But Gretchen was not giving up. “Come on, Honey, I know you can do it.” And punctuating the irony of the moment was the dramatic extension of her incongruously frail and humanly limited arm.
In her second attempt, with a flushed face, capillary threatening effort, Deidre was able to broach both breasts totally out of the water. It may seem that I was unduly preoccupied with her breasts; however, it was impossible not to focus on them, since that is what you saw first, for those baroque beauties had become two conspicuous protuberances advancing as an aggressive vanguard. The pair of distended nipples were like two eyes, popping and straining upward, as though by the sheer power of atmospheric penetration, they would be able to bring the entire mass out of the water. Though it was a valiant endeavor, it exhausted all resources so that she simply passed through the zenith of her effort with no attempt to get her foot on a rung before returning to her hanging position.
A three pronged flagrum of futility and responsibility and ineffectuality descended on me in the question I knew was on every person’s mind. “What now, Captain?” a psychical flagellation by the despotic thought, “The success of this charter is in dire jeopardy.” Having no answer, I instinctively retreated into my chameleon’s role of jovial assurance. “Oh yeah, it can be hard getting back on board. Just think about those fishermen, they have a hell of a time with all their clothes on, I mean boots and all.” I had a vague idea what I was talking about, enough to know it made no sense, but hoping to postpone the inevitable, whatever that may be, I kept jabbering. “But no sweat for us. We just put plan B into operation. Liza, you and Brandi get in the water. You guys can push while Gretchen and I pull. She just needs a hand up, that’s all, a little boost.” No one questioned that Frieda had no assignment.
And no one questioned the plan, so desperate were they for something to work. I chose to disregard the faulty logic of the scheme. The truth was, I gave no thought to whether it would work or not, so intent was I on keeping every one busy and actively involved in the fervent hope of some fluke of fortune, or twist of fate. At that point I would have welcomed divine intervention, it being one of those rare moments when I regretted having given up my faith in the efficacy of prayer.
Everyone got in position. Liza and Brandi, while supporting themselves with one hand on the rope ladder, had one hand each on a respective cheek. Gretchen and I on deck each took one of Deidre’s arms. This could not be a pleasant experience for Deidre, I was certain, and the verbal encouragements from her comrades, instead of bolstering her morale, it was clear, were in fact pushing her deeper into inexorable humiliation. As for me, I felt that the only thing keeping me from a daemonic and moiling embrace by the screaming fantods was my tenuous grip on my role as a professional skipper, the one in charge. Moreover, I was feeling a personal angst, because it has always hurt me to see someone feeling bad about themselves, and in this case I was a contributing factor, or felt I was. Moreover, ever since that moment she was standing there in her underwear and our eyes met, I felt a link, curious and puzzling, but a vibrant, irrefragable link.
With fictitious confidence, in other words trying to act like I knew what the hell I was doing, I began the operation with the firm exhortation, “Alright now, we all go at once. Get ready, One Two . . Now!” And this time her breasts fully cleared the surface, as though flung out of the water for some forward reconnaissance purpose. It was astounding. The nipple hue, with each successive emergence had advanced from beige to mauve and now to a final fiery red. For a fraction of a second I felt hope, apparently shared by her, because she reached for the top rung which was pressed on the gunnel. What happened next was freaky, and I have no idea how it happened, but just as she reached for the top rung it lifted off the gunnel, and she grabbed the gunnel instead. The result of the uncanny timing was that just at the same moment her foot found the bottom rung, the ladder came down, with all the force of her inordinate weight, on her hand, now trapped between rung and gunnel.

Her scream of pain plunged me into a quintessential hell of absolute horror, concluding that with all her weight on the ladder the rung was fated to become a guillotine severing her fingers, which I imagined rolling across the deck with me in pursuit, trying to keep them from exiting through the scuppers. Our eyes met, only this time that lovely face was contorted by such a grimacing pain, that I, without breaking eye contact but with a bellow of anguish indicative of the ravenous dread devouring me, and with an enormous rush of adrenalin, did what in retrospect was impossible. I reached down and lifted the over-weighted ladder off of her hand.
Deidre released her hold on the gunnel, and in an amazingly graceful semi-piked position plunged ass-backward into the water, thereby creating another, this time due to her stunt diving body position upon entry, phenomenally large, mushroom shaped geyser that drenched me, even with my head ten feet above water level. Gretchen, on the other hand, clinging loyally to Deidre’s arm, was catapulted into one half of an ungainly and gawky somersault to land explosively in the water on her back. It was top tier comedy, truly outstanding slapstick, utterly unscriptable, and yet, no one laughed . . . not a single chuckle.
Even after it was determined she could still move her fingers, there were only a couple of incipient smiles, anemic hints of humor, as the shroud of despair continued to descend with increased momentum. Even after Deidre herself made the ludicrous proposal, “Why don’t you just tie a rope around me and tow me back?” there were only a few puny attempts to chuckle, including my token gesture of a forced laugh.
The truth was that plaintive entreaty of desperation made me want to weep. Instead, while my panicky thinking was screaming, “What the hell am I going to do now?” I scrambled back once again into my chameleon robe of successful skipper, this time with the smiling reassurance, “Hey, no need to worry. There are lots of ways to get a person back on board. Plan C is a better plan anyway. It’s what I should have done in the first place.”
Her suggestion about being towed back turned my bowels into a nest of writhing snakes, making me think, “That’s just what I need now, a severe case of diarrhea.” But her proposal did remind me about the boom, which I had previously rejected as a serious option—the idea of winching someone aboard with a boom was outrageous. Now, however, we were down to the line, and I was all for “whatever works”.
As I made a mental reference to Chapman I felt a reviving seed of confidence. In Chapman’s Guide To Piloting, commonly known to sailors as the boater’s bible, there were some calculations which had so impressed me when I was studying for my hundred ton Coast Guard master’s license, that the computations were still in my mind, conclusions notable enough for me to retain. On page two ninety eight he states, “. . .with two fold purchase the force gained will be five, so that even if you consider the friction of the sheaves of the blocks. . .” and consequently, according to Chapman, “. . . if the weight of the drum was five hundred pounds . . . the force needed to lift the drum would be one hundred fifty pounds.” My mind on full alert I was able to calculate that with the three fold purchase of Sundancer’s main sheet tackle, we should be able to lift a Cadillac. With the results of my figuring came a renewed surge of optimism, as well as my first genuine smile for a while. I wanted a solution not just for the sake of the charter, but I was feeling a strong connection to Deidre, genuinely personal feelings of empathy.
Unshackling the mainsheet from the main-sheet- horse aft of the cockpit, I had Liza get the bosun’s chair from the aft locker. After securing the chair to the main-sheet block I swung the boom outboard until it was directly over Deidre. Next I had Liza change places with Gretchen who was still in the water where she had so ignominiously been launched by Deidre’s catapulting action, and where she had kept up a continual patter of encouragement; however, I needed Liza in the water with Brandy to provide maximum pushing power, while those of us on deck would have the advantage of the block and tackle.
My blossoming optimism met its first obstacle as I lowered the chair. With everyone watching it descend, the closer the bosun’s chair got to Deidre the more the ensuing juxtaposition made it clear that the seat with its twenty two inch beam could not begin to accommodate her substantial stern. As it got closer and closer to her the damn thing, in science fiction fashion, seemed to be shrinking, an optical illusion of course, but one so efficacious that she looked up at me in total confusion.
Before anyone was able to express the obvious I became proactive and countered, “Oh that’s O.K.” as I directed her, “Just put one leg in. I don’t know why they make those damn things so small. Must think we’re a bunch of midgets.” Then, impelled to ameliorate the chagrin she was feeling, I lied. “Most people only put one leg in anyway.” When the truth was that I had never had anyone on board who could not fit into the seat which was nearly as wide as the companionway.
A terrifying thought struck me. “Oh my God, what if she can’t even get one leg in? What can I do? What’s the alternative? The Coast Guard? No, I am not calling the Coast Guard.” Armed with my Coast Guard Master’s license I prided myself on never having called the Coast Guard. Besides what would I tell them? What would I say when they asked why I couldn’t get her on board? I could be cryptic and challenge them, “Wait and see.” Or terse and simply reply, “Too heavy.” Or unabashedly candid and blurt out, “I got this enormous lady in the water. Please help me.” I would not tell them she was naked, and I would make the others put their clothes on. But I was determined not to call them, and while it would have been fascinating to watch the Coast Guard handle the situation, it would have meant me joining Deidre in her Stygian depths of debasement.
Although it bowed out the lines holding the ends of the seat, Deidre was able to get one leg into the bosun’s chair, allowing me a tentative sigh of relief. It would be a simple matter to hoist her above gunnel level, swing the boom inboard, and let her down on deck. With Liza and Brandi pushing on respective cheeks, Gretchen and I began to haul in on the fall line, but even with the three fold purchase I realized it was not going to be easy. I put my back into it, aware that everyone, even Frieda standing there in fear for her feminine delicacy, was motivated a hundred plus percent.
And we were making headway. It was clear that the two blocks were rounding in toward each other. Once again I began to feel that we might salvage the charter, but just as I thought about looking into Deidre’s face and being blessed by a beatific smile of gratitude, Liza’s voice, reflecting a mixture of attempted cheerfulness and intense physical strain resounded from over the side. “What’s wrong?” Putting a couple of half hitches around a belaying pin in the rail, I leaned outboard and looked down to discover we had lifted her no more than two or three inches.
I was baffled. How could that be? We had definitely made progress, because while hauling on the line I had watched the blocks move at least two feet closer to each other. Then I looked at the boom. I bellowed, “Oh my God!” in strict confidence to myself. “The goddamn boom is bent! That’s impossible.” But it was true. Instead of Deidre coming up, the end of the boom had gone down. I was astounded, totally flabbergasted, but somehow, in the midst of being utterly discomfited, I managed to maintain the façade.
Casting off the line from the pin rail, except for a single bite, I eased the pressure on the blocks until the boom and Deidre were restored to their original positions. Then I called down to the three in the water, “O.K., good. That was just a test; and now I see that I need to get this boom at the proper angle.” As I desperately tried to conceal the deep breathes I was taking to calm myself.
When I leaned over the rail again to check the situation in the water, I looked directly into the face of what my fitful mind had transmogrified into a bona fide wild boar from Kentucky. A feral mug peered up at me on an oblique angle from behind a mammoth derriere. Attempting her unsubstantiated grin, but managing only a grotesque grimace, when our eyes met she blurted out in a voice that under duress had become even more gritty, “This is great! You can do it, Captain!” I wanted to hit her in her smiley teeth with a belaying pin, but managed to subdue my rage into a counterfeit grunt of congeniality before returning to the task of hauling Deidre out of the water.
Again we hauled away, arduously sweating the line, while I watched, spellbound, as the boom bent with fierce persistence to accommodate our efforts, the end going down, the middle coming up, that stalwart piece of Alaskan fir continuing to bend until it was resting on the gunnel; it was a special effects happening. I knew it was not possible but I was witnessing it happen. I should have eased off long before it reached that point, but so mesmerized by the phenomenon, I watched in total fascination to see how far it would bend before breaking. I tremble to think of the terrifying consequences of that boom breaking.
As we eased her back into the water there was only silence as the air reverberated with the thunderous but unheard cacophonies of our thoughts and fears, and the best I could do to fend off total hopelessness was the feeble excuse. “Oh that was my fault; I didn’t raise the boom quite high enough. I just need to increase its angle to the deck.” Reduced to unadorned bullshit, I could feel myself slipping right down past the nadir of my own credibility with the clients as well as myself; and glancing at Deidre, I could see that she too was close to her own rock bottom of ultimate despondency. Her face was wet from the water, but I could see tears running down what I was now seeing as angelic cheeks.
The torment I felt from the raw despair in that face was as great as the frustration I was feeling over having my professional ego trampled by what had become one of fate’s demonic assaults. I wanted to weep, and was certain this was what a broken heart felt like. But I persevered and went through the motions of trimming the topping lift, knowing all the while that if I raised the boom any more it would not reach out board even when flexed; besides, I would never have the audacity to allow such a perilous flexing of that spar again. But what the hell was I supposed to do? What could I do?
Meanwhile, Liza had recovered some of her trademark savoir faire and attempted to reassure the group by telling them that I was probably just playing around, trying to mess with their heads. “He loves to joke around like this.” But I could see that her smile was not resonating with characteristic joie de vivre. It wasn’t what they wanted to hear anyway, especially Deidre, and I realized how desperate Liza must be to say it, because it was exactly the kind of ploy this group with its politico/social stance would expect from a macho ogre.
Moreover, regardless of orientation, anyone with any sensitivity at all would consider such a joke the cruel gesture of a sick mind. I was trapped. Were I to deny it, I would be admitting total incompetence, but admitting such a ploy, well that would mean . . . So I just offered my version of a sad, enigmatic Mona Lisa smile and slowly nodded my head, hoping to throw up a brief smoke screen, simultaneously realizing how fucking convoluted my own thinking had become.
Never, not one time, had I ever had a problem accepting the responsibility of captain for the wellbeing of everyone on board, their comfort, their safety, et al; but right at that moment I was overwhelmed by the outrageous unfairness of it, the feeling of aloneness, devoid of options. In defeat, I was losing all motivation for presenting as an omniscient, all capable master of the vessel. All I wanted was to get the hell back to the dock and be done with this fiasco.
But I couldn’t do it. Just give up? No. Consequently, refusing to allow my demeanor to reveal the true state of my inner turmoil, I shouted with cheerleader enthusiasm. “This is great!” not believing what I had just said, or that I had really said it, but went on anyway with more flim flam, “You guys are learning all about the rigging on a sailboat. Now, the next step is to go to plan D.” with the inference that there was an entire alphabet of alternatives to be tried before reaching the W of Waterloo.
The only thing I could come up with was that if we could get her in the dinghy and tow her back, with Gretchen riding with her, we could arrive at the dock pretending we had chosen to have a little adventure. I asked Liza to bring the dinghy around from the stern where it was secured, and while waiting for her I was aware of how deeply entrenched was the doleful mood of grimness. Gretchen had become reticent, no longer trying to encourage Deidre. And even stalwart Liza, when I told her to stand by with the dinghy and be ready to slip it under Deidre, for the first time had nothing to say. I knew for sure then that we were lost in the middle of a bleak wasteland of despair. Looking down at them in the water, may only consolation was that Brandi had stopped smiling and was silent.
Gretchen and I, with solemn deliberation, began to haul away until once again we had hoisted her as high as the flexed boom would allow. We were then chock a block, the two blocks as tight together as they would go, with nothing to do but hold tight until Liza could slip the dinghy under Deidre. It seemed an eternity, so long that I had time to think of the disparity between our predicament and raising the flag on Iwo Jima. I looked at Gretchen, who looked at me, and it was clear we were close to our limits. I whispered to her, “William Faulkner said that man will not only endure but will prevail.” She looked at me as though my brain was running out of my nose, which may have been the case, but it distracted us from the duress and kept us holding for a few seconds more; and then just when we were at the point of giving up and letting go, Iiza hollered up, “O.K. it’s under her.”
And then we did, let go. Not ease off as we should, but just let go, with the result that Deidre was free falling for a distance of about four feet before landing in the dinghy with such audible force that I was certain she had knocked the polypropylene bottom right out of it, and that when I looked down she would be wearing the craft as a necklace. But when I leaned over the gunnel what I saw was her gigantic form sprawled unceremoniously in the bottom of the dinghy with the line coiled helter skelter on top of her, and her leg still in the bosun’s chair. Enveloped as I was in my dismay, I nevertheless found myself recognizing an aesthetic quality in what I saw that would have ecstasized Dali.
At that point I was resigned to towing her back, anything to end the broken charter, but Lisa and Brandi, with no prompting, instruction or authorization from me, helped her to stand up in the dinghy, where she was able to remain balanced on her feet, probably due to that inherent gracefulness of the obese. In any case this standing position allowed her to put her hands on the rung now resting on the gunnel. Then she got one foot on the second from the bottom rung, and with an all- inclusive cooperative effort of everyone except the captain, who stood watching in a shocked state of stupefaction, they were able to push and pull so courageously that she plopped over the gunnel and onto the deck. She was landed! Amazing Grace, she was landed! I barely managed to restrain a pair of joyous tears.
There was a common sense of intense relief shared by every one of us, while there was a tacit agreement that celebrating would be inappropriate. While they put on their clothes, the few attempts at conversation were designed to ignore the reality of the past two hours, and my instructions to weigh anchor and set sail were accomplished within a morose silence. As for me, relieved of my Sisyphian burden, I was almighty glad to be headed for home, but seriously hoping that I would be able to let her know that what had happened had not damaged what I had come to feel for her, which strangely enough did not seem presumptuous to me.
During the entire sail back to Three Mile Harbor she sat on the deck with her back against the cabin, Gretchen beside her, holding her hand. Deidre made no sound, but a few tears followed the soft contours of her cheeks until they dropped off into space to be caught by her pink shift covered breast. I frequently glanced at her, hoping our eyes would meet and I could in some way comfort her – my feelings were freewheeling — and let her know what a lovely creature I thought she was, a loveliness not marred by what happened. Her eyes remained fixed on the wake astern.
Even with the steady breeze it seemed an interminably long way back. Eventually we docked. Fortunately Tommy Watson was gone. The party de-boarded with the usual amenities; but politeness and civility failed to dispel the aura of a post trauma funk, a tension in no way relieved by Brandi, whose smile was restored, it’s effect more spurious than ever, and whose parting comment was predictable. “It was great. Good job, captain.” But at least I no longer wanted to cook her in a witches’ cauldron.
Deidre did not shake my hand as I hoped she would. There was a tightness in my chest, knowing it was my final chance to make contact. She stood facing me, and my hopes revived as she started to raise her head and eyes that had been looking at the ground. I was so ready to impart a look that would restore and heal, and . . . but her focus stopped at my chest. She said, “Thank you.” and turned and walked away.
After Liza and I were finally alone at anchor, and even after several shots of tequila, the only logical prescription for recovering from that kind of endurance test. Neither of us laughed, and it was a long time before I was able to, or even tell the story. And strange as it is, I have never stopped fantasizing about her, about what might have happened had she not gone swimming, if she had stayed there in her blue bikini panties. Of course it is obvious to you by now, I had fallen more than a little in love with Deidre.