Sweet Caroline


The tide was in, so I had to set up above the high tide mark.  Technically, I was trespassing, but there was no one around, and my intentions were honorable.  I had brought along the old wicker hamper to carry everything in style.  There was even a thing to keep the wine chilled.

I had dropped anchor just a hundred yards off shore, and as I said, the tide was in, so there was plenty of water under the keel.  I could enjoy a leisurely steak on the beach cooked over a driftwood fire, and the wine, and a couple of ears of corn I had bought at the farm stand on the way to the boat.  The cove had appeared at the perfect moment and called to me.  “Dinner time.”

The steak had gotten a quick salt and pepper rub, then onto the grill.  I got up to dip the ears of corn in the water of the cove, then wrapped the ears in tin foil and threw them into the fire near the edge.  A big knot in the wood popped and sent sparks flying, then everything settled down and I had time to sit back and relax.  The water was still, and a slight salt breeze was blowing in.

I pulled the bottle out of the chiller and uncorked it.  I was being quite gauche this evening, drinking a white wine with a steak, but it was my favorite, and what was the point of hoarding two cases of wine on board if a bottle didn’t disappear every once in a while.  The smoky tone of the Pouilly-Fumé would go well with the steak.

“You’re trespassing, you know.”

I almost dropped the bottle, which would have been a great shame.  Turning over my shoulder, I saw a woman about my age standing at the edge of the beach grass, not frowning at me but instead looking very confident.

I decided that discretion would help in such a delicate situation.

“In that case, could I offer you a glass of wine, and an explanation?  I have very little else to give.”  I held up a glass in invitation.

She came forward somewhat reluctantly, probably thinking that it was going to be a simple matter of shooing someone off her beach.  She was very nicely dressed, and I hoped that my little beach party hadn’t interrupted her big house party or something.  The long skirt made it awkward for her, but she sat down as I scooted over and made room by the fire.  I handed over the glass.

“My name is Finn”, I said, “and I sailed over in that.”  I pointed to the big boat.  “I came ashore in that.”  I pointed to the dinghy that had been dragged up on the beach.  “I had hoped that this section of the cove would be deserted and I wouldn’t be disturbing anyone.  I thought the tide would cooperate a bit more than it did so that I could remain legal.”

“I’m Caroline”, she said.  “The big house over there is my family’s.  They like to stay the private lot.  I suspect they won’t mind all that much if you have dinner on their sand.”

She took a sip of the wine, raised an eyebrow, and took another.

“Jeeze, that’s good.  What is it?”

I poured myself a glass and handed her the bottle.  “It’s a French white, Pouilly-Fumé from 1987.  I discovered it on a road trip in Pennsylvania, and find it hard to drink anything else now.  It helps that I stocked the boat with it.  Actually, if you’re not going to arrest me, the steak is done.  Do you have time to join me for dinner?”

Caroline looked back over the dunes, and then down at the glass in her hand.  The decision didn’t appear to be a big one.

“They won’t miss me, I guess.  And I am a bit hungry.  Would I be imposing?”

“Not at all.  It’s not often that I get to sit and relax with nice company and enjoy a warm evening on the water.”

I bustled about and did domestic things, then we settled back with steak, corn and wine.  The perfect beach dinner.

She looked out over the water.  “That’s quite the boat you’ve got there.  Don’t you need a crew to handle it?”

“No,” I said.  “She’s a cutter-rigged sloop, a Peterson 44.  I can single-hand a center cockpit boat of any size if it’s set up right.  All of the lines come back to the cockpit winches, right next to the wheel.  I never have to leave the wheel unless it’s to weigh anchor or change sails.  And I’m careful.”

“You sound very confident, and I suppose your presence on my beach means you’re competent also.  I don’t have to be anywhere tonight.  Would you show me the boat?”

My heart soared.  I couldn’t believe she would be so bold.  Then my heart was in my throat.  What condition had I left the boat in?  I hoped for less than slovenly.

Caroline helped me polish off the bottle and pack up the hamper.  We stowed it in the dinghy and doused the fire.  The trip out to the boat took just a few minutes.

I came around to the stern ladder, and tied us off with the painter.  I offered a hand, and Caroline stepped over.

“BOBBIN’?”, she asked.  “That’s a funny name for a boat.”

“It’s an homage.”

I got Caroline settled on a cushion in the cockpit.  Everything was still set up, as I hadn’t planned to sleep over.  Winch handles in place, sails furled.  I started the engine and headed up to the bow.  The anchor was on an electric windlass, and I stepped on the switch to free us.  It spent a minute grinding away before the anchor came up out of the water covered in sulfurous black mud.  I dunked it back in a few times until it was clean, then raised it up into the bow chock.  Back in the cockpit, I put the motor in gear and headed us away from shore.

I wanted to show Caroline the joys of single-handed sailing.

“Watch this,” I said.

I cut the engine.  I cranked on one winch, and the mainsail crawled out of the mast on the roller furling gear.  It caught the wind, which brought it out the rest of the way with a big “whoomp”.  I released the main sheet on another winch so the sail would slacken off.  Then I cranked out the genoa, and it repeated the sound as the wind caught it.  The boat heeled over a bit, and I hauled in the main.  We were going eight knots before we knew it.  Caroline clapped and cheered at my performance.

“That’s quite a trick!”, she said.

“Piece of cake, after twenty years of practice.”  False modesty suited the occasion.

We sailed along in the dusk, a warm breeze carrying us around offshore for the next hour or so.  Caroline ended up next to me behind the big wheel, and she turned out to be quite the sailor herself.  I suspect that she knew more about boats than she had let on.  She was able to keep us pointed into the wind without luffing, and made all of the appropriate sounds whenever we came about.

It was getting late, and we headed back to the little cove.  I winched the genoa in, and shortened the main to a small triangle close to the mast.  Just enough sail to creep ahead.  I headed forward and released the anchor, and it clattered down to hold us.  The little bit of headway brought the bow about, and Bobbin’ was pointed back out to sea.

The trip to shore in the dinghy was subdued.  It had been a wonderful evening, and neither of us seemed to want it to end.  I held Caroline’s hand as she stepped back onto the sand, and reached back into the dinghy.  I turned back to her with a bottle in my hand.

“Thanks for not having me arrested,” I said.  “This is for you.”

She took the bottle of Pouilly-Fumé and smiled.

“Thank you for a wonderful evening.  I had fun.  If you’re ever back in the area, call me.  You can moor at the dock next time.”

She leaned forward, and we kissed.  Just friends.

She turned and headed back to the big house, and I putted back out to my big boat.  With the anchor raised and the sails set, I headed out toward Block Island and away from Hyannis, the moon over my shoulder and a warm breeze brushing my smile.

5 thoughts on “Sweet Caroline

    • Well, Caroline being ambassador to Japan and all, I figgered that a long term relationship would be more like a long distance relationship, and I’ve had my fill of them. I also figgered that the family might come knocking if we shacked up in the boat overnight. I decided that discretion is the better part of valor and avoided the fight. Maybe on the return trip.

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