tagNovels and NovellasCaptain's Choice Ch. 01-02

Captain's Choice Ch. 01-02

bycoaster2©

This story was edited by ErikThread and DaveT with my thanks and appreciation. Any errors are mine alone. It was previously posted on another site.

*****

Chapter 1 The Resurrection

I'd always imagined a life where I could retire early and do only the things I wanted to do. Maybe I would win the lottery, or maybe someone would recognize my special skills and pay me an insane amount of money to work for them. Or maybe the tooth fairy would leave me a few gold bars to tide me over. So much for fantasy.

What did I have to complain about? Nothing ... really. I'm not rich, but I'm secure. I'm not tied to an eight-to-five job. I'm a contractor who decides which jobs to accept and whom to accept them from. I'm not married and I don't expect to be. I live in an apartment in Vancouver on False Creek part time, and on a boat for the balance. All in all, I like my life and I want to keep it that way.

My boat is a 1959 50 foot Thornton Shadwell diesel cruiser. I inherited it from my father when he died. He hadn't used it for over ten years and you can imagine the state it was in when I first looked it over. I've spent a lot of money and far more time on restoring it to better than new. Along with the boat, I also inherited a nice house on a big piece of property in Burnaby, and that fetched a handsome price on the exploding Greater Vancouver property market at the time.

My name is Patrick Samuel Hamelin. I am the only son of the late Samuel Wyler Hamelin. My mother disappeared long ago when I was a child. I was told she ran off with some guy she was having an affair with and was never heard from again. My father never remarried and while he had a couple of lady friends, he saw no need to risk the pain of marriage a second time.

I'll be twenty-nine years old next fall. I'm beginning to feel it, to be honest. Working around the boat is becoming somewhat of a chore now despite how much I love the Captain's Choice. I charter my boat for both cruising and fishing. I have two Zodiacs, one on the transom and one on the foredeck, that are ideal for inshore fishing. It's also a way to get people ashore when they want to go exploring some island or remote location.

My retirement fund is more than holding its own these days. I've enough charter work to cover my upkeep, maintenance costs and living expenses in the off season. I can afford to be choosy about who I accept as clients. I've been thinking about hiring a permanent deck hand, although I have no problem finding able-bodied young guys during the summer months. The local universities and colleges are loaded with potential crew who have some experience. What I've been thinking about is someone year-around.

I've also been wondering where to find another girl friend. My last one got fed up with my unwillingness to live ashore and get a "real job." I warned her from the start, but I guess she was sure she could change me. Ah well, there are plenty of fish in the sea, as the saying goes.

I'd just finished putting up the Christmas lights on the boat. I'd be participating in the "Carol Ships" parade in a week. It was about the only acknowledgement of Christmas I allowed myself. I had no family to get together with. In fact, I was the last of the Hamelins. I was an only child, as was my father. Christmas Eve would be celebrated by a couple of pints and dinner at McGillicuddy's Pub unless I got an invitation from one of my friends.

I was fully booked for customers on the Carol Ship nights. My usual catering firm had called me to confirm the menu and the boat was set up for the maximum twelve passengers I would allow. There were a total of twenty-two cruises from December 1st onward, but this year I participated in only six of them, from the middle of the month to Christmas Eve. All my trips were on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights.

The cruise took from two to three hours, depending on the route, and the cost was $200 a head, catered. My costs were between $100 and $125 per head, depending on the route and the price tag of the cleaning crew the next morning. The closer to Christmas, the more things seemed to cost. I was happy with the profit, however. I probably could have charged more, but there was no need to get greedy. All in all, if things went as normal, I would take about $5,000 to $6,000 profit over the two weekends, a very nice Christmas present.

This year, Christmas Eve was a Monday night and it was an easy decision on which six nights to charter. My crew would be two young men I had hired previously. As college students, they needed the cash and were happy for the job and the tips that came with it. Serving drinks and making sure the food was in good supply was more work than it appeared, but I knew I could count on them.

I hadn't yet hired anyone to help me with the cleaning between charters. It would take about five to six hours from morning to afternoon for two of us to get everything done and ready for the next charter. Even a dozen people could make quite a mess when they started to party. The bar was run by a professional I hired at the union hall and it was a decent profit center as well.

A fellow captain and friend, Tom Thompson, would be with me on the bridge in case I had to go below to fix something that had caused a problem. Usually, it was one of the two toilets. Sea toilets can baffle some people. I'd pretty much decided that I would replace the two original units with new vacuum flush units, similar to what you'd find on an aircraft. More expensive and complex, but fewer problems in the long run.

Tom was almost a father figure to me. We had first met when I was taking on the task of restoring my father's boat. He had pulled his sailboat out of the water to clean and re-coat the bottom and recognized my boat from the yacht club. We struck up a conversation when I was taking a break from scraping down the hull, and he gave me a couple of tips on how to make the work a little easier.

As time went by he visited regularly, even though his sailboat was back in the water and moored at the yacht club marina. He had a storehouse of contacts for some of the work and suggested places I could find parts and pieces for a boat of the age of Captain's Choice. It was he who recommended stainless steel deck fittings and the specific type of polyurethane best suited for the exterior brightwork. As time went on during that year of reconstruction, I became dependent on him if for no other reason than his encouragement and admiration for my efforts.

Tom and I could handle the wheel and docking and have plenty of time for pleasant conversation. Tom was sixty now, thirty years older than me. He was a widower for the past five years and lived aboard his 42 foot ketch. He had retired from Air Canada as a senior pilot with a good pension. It was his plan that his wife and he would spend their retirement traveling the world. It would never happen.

He seldom chartered, preferring to sail alone since the death of his wife. They used to go everywhere along the B.C. coast together. I'm not sure when Tom will get over her loss ... if ever.

Tom's other values included his keen eyesight and an awareness of what was going on around him, even at night ... in the dark. A couple of years earlier, a novice boater decided to take a short cut into the harbour after the parade was past and cut between a tug and its tow. He didn't make it, and neither did two of his passengers. Two dead and one missing and presumed drowned. Tom spotted the problem before it happened but couldn't prevent it. He called the Coast Guard and they responded immediately, but it was too late to save the boat or the three people. Apparently, the boat owner didn't realize that three vertical lights on the tug's mast meant he had something in tow.

A few years later, the government mandated that you had to have a proper license to operate any powered boat regardless of size, and you had to have a certificate of competence from a recognized instructor as well. It was about bloody time. Too often in the past you could plunk down a bunch of money and that was good enough. For those of us who knew better, we could usually spot these people from some distance. They were almost always ill prepared to deal with an emergency, either with skill or equipment.

My father died when I had just turned twenty-two. He had a massive stroke and didn't survive it. It came right out of the blue. He was fit and trim and didn't smoke or drink to excess. He was just a victim of circumstance. It seemed desperately cruel to me at the time. It was one thing to lose my mother at a young age. It was quite another to lose my dad. He was my mentor and someone I looked up to as a role model.

Dad was a half-owner in a very successful specialty wood finishing company. He wasn't a millionaire, but he was very well off and as a result of his death, I was now able to pick and choose a career. I had just graduated from the University of British Columbia with a Bachelor of Arts. As I was quickly reminded, that degree and four dollars would get you a latté at Starbucks.

I couldn't live in the house any more. It was like a tomb, empty yet full of memories. Far too big for my simple needs. I listed it within the month. I found an apartment in the west end of Vancouver and set about looking for something worthwhile to do with my life. I was lightly attached to a young woman named Claire Garlock. I didn't view our relationship all that seriously, although she had taken up residence in my apartment. More like a friend with benefits. I think I was still brooding over my father's death.

I hired a university colleague, a young lawyer fresh out of law school to be the executor of the estate. Since I was the only beneficiary, it was a very straightforward process. Sam Fowler was interested in what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. He suggested that I find a reputable investment counselor to protect my assets. At that point I hadn't sold our house and since it was mortgage free, it would bring in a sizable amount of cash.

It was an enlightening experience, going through probate. After taxes, I had over six hundred thousand dollars to invest from my father's life insurance and his investments. In addition, there was the half share of the business and the house to add to it. I needed someone to advise me and shelter me from the taxes for which I might otherwise be liable.

I contacted my father's investment advisor and set up an appointment. Joel Burger had served my father for over twenty years and I was confident that he was completely trustworthy. We met four times over the next two months and he set a path for me that would virtually assure I would have a reasonable income for many years to come.

The house sold in five weeks, taking that long simply because every time we got an offer, someone came in and bid a higher number. My real estate agent told me this was more like Toronto than Burnaby as he shook his head in wonder. I'm sure he was counting the dollars on his ever-increasing commission.

The business was another situation completely. My father's partner, Kerry Hewland, was unable to raise the cash to buy me out. He had leveraged his share of the business against a new home he was building and the costs were getting out of hand. Together, Sam and Joel worked out a plan for Kerry to buy me out on a long term payment strategy. When we were done, both of us were satisfied that we had struck a reasonable compromise and I had another income stream.

The last piece of business was my father's boat. I had forgotten all about it to be truthful. I can remember being out on it when I was young, but between school, summer jobs at Dad's business, along with other interests, it had been something that was just a distant memory. Sam reminded me when he noticed the quarterly moorage payments to the yacht club.

Joel and Sam accompanied me down to the yacht club, thinking we would just give the boat a wash, fuel it up, and go for a cruise. One look at it told us that wasn't going to happen.

"Good Lord, Pat, this thing is a mess," Joel moaned.

"I'm surprised it's still afloat," Sam said, shaking his head at the sorry state of what once was a lovely boat.

"Yeah ... looks like I've got my work cut out for me if I want to sell it," I grumbled.

"Shouldn't take more than a year or so to get it in respectable shape," chuckled Joel. "Good thing you have nothing else to do with your time."

"You need a marine survey before you bother spending dime one on this tub," Sam intoned.

"Yeah ... I guess that's right," I sighed. "I'll get in touch with someone this week. Might as well get the bad news right from the horse's mouth."

"What a shame," Joel said, looking over the big vessel. "This once was a really fine looking yacht. It would be worth saving if it's possible. They don't build them like this any more."

"And you know this how?" Sam asked.

"The builder's plate on the cabin bulkhead says so," Joel said, pointing to the cast metal plate. "It's a Thornton Shadwell. Nearly fifty feet I'd guess. Custom built right here in Vancouver."

"It is fifty feet," I said. "I remember that now. Come on, guys. I'll buy you a beer. I don't want to hang around here. It might sink on us while we're watching."

***

"It will be a great deal of work, Mister Hamelin," Baldur Gerhard said as we stepped back onto the dock. "Considering the length of time it has been neglected, it is remarkable that it is still sound in the hull and superstructure. It is a testimony to the quality of the builder."

"Can you give me a report that outlines what needs to be done to bring it back to its former condition?"

"Yes ... it will take me some time and it will be an extensive report, but I can do that. I will want to spend more time on the boat to see what other issues need to be addressed. That will include the engines and running gear, electronics and plumbing. It won't be inexpensive, I can promise you. Neither the report nor the restoration."

I thought about it for less than a minute. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I knew this was something I had to do. Why, I couldn't say. But it needed to be done.

"Go ahead, Mister Gerhard. And if you can, I would appreciate the name or names of people who could do the work needed."

He nodded, smiled and, I think, understood where my head was. This was an emotional decision, not a financial one. My father once said a boat was a hole in the water regularly filled with money. I began to understand the truth in that aphorism. However, it didn't change anything. I wanted to restore this boat if it was at all feasible.

When Joel had laughingly commented that it would take a year to put the Captain's Choice back in shape, he had no idea how accurate he was. In fact, thanks to a rainy, cool summer, I was able to concentrate on the restoration.

I had decided that if I was going to do this, I was going to do it right. I no longer had other distractions to sway me from my task. No girlfriend, no job, no social obligations other than to see my friends at the local pub for a pint on a Friday afternoon. My only other diversion was my Power Squadron lessons to gain my certificate of competence.

I began the restoration with the exterior. Once I had the outside looking less like a derelict, I could at least tell myself that the effort would be worthwhile. It took two months just to clean the hull, repaint and re-treat the below-water areas with the best finishes. It was an arduous task, but when I was finally finished, it looked as good or better than the day it was launched.

Next was the deck and superstructure. Here, teak restoration became part of my new skills. I took a course from a Danish craftsman who taught wood restoration at one of the vocational schools. Once again, it was hard work, but when I finished, I was proud of the result. I would be using that skill on the inside woodwork as well.

Piece by piece, I gradually returned the once-elegant craft to its original condition. I had a diesel engine firm go over the twin power units and bring them back up to specification. Happily, that didn't turn out to be a major project. The electronics were another matter. They were shot and a complete refitting of almost everything was required. I handed this job over to the experts as well.

I promised myself that I wouldn't start counting the dollars I was spending and I was almost able to keep that promise. I had invested many hours of my own sweat to bring this boat back to life and no dollar value was ever attached to that. But as I went through the fittings and equipment on the craft, I could see where I needed to replace and/or upgrade components. The galley, the command bridge controls and instruments, the fabrics and cushions for the berths, even the glass in the windows. There was no point in doing half or even three-quarters of the job at that point.

I had kept my friends away from the job without much trouble. I had moved the boat to a yard where it could be hauled out of the water and I would do my work on dry land. I didn't want them to see it until I felt I was done. I wanted the shock value of the restoration to be maximized. They had seen it at its worst and I wanted them to see it as I had imagined it should be.

Near the end of the restoration, I had it re-launched and moved to its previous mooring shed. The only work remaining was inside and most of that was now in the hands of others. I had been taking before-and-after pictures at the suggestion of one of the boatyard workers and I was really pleased that I had. When I looked at the contrast between what I had started with and what I had achieved, I was startled with how far I had come.

***

"So guys," I said, lifting my pint of ale, "meet me at the boat shed tomorrow morning at ten and I'll show you what I've been doing for the last year."

"It's done?" Joel remarked in surprise.

"It's done. I think you'll be impressed. I hope you'll be impressed," I grinned.

"Damn, Pat, a whole year ... most of it by yourself," Sam said, shaking his head. "Only you could afford to do that. The rest of us working stiffs could never find the time."

"Yeah," I nodded in understanding. "I know. But ... I did this for me ... and for Dad. He'd be proud of it once again."

"Are you going to take us out to see what it will do?" Joel asked.

"Of course, so come wearing proper shoes and warm clothes. It's only April, so it will be cool."

***

"My God!" Joel murmured, wide eyed. "Is this the same boat? I can't believe it."

"Amazing, Pat," Sam smiled. "You have done an amazing job on this. Did you really do all this yourself?"

"Most of the cosmetic work is all mine," I confirmed. "I had experts to look after the engines and electronics."

"This looks very professional. The detail, the woodwork, the fittings. All those corroded chrome pieces are gone. Stainless steel now, huh," Joel noted.

"Yeah ... do it once, and do it right was what I learned. Come aboard and I'll show you the interior. It's all redone too."

I started the engines as Joel and Sam wandered through the cabin admiring the look of polished teak and bright new fabrics. The galley was now all stainless steel. It felt good to feel the faint vibration of the engines as I stood on the deck.

"You want to handle the lines, guys, and we can get under way?"

I didn't have to ask them twice, and within a minute, I was backing carefully out of the shed and into the narrow waterway. Another couple of minutes and I was unhurriedly working my way out of Coal Harbour and into Vancouver's inner harbour. We worked slowly past the fuel barge and around Brockton Point, heading toward the Lions Gate Bridge and English Bay.

As I opened the throttles and brought the big craft up to half-cruise, I looked at the new engine clock. Twelve hours, it read. A week earlier I had invited Baldur Gerhard, the man who did the original survey on Captain's Choice to join me for the sea trials and give me an opinion on my efforts.

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