Original Fiction by Lewis Decker from his novel Alligator Food.
Serendipity slipped easily into the night with a whisper of warm wind on the starboard beam. The low southerly swells lifted her up and then settled her into the troughs and there were no sounds except for the rush of the bow waves trailing astern.
Nathan “Nate” Addison awoke and stepped out into the cockpit and watched as Serendipity rolled gently toward the banks hidden in the distance. Sarah, Shanna and Brady, his friends were still asleep.
He climbed onto the cabin top to try to see the navigation aids on Orange Cay but he couldn’t see any light, not even from the rising sun, and he stood near the mast peering into the darkness.
The bow waves were nearly iridescent and he turned to watch the white water streaming aft. The night sky seemed darkest astern where he picked up the faint masthead light of a northbound fishing boat.
Nate thought they might be closer to the banks, but it took another half-hour before the Orange Cay light came into view. By then he could see the horizon brightening to the east. When Brady steered the boast just south of the inlet, they crossed over onto the banks where the water turned silver it was so thin.
The Gulf Stream had been smooth except for the long swells from the south, but the morning gave rise to a freshened breeze. Serendipity sailed through the flats at 12 knots like she was skiing through Colorado powder.
Late in the afternoon after they had approached the northern tip of Andros Island, there were miles of shallow water and sand bores that looked from the air like a child’s strokes through fingerpaint. They skirted the thin water where it wasn’t deep enough to have any color and stayed to the west of sand bores where the water turned so electric blue it reminded Nate of the arcs from a welding rod.
North of the island, the Andros banks were littered with coral heads that loomed from the bottom like decaying fangs. Nate couldn’t tell by the color how shallow the coral heads were, so he gave them all a wide berth and steered into clear, deep water southwest of the Berry Islands.
Serendipity sailed on a fast beam reach for ten or 12 miles through Northeast Providence Channel and when she ran onto the banks on the west side of Chub Cay, Nate started the diesel while Brady furled the main and genoa.
The entrance to the inner harbor of the island was a narrow pass cut through the ancient coral. Nate motored Serendipity into the curving waterway until she reached the tiny yacht basin and the transient dock on the north side where Brady stepped from the deck to tie her off. In a few minutes, a large man in a starched white shirt came aboard to stamp the passports.
“Welcome to the Bahamas,” he said. “You on island time, now.”
“Is there a limit to our stay?” Nate asked. “We’re only passing through.”
“No, just go down island. Nobody bother you. You on your own here.”
After a cursory look at the papers, the customs man left with a grin and a wave.
“I love this,” Sarah said, “Island time. That customs man was right. We just got here and already I never want to leave.”
Nate felt in the pit of his stomach the ache and the burning that had been missing most of the time since Dana left. He reached with his hand and touched Sarah’s face. In a moment they kissed and caressed and he looked in the low light at her breasts and at her legs and the dark secret between. The burning in his stomach began to ebb even though he couldn’t keep his hands and face away from her body. Sarah could tell it was no use and she whispered to him in the dark.
“It’s okay, it’s okay,” she said. “It’ll just take time. Please don’t worry.”
Nate turned away from her and stared through the port at the light standard flickering over the marina office beyond the trees. Sarah held him from behind and in a few minutes she was asleep again. Nate had to wait out the ride on the Ferris wheel.
Right at dawn someone cracked off a pair of diesels in one of the sportfishers next door. Nate pulled the curtain over the portlight and leaned back on the sheets thinking first about those big diesels and then about the night before with Sarah.
The pulsing of the engines droned on, keeping time with his headache. He kept thinking about Sarah’s body, waiting for the feelings to return, but there was nothing again. He got up and sneaked into the head compartment aboard the Serendipity and took a cold shower.
Nate toweled off and dressed and stepped into the cockpit. The sportfisher had backed down and motored out of the marina toward the cut, its tuna tower disappearing around the bend in the light filtering through the trees. He watched for another few minutes and then started the Volvo, but the little popping noises from the exhaust made Serendipity seem like a bathtub toy. Nate backed the boat from the slip and spun the wheel to port, idling out of the marina into the cut and into the fluorescent glow of the banks in the distance.
Whale Cay hid just beyond the channel to the east. Nate and Brady sailed the boat off the banks into deep water where the color changed from neon to midnight in a matter of feet.
After a slow run along the coast, they rounded up into the channel on the north side of a sunken barge where they dropped the anchor. Serendipity spent the day drifting about in ten feet of water so clear the blades of sea grass were visible on the bottom.
Just before sundown, Nate and Sarah launched the sabot to go across to the beach on Whale Cay where there was a low hill that overlooked the Berry Islands and Northeast Providence Channel. They pulled the dinghy above high tide line and walked up a sandy path where they found a place to sit at the top and watch the sunset.
Far below in the channel, Serendipity sat swinging to the wind and to the current. Sometimes she got confused between the two and sat sideways to both, but she looked beautiful in the low light.
Nate was staring out beyond the channel when Sarah leaned close. “Serendipity is lovely down there, Nate. You have to be proud.”
“I am proud. I used to wonder while I was building her what it would be like to sail her for the first time. It still feels like that each time I set her free.”
“You said she reminded you of a swan. She is one.”
“Wait until we get down into the lower Caribbean where the swells roll in from the Atlantic. She can reach 12 knots or better going windward in the trades. She clips a wave now and then and spray flies aft and makes rainbows in the wind.”
“I wish we could make rainbows. We did once. What’s wrong with us, Nate? It isn’t working very well.”
“I know,” Nate said. “It’s like we’re starting over.”
“Maybe it will be better once we’ve been together for a while.”
“Sometimes I think it’s having Brady and Shanna so close.”
“But they’re up in the forepeak. I bet they wouldn’t even know.”
“I guess I need to be patient,” she said.
“It’s killing me,” Nate said, “You know that.”
“I’ve never been around anyone like you. It just isn’t there sometimes.”
“You aren’t really over Dana yet. Remember the morning in Key West when we made love for the first time?” There were rainbows everywhere. I’ll never forget that.”
“I won’t, either. We’ll make rainbows again. You’re right, though. Maybe we just need a little time together.”
Nate didn’t want to talk about it anymore. Eighty yards up current, the dark shape of the barge quivered on the bottom in the channel. He nodded toward the hulk. “That barge looks like a manta ray from here,” he said.
“You’re kidding. That big?”
“Not quite, but they can get huge.”
“Where did you see one like that?”
“Mouth of the Sea of Cortez. I don’t know what a world record manta looks like, but the wings were 20 feet across or more. We sailed right next to it.”
“What a thrill that would be?”
“It made me nervous for some reason. I could see the shadow from a long way off, like the barge down there. It looked like a reef,” he said.
“The barge made me nervous. It isn’t very deep. I suppose someone could hit it in the dark.”
“What a way to end a trip.”
“I don’t like thinking like that,” she said.
“It’ll get better for us,” Nate said.
They watched the fading sun that lit the sky in a blaze of rose and red that overwhelmed the horizon and made the white sand of the cays turn pink. Sarah squeezed Nate’s hands and looked to the west at the sunset that faded away into a faint glow beyond the casuarina trees of Chub Cay. They sat for a while longer in the dark, but magic of the evening slipped away too soon in the short twilight. They stood and brushed the sand from their clothes and walked down the hill to the little yellow sabot on the beach.
Rowing out to Serendipity took only a few minutes. The water glowed pale blue-white in the light of the moon. The effect made it seem like they were two kids in a wooden shoe floating on a Walt Disney sea, so surreal Nate wanted to see swirls of stars on the water when he dipped the oars. He stopped to let the sabot drift.
The current carried them in the moonlight along the channel where they floated in a lazy circle toward the dark sky over the banks in the distance. The lamp aboard Serendipity cast its light through the yellow curtains drawn over the ports. They drifted past in the dark where Nate could see the reflections on the water, quiet and still, until he took a stroke with the oars and set the reflections dancing.
They rounded up just astern of Serendipity. Brady stepped out from below to help them get aboard and then they lifted the sabot out of the water and walked it up to the foredeck where it rested in its cradle upside down. Nate stood to look at the water again, but the glare from the ports and the companionway washed the soft moonlight away.
He glanced at Sarah who stood near the rail looking southeast toward Nassau. She turned around and looked back at the bluff on Whale Cay and at the dark water of the channel between and then she came over and hugged Nate’s shoulders and walked with him back to the cockpit.
She kept looking at the water in the channel at the Whale Cay light in the distance and sometimes up at the moon.
Nate wanted very much to be in love with her.
For the rest of Alligator Food go to Amazon Books: here
Author Lew Decker is a world class sailor, former teacher and San Diego based novelist.