Storm Warning

by Mike Florian


Roald Olson did not want to anchor behind ‘The Spit’, for two reasons. When the wind blew from the southeast, the shelter was on the west side of the spit of land. When it blew westerly, he had to pull up the anchor and move to the southeast side. The procedure would take about two hours, and in the dead of night, when the gales switched from one side to the other it could be catastrophic as history well shows. He also didn’t want to anchor at this dreadful place for another, more personal reason.

Roald’s wife was the nicest catch of his life. She was born in the town of Port Rupert. Long, brown hair; tall and big-boned, she became his partner and his friend. She owned the flower shop. They met and fell in love. When he had the money to build his new fishing boat he named it after her, that is, after her middle name.

Not long after the launch of the Hilda they married. Roald did not go fishing right away in his new boat. He wanted it pristine and clean-smelling so he could take his bride on a cruise over to the islands and show her some of the most beautiful places in the world. The forty-five foot vessel was sea-kindly and comfortable.

The Hilda was easily crossing the open waters of the strait separating the mainland from the islands when the weather forecaster announced a ‘pan-pan’ alert. This was followed by a weather warning of a storm approaching the area. Roald heard these rare warnings over the years and they may or may not materialize, but with his wife aboard, he didn’t want to take a chance. He anchored behind the spit in the middle of the afternoon on a warm, sunny day, ran tightly up to the shallows and dropped the hook.

Standing at the bow as he let out chain and cable, he smelled the white, sandy beach and the pine trees. His wife walked out along the side of the wheelhouse and joined him. Once there, they sat together on the gunwale, arm in arm, not believing their good fortune.

On either side of the spit, when the tide turns, the water runs like a river. At times it can reach speeds of fifteen knots. When it does so, an anchored boat would be laying askew with the wind pushing it one way and the tide pushing it in the opposite direction. The propeller may start to turn as the stream strengthens.

Roald was aware of all this, but on this wonderful day, with the evening light glowing in the galley, and after a great meal, the two of them made love. Just before bed time, the shaft began to turn and the whistling sound of the moving propeller was disconcerting. Roald thought that the Hilda, as big a boat as she was, would lay at anchor properly and quietly.

He made his way to the engine room, lifted the floorboards, and placed a pipe wrench on the shaft. It grabbed hold and the shaft stopped turning. The whistling noise stopped. Roald did not want to put the boat into gear just in case the turning of the shaft damaged the gearbox. The pipe wrench concept served fishermen well over the years.

It was the middle of the night when Roald thought he heard a scream. He touched the other side of his bed and his wife was not there. Leaping out of the bunk he opened the door to the engine room and turned on the light. In an instant it was apparent to him what had happened. His wife’s long hair was caught in the shaft coupling, and as the turning shaft pulled her head towards the floorboards, she looked into his eyes. Her neck snapped and that was it.

Roald jumped into the wheelhouse and put the motor into gear. It was too late. His wife was gone. He jammed himself behind the anchor winch at the bow of the boat, shivering and crying until the sky showed red in the morning. Realizing that the wrench had let go and that Angela got up to fix it herself so that he could continue to sleep, Roald despaired.

Most of Port Rupert turned out for the services and offered Roald their condolences which he accepted with Norwegian stoicism. For a few days friends and family appeared at his doorway with pies and soups and company. Over the next few weeks he went to movies, checked the diesel stove on his boat, and made sure the newness of the Hilda had not worn off. At night he sobbed silently.

His neighbors shook their head in sympathy and said this terrible thing would be over in a matter of time. A couple of months after the funeral, after McLennan’s shipyard cleaned the boat to the best of their ability. Roald stopped living a normal life. He ate pizza, drank beer, and rarely came out of the house. The Hilda grew barnacles on her hull.

Two years later, Roald emerged, one hundred pounds heavier. The first thing he did was go down to the boat, open the sea cock, cut the tie-up lines, and watch her sink. When the tip of the mast disappeared into the flat calm harbour water, he called the shipyard.

A few weeks later the Hilda emerged from the yard clean, dry and freshly painted. Roald thought of changing the name. He decided not to. Changing a name always brings bad luck.


Copyright © 2012 by Mike Florian

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