Closing the Bar

We were approaching the Coos Bay bar after having spent much of the previous 24 hours hove-to off the Columbia River weathering a gale that had detonated like a meteorological bomb. There was still a heavy swell running. The mate standing beside me at the lower helm looked exhausted; the owner just looked bilious.

We had taken delivery of Blitzen at the LeClerq boatyard on Lake Union, Seattle, and were taking her south to San Francisco. She was a stout hull originally built by Delta, a hull often used for fishing boats in the Pacific Northwest where strength was always admired and often required. Blitzen had been refitted as a yacht at the LeClerq yard. She was rakish looking—black hull and topsides painted with gleaming linear polyurethane (LPU) and gold pin striping. She looked fast still secured at the dock.

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It was three o’clock in the morning and the moon had just risen above the Sierra Nevada when the cougar’s scream sat me bolt upright in bed. It sounded like the cat was outside my back door. In the summer heat both front and back doors stood open to the cool night air. There was nothing to keep the cat from charging through the door and impaling my naked body to the damp sheets, other than its disdain for the smell of humanity. Admittedly, that was a pretty pungent smell—unwashed dishes, old laundry and human sweat.

I lived in a single wide trailer that my brother-in-law had hauled in place with a backhoe. From across the narrow valley formed by Tennessee Creek it looked remarkably like the wreckage of a DC-9 abandoned on the hillside. There was an awkward crimp in the roof line as if the trailer’s back had been broken on impact. Gray paint peeled in leprous patches. One side rested on the dirt, the other was propped with sectioned tree trunks called rounds that compensated for the steep pitch of the hill. There was no electricity, no running water, no sewage and no rent.

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