The Florida Straits ( First three chapters )

By Artemis J Jones

The Wind
          When you go to the beach in the morning, what do you feel and see? If you are on the east coast of Florida, the moments before the sunrise beget clues of a new day. Low clouds clinging to earths vista are transformed by the precise beams that poke through the agile dull gray mist. Backlighting creates billows and shapes that engage your imagination. As the glorious ball of fire creeps above the horizon, your senses absorb the changes in temperature, and your eyes adjust to the powerful light. The air around you changes. It becomes warmer. Transcended in a personal experience, you feel the warm air creating movement, wind. 

For centuries, man has tried to tackle the wind, to control it, and has had some success. The wind lifts, carries. The wind has multiple faces, faces of comfort and terror.

I was a young man, once. The powers of youth swelled through every void in my body. But I’m older now. My formative years have come and gone. Each day I watch my children grow and I stare at their youth, while they play with innocence and I remember that summer.

Our Lives
          We referred to ourselves as “Bro’s”.  We were always brothers in that state of mind. A state of mind that envisioned comradery as the only staple required in friendship. Telling ourselves that the bond would be forever strong. We were together for the good times, the parties, the toasts to the winner.
I was part of the pack, and knew both of them—Chad and Marcus—way back in middle school. We all played baseball on summer nights. Chad was always looked out for Marcus. When they were together we had a nickname for them. C & M, constant motion. And here’s why.

Chad liked to be low in the batting order to give Marcus a chance to get on base. Then Chad would take the plate, face-down the pitcher, and get ready to swing. Batting gloves on, tight grip, thirty-six once bat and the arms that could power it through any fastball, he’d eye up the pitcher getting a read on his movements.  The pitch came, a dropping fastball, then a swing a swoosh and contact. The ball went over the fences ever time and with Marcus on base, it was nothing but dust and lighting. Pure speed, dust swirls as he flew by the bases and slid into home plate.

But Marcus was given other skills, perception being his greatest. He pushed Chad through classes in his own way. Marcus is the one who spotted Haley, and made sure Chad talked to the girl who would get him through all his science classes, but more about her, later.  High school was the place you made plans for a good-time, well for some of us anyway. Chad lived in both worlds. He liked the parties, but school mattered. Chad had big dreams. Marcus was different. Different, but not odd. Marcus enjoyed the social times, but there was always something, some idea engaged in his mind. He had to learn about everything by touching, seeing, and listening. He was way more curious about stuff than I was. Marcus did things his own way. He was pushing against something or searching for something that I didn’t understand.   For an entire summer, most of us all thought we were embracing our visions of life—that were beyond our youth—while Marcus took aim on life’s promise of adventure.
The Boats
            Chad and Marcus came from families that had the ability to provide a lot for two young energetic men. They lived in an upper middle class neighborhood, two streets apart. They had easy access to the beach for sun and volleyball, the lagoon for sport fishing and shared similar interests in the ocean and all the desires it conjures up in your youth. Chad’s father had two boats. The first was an awesome fishing boat.  The second was a thirty-three-foot sailboat named—Destinies Shadow. Both boats were well equipped and Chad took the Coast Guard safe boating classes with his father when he was in eighth grade.

Marcus’s father, Doug, saw where his son’s attention was going. It was obvious Marcus liked the water, especially the ocean. Doug loved the water but never devoted the time to learn about boating. So, he sought out the advice of many people, which included Chad’s father, Brian, about buying a boat.  Brian discussed many things with Doug about boating and asked him several questions.
            “Why do you want a boat? What type of boat do you want? What will be the purpose for purchasing a boat and where will you keep it?”
Doug thought about a family power boat. I know this because I was in their house during the discussions. Marcus kept talking about a sail boat and he must have had an impact on the decision. Because his father eventually came around to the same conclusion. A sailboat would be perfect, large enough for the family, so Doug put his time, money and efforts in that direction.
In the late spring, while Marcus finished up eighth grade, his father purchased a new thirty-five-foot sailboat. Doug spent more than ninety-five thousand on the blue water beauty with small oval shaped tinted windows, smooth lines and a large teak deck around the helm. He named the boat—Devolution.
Devolution was a fractional sloop, very fast under the right helmsman, and equipped with full electronics, gps, battery backups and a gale rider, to help control the boat in storms. He and Marcus took the Coast Guard safe boating classes and, together, they learned basic maneuvers like tacking. Soon they were ready to take on the seas, but only on clear weekends with a lite off shore breeze.
Shortly after Marcus and his father completed the sailing course. I saw them one day while I was at the end of the jetty fishing. I spotted the large red and blue main sail of Devolution, as they were on a dead run through the inlet going back to the marina. The wind—onshore—pushed hard on the sails while the wake created from her bow smashed on the rocks of the jetty. As she passed, her metal mast stood tall and was held strong by stainless steel cables of the standing rigging, with sails tight, her bow pitched up and down in three to five seas, while Marcus cranked on a winch to tighten the genoa. The white tipped waves against her being rebuffed by the massive fourteen-thousand-pound vessel and turned into a wake of good fortune for a tiger shark chasing bait fish through the water. I watched them go by, maybe at six to nine knots, a seamless steady force of wind, water and bright sun. And Marcus, focused, living in the moment, learning new things.
Marcus learned as much as he could about sailing in those early years.  He related to me one time when I was over his house his thoughts on sailing. ‘I have trouble just reading a book about sailing. I need to get out there on the water and learn by doing.’ And that is what he did.
Often he put himself in the moment. One time I went with him and recall Devolution in a close hauled position. Wind over the sail, the tell tales straight out at the top of the main, the vessel heeling and the water splashing up on deck. Marcus watched everything. Example he pointed out to me the water flowing past a channel marker towards shore. ‘That’s the tide coming in at about one knot.’ From that day on, I could tell his instincts were firmly in a stage of development.
By the time they were seniors, they had taken each boat out separately. Friendly competition started and they both discovered the art of showing off. But let me tell ya— Chad excelled at this more than Marcus. There were moments of dazzle for the attention of two classmates—Haley and Jennifer—although, it was clear, at least to me, that Haley didn’t need any more showmanship, she liked Chad. Meanwhile, Marcus started to talk about more serious competition, something he was not ready for. He learned a lot, but had never been seriously challenged by the sea and the weather at the same time.  At the marina restaurant Marcus proposed a race to Chad.
             “Let’s have a race next month up to Hillsborough inlet.”
“Sounds good,” Chad replied. 
“It’ll be a practice run for a race later this summer to the Bahamas.”
“Suddenly, we have a new fearless captain in front of us, Captain Marcus, wants to race to the Bahamas. Okay, you’re on. We’ll do it. Hillsboro next month. Bahamas, before the end of summer. You know I’m going to whip you.”
“Just boastin’ for Haley. Nothin’ but a show-dog”
Haley stared and shook her head at both of them. While the rest us stood locked arms in a circle and yelled out, “When constant-motion hits the seas, what we do? Party. When constant-motion makes the play, what do we do? Party.  Yeah, we the Bro’s made sure of a good time. Chad and Marcus laughed. Through the laughter, Chad stared at Haley. He gazed at her every day. Many times when she was not looking.
She always told Chad, “I can feel the weight of your stare.”
Haley had long dark hair, was five-foot-nine inches tall, very athletic and proved to be very challenging for Chad, sometimes she was more than he could handle and during those times, Chad hung with us.
Haley was more than any of us “Bro’s” could handle, she was straight—A—with honors. She had her choice of colleges to go to.  She chose to rest during the summer at home before college in the fall and to be with Chad. You could say they were in love.

As talk of the race progressed, we proposed a party at the finish line for each race. The party—any party— was a strong force that pulled at Chad. It meant good times with friends and a chance to celebrate victory in front of Haley. 

Thank you for reading the first three chapters of this short story.

The Florida Straits, a story inspired by Jack London's To Build a Fire, is in  the process of publication

A link will be posted soon where you can read or listen to the final version.

© Copyright Artemis J Jones 2016

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