JunoMagic's Birthday Stories Playlist 2006
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The Boatbuilder: 1. The Boatbuilder
I've always found it a puzzle that the San Francisco Yacht Club is not, actually, in San Francisco. It's in Belvedere. You can look out across the Bay toward Alcatraz and the city, though.
While Jack and Chuck worked on some problem with Abracadabra's motor, I wandered up and down the dock gazing the aforementioned view and looking at the boats. We planned to head out for a day sail around Angel Island once as they got it fixed.
I like boats, despite my sad tendency to motion sickness, sailboats especially, the smaller the better. I enjoy the ingenuity of the builders who fit so much intricate usefulness in such cramped space.
Most of the boats are modern, sporting fiberglass shells. On a clear day like this, they make a gay sight, with their blue and green sail covers and the sun shining on the white hulls, all against a backdrop of green trees, bright blue sky and dark sparkling water.
A few of the boats are old-fashioned, made of real wood. I'm more drawn to those, somehow. Maybe because they represent real physical human work, the fitting together of frame and planks.
One of these occupied a slip just down the dock from Abracadabra. I admired it for a while and peeked through the windows into the tiny cabin. A tall, lean man walked out from the dock; I rose hastily.
"I've been admiring your boat," I said. "She's beautiful."
Jack and Chuck are both about six feet, so I'm used to looking up, but he stood several inches taller.
"Thank you," he replied. "She's almost finished. I sailed her over from the shop just this morning." I put him at sixty-ish. He wore a short, well-trimmed grey beard, and his smooth silver hair clipped back in a tidy man-ponytail. His weathered face showed laugh lines and crow's feet around grey eyes.
"You built her?" I hoped my awe registered in my voice. "She's gorgeous."
"Yes. I and my apprentices. My shop is in Sausalito, but I have a slip here." He had the accent of a Brit who's lived in the States for years. "Would you like a tour?" It seemed he'd picked up on my blatant salivating to see the inside.
"Thank you. Ah, um, thank you very much," I replied. I extended my hand. "I'm Anna."
"Dan. Nice to meet you, Anna." As I expected, his hand felt strong and calloused. He wore a large square ruby in a plain gold ring.
I clambered over the side and down the short ladder into the cabin.
It was all I'd imagined and more. Berths, head, galley, nav station, each a miracle of cunning and practiced design. He'd used wood everywhere, stained wood with bright brass fittings. At first, all appeared undecorated save by the natural grain of the wood. I looked closer. Here and there I found small carvings, mostly of a double four-petaled flower.
I peered back out through the glass to the sunny marina. It seemed somehow like looking into the brassy present from the dim past.
"Does she have a name?" I asked.
"I let my clients name their boat," he said. "Though I give each one a, eh, father-name while I work on it. I think of this one as Eleanor. Sometimes the clients keep the name I use, sometimes they bring a name with them."
"Named after anyone?"
"Yes, someone I knew a very long time ago."
I didn't want to wear out my welcome, so long before I tired of looking, I thanked him again and climbed back up the ladder. Jack waved and called to me from Abracadabra, and I headed back.
As I walked up the pier, I saw a couple coming down the dock, both of them as tall as Dan. We met just where the pier joined the dock. I smiled and nodded to them. "Good morning," I said.
They nodded in return and replied "Good morning", but without smiling. They looked lean and strong, but weary and sad. I thought the woman might begin weeping at any moment.
I felt the pier dip behind me as Dan stepped onto it. The man and woman strode down to meet him. He greeted them in a language I didn't recognize and they replied in the same tongue.
I replayed the sounds of Dan's greeting in my head as I walked out to meet Jack. I laughed at my imagination; it had sounded like "May gova'en, mell'nin!" I glanced back, but they had disappeared, apparently into Eleanor's cabin, as Dan was just vanishing down the hatch.
The boatbuilder met his clients and ushered them into their soon-to-be home. He recalled their first meeting, when they had come to his shop to commission a boat.
Never, he'd thought, had he seen fëar clutching so feebly at hróar. He had feared they would lose the grip on their physical bodies at any moment.
He rubbed Narya with his thumb, wishing for more than the frail shadow of its former power, to strengthen the weakening spark of another's soul as it did his own. Ah, well, he would do what he could.
The couple stood beside his drawing table. The boatbuilder opened a cupboard and brought out a velvet bag. It was not, of course, the original one. He'd lost count of the bags he'd made over the yéni. He set it gently on the table, though what it contained was far more durable than anything in the shop, or, indeed, for miles around. Save, perhaps, for himself.
He drew the bag away revealing the darkly glowing crystal. His clients stirred, showing interest at last.
"A palantír," she murmured. "I thought they were lost or across the Sea."
"Ah," he said, "the Little People misunderstood. The wrong story got out, and I did not disabuse them. The fewer people knew the true story, the better.
"This is the palantír of Elostirion, the Westward-looking seeing stone. It has been in my keeping these many ages.
"Look you, now!" He stepped back, and let them draw near. They gazed into it. He knew what they saw; it would give them heart. He hoped the vision would sustain them until they reached the Straight Road.
"The green hills, the white mountains, oh! There is our home!" They looked into the globe with growing vigor.
She looked up. The boatbuilder saw animation return to her face. Soul and body now were bound more firmly by hope.
"Thank you, oh, thank you!" she said.
Today, though they still appeared drawn and sad, he no longer feared they would quit their bodies on the brink of answering the Call. Many months spent learning the craft of sailing had put them close to the Sea, which, he'd found, strengthened the bond between fëar and hróar.
"Can you not teach us?" they had begged. "Must we learn from the Second Born?"
"I could teach you, but when, then, would I build your boat? Do not despise the skill of Men. Indeed, there are those here who could teach you as much as I, and far more than you need to reach the Straight Road. While you learn the ways of wind and water, I will build your boat."
Now he would begin to test them, and teach them of this boat, their own boat. They went on deck, and he instructed them to cast off. They worked briskly at it, showing they had, in fact, learned something from the Second Born.
Once we were under way, I told the guys about my encounter with the boatbuilder.
"Dan," said Chuck. "People come from around the world for his boats. If I'd grown up out here, I'd've apprenticed to him. I wouldn't have gone for the architecture shit at all." He laughed. "He's a good guy. I've sailed with him. If you think his boats are masterpieces, you should see him sail. I've never seen anyone who can read the wind as well as he can. "
Jack and Chuck started discussing technical aspects of reading the wind, water, and competing boats. My attention wandered, and I lay back in the sun, sightseeing and dozing. We ambled about the Bay, peeking through the Gate and rounding Angel Island.
As we turned back toward the marina at the end of the afternoon, we saw Dan's boat heading in, too. The wind had died down, and we fired up the motor. Not Dan, though. He sat at the tiller, his guests on either side. He caught every breath of wind, also, apparently, teaching them what he was doing. Jack and Chuck watched closely, as well. "We're not too proud," said Jack "to learn new tricks from an old salt."
We were in well before they, though, since motoring gave us an edge in speed. We had tied up, dropped the sail and closed the hatch by the time they pulled in. We waved at them as we walked back up the dock. Dan waved back and the couple nodded their heads, as their hands were full of line.~~~
A few weekends later, Jack and I went out for a day sail again. Chuck brought Sharon and their son Alan along. Alan's mostly a good kid, now that he's out of the terrible twos.
We got an early start, since we had to be back in time for some children's party Alan was heading for. When we passed Dan's slip, I noticed him there, loading bags and boxes.
"Is she finished?" I asked.
"Yes. It's always a bit of a wrench when I let one go. Sometimes I build a boat for a local, then I'll see her out on the bay from time to time. Not Eleanor, though. I may never see her again." He rubbed the ruby on his finger absently.
"Like giving up your children," I said.
"It is. But one becomes accustomed. It's part of the job of a boatbuilder." He sighed. "At least I try to leave them in good hands." He got back to work. "Have a good sail," he said.
"Thanks," I replied. "Take it easy."
The couple arrived for the final voyage. They loaded and stowed their gear and supplies. At least he didn't have to talk them out of some over-sized keepsake of Middle-Earth that would not fit anywhere. Any tokens they carried were small enough to be packed away neatly. He went out with them for a last sail.
He did not take the tiller or handle any lines, but let them do all, as they had for the last couple of weeks. They should reach the Straight Road without mishap.
They returned to the dock. The boatbuilder embraced them both and disembarked. He waved to them until they rounded the breakwater, then turned toward the shore.
As we sailed back to the marina, Dan's little wooden boat came around the breakwater. Dan wasn't in it, only the man and woman. I turned to look at it as we passed; I wanted to see what they'd named it.
It was not, of course, Eleanor. The tidy, graceful script read Elanor.
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