Maybe it’s just me but I find myself spending a disproportional amount of time moving, going to or leaving with boats, at night. One such night late last fall was a classic. I moved the Mini up to the Hinckley Yacht Services yard in Portsmouth, RI preparatory to erecting the shed around her and the Ranger so I could continue my quest to get the Mini sailing again. The night was drizzly wet, misty, dank and generally raw. It was the kind of night to sit by the fire with a good who-dunnit and a glass of Shiraz. The dankness and the weak yellow flood lamps reminded me of the first time I saw the rebuilt 12 Metre Australia, in July 1979.
The fellow who had recruited me to be the boat captain, Lee Killingworth, and I drove into the industrial area in which the refit had been done. The shed was your basic industrial put-it-up-in-a-day steel structure. It and a few clones were inside a 10-foot tall wire mesh fence in a neighborhood populated with similar homages to the rigors of small business manufacturing.
July is mid-winter in Australia and Perth is on the water. The prevailing weather is from the west and southwest and so brings the harsh storms blowing up from the Southern Ocean and lots of moisture with them. And it is cold, raw moisture.
There was no sign on our shed. Warren Jones, He Who Made It All Happen, in 1977, 1980 and particularly in ‘83, had wanted to keep us as invisible as much as possible. Frankly, in the dark and fog/mist/drizzle the dismal atmosphere was winning the battle of light versus dark against the couple of dismal, dank yellowish lamps purportedly illuminating the parking lot.
We opened the gate and idled up to the side door of our building. I can remember that scene as though it was yesterday. Even with only the two of us, disciples in the Aussie Battle to Win the America’s Cup, the atmosphere was full of expectation. Here was the beginning, again, of something no one had ever done: beat the yanks in the America’s Cup.
That fall night was the same kind of wet, chill, dank and bleak, something out of Dickens perhaps. I towed the Mini up to Hinckley and pulled in alongside one of the huge sheds they have. They are the larger brothers of the ones in Perth all those years ago. I wonder what it is with the lighting that goes with these sheds? It is always this pale, anemic yellow. Weak enough that you feel as though if you looked at it too hard if would go out.
Again as in Perth, the whole scene reminded one of a 1930s Raymond Chandler gangster novel.
There were no headlights on the black shape as it inched closer. It looked like his Caddie, but with street lamps were few and far between here, it was that kind of neighborhood, it was hard to be sure. Then again, who else was it gonna be? The President?
In the dark it was hard to make out any particulars of the guy in the car. The one street lamp between him and the tenement was that sickly, anemic really, yellow color that the lamps on docks show. The car had stopped just outside the circle of yellow light drifting down from this lone lamp. The drizzle let up for a moment, but that really made no difference. The cloud cover was at about 3 feet anyway, so rain or not, everything was wet and the late fall air was chill. The entire scene was dank and depressing. After some time, on his own schedule, he got out of the car.
He stood there, big and bulky, dense really, in his Fedora pulled down low over the eyebrows. His long black over coat matched the darkness of the street, as though they were cut from the same bin of blackness. So dressed he was almost invisible outside the circle of yellow pinch-hitting for light. For fully a minute he stood and, well, not so much looked around, as if he was sniffing the air. If he were a cat, his whiskers would be twitching, or his ears. At length who, or what, ever was at Twitch Control must have given him the all clear. He started walking, slowly but with purpose towards the tenement.
There was no other human on the street but that was not a surprise. 2637 Broadview was the last, more or less inhabited tenement on the block. It was so well known to the cops, they didn’t need the number. Just Broadview, said it all.
He stopped some feet from the door. Twitch, twitch. Slowly, very, very, slowly he unbuttoned his overcoat and pulled the lapels apart, just a smidge. He reached inside the coat and unbuttoned the three buttons on his suit coat. Very slowly, twitching all the while.
Very slowly he raised his right hand up under his left armpit. I don’t think he was reaching for his Lucky Strikes.
It was that kind of night.
So here we go again. This time I have the Ranger AND the Mini in the Vince’s Bush Boatyard Plastic Hoop Shed, albeit with 12 feet of extensions on it to accommodate the Ranger. Maybe after I get her done and sailing I will be able to move boat boats around in daylight, sunny, warm…you know, a normal kind of day for sailing…
Australian born, Joe ‘Coop’ Cooper stayed in the U.S. after the 1980 America’s Cup where he was the boat captain and sailed as Grinder/Sewer-man on Australia. His whole career has focused on sailing, especially the short-handed aspects of it. He lives in Middletown, RI where he coaches, consults and writes on his blog, joecoopersailing.com, when not paying attention to his wife, college senior son, dog and several, mainly small, boats.