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Low, dark clouds were on the horizon as the dinghies assembled around Willie’s boat. He paced the deck as the last of the stragglers rafted up to the bobbing mass of little boats, and Jack sat on Island Time’s aft cabin top with Linda and Seth. When the last boat was tied off and the crowd’s attention undivided, Willie stepped up to the stern rail and began to speak.
“It has become fairly obvious that we are not safe anywhere near the United States. It is also fairly obvious that we can’t get too much further away in power boats. We have no idea when or where fuel will be available, nor will we be sure of how we can purchase it. Which leaves us in a bit of a pickle, and as far as I can see, with two choices. One, we could all crowd aboard the few sailboats amongst us and leave. Two, we could run the boats out to sea and scuttle them, leaving us stranded here come what may, but maybe we’ll be left alone. I’ll leave y’all to chew on that for a bit. I know it’s not much.”
Several minutes crept by before anyone spoke. The only sound was the increasing wind and small waves lapping the boats as their occupants quietly murmured among themselves. When finally the silence was broken, it was the cigarette boat’s skipper that addressed the assembled.
“Folks, I am going to stay put. I’ll scuttle my boat and take my chances. There’s not enough room on the sailboats, and I’ll be damned if I’ll become a burden on anyone else. I think we’ll be okay here so long as we lay low.”
“Might as well count me in” said the owner of the little trawler, already damaged in the passage through the Florida Straight. “We won’t get any further.”
A gust of wind rippled the bay as the storm clouds drew near, which sent a chill through Jack as he sat there looking at the group before him. Talk flowed as they all tried to decide what the best course of action might be. After quite some time, when the first drops of rain started to ripple the water’s surface, the decisions had been made. Most were going to scuttle their boats and melt in to the island’s population, hopefully to live in peace. A few decided to transfer on to one of the few sailboats that had room. And Jack had agreed to take Willie and his wife aboard First Watch.
With much sadness in their hearts, Seth and his wife decided to stay put for the sake of their young son. The details being finalized and good-byes having been said, the group went their separate ways as the lightning lit up the sky and the rain came down hard. Jack and Linda boarded their dink, cast off, and headed for First Watch. He pulled hard at the oars against the wind and chop which had whipped the shallow bay to a froth. Foam streaked the water’s surface and spindrift flew past them as spray pelted their bodies when bow met wave. Willie had won his anchor and come alongside Jack’s sailboat in the time it took him to row the fifty yards or so between the boats.
He helped Linda aboard after tying off his painter, then hauled himself over the life lines as the rain increased. Lines were passed between First Watch and Island Time, and Willie’s son Ben placed fenders between the hulls as they met. Then began the task of passing gear across from boat to boat. When the final items had found stowage aboard Jack’s boat, Willie launched his skiff for Seth and his family to take ashore. Tears mixed with rain and spray as they climbed aboard the skiff with their belongings. Hugs, kisses, and good-byes finished, they cast off and headed for shore. Peggy and Linda went below as Jack and Willie agreed on the coordinates for Island Time’s final resting place. With a lingering glance of both sorrow and dread, Willie cast loose the moorings and entered Island Time’s wheelhouse for what would be her final voyage.
Jack hauled his anchor and raised the storm jib. The wind was gusting over forty knots, and the rain fell hard, so much that the deck drains barely kept up. He followed Willie as he headed for the open sea. Soon the chop turned to swell that heaved their hulls as they passed through the gap in the reef. Soon after, Willie signaled by flashing his anchor light that they had reached their destination. Jack sailed upwind of Island Time, then launched his dinghy. He sent it over on a long line, and it reached the trawler just as Willie emerged on deck. He signaled that the deed was done, then climbed over into the little boat. As Jack hauled him in, he sat facing his beloved boat as she began to settle in the waves. Every light aboard was burning, and adorning the mast was a white flag bearing a black cannon barrel and the words “come and take it” as it snapped and popped in the wind.
Willie climbed aboard First Watch, but ignored the dink’s retrieval as his gaze returned to the sinking trawler. Jack also turned to watch as Island Time slowly settled, then turned over as a large wave struck her beam. The cabin lights could still be seen shining under water as the stern slipped beneath the sea. Soon the bow was standing straight up. The lights flickered out, and a great belch of air came from the bow hatch as it blew out. She bobbed twice more, then Island Time went down. Willie stared at the foamy spot for a few seconds more, then turned to haul Jack’s dink back aboard. When it was secured on deck, he went below without a word.