(from p. 185 of novel)
We made good a true course for Elliott Key at about four knots. I told Rebecca to take the V berth up front, and that I would take the main salon. She unpacked her bag below, reemerging in time to enjoy with me a beautiful sunset slightly to starboard. As the sky slowly darkened, Coconut Grove glowed in a thousand points of light to our stern. The wind picked up to fifteen knots and the boat swished through the water at five knots. I asked Rebecca to go to the galley and pull out some sandwiches. I ate mine standing at the wheel. Rebecca sat on the port bench. As Coconut Grove fell away to stern, darkened Biscayne Bay seemed incredibly vast.
"How do you know where to go Ben," Rebecca asked with curiosity and a touch of disquietude.
"I've got the compass. The charts tell me that the course is '193'. Another mile and we should pick up Marker #2. It's a four-second red flashing. We have to stay slightly to the left of it, because to the right is a shoal called Black Ledge. The next marker after that will bring us to the Featherbed entrance of the Biscayne National Monument. It's really an underwater park. That's where we're dropping anchor tonight."
"Can you see the red marker now?"
"No, it's still below the horizon. It's only sixteen feet high and can be seen for four and one-half miles. Right now it's about six miles away. We should start to make it out in about twenty minutes."
"Then how do you know that you're going to it right? Right now, that is," Rebecca asked, now with a trace of distress.
"I plotted my course and I have stayed my compass course. So I know that the marker will come."
"And what if it doesn't?"
I told her what you do if rotten weather degrades your visibility. I explained how you favor the safe side if you can't find the marker. I told her about triangulating on landmarks and how we could fall back on the Loran if everything else failed.
Rebecca asked nothing more for long time. How ironic. What I'd just been telling Rebecca was so similar to Dr. Westley's "take another tack" advice of an evening ago. After a few moments, Rebecca touched my elbow.
"It's so beautiful. Trusting a weak magnetic force to steer you in the right direction, ... keeping track of your progress, ... and looking for a light you can't always see."
"That's the story of my last twelve years, Rebecca."
Ten minutes went by silently, but for the gentle swishing of the water on the hull and the wind in the sails.
"Ben, show me how you find the light."
"The chart says the light flashes every four seconds. You look until you think you see a flash. It might be ever so faint. At the instant you think you see it, you count 'two, three, four, one'. If it keeps appearing on 'one', you mark its direction and steer for it. If it's real, it will get stronger the longer you run towards it. When you really have it, no storm cloud can take it away from you as long as you trust your compass."
Rebecca stood silently next to me, for several minutes, peering into the distance: A dark and empty universe -- except for the light of a half-moon, the constant pressure of the wind, a gentle rocking and the streaming of the water along the Diogenes' hull, sounding like a forest brook. I felt so in love with her.
"Ben, finding the marker in the dark is like me leaving NYU as a bright biology and anthropology major -- and heading down to a medical school in Miami. I have a weak background in math, -- I'm getting deep in debt and rained on with course work, -- and sometimes I wonder how I'll make it to my senior year."
"Yes, Rebecca. I understand. But you've got charts. And a lot of people have done it before -- you know what direction to head in -- and you are good and solid in biology and anthropology. So you can steer a little to the safe side and give yourself some lee way with the math and chemistry. Then if things do get stormy, you'll still have some sea room to spare."
"I'm glad I met you," she said softly.
Rebecca stood silently by me at the wheel, looking off into the distance for a long time. The binacle compass before the wheel gave off a gentle red glow, revealing a beautiful face in meditative mood. Her hand rested on mine and she nudged the wheel to the right, shifting our course slightly to starboard and downwind.
She whispered, "Two, three, four, one, two, three, four, one." Her tentative whisper grew to a clearly spoken count. "I think I have it. Yes, I am sure I have it. We're right on course. I know I'm on the right course with you, Mr. Ben Candidi."
"So do I. And you are now certified for the midnight watch."
Rebecca's musical laugh was interrupted by a fluttering noise. We'd just surprised a floating cormorant. We could barely make it out in the weak light of the half-moon as it splashed and flapped its wings in an amphibious takeoff. Off it flew to port, its wing-tips almost touching the wavelets, using ground effect to get the most out of each wing-beat.
"Ben, this reminds me of the song the violinist was playing at the South Beach. The song where a seagull sails across the cove." She sang the first verse in a clear voice with just a trace of vibrato. For some reason she ended a trifle self- consciously. But inspiration was at hand, and I improvised and sang a new verse in my warbling sophomoric tenor. I made up something about a flashing marker leading us there and our compass casting a reddish light -- which I rhymed with "sultry night".
Rebecca squeezed my hand ever so gently and said, "This Jewish girl from New York is becoming strongly attracted to you, Mr. Ben Candidi."
I started to mutter something about it being mutual, but Rebecca interrupted me with a kiss. I clamped down the wheel, braced myself, and put my arms around her. Moonlight played on her hair and danced between our cheeks, as her mouth melted into mine and we infused each other with passion. For a magical hour, the polite and discrete Diogenes held a course five degrees upwind of '193', making no demands on us as we quenched our thirst for each other. Four-second flashing Red Marker #2 glided by to the starboard. The compass card assured us our course was true.
As flashing Green Marker #2 rose before our bow, it came time to loosen our embrace and tack to the Featherbed Channel. I gave Rebecca the helm. The single flashing marker for the narrow channel grew large before us. The three unlighted markers defining the channel were barely visible. Impassable shoals lurked unseen on either side.
"Ben, is the flashing green one the forward left one? Is there one unlit marker in front and two in back?"
"Then we must be lined up straight with the channel."
"Yes, darling, and I love you," I said.
"Falling in love with you is like the channel markers. The closer I get to you, the more I know I'm in the right place."
Rebecca steered a true course through the Featherbed Channel and we glided into the first anchorage by Sands Key, north of Elliott Key. I dropped the sails as she steered. The wavelets lapped gently on the side of the boat as I folded the last sail on the boom. My two anchors caught quickly and firmly. The splash of each anchor triggered a bioluminenscent reaction, with thousands of tiny organisms adding their luminous green magic to the enchanted evening. Soon we were below deck, captured in each other's arms, sharing whispers, and sensations rendered no less intimate by the thin layer of latex between us, as we declared our love in moans and gasps of rapture that seemed to last an eternity.
Picture used with permission of Christi Mathews, a South Florida artist. For more South Florida art, visit the photo gallery of Florida Keys Online Guide.
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