Ghost Marina on the Mississippi

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Chapter 5 – Beginning of the Quest – Modern Day

“You can’t be serious!” Jeannette shouted at her father, “you’ve hardly ever been on a boat.”

“Of course I have, all that scuba-diving I used to do, how the hell do you think I got to the dive sites?” Jason laughed as he was having this verbal spar with his concerned daughter.

“Yes, but you weren’t responsible for the driving of the boat.” Jeannette retorted.

“No, but I went sailing as a kid, it’s like riding a bike, I’ll get back into it,” Jason replied with a confidence he didn’t really feel. “Matter of fact, I’m looking at a boat this very afternoon, I’ll have a good month to practice, docking, swatting up on rules and regulations, I’ll be fine, don’t worry.”

“You’re crazy, you should at least have someone traveling with you,” Jeannette replied, still standing in front of her father, arms crossed over her chest, not happy with the concept at all.

“Who? There isn’t anybody. Anyway, I’ll be just fine. After all, you’re the one who has been trying to get me off my arse to do something constructive.” Jason replied.

“Yes, but not to risk your life on some cockamamie chase along the rivers,” Jeannette said, now pacing up and down the living room in Jason’s house. It was a Saturday morning, Jeannette had called her father, as usual, to check whether he needed anything but when he told her about his plan to re-create his grandfather’s trip, she didn’t hesitate, she immediately drove over from her apartment to his house.

“It will be an adventure, I’ll report in every day, phone call, text, email, whatever,” Jason said smiling, indeed, now he had made the decision to accept the quest, he was thoroughly looking forward to it.

“I guess if you’re going to kill yourself that’s as good a way as any.” Jeannette said with some disdain, realizing she was not going to be able to talk her father out of the trip, then as an afterthought, she added, “is there any shopping you need?”

“No, no, got everything thanks,” Jason replied. Then Jeannette walked over to her father, who was seated at his computer desk and gave him a quick peck on the cheek.

“Catch you later, text me if you need anything. Bye.” Jeannette said and left.

Jason knew his daughter only had his welfare at heart, she had always looked out for him, even more so since his wife had died. It was a certainty she would be telling Shirley and it was only a matter of time before she would be on the phone berating him for putting them through all this unnecessary worry. But for now, he couldn’t think about that, he had to get to the marina and give a once over to a boat that might just suit his needs for the trip.

Jason arrived at the marina a little early and was directed to slip 401 where the boat he was going to be viewing was moored. The owner of the boat had not yet arrived, so it gave Jason a little time to study its outside condition in peace. Jason stood on the dock at about mid-ship and looked at the fenders that were covered in black covers matching the black lines of the MacGregor 26X, which itself was meticulously polished and gleaming in the spring sunshine. There were even fender racks attached to the stanchions and at the back was what looked like an almost brand-new Honda 50cc outboard engine. Jason tried to peer through the tinted windows of the boat to look inside the cabin-area, but he could see very little. Fortunately, it didn’t matter as an elderly gentleman came limping along the jetty to the dock.

“Mr. Clifford?” the man asked.

“Yes, that’s me,” Jason replied.

“John Winslow, good to meet you, come aboard.” The man replied as he struggled, puffing and blowing, to climb aboard the boat. Jason followed the man, fortunately, he didn’t have anywhere near the same level of difficulty boarding the boat. By the time Jason was aboard, still searching for any defects or blemishes, John had unlocked the cabin-hatch door and was placing it between the steering console and the starboard seats.

“I’ve learned from experience to always store the door on the side opposite to where you have docked,” John explained, “safer that way, when you’re getting in and out of the boat, but when you are in motion, you put it below.”

“Good to know,” Jason said, as he followed John down the steps into the cabin area. Jason loved the cabin area, he could stand to his full height and it appeared quite spacious. Although the brochure for the model said it could sleep six people, he thought they would have to be very friendly. On the port side, there was a kitchen unit housing a sink, a single-burner cooker, a water heater, and a small cooler. Underneath the unit were cupboards containing cooking and dining paraphernalia, in fact apart from vittles the boat was ready to cruise.

John also showed Jason the spare life-jackets, tools and spare accessories that were neatly stored away in large, plastic, containers in the aft section, underneath the outside seats. All in all, the boat was in excellent condition and there was little that Jason would have to purchase to begin his quest.

“So, Mr. Whinslow, why are you selling the boat?” Jason was curious to know.

“I’m getting a little too long in the tooth for this game Mr. Clifford. My wife doesn’t want to come out much and the kids are not interested, not technical enough for this new generation. So, for the last couple of seasons, the boat goes in the water in the spring and just sits there until we take it out in the fall. All I seem to do is maintain it. This phase of my life is now over I think.” Mr. Whinslow said with just a hint of regret.

“And you say it has a trailer?” Jason asked.

“Yes sir, I can show you that on the way out of the marina, it’s stored in the compound over there.” Mr. Whinslow said, indicating the direction with a nod of his head. “Just been serviced, nothing wrong with it. The trailer storage has been paid for until the end of the season, as has the rental for the slip.”

It came to the point in the transaction where they were about to negotiate the price and Jason was beginning the obligatory ’humming and harring’.

“I’m still not sure whether this is the right decision for me,” Jason mused. “I haven’t sailed since I was in my teens and I’m not sure of the waterways,” Jason paused, “I just don’t know.”

“If that’s all you are worried about I would be glad to take you out a few times, show you the ropes as it were. It’s a great boat, you won’t get a better deal than this one.” Old man Whinslow said, trying to clinch the deal. Jason took another look inside, came out and walked to the front of the boat. Jason inspected the anchor, line, and chain stored in a chamber at the front of the boat then returned to face Mr. Whinslow and offered him a price. Now it was Mr. Whinslow’s turn to ’hum and har’, eventually, they settled on a fair deal, a price that Jason was happy with and the one that Mr. Whinslow wanted from the get-go.

After inspecting the trailer, they shook hands on the deal and arranged a time to go out together sailing, at which point Jason would return with a certified check for the purchase of the boat. Jason couldn’t have been more excited and immediately went home to plan for the trip. Jason was even more elated when he was informed by John on their first session on the water that he had all the charts for the Mississippi and on one occasion had even stopped at the very marina where Jason’s grandfather had last been seen. John also had a ‘Waterway Guide’ which he brought up from the cabin and began to flick through the pages until he came to the one showing the very marina. John went on to explain the benefit of pairing the guide with the charts to arrange dockings and fuel stops.

Between training sessions on his new boat, Jason carried out some research on his intended route. He toyed with the idea of being a real ‘looper’ which he had learned was the term for someone sailing the great loop through the Great Lakes, the rivers, the Intra-coastal waterways of the U.S. and Canada. Jason’s journey would begin right there in Cleveland, from Lake Erie, cutting through the lakes and down the Mississippi. But in the final analysis, he decided the more practical route was to tow his newly purchased boat down to the historic town of Kimmswick, Missouri where his new-found friend Chuck lived. Jason had exchanged numerous emails with Chuck and the new arrangements had been decided upon. Jason would launch his boat in Kimmswick and sail upriver to St. Louis, leaving his truck and trailer in Chuck’s safe hands until his return. Of course, that also meant he had to sell his nice sedate, sedan and replace it with a truck powerful enough to pull his new rig, an action which was not appreciated by his two daughters.

Over the ensuing few weeks Jason gathered items he would need for the trip and began storing them on the boat. Sleeping-bag, high-powered flashlight, battery-operated lights so that he didn’t run down the boat’s batteries when he docked overnight. Then closer to his departure, he purchased bottles of water, provisions and packed clothes for all-seasons. From talking to people who had made the trip down the river, at the time of the year Jason was making the trip, he could expect a whole gambit of weather systems. As a precaution, he also stowed his scuba-diving equipment in the event of a foul-up with his prop. or some other unlikely occurrence.

So it was, much to the chagrin of his two daughters, Jason left his house early one morning, boat in tow, to begin the search for his lost grandfather, or at least to try and determine a reason for his disappearance. In all honesty, he felt his chances of finding any clue to the mystery were less than slim, but he felt there was no chance at all if he just did nothing. What was the worst that could happen?

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