Scouts Honor


Diane Kachmar



            It was the wildly luffing sail that brought Chip Morton’s attention away from the sea scouts he was supervising on his ketch to the other sailboat.  He suspected Lee had chosen the less agile and experienced of the scouts, but that was only a guess, as neither one of them had seen any of the young adults sail.  Lee had an innate sense of who could do what and Crane was rarely wrong.  Morton felt far less charitable.  A mix like that at sea was asking for trouble.

            He could see Crane directing the scouts to pull the ropes taut and bring the sail back under control.  It looked like they were going to do it, until the helmsman turned the rudder the wrong way.  Lee was in the process of shifting position to better distribute the weight in the boat in anticipation of the heel, when the boom went scything across the deck.  The scouts all ducked, yelling a warning, but the boom was moving too fast for Crane to avoid it.  Chip saw his friend throw up his left arm in defense as the boom swept him off the deck, flinging Lee into the choppy sea.

            Chip reached out and pushed the rudder of his own boat over to immediately spill the wind from the sail.  “Man overboard,” he informed his crew.  “Stay here and drift.  I’ll need a steady platform to bring him back to.  Keep the boat balanced.  I’ll be right back.”  He handed his sunglasses to the nearest scout and then swung his legs over the hull so he could slide off into the water.  It was cold as the Pacific could only be.

            Morton kicked for the surface and swam toward the spot he had seen Lee go under.  He was almost there when the right color plaid shirt bobbed to the surface in front of him.  Two more strokes and Chip had him.  He flipped Lee over.  Crane’s chest repeatedly rose under his arm as Morton pulled him toward the nearest white hull.  He half-expected Crane to start coughing when he grabbed him, but Lee remained limp.  Get him out of the ocean first.  Then we’ll see what damage has been done. 

Chip continued to stroke until he made contact with the hull with his outstretched hand.  Morton anchored himself onto the hull with his free elbow as he tightened his chest carry hold on Lee.  Several hands reached down to help him.

            Morton shook his head.  It wasn’t his boat.  It was Lee’s group of scouts.  How did they manage to get turned around?  No matter, he and Lee had to get out of the chilly water.  “No.  Balance the boat.  Two of you stay, the rest get on the other side to counterbalance as we come aboard.  Do it!”

             The scouts scattered to their various stations and the rocking motion of the craft stilled.  “Okay, take an arm and lift as I push him up.” 

            Lee was dragged, not very elegantly, aboard.  Chip boosted himself up after him and flopped onto the deck beside his friend.  Lee was breathing fine, but not moving.  If the boom had hit Lee hard enough to knock him out, there should be a bruise or scrape or something to mark where the lump was.  Chip reached out and felt along the upper part of Crane’s left arm.  Nothing.  Morton was almost past the elbow when his searching fingers were grabbed unexpectedly in an iron grip by Lee’s other hand.

            “Leave off.  Tend to the boat first,” Crane ordered, a lot more coherently than Chip expected.

            Chip glanced around at his audience of anxious scouts.  “Signal the other boat to come within our hailing range.  Close the distance between us if they can’t.”  The scouts scrambled back to their various stations to get the ketch under way again.

            “Are you all right?” Chip asked his recumbent friend.

            “I think so.”  Lee sat up slowly, cradling his left arm.  “My arm took the brunt of the impact so it would have been a difficult one-armed swim back.  Who made you life guard?”

            “Water’s cold this time of year.”

            “Water’s cold any time of the year.  Get the emergency blanket out of stowage and put it on if you are planning to stay on my boat.”

            “I don’t think these scouts are up to a mid-channel transfer yet.  The last thing we need is any more of us in the drink.  Shall I head them back to port, now they have managed to take out their instructor?”

            Crane sighed wearily.  “We do need to get dry.  Set the course.  I’ll think of something to say to them on the way back in.”

            “Move the rudder right to go to port?”

            Lee almost smiled.  “I don’t think any of them will do that maneuver again.   A lesson learned the hard way.”

             “Let’s hope it sticks.  Nothing like a practical demonstration of what can happen during an uncontrolled jibe.  You were supposed to duck.”

            “No time.”  Lee shrugged with one shoulder.  “No harm done.”

            “We’ll see what Jamieson says after your arm gets x-rayed.”

            “Let’s get the scouts in before you plan the rest of my afternoon.  The blanket.  Now.”

            Chip moved to the locker at the foot of the cockpit and removed the blanket and towels that were there.  He unfolded and draped the blanket over Crane.  Lee scowled, but bit back the retort he would have given him on Seaview.  With the young adults watching their every move, he and Lee had agreed not to argue about any direction they gave each other in front of the scouts.  After the session was over they would discuss what had worked and what to change for the next class.

            “Are you all right, sir?”  One of the scouts asked Lee anxiously as Chip used the towel on his face and then began on his own hair to get it as dry as possible, so the wind would do the rest.

             Lee sat up straighter.  “Yes.  The most serious consequence of an uncontrolled jibe can be a fractured skull and that didn’t happen here. 

However, you will not win any points or get invited to any serious regattas as a crew if you keep sweeping your instructor overboard.  Today that cost you the rest of this lesson as neither Mr. Morton nor I can risk hypothermia by staying out here to finish it.”

            “The other boat is close enough to hail now,” one of the scouts volunteered.

            “That’s me.”  Chip moved carefully around two scouts until he was on the side closest to his boat.  “Okay, scouts, I’m staying here with the rescue,” he explained in his best carrying voice.  “We are going to take him in, he’s all right.  I want you to follow us back to the dock.  Find your own wind, so you don’t delay us and I’ll see you there.  Show me what you can do.”

            “Aye, sir.  We can get her home,” the oldest scout at the helm answered confidently.

            Lee favored him with a grimace as Morton sat back down next to him.  “Rescue?”

“That’s what the book says.”

Lee smiled.  Chip knew then he had given his CO an idea.  The only problem was whether or not he would like it.  With that smile, probably not.

Crane pulled the blanket tighter around himself.  “Listen up.  Commander Morton is going to explain how the buddy system came into play during this incident.  That’s why he jumped into the water to rescue me.”  Lee leaned back against the cockpit, taking up the last towel to one-handedly dry his now wildly curling, soaked hair.  “Have at it.”

Eight expectant faces turned to him and Morton was glad he had re-read the Coast Guard manual all the way through before agreeing to team-teach these scouts.  When this class was over, he would definitely have something to say to Lee about how the sailing had gone today.   


            The End?