the westport eight

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Romance  |  House: Booksie Classic
bad weather causes a teenaged rowing crew to spend some enchanted time with three sisters at their wealthy waterfront home.

Submitted: February 07, 2017

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Submitted: February 07, 2017




The Westport Eight By Tim Geoghegan -Rowing Terminology -Prologue -The McAllister, Henry, and the Crew -The Canoe, Emmaline and Amelia The Landing -The House, Gunner -Boyfriends for Gracie -Soothing Amelia -The Torpedo Boat -Happy Returns ?

Rowing Terminology The eight oared racing shell is a sight of beauty on the water, deliberate, moving fast, all oars moving together and an uncanny, almost mysterious ghost of ancient seafaring from the days of the Vikings and Galleys. The present day commands used by the coxswain (or coxy, the guy in the back who also steers) are just as ancient and are necessary for the crew to achieve the exact and perfect synchronization required. These commands are: -feathered, catch, the oars are turned so the flat side is just above the water, waiting to be turned and catch or bite into the water. -half up, the entire crew moves their sliding seats to the midpoint of the slide with oars feathered and reaches forward to wait for the command to start rowing. -half, three quarter, full, the rowing start sequence of half stroke, three quarter stroke and full stroke. -starboard, seats 1,3,5 and 7 are on the starboard side, right side looking forward and seats 2,4,6 and 8 are on the port side. Seat 8 is also called the stroke oar since it to this position that all the other oars are synchronized. The stroke sets the rate at which the boat is rowed. -touch it up, short, arms only, strokes used for maneuvering the boat forward, back it down, same strokes to go in reverse, easy all, all rowing stops. The coxswain can issue specific orders say, to turn the boat to the right with “touch it up port, back it down starboard” and can also be specific by crew member “one and two only, touch it up”

To Nora Roberts, understanding the mystique.


2300 hours, late January, 1943 The three Packard V12 engines rumbled gently as the torpedo boat slowly moved westward through the dark moonless night, away from the base at Tulagi. Crossing Ironbottom Sound towards Savo Island there was a short burst of gunfire as the guns were tested. Then the boat turned northwest from Guadalcanal, picked up speed and headed off up the Slot to the patrol zone where it could destroy ships of the Tokyo Express. The torpedo boat and crew were never seen again.? The McAllister, Henry and the crew Henry, captain and rowing the number eight stroke position in the Westport High School crew was worried as they were returning along the north shore of the bay after about 12 miles of the Sunday-only “pleasure cruise”. The crew consisted of Henry’s 16 year old brother Brian in the number one seat followed by Ron, 17, Holuby, 16, Ray 17, at seats 2,3,4 with Doug, 18, Billy,17, and Charlie,18, in the 5,6 and 7 seats. The McAllister was an older eight oared shell on an 18 mile low speed “pleasure” cruise which the crew took once a week as a reward for the murderous six day a week training and practice courses. These practices lasted only about two hours but covered multiple standard race distances at full race conditions and were draconically designed to completely exhaust the oarsmen with multiple repeats of ‘hard twenty’ stroke intervals and the expectation of perfect timing. The intensity was so great that the expected one mile trot around the nearby park to cool off was a welcome relief after coming off the water. Some folks thought that rowing was an elitist activity, Oxford - Cambridge or Yale - Harvard but Henry knew it was the most exhausting sport he had ever engaged in with the added necessity of perfect catch, feather crew timing and no missing any practice. The reason for his worry was the high wind and wave conditions which had suddenly started as part of one of those short lived but violent summer squalls. Right now it was not too bad as the boat was moving directly into the waves, bow on, so even the occasional white cap was not a problem. “Stan”, Henry said to the 15 year old coxy, “start looking for a sheltered spot where we can wait and ride this out for an hour or so if we have to”. “OK” Stan replied “but those folks in the canoe up ahead there look they are in deep trouble” Henry turned and saw a red canoe with two occupants being blown backwards, panicking as they flailed the water with their paddles. “Put us bit ahead of them Stan and see if we can give them some help” “Port side pull harder, starboard side easier” Stan shouted as he used his rudder to get onto an intercept course just ahead of the canoe. “Humpf” Henry noted, “They don’t even have life jackets”

The Canoe, Emmaline and Amelia “We’re gonna drown” screamed Amelia from the back of the canoe which was now starting to take on water, while Emmaline, up front, bravely tried to keep facing into the wind, knowing that if they turned sideways they would overturn and that would make their dangerous position even more critical. At 18, Emmaline cursed her younger sister, 17 for wanting to go out for what she said was a short paddle. Amelia had been in a white hot rage earlier when she learned that her new current boy friend had dumped her and she wanted to work it off by beating the water with her blade and screaming invectives at all men. They had just left the dock at their parent’s luxurious multi million dollar waterfront home when the wind started and blew them down to where they were now. It didn’t look good. Also, her parents were away for the day and only her youngest 14 year old sister Grace was at home with the family dog, a 3 year old German Shepherd named Gunner. And Grace had no idea of Emmaline and Amelia’s danger. Suddenly Emmaline saw a large shadow, like some prehistoric monster, cut across her line of vision. The monster stopped and positioned itself within inches just ahead of her and a voice called out, “we can give you a tow, do you have a rope?” With the entire crew watching behind him, Stan tried to hear for a reply from the canoe. At that point Amelia stood up and promptly fell overboard between the stern of the shell and the canoe. “Dammit” shouted Henry as he leaped out of the shell and in two powerful strokes had caught and held the befuddled Amelia alongside the canoe. “Climb back in” he said, “I can’t” she screamed after she made two tries to get her arms and shoulders over the side of canoe. “Try once more” he said as he reached down below her. At this point she literally shot out of the water as Henry propelled her with his version of what is known to ballet dancers and figure skaters as a “butt lift”, so strong and violent that she almost went over the other side of the canoe. Amelia played her part in this violence with an earsplitting squeal. Henry then turned to the other girl and almost growled “Give me the rope”. As Emmaline started to comply there was another scream, this time of rage, and she turned to see Amelia come up close, reach over the side, and hit Henry with a full roundhouse open handed slap on the left side of his face. There was a moment of silence as Henry, looking stunned, faced his outraged assailant. This was followed by a chorus of laughs from the crew who were leaning over the gunwales and even Brian, standing up over his seat in the bow joined in. “Hit him again”, “Whack him with your paddle”, more thundering laughter as they enjoyed the spectacle. Henry knew immediately that he had inadvertently been a little too close to the girl’s sensitive lower body areas but her drama and embellishment didn’t matter now. “How far do you have to go?” he asked the other girl, taking the rope and passing it to Stan. “About a quarter of a mile, just past that weeping willow” she said, looking for the first time into her rescuer’s bright blue eyes and his wet head covered by a dark short shaggy hair . “OK” he said, and turning with another powerful stroke, disappeared underwater. How is he going to get back into his boat she wondered, when, with a sudden explosion from the water, his hands grasped the side of the shell and his body shot out into the air, twisted and came down over his seat. Just like a sea lion at a marine show was the only way she could describe it. “Take up the slack and we’ll paddle slowly down along the shore to that big willow tree” he said to Stan who now had the tow rope around his waist and was smiling broadly. “Touch it up all”, Stan shouted until he could feel the slight tension on the rope. “Half, three quarter, full, gently now” he cried. Both he and Henry, sitting opposite and pulling his oar slowly in the stroke seat, watched as the canoe, bucking slightly, came on steadily under tow. The Tow As they moved off into the wind with the canoe towing behind, a little jerkily at times, but stable enough, Emmaline called to Stan and Henry to introduce herself and Amelia. Stan reciprocated and the players in the little drama evaluated each other. Up close like this, Emmaline noticed that the crew, sloppily dressed in old tops, shorts or no tops at all, were uniformly lean, well muscled, relaxed and cheerful. They were so much unlike the boys she was used to at the private schools, golf courses and country club tennis courts. She watched them carefully. They seemed to have a common purpose as they pulled their oars in perfect unison but at the same time each had his own individuality. Henry was also looking at the sisters and was surprised at how beautiful Amelia was with her little red bikini, deep blue eyes, perfect skin and wavy jet black hair, now drying out. Almost a goddess, he thought. Emmaline was also pretty but in a more subdued and solid way and she was overcoming her fear now that the danger was in the past. The tow was progressing well now and the crew members were each looking appreciatively back at the canoe. “Do we have salvage rights?” “Can we keep them” were some of the comments Amelia heard and she smiled while she gazed at her new heroes. Emmaline sensed this and became concerned. Already Amelia was starting to act like their wild 30 year old man-crazy Aunt Elizabeth, twice divorced and living the life of a jet setter with a different man every few months. “It’s in the blood” Amelia had laughingly said earlier when Emmaline had voiced her opinion about how Amelia seemed to be embarking on a similar behavior around boys. Approaching the big willow tree Stan noted that there was a low floating dock just beyond. Emmaline smiled yes when he asked if that was where they wanted to go. Henry called “Can we pull our boat out here for a short while until the wind dies down”. “What if I said no?” when she answered with a chuckle. “I’ll pretend I didn’t hear you and do it anyway” replied Henry with a smile. The Landing When Stan had the shell alongside and the crew were holding off the low floating dock, preparations were made to lift the boat out. But the canoe and its occupants had to be dealt with first. “Brian and Ron, pull out the canoe and put it out of the way”. The two crewmen, with big smiles, raced along the dock, helped the girls out, dumped the water out of the canoe and lifted it out. “Up there by the pool” said Emmaline, pointing across the spacious lawn separating the dock from the big, big house. Brian gave Amelia a quick glance and pretended to move to grab in her direction as they carried the canoe by, for which he received a slap across his backside. Amelia was beginning to enjoy this as she turned and slapped Ron on his bare chest. “And that’s for what you’re thinking” she laughed, showing her beautiful smile. “Everyone out, port side hold the boat, starboard get the oars away from the dock and everyone get back to lift out” called Stan. An amazed Emmaline watched as the crew responded almost as one. “We’re going to put her up there on the lawn, all bend, lift overhead and face the bow” Like being lifted by a tremendous hand the shell came out of the water, held upside down overhead. “Step out opposite the riggers and down to waist height, carry forward and up onto the grass, watch the steps at the end of the dock”. I’ll get some lawn chairs for stretchers” Stan said as he ran ahead. It was a surprising show of uniform discipline for Emmaline who was thinking that these guys know what they’re doing as they marched forward, carrying the boat up the steps and ahead to a point where Stan had positioned two lawn chairs. “OK, set her down” he said, and the boat was gently positioned , upside down. The landing had been completed. The crew looked around at the luxurious gardens, the pool and the magnificent house beyond. Everyone tensed at the sound of a deep threatening growl and the sound of a young girl’s voice screaming, “No, stay! Gunner, stay and sit right now!” Henry looked around to see a snarling massive German Shepherd skid to a halt and stand watching the crew, seeming to wait for anyone to make a false move. The dog’s name was Gunner. The House, Gunner “Our little sister Grace is fourteen and she is Gunner’s favourite” said Emmaline as she moved toward the house. “We found these guys and brought them home for you Grace” said Amelia at her sister’s look of astonishment. “Come into the California Room” cried Grace to the crew, “My mother calls it the California Room because she brought everything here from California” It was room the full width of the house with windows and French doors opening onto the lawn and a wide open staircase in the middle leading up into the rest of the house. There was wicker furniture, leather love seats and tables spread tastefully with flowers and decorations through the center of the room. A massive stone fireplace dominated one end and a baby grand piano graced the other end. The back wall was a collection of framed art and photos. Grace shouted out for all to hear “ Are you still mad about getting dumped, Amelia?” Amelia flared and looked angrily at Grace. Emmaline said quietly to Henry, “Yeah, the creep was hitting on me last month and took a shot at Amelia when I didn’t bite”. Brian overheard this and slowly walked over to Amelia, gently putting his hand on her shoulder. “Do you mind if I try the piano?” called Ray, who rowed in the 4 seat. “Ok but don’t bust it playing chopsticks” said Emmaline. Boyfriends for Grace “Hey Gracie, do you want a couple of boyfriends?” Henry said. Wide eyed, she responded “OK” not sure what would happen next. “Holuby, Stan, get over here. Gracie, these are your boyfriends but you have to promise not to hurt them”. “Can I feel your muscles? she asked. “Sure, got any peanut butter cookies” smiled Holuby as he and Stan stepped on both sides of her, suspiciously being watched by Gunner. “Yes, up in the kitchen” she exclaimed, grabbing each of them by the wrist and running up the stairs with them, the dog bounding on behind, his big tail now wagging like a windshield wiper. Gunner apparently knew about peanut butter cookies. “My sisters and I go to private schools, very exclusive ones, so we don’t see groups like yourselves very often. We are only home for the weekend but we didn’t expect this kind of experience” Emmaline told Henry. “Well, this is the public Westport High School lightweight rowing crew and we don’t see groups like yourselves very often either”. Sensing her concern he said gently “Don’t worry, we’ll be on our way in about twenty minutes, as soon as the wind drops but thanks for the shelter”. “Thanks for saving us” she whispered as Grace, Stan, Holuby and Gunner came racing back down the stairs. Grace jumped into a leather love seat, placed Holuby and Stan on each side and proceeded to feed cookies into their open mouths. Gunner jumped into it and within a few seconds Holuby was wrestling the dog on the floor, holding a cookie in his teeth for Gunner while Grace was feeding another one to Stan. Some guard dog thought Henry. It was not chopsticks Emmaline heard from the direction of the baby grand piano, it was the unmistakable opening notes from Chopin’s fantastique impromptu, and she realized that it was probably the finest piece of music ever played on that instrument in this room. “Holuby is a funny name” she said. “His real name is Prince Ignateus Ferdinand Von Holubeshen, his parents are diplomats from Prussia, aristocrats with massive land holdings. He doesn’t like to be called Iggie so he answers to Holuby. And Ray comes from a family of concert pianists” said Henry quietly.

Soothing Amelia Amelia turned to a smiling Brian when he gently touched her bare shoulder. She had privately been looking at the landscape of oarsmen, wondering which one she was going to take upstairs to her bedroom, lock the door and ravish in her beautiful four poster bed with the pink sheets. Wait till she got back to school and told her sorority sisters about that! “I’ve got it figured out” said Brian, tenderly and caringly looking into her eyes. “He did it to hurt your sister. He would have to be crazy to lose out on someone as beautiful and smart as you. Let me talk to you about it”. She began to listen to him as he bent forward because she had some surprising things to say to him. Chuckling, Henry knew when Brian could pour on the charm, but wondered about their conversation when he heard Brian ask Amelia where her father kept the shotgun. A loud shout came from across the room, “Henry, come look at this picture”

The Torpedo Boat The back wall was completely covered with pictures, European castles, family photos, old cars, all sorts of subjects which had been cleverly arranged to stimulate interest and tell stories. “That’s some relative of my grandmother” said Emmaline to Ron, Doug, Billy and Charlie as they looked at a framed photo of a powerful and warlike torpedo boat. The boat was tied up at a rough dock and the crew, mostly shirtless with shorts or shapeless trousers, stood smiling at the camera. “That must be in the South Pacific, look at the palm trees in the background,” said somebody. “Hey look at the machine guns” said another voice. “That would be good to have in a race if another boat got ahead of us” chimed in a third with a laugh. One of the boys, Doug, was looking at a written description under the photo, “This boat is seventy feet long, our boat is sixty five feet, almost as big”. Henry had a strange feeling as Emmaline quietly commented that the torpedo boat had gone missing and was presumably destroyed in action shortly after the picture was taken. “They look like a good crew” he said thoughtfully. He turned towards the windows and said to Emmaline, “Well it looks like it’s clearing out there, hate to say it but we better get going”. Happy Returns Once again, Emmaline and her sisters were amazed at the quiet efficiency, a few commands from Stan, with which the boat was lifted, carried down to the dock and deposited in the water. “Starboard get the oars, port side hold” as the oars were brought down, positioned and locked in at each rigger and the oarsmen all settled into their sliding seats with Stan in the coxy seat. Only Henry remained on the dock, facing the three girls. “Gracie, thanks for not hurting Stan and Holuby, Amy, please don’t break my brother’s heart” he said. “I’ll break it and spit out the pieces” she laughed. “Emmy” he said seriously, turning to her as she heard the surprising changes to their names, “I think you are really nice, I like you a lot, I really like you”. Emmaline lunged forward, throwing her arms around Henry’s neck and violently kissed him, a kiss he held and then returned gently. There was no sound from the boat. Turning towards the crew, he pulled her so she leaned over backward , across his thigh. He bent down and kissed her deeply as she grasped passionately at his hair and pulled her arms around his neck. “That’s for us,” he said and the crew murmured approvingly as he gently released her and set her back on her feet. Stepping away slowly, he took his place in the stroke seat and said “Get us out of here Stan” . “Port side push off, bow two touch it up” shouted Stan. “Half, three quarter, full, paddle” came the commands as the McAllister pulled away from the dock. “Pick it up, cover the puddles, lift on the strokes” as the boat, all oars catching and feathering in perfect unison, accelerated away. Grace was on her hands and knees, screaming with tears running down her face “A Prince, a real Prince”. Amelia was smiling but slightly choking and Emmaline could hear in her mind, the old sea chanty, “Hey now and up she rises” in time with the catch and feather of the oars of the rapidly departing boat. With a single tear trickling down her cheek, she thought she could also hear, very very faintly, the muffled sound of powerful engines and short bursts of gunfire.

© Copyright 2019 tim geohagan. All rights reserved.

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