A light breeze floated the jib’s clew high above the impenetrable green of Lake Union. Lania sailed northeast into a cobalt sky unseen in Seattle since the previous spring. She slipped over the little wind waves, the lapstrake planks of the boat’s hull amplifying the whispered flirtation between wood and water.
Alone in a responsive boat, Lania sailed across the north end of the lake as though racing, every gust an opportunity and every slack a test of her judgment on sail trim. Fingertips alive to the precise tension on the jib sheet, she milked each patch of moving air by hauling in or slacking the line a half-inch at a time. Slipping from pocket to pocket, her eyes scanned for the ruffled water that indicated air currents. Puff chasing in a long ellipse around Lake Union.
Heading south now, rougher water ahead revealed the salty compressed air currents caused by Puget Sound winds circumventing Queen Anne Hill. Many a sailor had capsized in that knockdown alley but Lania could see it coming. The varnished teak tiller rested along her hip, transmitting the Morse code of the water’s motions from the rudder into her listening flesh. Her right hand tugged the main sheet free of the fiddle block’s cam cleat. The line sizzed through a four sheave block and tackle system that quadrupled her strength and made short work of bringing the boom lower and closer to the centerline.
Capable hands firmed on the tiller and jib sheet. Lania slid to the starboard settee as the green waters lifted, the peaks lightening to celadon and then growing frothy white beards behind each wind wave. One foot braced on the opposite settee as the small wooden boat began to heel. Forearms and wrists flexed in slow counterpoint to the growing force building behind the sails. The lee gunwale dipped closer to the water as the heel increased from ten to fifteen degrees, then twenty, twenty-five.
Power hummed in the tight stainless steel shrouds bracing the mast from the deck. A tangled curl whipped across her cheek and lips, but the sails in the wind and the keel in the water demanded that she ignore the tickling distraction. She pushed the tiller harder to port and fed the jib just enough slack to spill a little wind. This rebalancing of forces brought her back to twenty degrees heel and up to an exhilarating six knots. She sailed the knife’s edge where sail shape and heel combined for the best possible speed.
A young girl, eight or nine and swamped in an oversized life vest, zigged and zagged toward her port beam on a tiny sailboat called a Laser. The child bounced from rail to rail on each tack as another child might walk along kicking a pinecone–casually, comfortably, and with little attention to the details of the operation.
Where in the world would she be if she’d begun sailing so young? Lania’s first sailing lesson was only one year past. Before she’d ever stepped aboard to haul a sail, she’d dined on books of salty nomenclature, aero- and hydrodynamic theory, and the rules of the road. Once on the water, the abstracts of current, hull shape, and sail trim spoke to Lania, sometimes yelled at her, through the actions and reactions of the boat she sailed. She found that her inner ear judged balance faster than her brain. That she could tack based on a feeling and justify it later with fact. That she had a knack.
As the girl drew close, Lania smiled and waved as sailors do. A small hand raised her direction before another tack took the child and her Laser behind Lania’s borrowed boat. Where would I be?
I could be anywhere. Electricity pulsed through her body as that thought swirled into a revelation. Not just if I’d learned earlier, but right now. Right now, I can travel anywhere I want. Lania’s shaking hand tightened on the teak tiller. And I know how I want to get there.
Lania felt a year’s worth of study, work, and fun come into focus against the restlessness and stagnation that had begun to permeate her unchanging life. Travel, growth, learning. Change. What better way to achieve a sustainable state of motion and change than living aboard a boat and sailing around the world?
Unconscious of her smile or the corona of frothy dark hair surrounding her glowing face, Lania eased out of the wind’s path. The mast rose again toward the sky as she fed the jib some line in the softening breeze and tugged the mainsheet out of the fiddle block’s cam cleat. Inertia slid the dinghy toward the Center for Wooden Boats from the northwest with all sail slacked.
Joy warmed her in the cool air of spring. Underpinning the simple happiness of the moment, a deeper satisfaction and brighter excitement flowed from her newfound conviction.
Lania stood in the cockpit as the boat approached the dock head-on. Her thick lashes filtered the sun’s glare as she squinted, assessing the perfect moment to spin the boat parallel to the wooden float. She looped a dock line on her hand and saw a backlit figure wave from the float.
“Toss me your stern line!” A man’s voice, unfamiliar and unwelcome at this moment.
Annoyed to have her concentration broken, Lania shouted her reply. “No thanks.”
The bow loomed over the rough plank on the edge of the float before she pushed the tiller hard to port in the final turn upwind. The stern slewed, rotating the boat into dock and bringing Lania within an easy step of the float. She dropped the tiller and hopped off the boat to snug the stern line to a handy cleat. With calm competence, she walked forward and pulled the bow line off the deck to finish making fast the boat.
She stepped back onto the deck to lower the sails, but the same voice disturbed her solitary peace once again. “Want a hand with the sails?”
Lania turned from the halyards at the main mast to look up at the persistent helper. Haloed by the mid-afternoon sun, his features faded in shadow and Lania could only make out the general shape of him. He looked lean but strong in baggy shorts and a t-shirt. A brush of short pale hair glowed in the light and Lania could just make out his sharp, youthful features.
Some of these boat nuts would do anything to get aboard. Lania sympathized, but her focus on singlehanded sailing required that she be able to do everything herself. Shaking her head, Lania turned him down again. “No, thank you. I’m fine.”
“Okay.” His graceful shrug matched his easy tone, but he didn’t move. Lania brought down the main sail, flaking it in neat, even folds. Self-conscious, she glanced at the man again. The small frown that replaced her earlier smile must have communicated her discomfort to him, as he gave a little wave and turned to walk away.
She watched him saunter down the bobbing float before turning to bring down the jib. As she let the sail drop to the deck and then unhanked it from the forestay, the image of a fit, graceful walk slipped into her thoughts. A very attractive man.
A half-hour later, she’d stowed and scrubbed and made the whole boat secure. After pampering the small boat she’d borrowed, she shrugged her backpack on and made the rounds of the docks to check on her other favorites. Each boat was a carefully maintained work of art, from a red-painted seven foot long skiff to the forty-three foot gaff-rigged teak schooner glowing with deep layers of old varnish. Of the twenty-seven boats owned by the Center, Lania’s quick eyes spotted almost a dozen missing. A busy Sunday at the beloved but usually quiet non-profit.
On her way out, she glanced into the busy workshop beside the bottom of the gangplank. She waved to the slight old man pulling fragrant curls of wood from a teak board with a hand plane. He raised his bristly chin in quiet acknowledgement. She loved the way his hands matched the grain and shade of the teak on which he often worked. They’d never spoken, but she liked him.
The Center for Wooden Boats was fronted by a lakeshore park that Lania enjoyed using as an office. A rich aroma of sawn wood, pine needles, and grass underpinned the living smell of freshwater plants. An oyster-shell path split the Center’s lakeshore park, connecting the gangplank to the parking lot. The path curved under a pavilion displaying Coast Salish and Nootkan-style canoes and kayaks from seakayakexplorer.com. Lania’s bike was locked to a large-linked old anchor chain that ran around the park in two semi-circles from the parking lot end of the path to the gangplank. A thorny tangle of blackberry vines draped the land’s edge beyond the chain.
Lania sat at the park’s picnic table with the sun behind her and fished her notebook from her backpack. The most recent submission she’d received for her magazine needed extensive editing. She pulled out the typed pages and began reading. Only a sentence into the piece, she started writing editing points in her notebook.
“Mind if I join you?”
Lania recognized the voice but spoke without hesitation. “Of course.” There was only one table in the park, after all.
“You do mind?” Humor shook the smooth tenor.
She looked up at the man who’d tried to help her dock the boat, irritated by the continued distraction. “I meant of course you may join me. I don’t mind.”
“Thanks.” He sat, placing a backpack and bicycle helmet on the seat next to him. His short golden hair extended down his sharp-cut jaw in the form of light stubble. Eyes the green of tender, newly unfurled leaves echoed the humor she’d heard in his voice. They compelled her to share the joke and Lania forgot her annoyance in an unbidden smile. A quirk in his thin lips stretched into a grin in response.
He certainly looked Scandinavian. Trapped by politeness, Lania grasped Ole’s hand. “Lania Marchiol.” The warm length of his fingers curled around her hand.
“Beautiful park, isn’t it?”
“Yes.” Okay, so he was sexy. She brought her smiling lips under control. She still had work to do.
“Don’t talk much, do you?”
“I’m trying to focus on this essay.” She tapped her pin against the printout that lay beside her open notebook. Ole’s grin acquired a wicked twist at the unsubtle brush off.
“You’re a student?”
“No, an editor.”
“Of essays?” Patience gleamed in the flash of teeth as he smiled. Persistent bugger.
Impatient fingers tucked a heavy lock of mahogany hair behind one ear. “Yes, of essays.”
“What’s it about?”
Was he flirting with her? Pretty eyes aside, she didn’t have time for flirtation. She needed to get this essay sent back for revision right away. Besides, if she was going to buy a boat and sail away, guys ranked low on her list of priorities. Lania drew on her obfuscatory powers, sure he’d crumble under the onslaught. “It’s an essay on gender roles in activist communities and vestigial gendered forms of protest. It discusses the virilization of honor and how activists both subvert and replicate normative gender ideologies.”
Those fresh green eyes widened. “Wow.” She returned her attention to the paper in front of her, but, to her surprise, he continued. “I’m filming a documentary of the Seattle General Strike of 1919, so I’ve been studying up on labor history and the ways that even men and women in gender-normal jobs would step outside their roles during strikes. Is that the sort of thing discussed in the essay?”
No longer annoyed, she studied him closer and continued in the same vein. “Many people expect activist communities to be models of equality, but they’re constituted of people just like any others, with a significant number of sexist, racist, homophobic, and otherwise discriminatory problems cropping up periodically. This piece is specifically about gender norms and how otherwise transgressive people fight or fulfill these norms.”
She stopped to check his comprehension and he looked amused. “Don’t worry about losing me. I can hold my own.” A cocky grin made Lania laugh against her will. A thread of interest wound through her, though she tried to resist. He dressed like a skater or a bike messenger. This Ole Rassmussen wasn’t the only sexy academic she’d known, quite the contrary. But he was unexpected.
“What do you do with these essays?”
“I publish a magazine called Literate Life.
“A magazine of essays? Is there a market for that kind of thing?”
“No, not really. I make the magazine myself. It’s dedicated to exploring ideas that languish in academia. Sort of off-center highbrow.” Lania hated describing her magazine. She never did it justice. One short fingernail picked at the peeling red paint of the picnic table.
“What is involved in making a magazine?” Ole spoke in a coaxing manner that seemed genuine, looking into her eyes and pulling the words out of her.
“In my case, I choose the essays and edit them, lay out the magazine, set the type, print, and bind it.” She grinned at his astounded look. “It’s a pretty big job.”
He shook his head, squinting as the sun appeared from behind a cloud and lighted his eyes. They glowed green behind his blond lashes, reminding Lania of the lake’s waves lightening in the peaks. “Wait, did you say setting type?”
“Yes indeed. I use an old manual printing press that was built in 1872. Her name is Esmeralda because I lurch like Quasimodo when I’m printing.” Lania mimed the motions of loading and removing the paper on each swing of the paper-holding platen against the inked type. Ole laughed, and Lania capitulated to the desire to tell him more. “I touch every bit of each magazine, and I’m completely independent. I set my own deadlines, and I’m the only one who even notices if I miss them. And I get the most amazing submissions, from pop culture analyses to dense interpersonal theories.” Lania wrinkled her nose and tapped the papers in front of her.
“Independence is a different matter when it comes to film. I couldn’t do it without the crew.”
“How many people work on the film with you?”
“Oh, twelve to twenty people on and off, for different things. Most people wear more than one hat, and all of them except Jeremy, my main partner, have other paying jobs. We get some funding, but it’s not like working with a major studio.”
“What’s your plan for the movie?” A breeze blew off the water and Lania’s disordered hair drifted forward around her shoulders. She gathered it and twisted it into a thick rope over one shoulder.
Ole’s eyes followed her motion, his gaze appreciative. “Hopefully major distribution. There are indie theaters across the country that would screen this if I can get the right distribution company involved.”
Lania’s dark brows drew close. “That’s strange. When I think of independent, I mean doing something by myself so that I have complete control. It sounds like you depend on a dozen other people, plus a distribution company. And if other people fund it, you’re dependent on them too, right?”
“When I say independent, I mean without obligation to change the film to satisfy outside interests. Making a film by myself would be impossible. We’re independent as a group, and anybody who wants input on the film in return for monetary support is refused.” He smiled a little. “I guess it’s like how unions combine the individual skills of its members to be independent, as a group, from the bosses.”
Lania frowned. “That’s a different take on the subject than I’ve ever considered. ‘Independent as a group.’ Maybe writing is so solitary that I’ve never been forced to depend on other people like that.”
Ole tipped his head sideways and ran his palm over his short, pale hair. “You’re still looking at my situation as dependent. I feel like there has to be another way of phrasing it.” After a brief pause, he admitted, “I’ll have to do some thinking about that.”
Lania saw the sunlight fade and brighten in Ole’s eyes as a cloud blew across the sun. Analytical conversation fascinated her, but she couldn’t deny that physical attraction provided new seasoning for an otherwise familiar meal.
Ole narrowed his eyes at her, darkening them to emerald. “Independence is a big deal for you. Is that why you refused my help on the dock?”
Lania felt exposed. She shot him a wry smile. “To a certain extent. I’m planning to sail around the world, singlehanded, so I will have to be able to do everything myself.” She relished saying the words aloud for the first time. A panicky thrill made her restless and she tapped her pen on the table.
“By yourself?” Ole’s shock was funny, but not particularly flattering. Not the reaction she’d hoped for. “I’ve done some sailing, but I never considered doing the solo around the world thing.”
“It’s right up my alley.” Lania spoke with a firm conviction that sobered Ole.
“Do you have a boat?”
“Not yet. I’m about to start on that part.” Defensive tension drew her shoulders higher.
“I’m in awe.” He shrugged gracefully. “Best of luck.”
Her brave words suddenly felt like outrageous boasts. She cast about for another subject. “What a day off! A big bike ride and good conversation.” Lightening the mood, she sat back. “Do you ride often?”
Ole nodded toward his bike, looking relieved to feel the tension fade. “That there is my trusty steed. I ride everywhere.”
Lania’s eyebrows lifted. “Me too. I bet I rode farther than you today.” Ole tipped his head back and considered Lania through narrowed eyes. He looked at her bike and then back at her.
“What should we bet?”
“Well, if I had the harder ride, you have to come to a party next Friday. It’s a show for local artists at my friend’s loft on the north edge of Georgetown.” Ole’s wicked smile put Lania on guard. “And if you had the harder ride, I’ll fix your flat tire.”
“No!” Lania turned toward the bikes. Just as Ole had said, her back wheel rim was resting on the ground while the tire bulged, flat, on either side. “I hate flat tires!”
“Well, you’d better hope you win, then. I’m not going to fix that if I don’t have to…”
Lania grimaced in Ole’s direction and then smiled with sour humor. “Well, then. Let’s play. You first.”
Ole buffed his fingernails on his shirt. “I rode from Belltown down to the Ferry Terminal, over to Seattle Center, and thence here.”
Lania’s smile grew. “Well, I’m not sure how you want to judge this thing, but here goes. I rode from the CD down Madison to the Ferry Terminal–funny we didn’t see each other there–then to Shilshole via Fremont, back through Fremont, and thence, as you so eloquently put it, here.”
Ole knew he’d been bested and stood, his lean body bowed over the table to look into her eyes. “I’ll get right on that flat.” Lania watched him for signs of resentment or irritation, but Ole just got out his bike tools. “Will you unlock your bike so I can get the wheel off?”
Lania was surprised by his willingness. She removed the lock and flipped the bike over. She started to reach for the quick-lock release for the wheel, but Ole stopped her with a cheeky grin. He reached down and began.
Some minutes later, Ole stood Lania’s bike back on its patched and fully inflated tires. He turned toward her with a satisfied smile on his face and stretched his long body in the fading sunlight.
Lania watched the flattering gold of sunset glisten on his fair skin. She cleared her throat, shaken by her physical response to the sight. “It’s getting late.”
“What time is it?” He looked at his watch. “Shit! I have to go!”
Ole unlocked his bike in a flurry. He spoke over his shoulder as he tossed the lock in his backpack. “I’m late, but I want to see you again. Consider the party even though I lost fair and square?” He got on his bike, already moving. “Call me, okay?”
Lania stood, dumbfounded. She watched the strong, blond figure moving away with increasing speed. “But you didn’t give me your number…”