The Young Man and the Sea, p.1Rodman Philbrick
FOR MY BROTHER JONATHAN,
WHO KNOWS WHERE THE BIG FISH LIVE,
AND FOR MY FEARLESS NIECES,
MOLLY AND ANNIE PHILBRICK
Table of Contents
1 Lobster Boy
3 By the Barrel Raised
4 Rotten to the Keel
5 Attack of the Vampire Mud Worms
6 The Finest Kind
7 The Ringing of the Hammer
8 What the Grease Monkey Said
9 Money by the Pound
10 Lobster in the Parlor
11 Trap Wars
12 Rich Boy in the Dark of Night
13 When You Wake Up
14 By Hook and by Crook
15 Where the Big Fish Live
16 The Blushing Bandit
17 Three Rules for Skiff Beaman
18 What Happened to the Stars
19 If Mist Made the World
20 Take My Breath Away
21 When the Whoosh Comes By
22 Keg Rider
23 A Nantucket Sleigh Ride
24 The Angel in the Mist
25 The Tail on the Door
About the Author
Q&A with Rodman Philbrick
Rod’s Writing Tips
A Sneak Peek at Freak the Mighty
BEFORE I tell you about the biggest fish in the sea and how it tried to kill me and then ended up saving my life, first you got to know about the leaky boat, ’cause it all began right there. The great repair and the trap wars and the angel in the mist, none of it would have happened without the leaky boat.
It starts the last day of school. I’m on my way home, coasting down Spotter Hill on my crummy old bike. The birds are chittering and stuff, and I’m riding no hands with the wind on my face. A day like that you can feel summer in the air, and the smell of cut grass, and the sting of salt from the harbor. Then our little house comes into view, and right away I see that what I been afraid of these last few months has finally happened.
Our boat the Mary Rose has sunk at the dock.
It breaks my heart to see her so pitiful, with just the top of her cabin showing, and a shine of oil spreading like blood on the water. A sunk boat is a pitiful thing. It’s enough to make a person cry, but I ain’t cried since the day my mom died. No matter what that rotten rich kid Tyler Croft says, it ain’t true.
I been bailing Rose for months, getting up before dawn to pump out the bilge and keep her floating. Just in case my dad decides to get his lazy duff off the TV couch and go fishing. That’s where he lives ever since the funeral, lying like a sack of nothing on the TV couch. Most times he don’t even put the TV on, he just sucks on his beer and stares at the cobwebs on the ceiling.
It ain’t like he’s a real drunk. He don’t beat me or curse me or nothin’. He just lies there feeling sorry for himself and it don’t matter what I do or say. One day I swore him out for ten straight minutes, about how he was a good-for-nothing and a worthless boozer, and how he might as well be dead as lying on the TV couch, and what would Mom think if she could see him. But even that don’t get him going. He just sighs and says, “Skiffy, I’m awful sorry about everything,” and then hides his head under the pillow.
I can’t even be sure if he’s talking to me or to himself, ’cause we got the same name. Samuel “Skiff” Beaman. Down the town wharf they used to call my dad Big Skiff and me Little Skiff, to tell us apart, but my dad don’t go down the wharf no more. He don’t do nothin’ at all. Not even when I come running in the house to tell him Rose has sunk.
“Dad!” I go. “She gone under!”
He rolls to one side and puts a bleary eye on me. His beard is all matted because he ain’t combed it in months, and it makes him look old and scruffy. “School’s out, huh? How’d it get to be that late?”
“The boat sunk! What’ll we do?”
“Do?” He puts his hand over his eyes and sighs again. “Oh, I suppose we could raise her up, but she’d just sink again. Best leave her be.”
“You can’t leave a boat sunk at the dock. It ain’t right!”
But my dad turns his face to the back of the couch and won’t hear me, so I run outside and skid down the steps to our rickety old dock, but there ain’t nothing I can do. Once a boat has gone under, you can’t bail it no more. There’s nothin’ to do but wait until the tide goes out and then somehow winch it onto the cradle before it sinks again. Then maybe I can find the leak and plug it.
There used to be a winch in the trap shack, and that’s where I’m heading when Tyler Croft comes by on his thousand-dollar mountain bike and thinks he sees me cryin’, which he don’t.
“Hey Skiffy!” he goes, popping a wheelie and showing off. “Heard that old wreck of yours finally went under. Good riddance! Ugly thing stunk up the whole creek. That wasn’t a boat — it was an outhouse!”
“Ooh, Skiffy’s cryin’!”
“Am not!” I said, looking around for something to throw at him, a rotten apple for his rotten head.
“Skiffy’s cryin’ and I ain’t lyin’! Little Skiff Beaman lives in a shack, he pees in a bucket and craps out back! Hey lobster boy! Your momma’s dead, your daddy’s drunk! Go back to the swamp, you dirty punk!”
I been hearing variations on that stupid song since Tyler Croft was old enough to talk, so it don’t mean nothin’. All it does is make me want to womp his head with a hard green apple because that would make him cry.
There’s nothing close to hand but an old chunk of wood. I heave it and miss. Tyler laughs and then screams away on his bike.
“I’m tellin’ the whole wide world!” he shouts back over his shoulder. “Little Skiff Beaman cried like a baby!”
He will, too. Not that it really matters. When your whole life is sunk, it don’t matter what nobody says about you, they can’t make it worse.
Still, I wish I had that hard green apple.
I GOT to admit, what Tyler Croft says is partly true. Our little house used to be a shack, until my mom married my dad and made him fix it up. I wasn’t there, of course, but I seen the pictures. We got running water now, and indoor plumbing, but my dad never seen no reason to tear down the old outhouse with the half-moon carved in the door. Says it reminds him of the way things used to be, and how cold it was on winter nights when you had to put on your hat and boots just to do your business in the outdoor toilet.
When I was real little I remember my mom used to always be at him to take down that ratty old outhouse, but then she got used to it and planted flowers around it and painted it up and stuff, and didn’t mind too much when folks came round to see what it looked like, because it’s the last outhouse in all of Spinney Cove. Kind of historical, you might say.
My dad’s family, the Beamans, they was swampers. That’s local talk for white trash, I guess. In the old days, swampers was folk who lived in shacks near the salt marsh or on the creek, and got by digging clams and trapping crabs and lobster and selling salt hay to the farmers. Come fall they’d shoot ducks and geese and salt ’em down and sell ’em by the barrel to restaurants in Boston. The point is, they lived off what they got from the marsh and the creek. This is way back before my dad was born, but they still called him a swamper on account he was a Beaman, and Beamans had always been swampers, simple as that.
My mom, now, she weren’t no swamper, not even close. Her people was Spinneys that settled here and got the town named after them, or maybe they named it for themselves, same difference. There are rich Spinneys and poor Spinneys and regular Spinneys, b
The name on her headstone is Mary Roselyn Spinney Beaman, so you might say she got to have it both ways.
One thing with swampers, though, they’re good with boats. It’s in our blood, I guess. When I was nine, my dad nailed up a little skiff for me out of plywood, and put an old five-horse Evinrude motor on the back, and give it to me for my birthday, which was really cool.
I’m twelve now, but the skiff still fits me pretty good, and don’t leak a drop. “A tight boat is a good boat,” my dad used to say, but now he don’t care if the Mary Rose sunk, so it’s up to me to raise her.
Only thing, I don’t really have a clue how to go about it — I never raised a sunk boat before. So I get in my skiff and row around above where she went under. I can see her down there sitting on the mud, but it still don’t figure, what to do next. Finally I get sick of looking and decide I’ll row up the creek to Mr. Woodwell’s place and see if he has any ideas on the subject.
Lucky for me, he does.
Mr.Woodwell is about a million years old now, and mostly retired, but once upon a time about half the working boats in Spinney Cove come out of his shed. He built the Mary Rose before I was born, and I seen the picture of him standing by the bow when she got launched for the first time. Even in the picture he looks quiet, and it’s only got worse since then. Folks say he’s so shy with words that weeks go by between one sentence and the next. That may be, but he always says hello to me. “’lo, Samuel,” he’ll say. “Come alongside and tell me what the fish are doing.” And I’ll put in to his dock and tell him the smelt are running or the mackerel are in, or if the stripers are feeding. He don’t fish — never has — but he likes to know.
The day the Mary Rose went under he’s planting a bed of flowers by his back porch, the one that faces the creek, and don’t see me till I holler. It’s too far for him to holler back, so he waves his hat instead, and I put my skiff in to his dock and walk up the grassy slope to the porch.
“’lo, Mr. Woodwell,” I say.
“’lo, Samuel,” he says, patting dirt around his flowers. “What are the fish doing today?”
“I don’t know,” I say. “Rose has sunk and I can’t raise her.”
It takes him awhile to get up from the flower bed and wipe the dirt from his hands. “Come up the porch,” he says, and I do.
He fetches lemonade, and that takes awhile, too. Everything takes awhile with Mr.Woodwell, ’cause he moves so slow, but I don’t mind. You never tasted lemonade so good as what he makes in his steel pitcher, from real lemons and white sugar stirred in.
“There you are,” he says, handing me a glass. “I’ve been worried about that boat,” he says, easing himself down into his rocker. “You’ve been pumping the bilge out regular?”
“I bailed her just before I went to school, and when I got home she was down.”
“What did your father say?”
“So it’s up to you, is it?”
Mr. Woodwell sips his lemonade and stares out at the creek. “I won’t say anything against your father,” he says.
“I don’t care about him,” I say. “I care about the Mary Rose.”
He gives me a hard look, to see if I mean it, which I do. “Okay then,” he says. “I’m too old to be raising sunk boats. I can’t hardly lift a hammer, let alone a thirty-six-foot hull.”
“But you can tell me how.”
“Yes,” he says. “That I can do.”
OLD Mr.Woodwell, he give me a list of things I need to raise the Mary Rose. Fifty feet of rope, a ten-foot plank, and some big steel barrels, what sometimes they call drums. I guess he knew we’d have such things close to hand — every dock on the creek has drums and rope and an old plank or two. Anyhow, first thing I do is fish the rope out of the bait shack. Then I drag a plank out of the woodpile and set it on the dock. The plank has a little green moss along the edge, but it’s still plenty strong. There’s half a dozen empty steel drums behind the bait shack, and I roll out the four have the least rust. All of ’em got rainwater sloshing around inside, so I tip each one up and empty it out, then fix the cap down tight to make it watertight, or nearly so.
“Four drums will lift two thousand pounds, approximate. That should be just enough to shift the keel,” Mr. Woodwell told me. “You put that rig in place and then let the tide do the work.”
His idea is tie two barrels to each end of the plank, then run a rope from one end of the plank down under the back end of the Mary Rose and up to the other two barrels.
When the tide comes in, the big steel barrels will float up and lift the boat.
“Sounds awful easy,” I told him.
“A thing doesn’t have to be difficult if you give it some thought and apply a little elementary physics.”
To look at him, you wouldn’t think Mr. Woodwell was so smart, but he is. My dad used to say a good boatbuilder was partway an artist and partway a scientist, and it was the science part of Mr. Woodwell that was going to help me raise our boat.
Not that my dad cares. Never even sticks his head out the door to see what all the fuss is, with me banging barrels around and talking loud to myself, like I’ll go, “Guess I’m on my own out here!” and, “Sure could use a hand with this heavy plank!” and, “Anybody know how to tie a good knot?” and so on.
Finally I give up trying to rouse him and concentrate on rigging the barrels like Mr. Woodwell told me. What sounded dead easy takes me all the rest of the afternoon and partway into the evening. That’s okay because the tide won’t turn until about nine tonight.
I get it all rigged with an hour or so to spare, so I figure to cook supper for me and Dad while I’m waiting for the tide. He don’t care about food much these days, but you got to eat.
“Don’t trouble yourself,” he says from the couch. There’s a show on the TV he’s pretending to watch.
“No trouble at all,” I go. “Easy to cook for two as for one. You’ll need your strength if you’re gonna help me with the boat.”
He sighs kind of heavy and goes, “Nothing to be done, even if we raised it. She’ll just sink again.”
“Salt water kills an engine dead, once it gets inside. Boat’s no good without an engine.”
“Here. Eat your spaghetti.”
I’m pretty good with store-bought tomato sauce. The way you do it is add fried sausage and onions and cover the whole mess with grated cheese. Spaghetti’s fine, I give you that. But by rights we should be eating fresh cod and lobster, only you need a boat to catch ’em. Which I figure to do myself, if Dad can’t be bothered.
See, I got it all figured out. Raise the boat, fix the leak, fix the engine, then go fishing. Supposedly I ain’t tall enough yet to steer Rose by myself, but if I stand on a milk crate I can see good enough. It’ll be fun, fishing on my own, and when Dad hears about me working the traps, it’ll shame him into helping.
That’s my plan. But when my dad gets a beer from the Frigidaire and goes back to the TV couch, all he says is, “Be careful. I couldn’t stand it if you drowned yourself.”
I go, “You could give me a hand,” but he don’t say nothing back.
Outside, it’s real still, like it gets when the sun has just gone down and the tide is about to change. Like the world is holding its breath and you want to hold yours, too, to make it last. I climb out on the plank and tighten up the ropes some and then there’s nothing to do but wait. Hoping that old Mr.Woodwell got it right, and the tide will lift the boat. I’ll save worrying about the ruined engine for later.
All the barrels have to do is raise the boat clear of the bottom, then I can pull the bow onto shore. I got that rigged, too, a one-ton
I’m thinking about all these things at once: the tide coming in, the barrels floating over the sunk boat, what happened to the boat when it went underwater and how much of the gear got ruined, my dad on the couch. My dad on the couch and the summer ahead of me like a big blue train I’m chasing.
I’m thinking so hard, I don’t hear Captain Keelson rowing down the creek.
“Skiff Beaman!” he says, loud enough to jog me. “What’s up, Little Skiff?”
Captain Keelson is leaning on his oars. Even in the dark I can see the worry on his face. He ain’t near as old as Mr. Woodwell, but he’s pretty old. He says the rowing keeps him young, but if you ask me, it don’t show much.
“Boat went under,” I tell him.
He nods. “Yup, I can see that. You rig those steel drums by yourself?”
“Mr. Woodwell told me how.”
“Ah yup. What happens when she lifts?”
I tell him about the come-along winch. He thinks about it and nods again. “Should work,” he says, talking in his slow way. “Where’s your paw?”
“Just nipped inside. He’ll be right out.”
“That so? Well, you give him my regards.”
Then he glides away, dipping his long oars into the water so smooth and soft, it makes me wish I could be rowing, too, out on the creek in the dark, rowing away from everything.
Thinking about rowing on the dark water makes me tired and I lie back on the dock for just a little while, with the current humming around the pilings. Moving water sounds sleepy, like a tired person going “shush,” and before you know it I’m flat-out fast asleep.
In the dream I’m adrift on the current in a leaky boat in the dark of night and can’t find my oars and can’t see the shore and can’t do nothing to save myself. I want to shout out for help but my voice don’t work and it don’t matter anyhow because there’s no one can hear me.
What finally wakes me is the barrels nudging against the dock, bonk-bonk, and the top of the Mary Rose white as the moon, raised up from the bottom, come back to life, just waiting on me to fix her.
The Young Man and the Sea by Rodman Philbrick / Young Adult / Actions & Adventure have rating 3.6 out of 5 / Based on25 votes