A young sailor meets an old sailor & accepts an invitation to take the Diedra Lee to sea.
The Diedra Lee
There are times when the only thing that will calm my soul
is a quiet visit on a lazy Sunday to where the fishing fleet
On the wharf, seagulls soared overhead as the water gently
slapped against the hulls. Mooring lines creaked under stress
and a myriad of vessels slowly listed a few degrees to port
then to starboard, each vessel independent of the others' choice
At the end of the wharf is where I saw him. He was sitting
on an old wooden crate on the deck just outside the wheelhouse,
leaning forward with his elbows on his knees. The sun was behind
him as he carefully, methodically mended a net. His skipper's
hat was cocked to one side and back on his head so it almost
touched the collar of his faded blue denim shirt, which appeared
to have been carelessly tucked into his equally faded jeans.
The cuffs of his shirt were rolled just above the elbows exposing
sinewy arms and bushy hair. Rubber boots that ended just below
his knees were the only item of clothing that appeared new.
His unkempt, silver hair seemed to spray from underneath the
cap. A similarly unkempt beard with patches of darker whiskers
made his face seem fuller than it actually was.
As I watched, his leathery hands skillfully repaired tears
in a fishing net with the care a mother would give her child.
I stood silently on the pier not wanting to invade his peace.
Without looking up he asked, "You a tourist?" His voice was
deep and gravelly.
"No, sir," I replied with respect. "I miss the sea."
"She does that to ya. Once she's in your blood she never
lets go," he said.
He stopped his work, lowered his hands still holding the
net, turned his head to face me and asked, "You wanna go
sailin'?" Thick salt-and-pepper eyebrows sheltered deep eye
sockets encasing steel blue eyes. From the corners of his eyes
deep wrinkles like valleys spread out like a fan.
"You mean--your boat? Take her out to sea?" I asked.
I could hardly believe what he was asking.
"Won't be leavin' till the morrow. Be gone a fortnight.
I could use another hand if ya wanna go." His face frowned
exposing even more wrinkles. "But you gonna have to work, boy.
This ain't no pleasure boat."
A breeze blew across the beam and his hair waved in the
wind. The air current picked up his scent and carried it in
my direction. It was obvious his only cologne was fish.
His ears were nearly hidden beneath his hair, and he cocked
his head to his right as if he could hear better with his left.
"Aye, aye, sir," I replied with a wide grin. "You've got
yourself a crew member!" The only thing that changed in his
face was an equally wide grin and a softening of the wrinkles
in his forehead.
He lowered his head and continued with his mending. "Be
on board in the mornin' at four. We head out at six. You ain't
here, I ain't waitin' for ya," he said. "Me and Diedre Lee
don't want nobody on board, though, 'till the mornin'."
I looked at the port bow and knew he was the only soul
on board. Diedre Lee was the name of his vessel.
I spent only a few moments more watching the Diedre Lee and
her skipper. I felt to stay longer would be an intrusion.
As I walked away, I heard him singing a seafaring tune about
a bottle of rum.
The next morning I arrived at 3:00 A.M. and life was
everywhere. I shouldered my seabag stuffed with only essential
clothing and toiletries. The excitement of going to sea on
a fishing boat instead of a warship made my senses tingle.
The darkness was pushed away by yellow fluorescent lighting
along the wharf. I made my way past other boats whose crews
were busy getting ready for their adventures. As I approached
the pier where I had found the Diedre Lee, I thought for a moment
I had passed her by. I squinted first in one direction then
in the other. She was not with the other boats. I began to
run back in the opposite direction thinking the skipper had
moved his boat after I left yesterday. I must have been a sight
to see, running along the wharf with a heavy seabag bouncing
on my shoulder. At the opposite end of the fleet, my heart
sank. The Diedre Lee was not in port. Disheartened, I walked
to the nearest boat and hailed a crew member.
"Ahoy, there!", I hollered. A seaman stopped what he was
doing and looked in my direction. "Have you seen the Diedre
Lee?" I asked him.
"The who?" he asked. I repeated the name and he shook
his head. "Never heard of her," he said.
"Have any boats left for sea this morning?" I asked.
"No, mate. No one leaves before six. The tide ain't right
'till then," he answered. I thanked him and turned to find
The Pirate's Booty was dimly lit and dingy. There were
maybe ten tables and all but one was busy. I made my way through
the customers towards the last available table, all the while
trying to look like an old salt and not like a landlubber.
I was already embarrassed about being abandoned. I pulled out
a chair and sat my seabag on it. Then I sat down on the opposite
chair. In a few moments, a waitress sat a mug of coffee in
front of me.
"You look like you lost your best friend or missed your
boat, honey," she said with a grin. She was chewing gum and
I could see her tongue tossing it around.
"Yeah," I said looking into the coffee. I lifted the
steaming mug to my lips, blew across the hot fluid and took
a sip. "I was supposed to sail with the Diedre Lee."
Her mouth froze half open and her gum fell to the floor.
She made no attempt to save it. The table to my right fell
silent and, like the ripples in water, the silence slowly spread
across the room. I saw every pair of eyes staring at me.
The silence was broken by a scruffy-looking cook. From
behind the counter, he said, "The Diedre Lee hasn't been seen
or heard from in over twenty years." No one moved.
"But that's impossible," I replied. "I just spoke to her
skipper yesterday. I was supposed to sail with him this
"Sonny," he said, "were you drinkin' yesterday?"
"Look, I was not drinking and I know what I saw." The
frustration was evident in my voice and I was growing
increasingly uncomfortable at being the center of attention.
The cook came from behind the counter, placed my seabag
on the floor and sat down in the chair. He crossed his arms
in front of him on the table and leaned forward.
"The Diedre Lee was owned by ole Jack. He fell on hard times and couldn't
make the loan payments. The bank was gonna take 'er back.
Ole Jack loved that boat o' his. He had no family and he woulda
withered away on dry land. So, one mornin' he sailed out with
the fleet on the high tide--all by himself. He ain't been seen
or heard from since." I could feel the hairs on the back of my neck tingle.
From the table next to me, a man in a tattered peacoat spoke
"Manny," he said to the cook, "that happened twenty years
"I believe it did, Gil," the cook replied.
I looked again at my coffee and the dirty cup. "Well,
perhaps I should be going," I said and then looked up at the
waitress who had finally closed her mouth. The color seemed
to be returning to her face. I stood up, reached into my pocket
and pulled out a crumpled dollar bill and tossed it onto the
table. The cook also stood up and handed me my seabag. I
shouldered it and headed towards the door. Every eye in the
room was still focused on me. Even as I walked out the door,
the silence continued.
In the eastern horizon, the dawn was just beginning to
make itself known. I wandered back to the pier where I had
seen the Diedre Lee--and ole Jack. I noticed a dark object
on a cleat where the Diedre Lee had been moored. At first,
I thought it might have been some debris, litter, or an old
rag. Its odd shaped aroused my curiosity and I decided to
investigate. There on the cleat was an old skipper's cap.
I picked it up and looked for some indication of the owner's
On the sweatband inside was a name in smeared, but
readable ink. It was only a first name: Jack.