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  • As night yields grudgingly to dawn,
    I pace the frozen wharf
    watching for the cabin lights aboard to flicker on,
    listening for the mooring chain’s rattle and splash.
    Every boat but one swings restless.
    A one-eyed pick-up truck prowls the parking lot,
    another captain gauges wind and temperature then slips away for coffee

    Cold comfort for company again Ben, is all Dickie says,
    as I drop the last three rungs to the icy deck.
    He glances at the radar’s sweeping arc,
    switches off the cabin lights.
    Taps the compass

    15 miles out, we idle back in the last lee shore.
    step out into the glare of sunrise off ice built up thick on deck and rails,
    wait for half a chance to haul our gear.

    Any further Ben, and we’ll have to run clear and around Africa to find a lee.
    I grin at the familiar line.

    Maybe the seas will moderate after the tide turns.
    Maybe the wind’ll drop when the sun comes up.

    Dickie mutters as he picks at the ice building up on the rail,
    I’d rather be beat with a wooden lath than turn back.

    I figure to lighten the mood, saying,
    Scotty told me he’da gone out today
    only he never wrote down the coordinates for the gear he set.
    Dickie’s smile is neither gentle nor kind.

    He’s got his ‘marks and bearings,
    the last scraps of America
    wavering mountain peaks and hazy island headlands.
    Today, sea smoke towers,
    we’re alone with only wind and tide for guides.

    When he can’t bear to hold back another moment we leave the lee.
    It’s another geography offshore, Dickie likes to say.
    Crests jut above the threading icy mists.
    In the troughs, walls of water rise about us, sheer and shimmering.

    He glances at the compass, checks his watch.
    Glances aft, chews his lip, pours another cup of coffee.

    30 miles offshore, the end buoy of the first string appears,
    Dickie grunts as he reaches out to gaff it
    and our day begins.

    The diesel roars on the long, dark run home.
    Dickie’s smile flashes ghastly green in the radar’s glow.
    My old man used to say,
    All’s you really need is a compass, a pocket watch and common sense,
    he paused, spun her round to take the crest of a following sea on the bows,
    back on course, he picked up his thread,
    There's only one of those three that you can't do without.
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