The world was melting down with political insanity – Dylan Blake was happy to leave it all behind

Winter Sailor (2018, 250 pages) Buy now in print or ebook.

Before writing this new novel I spent a few years getting into the world of sailing, ASA certification, racing on the bay, buying a small sailing dinghy and cruising it overnight, reading blogs, and watching countless Youtube videos. A big challenge in writing this book was balancing the plot with the sailing jargon. I wanted a gripping story, not to get lost in the weeds with arcane terms. Yet, I wanted experienced sailors to get an authentic thrill ride, too.

Here’s the official cover blurb:

Sailing alone near Antarctica in the middle of winter, she was prepared for the worst: icebergs, rogue waves, isolation. She had no idea of the dangers ahead. This science fiction suspense thriller will take you for a wild ride through unexpected waters. Dylan Blake is a female action hero for today’s turbulent times, a solo sailing survivor of epic endurance. Set in the world of today’s fastest yachts, Winter Sailor is a hold-on-to-the-page travel story about an adventurer staying alive against all odds.

An excerpt:

CHAPTER 1

Sailing alone across an ocean wasn’t a new thing for Dylan Blake, but this would be her first time venturing this far south. The weather in the roaring forties, furious fifties, and shrieking sixties was going to be an issue, but she didn’t get to pick the start date of this passage. As a yacht delivery skipper, she worked on the schedule of the boat’s owner. If Doyle needed his boat race ready in San Diego in October, yes, she would depart Sydney in August. That was the gig. So what if this was the height of winter in the Southern Hemisphere, and she was about to sail into the worst of it?

Toward the South Pole.

Cold.

Storms.

Icebergs.

Entire ice shelves calving off Antarctica.

It didn’t matter, she was going. North, toward the tropics, the tradewinds were blowing the wrong way. South was where the wind she needed lay, the fastest ride home, the westerlies, in the frigid waters of the old clipper route. Besides, she was curious. Ok, excited, really. The icy seas she was headed toward were made famous by the fastest ships of the nineteenth century. The square rigged tall ships sailed through frigid, stormy, far southern seas to make the quickest possible trip from Europe to Asia. In modern times, the Southern Ocean was more popular with circumnavigating racers, secretive whalers, and dare devils.

Like Dylan.

She was looking forward to this.

A lot.

Thirty foot seas were the norm, eighty foot rogue waves weren’t uncommon. In the Vendée Globe, the preeminent solo around-the-world sailing race, the Southern Ocean was usually where the knockdowns happened.

There was no teak to be found aboard Doyle’s record setting boat, Reveille. She was pure, modern speed, so Dylan rapped on the carbon fiber grab rail next to her temporary home’s new dodger, installed after Doyle had a particularly wet trip over from New Zealand. The improvement was nice, although at first look she wasn’t sure the minimalist shelter would do much to actually keep her dry in big seas.

“Knock wood,” she said aloud, clearing her mind of potential repercussions of the negative thought.

Yes, it was likely she would capsize at some point on this passage. It happened. When you were pushing for speed in heavy seas, sometimes the elements got the better of you.

Dylan had been over before plenty of times, mast in the water, and had to act fast. Release sheets, dump the main and genoa, retrieve the kite, whatever it took to pop right back up and keep going. Get things in order again after you have boat speed.

To this day she had never turtled, turned a boat completely over so the mast was pointing down at the bottom of the sea. Not even in an Optimist dinghy when she was little, racing against Doyle’s kids on the Chesapeake.

Tap tap on the oval shaped reinforced companionway hatch with its nine inch porthole.

After she looked up the combination to the lock on her phone, Dylan slipped on her headlamp. There was plenty of light above decks with the marina’s flood lights, but after sitting idle for four months, even connected to shore power there was a good chance Reveille’s batteries would be dead, some circuit tripped. She didn’t need to deal with fumbling around in a dark cabin where all kinds of loose gear might have been hastily stored by the owner.

Dylan smiled as the cabin lit up around her, fully illuminated by bright LEDs. The boat was gorgeous, one of her favorites, minimal and purely functional but beautifully constructed. There was the usual bachelor clutter from Doyle’s last race, and a few supplies left over from the installation of the new hard dodger, if that’s what you called the low addition over the companionway. Aerodynamic lip was more appropriate.

She made a video call to Doyle, greeting him as his image appeared, “Thank you, Mike Doyle.”

“How is she looking?”

“Gorgeous as ever.”

She turned the camera to show him a bit of the interior, leaving out the five gallon cans of epoxy and other mess. This was not Dylan’s first time on Reveille, not by a long shot. She was used to this deal. While Doyle preferred to make solo records, she had crewed with him while he was getting the boat set up in Southern California, and twice she had soloed her back to California from Hawaii.

Doyle got the glory in the Solo Transpac, she got the pleasure of  taking his forty foot ocean racer back to the starting line. And usually, cleaning up his mess. But he paid her to sail thousands of miles alone, and that was worth cleaning up after his messy habits on board.

She had delivered the yacht from San Diego to New Zealand, the first leg of this trip, but with a crew of three. This passage back, she was by herself. Most owners wouldn’t hire a delivery captain to go nine thousand miles without crew, but Doyle was like a second dad to her. He was super receptive to her plea, and with this delivery back to the United States, he was really paying her to play.

“There’s nothing like being at sea, by yourself, Dylan,” he said now. “You know Reveille. And better, you know how to get speed out of her. I trust you, I trust the boat. Do you trust yourself?”

“I’m about to find out.”

Dylan knew what she was doing was risky. There was no friendly neighbor with advice, no Sea Tow to haul her off a misjudged shoal, not even a rescue from the Coast Guard was possible. In the middle of the ocean, it was just you, your wits, your boat, and, if you really were really desperate, the radio, phone, and internet via satellite.

And her EPIRB, in the ultimate worst case scenario.

Dylan loved a smooth drip of adrenaline. She wasn’t looking to take ridiculous chances. Her EPIRB was charged and registered, already clipped to the self-inflating life vest she put on outside the gate, before going onto the docks. Hopefully the safety device would never, ever, be activated. If the emergency position indicating radio beacon were turned on, a satellite would convey her location to a twenty-four hour monitoring station, and an appropriate recovery effort would be coordinated, usually by the nearest commercial vessel. The EPIRB wasn’t guaranteed to save her life, but it was a lot better than climbing up into a life raft with a flare gun.

Reveille had both of those, too, a four person inflatable and zip-locked six packs of flares, and Dylan would check the repack and expiration dates as part of her initial safety check. From a glance, everything belowdecks looked to be in great condition, outside the usual trash and misplaced stuff, but Dylan would wait until morning to finish her full inspection. While she was anxious to cast off, at least a few hours of daylight preparation was a necessary precaution when she was about to be at sea for six weeks.

Ok, it was really only going to be four, but she liked to tell herself six, to mentally prepare. The weather could be uncooperative, equipment could malfunction, she just didn’t know what might happen. So, she added an extra couple weeks, in her mind, and her contract.

“Can you believe the idiot said that shit?” Doyle asked Dylan again.

“Said what?” Dylan had only been quarter-listening to Doyle ranting on about politics. Everyone was soaked into the latest presidential intrigue like it was more reality TV.

Dylan was very happy she was about to check out.

“He might use a tactical nuke,” Doyle repeated.

As he went on, Dylan vowed not to look at the internet on this passage. The craziness kept coming. Doyle was a former Navy guy, and his business was involved with the defense industry, so of course he was concerned. But she needed the peaceful and quiet reality of the open ocean, not this hysterical insanity of mediated political obsession. Screw that. She was going to turn her phone off after this call.

He was still going, “To kill a bunch of starving kids with knockoff AKs and ancient PCs fighting an obsolete cold war against global arms dealers and military contractors, most of which are led by former U.S. generals.”

“Unbelievable,” she said. “He wants to drop a nuclear bomb on ISIS?”

“No, Dylan. North Korea. I’m telling you, this is beyond anything I’ve seen. Oh, and he furloughed federal government employees in California, and froze all funding. Yosemite is closed until the striking rangers agree to the privatization deal. There’s an armed stand-off. You know what that’s doing for our state tourism?”

“People are probably lining up in their cars to look,” Dylan laughed. She knew Californians too well, “I can’t keep up with his bullshit, Doyle. It’s not healthy.”

“I wish I could,” Doyle looked at his other monitor to check his company’s stock price. “The markets are skyrocketing, but these new tariffs are killing my foreign suppliers, and the new plant in Alabama is unionizing. I’ve got my work cut out here.”

“Well, I’ll let you go…”

The two berths amidships in Reveille were identical and shared the single bathroom. Dylan knew the owner preferred the starboard sea berth closer to the head, so she carried the captain’s log into the port berth for her first night on board.

Oh, the options. Even though the cabin was minimalistic and built for speed, this much space was a little excessive for one person. A smaller boat like her own Mini 6.5 would be easier in every way. But length at waterline added up to maximum hull speed. The longer the boat, the faster. A forty foot monohull sailboat was about as big a boat as one person could safely handle, and because Doyle liked to chase records, the boat had retracting foils. They intruded into the interior space a bit, but made Reveille practically fly on certain tacks. And even with the foils retracted, compared to her own Mini 6.5, Dylan felt like she was in a mansion as she curled up and read through the captain’s log.

Doyle was as quick with the pen as he was at the helm. The log was concise, to say the least. The date, noon data including location, heading, and nautical miles travelled, followed by brief notes on conditions and sail trim. Nothing personal, not even an exclamation point when crossing the equator.

The man played it close to his vest.

No wonder he had the money to own this boat. He was probably the same way at his company, Reveille Labs. Getting right to business. So why had Doyle been blabbering on about the stupid president today?

The lame gas bag had everyone in hysterics. It was terrible, the amount of people’s attention he stole, from suburban moms having breakdowns over their social media feeds to genuinely terrified victims of his latest surprise police raid or military intervention. All because he was a bratty little kid sent away to boarding school, desperate for mom and dad’s love, in the body of a bloated old conman.

Forget him, and his spewing mouth.

Forget his stubby fingers, scrawling venom on his unsecured personal smartphone, as he bled into the bowl from grape sized hemorrhoids while forcing out his morning constipation.

“You’ve got better things to think about, sailor,” Dylan said aloud, forcing herself to focus. She was reading through the dry, repetitive log entries, getting ready to copy Doyle’s style.

“Only three hundred miles covered yesterday, in the doldrums. No biggie in my six million dollar boat,” she scanned the entries around zero latitude, the equator. She didn’t actually know how much Doyle had invested in Reveille, her guess was more than she dared say aloud. She chose six million because the yacht was basically bionic. “No mention of the motor running, either.”

That was an incredible day’s run in any sailboat, in optimal conditions, not the fickle winds around the tropical convergence zone. The technology on Reveille had a lot to do with it, but Mike Doyle was probably a better sailor than Dylan might ever be, she had to accept that fact.

True, he had hired her to help him, on several occasions. But he was busy running a huge company. After his record run in the Trans-Tasman solo race, he flew home in his private jet. Whereas she most definitely had the time to sail the boat back.

What else was she missing?

Another two months crammed aboard her own boat, the tiny but beloved S/V Sonia, at the marina in San Francisco? With only the occasional freelance job rolling in, she was doing way more skippering than writing. Her quote-un-quote novelist career seemed to be stuck permanently in waiting-for-inspiration mode.

The next book always felt right around the corner, she saw glimpses already. She just didn’t know how they all stitched together. Or who the main character was. Or their love interest. Or what happened, really. All she knew was she wanted to tell a story that would snap people out of their complacency. Everyone was so detached from reality, staring at their phones all the time, anxious about total bullshit. She wanted to show how to actually be a positive presence in the world. To really get involved, with wet feet and calloused hands. And somehow, robotic warriors were involved. Basically, it was a mess. A fleeting mirage. But her first novel, Swimmer, started the same way, with just some flashes of inspiration and now it was finished, self-published, had only two reviews, and she could name most of her readers personally.

In the meantime, she should just admit she was sailing to earn a living, which really wasn’t a bad plan B. Delivering yachts, crewing and skippering races, even chartering her own tiny boat for bay cruises, she was flexible as long as it gave her time to sit at her laptop and fuss around creating more false starts and obsessively watching her first novel flatline on the sales graphs.

A day on the water was a perfect day for Dylan, clear of all her land worries. A week on the water was better. And six weeks?

Pure bliss.

August 22, 2200h, 33˚50’ South, 151˚12’ East, Sydney, AUS. Captain Dylan Blake arrived aboard Reveille.

Winter Sailor (2018, 250 pages) Buy now in print or ebook.

Comments

Diesel engines do not have spark plugs

posted by Richard / 01.28.18 - 6:02 pm

Great catch, thank you! Updating the manuscript soon with a few things like this readers have caught and a diagram of Reveille. Would love a review on Amazon if you get a chance. Thanks again for reading! -B

posted by Blake / 01.29.18 - 1:59 pm

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