A Day on The Atalanta

by dossier

Notes & Warnings

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John frowned, hands on his hips, as he looked over the huge pile of belongings on Rodney's bed. "I'm sure that Mom would kill you if brought all of that."

"I want to be prepared! Isn't that the Boy Scout motto, or something?" Rodney stood next to John and stared at the pile, thinking furiously, 'what could I possibly live without?'

"Well, yes, but we're not scaling K2 or anything, we're going sailing for a couple of days. Here," John said, as he pulled a few things out of the mound. "Swimsuit, a few clothes, and a jacket. You can bring something to read, but no homework, no electronics, that's the rule."

Rodney threw himself face down on the bed, sighed theatrically and said to the blanket, "But I have an assignment due next week."

"So you'll do it when we get home. Come on, Mer."

"Don't call me that." He rolled over and glared at John, who grinned unrepentantly as he kicked the bottom of one of Rodney's new boat shoes.

"No, really, let's go."

"Okay, fine." He jammed the things John had set aside into a small nylon bag, grabbed three books off the shelf without looking at the titles, and yelled 'bye!' to his stepfather as they raced outside. Rodney stopped halfway across the street to John's house, "Wait, I forgot sunscreen!"

"We've got it covered." John smirked at his pun, and Rodney rolled his eyes. "We have done this a few times, you know. Sunscreen, bug repellent, lifejackets, the works."

"You're sure, because I burn—"

John grabbed Rodney's arm and marched him the rest of the way to the waiting sailboat behind the house. "I'm sure. You're not scared, are you?"

Rodney stopped just short of the finger pier, lifted his chin slightly and crossed his arms defiantly, daring John to make fun of him. "Maybe, what about it?"

When Mrs. Sheppard had offered a weekend sailing trip in celebration of his tenth birthday, he'd studied the subject thoroughly. All sorts of things could go wrong and the idea of being trapped on a sailboat for days was scary.

Despite the perceived dangers, he really wanted to go, because John and his mom are probably his only two friends in the world. He adored Mrs. Sheppard, liked her better than his own mother, and John, well... he'd never had a best friend before, but that was no reason to allow John to bully him around.

"Nothing." John took the bag and climbed the ladder to get on the boat and disappeared from view. Even at low tide, the boat sat high above the dock, and at high tide, the dock was under water. Rodney had overheard Mr. and Mrs. Sheppard talking about rebuilding the structure because of the rising sea level, and how much higher they would have to build it. He and John had played worst-case scenario with the global warming modeling software and they came up with six to eight feet—which would flood John's house, and Rodney's would suddenly become waterfront property. They stopped playing with the program, it was too depressing, even for Rodney's nascent pessimism.

Eleanore Sheppard poked her head out of the boat. "Oh, there you are. Are you coming?"

John was out of sight, but Rodney heard him complain, "Rodney said he's scared."

"John," Eleanore reprimanded her son. "What seems to be the problem, Rodney?"

"What if I get seasick? I don't sleep well on trips, what if I can't get any sleep? I'll be tired and fall overboard!"

"No one is falling overboard, but even if you do, all that will happen is that you'll have had a nice swim. I know you can, because I taught you myself. We'll swing around and fish you out with a boathook."

Only slightly reassured, Rodney took a deep breath, scrambled up the ladder, and immediately sat down as the boat gently rocked in the slip. "Alright, I'm here."

"John, would you get the lifejackets out of the cabin?"

John jumped down into the cabin, bypassing the ladder altogether, and tossed three Stern jackets, sunscreen, Dramamine, a bag of Cheetos and two bottles of soda into the cockpit.

Eleanore shook her head as she handed down the nylon bag. "Stow that, smart ass." She picked up the life jacket and helped Rodney into it, showing him the crotch strap and making sure that everything was zipped, strapped and snapped in place. "There. Better?"

"Yes, thank you." He pulled on the jacket, to reassure himself and then began slathering on sunscreen as he watched John tug on his own jacket, and Eleanore start the engine with the flip of a switch. A reassuring rumble filled the air as it started instantly and ran smoothly. The Atalanta was Mrs. Sheppard's, and as far as Rodney knew, Mr. Sheppard had never even stepped foot on it, had even declared it an anachronism, a dying sport in the modern world.

Eleanore spoke with a calm assurance, "John. Get the bow line, please."

Rodney watched nervously as John and his mother worked together in a nearly flawless dance; he tossed the ropes neatly ashore and pushed the bow away from the pilings as she neatly reversed out of the slip. John handed Rodney the heavy bulbous, fenders and mainsail cover, and told him where to store them, and showed him the jib lines, as she steered the boat out into Clear Lake.

It rained constantly from September to May, with more winter hurricanes and tropical storms every year. This Easter weekend was a rare, beautiful gift; the morning sun sparkled off the water, and a brisk, cool wind swept the deck as they headed for the Seabrook channel.

There were a lot of other people taking advantage of the break in the long season of gray, rainy weather—motorboats raced up and down the lake, rocking the sailboat with their wakes, and a flock of seagulls soared and dipped behind them, cawing and begging for snacks. John opened the bag of Cheetos and tossed a few into the air, and not one ever hit the water. Rodney grabbed the bag and alternated eating handfuls and throwing them in the air for the birds to catch. It took a few tries to get them high enough that they didn't just fall into the water, and instead, were caught in midair. Rodney smiled and threw a few more.

Eleanore deftly navigated the holiday chaos. Boats of every nature threaded their way through the narrow channel, motor boats of all sizes with their engines rumbling, sailboats with flapping sails. Lining the shore of the channel were huge shrimp boats unloading the morning's catch, crowded against dockside restaurants and shops that were already busy with tourists and diners, and the smell of fried shrimp, gasoline fumes and dead fish wafted together on the wind. Rodney was usually one of the tourists and diners; it was so different to see the boardwalk from this point of view.

The wind and waves picked up as they passed out into Galveston Bay, and John scrambled to the mast as Eleanore, with one hand on the tiller, untied the little ropes that held down the main. John raised the sail, furiously cranking the winch handle as she tightened the main sheet and cleated it down. Rodney was theoretically familiar with the mechanics of sailing, but it was a lot different than he'd imagined.

The large sail caught the wind and the boat heeled precariously, and Rodney grabbed on to the winch next to him for dear life as the boat rose and fell, slamming into the choppy water, the wind picking up the splash and spraying the cockpit. Eleanore turned off the engine as they passed the last channel marker and the waves smoothed out; the sudden silence was a relief, though it was a comfort knowing that the engine was there, if say, the main just fell off the boat.

Eleanore called out, "Whew! Good job, John. Come show Rodney how to handle the jib."

John clambered back into the cockpit and sat on the low side and ordered, "Come over here."

Rodney carefully scooted over, and watched as he wrapped the jib sheet around the winch.

"Okay, the winch handle goes here, pull the tail, that's the loose end of the rope, to keep it tight." John hit the release switch for the automatic jib furler and turned the winch handle until the sail was smooth and aligned with the mainsail. "How's that look, Mom?"

Eleanore squinted into the sun to check the set of the mainsail, and when she said, "It's a little tight," he loosened the ropes until she said, "perfect", and then wrapped the sheet around the cleat and gave it a good yank.

"And that's it. We're sailing."

"That's it?"

"Pretty much, 'til we hit the ship channel, then we'll fall off, and head south, then it's kind of boring."

"How long until we get there?"

"It's twenty nautical miles, and," John checked the knot meter, "we're traveling at seven knots right now, though we'll slow down a little when we fall into a broad reach."

"Oh, four or five hours, then. What do we do until then?"

"Why don't you get out the chart and the GPS? " Eleanore asked.

John bounded down into the cabin and Rodney asked worriedly, "You don't know where we're going?"

She laughed. "I know where we're going, I just thought you'd like to play navigator. You can track our course."

"Oh, well. Of course."

The two boys spent an hour looking over the chart, verifying their position and marking it on the chart in pencil, but their progress was too slow for it to be very satisfying. John stowed the items in the cubby and coaxed Rodney into crawling up to the foredeck.

The fresh wind whipped at their hair and clothes, and Rodney clutched at the lifeline, but he was smiling. "It's kind of great, isn't it?"

John smiled. "Yeah, it kind of is."

They lay on their stomachs with their heads together, peering over the bow at the water, as it slipped past the hull with a swish. "There's dolphins, you know. Mom said when she was a kid, they were really uncommon, but then they came back when they cleaned up the bay."

"You ever see one?"

"Not this far up, maybe when we get to Galveston."

"That would be cool."

"Yeah."

The conversation wandered, from the next Aeros game to school to scouts to their plans for the upcoming summer, though it was still months away. John was in middle school, only a year ahead of Rodney, though he was two years older; he was going to summer camp, and a trip to his grandparents in L.A.; Rodney was going to a music and math camp for gifted students in Minnesota.

John laughed when Rodney's stomach growled. "Yeah, we could talk Mom into lunch," even though it was only ten thirty in the morning.

Ham and cheese sandwiches were slapped together in the cockpit, and Eleanore made them drink a bottle of water with their sandwiches. After John had wolfed down two, Eleanore gave John the tiller, leaned against the cabin and made a sandwich. "So, Rodney, how do you like it so far?"

"It's good, I like it. Thank you for bringing me."

"It's my pleasure, happy birthday," she said with a fond look.

Rodney didn't need any further prodding; he chattered away happily about anything and everything, and Eleanore nodded while John concentrated on maintaining course and speed until he spied a tanker coming up the channel.

"Mom?"

"You're fine for now, John. Rodney, check the chart for shallows, please." She kept an eye on the huge ship that was quickly closing the distance between them.

Rodney grabbed the chart, took a GPS reading, and showed Eleanore where they were in relation to the shoals, all the while looking over the cabin at the oncoming tanker.

She checked the chart, and regauged the size of the ship. "Alright, I think we're fine, doesn’t look like it's too wide. Just hold your course, son, and mind the markers. You can handle it. Need us to do anything?"

John's eyes flickered from the sails, to the tanker and then the channel marker, biting his lip. "Gonna fall off a bit, I think," he said as he yanked the main sheet out of the clam cleat.

"Alright. Rodney, loosen the jib sheet, until he says when, then tie it off."

John threaded the sheet through his hand as he gently shoved the tiller to the side and then straightened his course. Rodney let the sheet out a little at a time, until John said, "That's good," and gave the main sheet a quick jerk into the clamp that held it firm.

Eleanore had to show Rodney again the proper method to wrap the line around the cleat, but he got the hang of it on the second try.

The tanker brushed by them, a huge wall of steel that blocked the wind so that the sails went slack and flapped in the gusts and eddies. It seemed to go on and on, but they still had enough forward speed to stay clear of the prop wash that tossed the sailboat in the wake of the heavily laden ship. The blast of wind hit the sails and the boat heeled over and John yelled, "Whoa!" as the tiller was nearly jerked out of his hand.

"Steady on the helm, John, don't overreact."

Rodney watched as John worked the tiller, to try and figure out where their wind was. He was always surprised to find out how much John's mom trusted him to learn things by doing them. His own mother rarely bothered, and then got furious when some experiment had gone south.

Ever since they'd moved across the street from the Sheppard's, Rodney had been included in Eleanore's tutelage; he'd joined the scout troop, gone camping (he hated it), learned to swim ("You live on the water, Rodney, you need to know how to do this."), ride a bicycle, play card games, and a million other little things, too many for him to remember.

It was no wonder that John always seemed so confident and courageous, but Rodney was learning that he could be, too. He nodded when Eleanore asked, "Rodney, would you like to take a turn at the helm?" John scooted back a little so that Rodney could sit next to him. They steered together for a few minutes. John gave him instructions and eventually took his hand off the tiller, and when Rodney glanced back, he was grinning.

Rodney grinned back. There were no more ships in the channel, and very few other pleasure boats in the vicinity, and it was a good thing, he was frustrated because he was continually over-correcting. "It should be easier to go in a straight line!"

"Yeah, you've got a snake wake there, kiddo but it's not too bad. Just use tiny corrections." Eleanore smiled. "You're doing a great job."

Rodney was delighted and smug when John and Eleanore followed his orders when it was time to turn—"tack, Rodney, sailboats change course with a tack"—into the cut off for Offutt's Bayou. He loved that Eleanore trusted him and was just as proud of his accomplishments as if she were his mother.

Rodney turned the tiller back over to Eleanore, and John and Rodney went to the bow, to look for sand shoals, though they were few and far between. The tide was coming in, and the rise in mean sea level meant the old dump sites of dredged material were deep under water, and all the newly dredged material was sent to try and keep West beach from disappearing under water.

Once anchored, they went swimming first thing. John smirked at Rodney's swimming goggles, but Rodney told him, "Keep laughing when you've got conjunctivitis."

The water was cool at first, it was a little scary because the bottom was so far away, and he was just dangling there in the water. His feet probably looked liked a tasty snack for whatever creatures lived at the bottom of the lake.

Eleanore and John splashed each other, and John climbed up the swimming ladder to do somersaults and cannon balls off the bowsprit, but Rodney was content to swim laps around the boat, putting his face down under the water to see the green world beneath him. There was some particulate matter floating with him, and the sound of John landing was a muffled thud.

John offered to race Rodney around the boat, but Rodney declined even when John said he'd give him a head start. He knew that he'd lose and didn't need to have it rubbed in his face. Rodney was competent, but John was like an eel; thin, athletic and fast.

They climbed back aboard and dried off, wrapping themselves up in the towels and snacked on the last of the Cheetos while Eleanore started the barbeque hanging off the stern. They had fat, juicy hamburgers dripping with pickles and ketchup and Eleanore turned the little stereo in the cabin to the classic music station. Rodney turned it into a game, reciting what he knew about every composer or composition, or the fact that he'd already learned the piece for the piano. John rolled his eyes, but Rodney could see that he thought it was a little cool, too.

After dinner, they played three-handed bridge, and Eleanore grumbled about miniature card sharks when she lost every game.

Finally, they tired of the card game and they went back out and lay on the foredeck, staring up at the night sky, and talked about the next moon mission, and what it meant for the future Mars colony. Rodney had the latest scoop, courtesy of his mother's position at N.A.S.A.

Rain clouds covered the waning moon, and when it began to rain, they crawled back into the cabin. It was warm, and a little stuffy, and the boat creaked in the gusts of wind, but Rodney curled up in the bunk, and fell asleep, safe and cradled and rocked by the gentle motions of the boat.

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~fini~

coming eventually: Theseus' Paradox (mind the warnings!)


Notes

Fandom: Stargate Atlantis

Category/Rated: AU, Gen, E

Year/Length: 2008/ ~3000

Spoilers: not a single blessed one.

Disclaimer: Not mine, no profit, only having fun.

Summary: April 2017, and Rodney goes sailing with John and his mother for his tenth birthday.

Series: Theseus' Paradox, John and Rodney, and what they've come to to, thirty years later. (Mind the Warnings!)

Author's Notes: This is a rather oblique response to the prompt AU/Elements or weather for the SGA Genficathon.

Beta: My thanks to Auburnn and Sholio for poking at it.

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