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Pier head jumper Page 2

I don’t know about you, but although I much prefer to go to sea with tried and tested buddies, there are times when I end up shipping out with total strangers. You’ve met the type. They might be those credible people you run into in a waterfront bar with a tale to tell. “There I was, and the waves were 40 feet high…” And so on. Then there’s the friend of a friend, which often turns out to be the

The race got under way at midday with a respectable fleet of schooners thundering off toward the Verazzano Narrows on the rising breeze. With all the starters logged, we shifted over to Ellis Island for the finish later in the afternoon. There we anchored and pounced on our excellent lunch. I watched as the colonel served himself a large lobster tail and carved a foot or so off that remarkable sandwich. Then he accepted a silver tankard of champagne, which he sucked down with the enthusiasm of a thirsty bilgepump in a sinking ship. Later I noticed him with a refill, deep in conversation with one of the younger officials.

I forgot all about him, though, in the excitement as the big gaff-rigged two-masters came beating home on the flood, cracking on under the shadow of the Statue of Liberty with rails down and every stitch set. A Maine boat took the gun, the second and third made it almost a dead heat, and the rest straggled back over the next half-hour. With the last schooner safely in, we motored back to South Street, one and all declaring it a grand day out.

As the guests left the committee to crunch the handicap numbers and sort out a winner, the colonel hopped briskly ashore with the ladies, tipping his Panama in a courteous “Thank you.”

“Friend of yours?” asked the race-committee chairman.

“No,” I replied.” I thought he was with you. Nice fellow.”

“Never saw him before.” The great man rubbed his chin. “Neither did anyone else. It’s amazing the lengths some people will go to for a free lunch.”

I’ve pondered on that straw hat and blazer many times since then. However plausible people may seem as they come over the rail, these days I always take time to consider whether a pier-head jumper might—just might—be sailing under false colors.

www.tomcunliffe.com

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