One morning twelve years ago, I drive into the Fred Wahl Marine Construction ship yard in Reedsport, Oregon, underneath an overcast sky that threatens rain. A storm is blowing in off the coast, and the blustering wind warns its impending arrival.
I am a young lady of 26, living in a new city away from home for the first time, and this is one of my first big assignments as a freelance writer. I’ve traveled through the dark of night to the Oregon Coast and the ship yard, where I’ll conduct an interview for National Fisherman magazine.
The yard is quiet on Saturday morning; the welders, pipe fitters, electricians, and carpenters are all at home. I follow Fred Wahl as he strides briskly across the yard to the newly constructed fishing boat I am here to ask questions about and take pictures of. I follow about ten paces behind, bowed against that relentless wind. Fred leans over the edge of the dock, cups his hand around his mouth, and shouts something to someone down on the boat.
I halt, grab my ponytail holder from around my wrist, fight the wind to tie my hair back, then dig around my backpack for my camera.
When I look up, I see that a second man, George (the captain of the new boat, whom I’m supposed to interview), has joined Fred on the dock.
Even with his hands stuffed inside his jeans pockets, hunched against the wind, I can see that George stands over six feet tall. His eyes squint against the gusts and his long-sleeved gray work shirt billows as he peers toward me. I recognize at once that his is the face of one who has spent years in the Bering Sea. It’s one of strength, experience, and wisdom; the kind that only grows more handsome with age.
I snap several pictures of the two men with the boat in the background, and then Fred makes his exit back across the lot to the office. George climbs back down to the boat and holds out his arm to help me aboard. Once on deck, I dig around in my pack again, this time for my recorder.
I ask questions—questions I don’t understand even as I ask them—about hull plating, keel, and autoline baters. George answers each of my questions in a low, calm, patient voice. His tone is oddly soothing, like a sedative. I feel strangely at ease, lulled into a sort of tranquility, even as I struggle with my recorder, which suddenly doesn’t seem to be working properly. I fumble through my pack again, this time for replacement batteries.
“What’s your last name?” I ask.
“Schile,” he says. “S-C-H-I-L-E. It’s German.”
I look up from my notebook and say it’s a nice last name.
After about an hour, the interview and boat tour is finished. I move to the edge of the vessel, embarrassed for my muddled interview and planning for a quick departure out of Reedsport. The weather has escalated; heavy rain now accompanies the wind, and dark clouds loom overhead.
George follows me across the deck and stops midway, leaning casually against a post.
“Have you had lunch?” he asks.
I pause before I answer, knowing I should really be on my way. I recall how Fred cautioned me about the weather earlier that day.
“You really shouldn’t drive the coast roads in this weather,” he’d warned. “It isn’t safe. You should stay here.”
“No,” I finally answer George. “I have not had lunch.”
We climb off the boat and walk over to the parking lot where George unlocks a shiny new Jeep Grand Cherokee and holds the passenger door open for me. When he starts the engine, the tranquil voice of Natalie Merchant from one of my favorite CDs flows from the speakers. I’m instantly transported back a few years to my starboard-side bunk on my family’s fishing boat in Alaska, where I listened to Natalie Merchant each night to lull me to sleep after long days of fishing.
George and I sit at a table for two in the local café and talk as we wait for bowls of clam chowder to arrive. We speak of fishing, of families, and of weather.
“You know,” says George. “Fred’s right. You should stay.”
I know I should go on down the road to my next story, but I’m enveloped by the warmth emanating from both the café and the stranger sitting in front of me. It surrounds me like a shelter from the storm raging outside, pounding against the windows.
Suddenly, I realize I do not want to drive alone up the coast road. I want to stay here, with this man, in this place, where it’s cozy and peaceful.
“I believe I will,” I decide.
I’ll visit George a couple more times at the ship yard before the official launch of the boat. I’ll sit around the galley table with George and the crew, cherishing the laughter and banter as we eat and tell fishing stories. It will remind me of home, my summers fishing, and the fun of sitting around galley tables with the best kind of fishermen there are.
After a few past years of heartbreak, odd paths chosen, and questionable life decisions made, I am suddenly transformed. I am filled with joy and comfort, familiarity and laughter. Hope.
I barely know this person, but I know I am finally home. I also know I will never leave again.
* * *
Happy tenth wedding anniversary, G! The years have been long and the years have been short; they’ve been full of laughter and a few tears; they’ve included disappointments and excitement. They’ve involved fisheries, boats, dogs, illness, struggles, arguments, forgiveness, successes, children, houses, surprises, sweetness, memorable events, good decisions, bad decisions, and great friends. I couldn’t have chosen a better partner to go through life with, and I hope you still feel the same.