Chang Ho’s most romantic evening

This month’s column was tight on deadline because I had to wait until June 5 for the release of critical information regarding Chang Ho’s mystery evening abduction in 1999. I have now obtained that information, which reinforces the phrase “the truth is stranger than fiction.” The names will be changed to protect the innocent (me!).

But first some background: As some of you may know from reading “Watching for Mermaids,” a certain son (we’ll call him “A”) and I cruised Chang Ho, our Cape Dory 25 sloop, along the coast of Maine for many summers while he was a pre-teen and young teen. He never sailed the boat alone, happy just to hang out in the cabin, sleeping and playing his Game Boy. But he was a smart kid – beating me at chess at age 10 – and he must have absorbed Chang Ho’s functions and nuances just by being there.

Fast-forward a few years to a bright summer morning in Marblehead in 1999, when “A,” the certain son, was 15. When I climbed aboard Chang Ho, ready to go for a short solo sail, something didn’t feel quite right. As all boat owners know, we remember exactly how we put away our vessels. I looked around; lines were coiled the way I coil them, cushions were stacked under the dodger the way I stack them. I opened the cabin; everything down there looked right. I moved forward; halyards were coiled my way. I shook my head, wondering about the origin of this nagging feeling. I headed forward to raise the mainsail. Then I saw it – there! That was NOT how I tie off the mooring pennants. Someone had been aboard. Or worse, someone had taken my boat off the mooring.

I went for my sail, then rowed ashore, puzzling the whole time.  Later that day, when I saw a certain son and his certain friend (“B” – who had slept over), I asked them point-blank: Did you guys take my boat out last night?  “A,” who is one of these rare people with no ability to lie, just looked at me. “Dad, how did you know that?” he said. “I put the boat back exactly the way you do it.”

“Almost,” I replied. “You missed on one detail when you tied off the mooring. So what happened last night?”

“We went for a sail.”

I looked over at “B,” who just shrugged at me, bleary-eyed. That’s all the information I got, though for 16 years I never stopped trying to pry out more.

Fast-forward to 2016. “A” is 30, and it’s a few months before his June wedding. We’re at a pre-party. “B” is invited, and he’s over by the bar. I corner him. “You’ve got to tell me about what happened with the boat,” I said.

“Right after the wedding, Mr. Roper. It has to be after the wedding. Then we’ll tell you, when we’re at the wedding, after it’s over.”

And that’s what happened. And here’s the story:

It was back in the days of AOL Instant Messenger, before the boys had cell phones or licenses. “B” was at our house for the sleepover. In the process of the evening, the boys got to using our home computer and conversing with two cute girls they knew who were also having a sleepover in a home located across Salem Sound. The girls were probably 10 miles away by land, but only two miles as the crow flies. The boys had their titillating invitation, but no means of fulfilling it. No car. Too far to walk. Here, though “A” and “B” related the same versions of the evening, the instigating character is still in dispute.

According to “B,” “A” said, “We’ll take my dad’s boat. We’ll leave after he and Mom are asleep. They’ll never know. According to “A,” “B” said, “Come on, let’s just take your dad’s boat.” At any rate, as my wife and I slept away, off they went, running down the hill to the water. They launched our dinghy, rowing out to the boat, and somehow navigating across Salem Sound in the dark, persevering, like the challenged Odysseus, to get to the place where two 15-year-old, modern-day Sirens eagerly awaited them in a distant home somewhere near the water on the other shore.

One problem for our romantic voyagers arose: There is no harbor there. So what to do? Ah, there! – as if by magic, drawing them in like the Sirens, was a nice big U.S. Coast Guard steel nun buoy with a ring on the top. We’ll tie to that, our heroes thought. They put lots of fenders and life jackets around Chang Ho to keep her unscathed, rowed ashore to the nearest beach, pulled up the dinghy, and ventured forth to find the maidens, leaving my precious Chang Ho bobbing through the night tied to a navigation aid.

Once they were ashore and got their bearings, they determined that they’d miscalculated by about two miles, and trudged along in the middle of the night to find the right home. And when they did, to hear it told, the rest of the evening was pure bliss, well worth the quest.

As the sky lightened with the coming of dawn, our gallant adventurers headed back to sea, arriving at my mooring as the sun greeted a new day. Their hearts and minds afloat in blissful thoughts, they put Chang Ho back just the way they found her.

Almost.