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Heathen Stories and New Myths ~
Dave worked with boats, putting in engines and self-righting systems, as well as
taking the new boats to sea trials
to test the thousand modifications that each
Navy, Coast Guard, and police department seemed compelled to add.
While he was
close to a work-a-holic, he still found time for his second wife and child (a
lesson learned from losing the first wife).
Sitting at the kitchen table at
dinner, his daughter Alexis asked him about Njord.
"Is this some of your mom's witchy stuff?",
Dave asked with his trademark tact. While his wife was a practicing pagan,
Dave was more of a pragmatist, believing half of what he saw, little of what he
was told, and trusting only what he'd proven would work for him.
Alexis rolled her eyes at her father’s bluntness, and replied with the patience
of a person addressing a new and not particularly bright puppy,
or a woman talking to a man:
"No, dad, this is school stuff. You remember the whole cultural heritage
Since Dave had totally forgotten, but had little doubt he'd been told, probably
a few times, he nodded sagely and dragged up what he remembered.
His family had
been at sea for centuries, sometimes with the Navy, sometimes running rum to the
States during prohibition, even whaling in the North.
While he was not
superstitious, the men who went down to the sea in fragile wooden ships, where
wind and wave determined if you reached home alive,
even in peacetime, often
were, and the tales caught his interest when he was a child.
"Right, Njord. He was the chief of the Vanir, the god of the sea."
Alexis looked confused, and countered, "I thought that was Ran."
Dave nodded and repeated, "Because the sea is a lady, and the lady's a bitch."
Something his father had always repeated. Seeing his wife's glare at his
language, he decided to push on before she could chime in.
"Ran was the dark
face of the sea, the deep depths, the sudden storm, the wrathful sea.
her nets for men and ships, and dragged them down. No one really wanted her
He thought some more and then continued.
"Njord was different. Njord cared. Njord was the god not only of the sea, but
of trade. Njord brought prosperity through hard work and daring.
You called to
Njord if you made your living on the sea, for the wrong wind could shear your
sails, shiver your mast, the wrong waves could swamp you,
or drive you far off
course just to not get smashed. You called on Njord for fish luck, for whale
luck, for wind luck and gentle waves.
I think the waves were his daughters,"
Dave paused, thinking about it.
"Although I think he married a mountain goddess
or something, so I don't know how that worked.
In the days when you had no compass or GPS, no radar or depth sounder, no
electronic charts, no radio, no self-righting systems or dry-suits,
the sea used
to kill a lot of people. There is a reason sailors used to sacrifice to Njord
before and after every trip. Out there, sometimes you survived
on luck, and a
little at the right time could save your life. Now we don't have to worry about
that, we have better ships, and if you get in trouble,
you can always call the
Alexis thought about it for a while, and then asked her father:
“Aren’t you doing a sea trial tomorrow? Shouldn’t you give an offering to Njord
Dave chuckled, shaking his head.
“That’s your mother’s thing. Besides, I’m not doing a sea trial, I’m just towing
the new Japanese cabin boat out for a self-righting test.
We’ll sink her, use
the airbag to flip her back up, and tow her back to shore without breaking a
He smiled complacently, they had done it a hundred times, it really was
no big deal.
Alexis and his wife shared a look, but Dave missed it as he headed
to the den to catch the hockey game.
Saturday dawned without much promise. The good weather that had held for
mid-December seemed to be fleeing, and cold, grey, nastiness
was sweeping in on
cold winds from the north. Dave put on his dry suit while listening to Troy
complain about the upcoming test.
“I dunno Dave,” Troy said seriously “The cabin on this thing is huge, it’s like
twice as deep as the keel. When this thing goes over, it’s like an iceberg.
all the electronics are on top of the cabin, where you really don’t want the
Dave nodded, all this was true. The customer had made so many changes to the
specs that this was almost a new boat. What really bugged him
was the changes to
the rope-guard where they mounted the self- righting airbag. The cylinder was
over-pressure for North American regulations,
but legal in Japan, and the airbag
had been mounted on a bolt on flange, rather than directly on the rope guard
like they usually did.
The engineer swore it would work. Of course, the engineer
wasn’t towing it out to sea and sinking it to find out. That was Dave’s job.
The Japanese boat was the dark orange of a rotting pumpkin, about as
unattractive as you could make it. It sliced cleanly through the water
as it was
towed behind the predatory low sea-green hull of the Canadian Navy standard test
boat. It was time to go play on the water
before the weather hit. The radar was
painting a storm front about an hour out, and the radio was broadcasting a small
Not a problem, he was riding the Navy’s version of the Coast
Guard rescue boat, with better electronics and much better engines.
luck, when you’ve got technology!
When they got into the Straits of Georgia, the seas were running about two
meters, making the boats cant back and forth like a fun-house
while Troy rigged
the guide lines on the test boat; lines to help the boat flip back if the airbag
failed. Dave opened his lunch kit to take out
the sandwich he had packed for
himself, and to pour some hot coffee. He looked down in surprise to see a
green/blue covered jelly filled doughnut
wrapped in wax paper with a tag on it
NJORD'S DOUGHNUT. FOR LUCK ON THE TEST.
Dave was still shaking his head when Troy came over to see what he was
laughing at, and Dave had to explain about Njord, and the sacrifice before
voyages. Troy wasn’t as quick to dismiss it.
“I dunno man, I don’t go on these tests without my lucky rabbit's foot. I mean,
sure, we build these things like race-cars,
but between our customers and
engineers, I’m surprised they haven’t forgotten to put a bottom on one yet.”
was true there, had been a whole lot of changes in this boat, and sometimes Dave
didn’t think anyone had really taken a look at the whole thing
started changing the different bits of it. He still didn’t believe in luck.
Taking a big bite of Njords doughnut, he told Troy,
“You don’t see a lot of rabbits at sea, Troy. Lucky rabbits don’t end up chopped
up for key-chains, and we have a boat to sink,
so enough about luck, and go sink
me an ugly pumpkin.”
Dave watched the approaching squall line, and determined that they had better
finish the test, and get back to shore. With waves looking to crest
at the storm’s edge, it was no sea to be towing a boat in. He turned to watch
the ugly pumpkin Japanese boat turn turtle, and settle keel up
in the heavy
seas. With a sigh, he put down the last half of Njord’s doughnut and pushed the
airbag remote to self-right the test boat.
That is when lessons on sea luck
The seas were definitely getting higher, and that probably spelled the doom
of a system that had one too many modifications already.
The ship was sliding
broadside down a wave trough when the airbag deployed. Designed to fire just off
centre to start the ship tipping,
the airbag actually countered the tilt of the
wave, letting the bag inflate directly under the boat, catching the full
sideways force of the angry sea
against its sail like bulk. The overpressure
cylinder overcame the firing head that was supposed to control the airbags
Instead of exploding like a wave that would toss the boat back
upright, it exploded like a depth charge that punched it momentarily out of the
before crashing back, the bolted flange tore off the frame on the cabin
top, and the great airbag was left dragging behind the cabin like a pontoon,
simultaneously trapping the boat on its back, and making a great sea anchor with
its parachute-like drag.
“Fudge puppets,” Dave cursed, using the child friendly version of cursing he'd
had to develop when he had children. The line that Troy had worked
frame to help tip the boat back manually was snared in the self-righting bag
itself. He would have to try to tow the whole ungainly mass
back to shore, or
cut his losses, and the tow rope, to leave the boat to the storm, and write off
months of work and the better part of half a year’s profits.
Bringing the massive engines online, his transom was pulled low in the water
as the lean predatory boat strained to pull its damaged partner
from the storm-tossed seas. It was like watching a porpoise trying to tow a sideways grey
whale. The big cabin boat and its pontoon-like airbag
turned broadside in the
following seas and wallowed like a drowning pig, mocking the efforts of the big
engines to power her to shore.
Dave looked at the approaching squall line on the
radar, and the distance to port, and didn’t like his odds much.
“So much for my rabbit’s foot” said Troy. “It’s going to take a whole lot of
luck to get out of this one without calling mama for help,” he said,
the Coast Guard radio on the console. Dave frowned, because if he declared an
emergency with a tow, they would tell him to drop a buoy
and cut the line. That
was the smart thing to do. Maybe it was time for something crazy instead.
Looking seriously at the half doughnut, and its sign to Njord, he considered.
Troy followed his gaze to the doughnut, and began nodding.
“Do it man, I don’t feel like swimming today.“
Dave picked up his doughnut and went to the railing. Holding the rope lines on
the side tube he spoke matter-of-factly to the heaving seas.
“Njord, first of the Vanir, luck bringer, sea lord, we who ride the sea roads
offer you this doughnut in return for your gifts of sea luck,
for the shelter of
your fair daughters the bright waves, that we may see our home ports again.”
was somehow unsurprised when he threw the sea-green doughnut out to sea, only to
have a rogue wave rise and snap it from the air
like a Major League mid fielder
catching a line drive. Troy was watching wide eyed and thoughtful as Dave
crossed the deck to grab hold of the wheel.
When Troy began shouting, Dave looked back to see two converging waves
closing on their wallowing charge, easily as high as their radar mast.
the wheel hard and rammed the throttles home to see if he could ride out their
force. Considering the dead weight they were still towing
behind them, he didn’t
figure it would work, but the sea doesn’t forgive people who don’t do the little
things right, so even as the waves closed
he pulled the boat around to run
When the waves hit the Japanese boat, it rolled like the Titanic in reverse.
The force of the wave snapped to tow line tight, halting the boat keel down,
wallowing with a hold full of water. Once upright, the sensors in the
self-righting bag emptied the airbag, letting it deflate as so much cloth to
drag behind the boat.
The two waves folded around the lead boat like the closing palm of a giant
jade hand, lifting them gently, then pushing them forward with soft authority.
As the lead boat heaved forward, the water slammed to the back of the empty
Japanese boat, and pushed out its scuppers, allowing it to rise higher
water, and letting both boats start to pick up speed. As they began to move
faster, the bow came up on both boats, and water streamed from the
the Japanese boat until it was cutting through the waves like a ship, not a
Troy came up with a grin, and looked Dave in the eye and said, only partly
“Looks like you owe somebody a half doughnut, dude!”
Dave nodded slowly and
“Looks like I owe somebody a whole new bloody doughnut.”
Once the two boats were stowed on their trailers, and they had pulled their
trucks up to the marina for a warmup coffee, the two men wandered over
doughnut stand. The two men exchanged glances. There were two sprinkled, jelly
filled doughnuts. Surrounded by the garish decorations of December,
were the same horrible pumpkin shade of their problem boat. Dave pointed to one,
while Troy silently indicated the other. Without a word, they
strode out from the
marina and onto the dock. Reaching the end, they paused to look at the windswept
Dave looked out at the crashing waves and shuddered to think how
today might have gone, if the waves hadn’t slapped their test boat upright.
“Njord, my daughter was right, I owed you a doughnut. We needed your sea luck,
and the help of your wave-daughters to get back.
Take this doughnut and my
Troy, being less familiar with pagan rituals, just tossed his out as well, saying
As they walked back towards their trucks, Troy tossed his rabbit
foot in the garbage.
Turning to Dave, he shouted:
“Next time, Njord gets his doughnuts on the way out, right?”
“Damned straight!”, Dave shouted back.
Sure he wasn’t superstitious, but it was
good to have friends you could count on at sea.
Nodding one last time to Njord,
he turned his truck away from the sea and back to work.
It was about being
For Stephanie Robbins, a good Njordswoman.
John T Mainer, March 08 2007
This work by John T Mainer is licensed
Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives License.
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