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Don't capsize, Melody prayed. Please, oh please, don't capsize. The boat heeled further over. Melody pushed the tiller, trying to level out the boat, but it was jammed. A line must be dragging in the water, and now it was tangled around the rudder. She tried to let the sail out, but there was another problem. The line attached to the main sail had somehow gotten knotted up with the jib's lines. Before she could straighten out the mess a wave hit the boat and sent Melody flying off backwards into the black water.
Suddenly, the roar of a motor was audible over the sound of the crashing waves, and a stripped whaler pulled up beside her.
“You're going to have to do better than that if you want to win the race!” Danny, her sailing instructor, cried over the din of the storm. He had his raincoat's hood pulled down over his eyes, so all Melody could see were his shouting lips. He was trying to be stern with her but smiling all the same.
“Well get in, we have to go after Dauphin. She'll be up against the rocks if we don't hurry.” Melody grabbed the side of the whaler and pulled herself up, flopping into the boat on top of the old stiff lines tangled at the bottom of the boat. As soon as she was in Danny started the motor again and together they sped off after the runaway sailboat. Within a minute they were tying Dauphin to the stern of the whaler.
“Let's get back to port,” Danny suggested. “I think we're done for the day.” Melody nodded in agreement.
After Melody had peeled off her wet-suit and changed into something warmer, Danny started to lecture her.
“You're forgetful, Melody” he complained. “And you have to keep the rigging organized. Otherwise, as you saw today, something will get caught and your boat will sail off on its own. That's dangerous!”
Melody nodded. She knew everything he was saying was true. She knew how to sail. She was a good sailor when there was someone in the boat with her, like Danny. But for some reason she couldn't do it alone.
“I just don't think I'm a solo sailor,” Melody remarked. Danny let out an exasperated sigh.
“It's just the same as when I'm with you! It's not like you have to do anything differently when you're the only one in the boat. You want to win this race, don't you?”
Melody whispered that she did, and then grabbed her coat and headed out the door.
The front door creaked open and Melody crept inside. There was a light still on in the living room, and she could hear her father rustling the pages of his newspaper. She stepped into the bright room.
“Hi Dad.” He grunted, but didn't look up. “Well, goodnight.” Melody whispered. She turned around and went up to her room.
On her bedside table was a gold locket. Melody picked it up, running her finger around the little heart shape. Digging her fingernail into a crack she popped it open. Her mother's smile spilled out of the little locket. She had been a sailor. A skipper even. She had always been out on the water, most of the time racing. She had taken Melody with her sometimes, teaching her all the little tricks. She would hand Melody the tiller or sheet, and let her pretend to be the captain. But with all the good memories of her mother came the bad ones. The storm the day her mother went out alone. Her father telling her bluntly that her mother's boat and body couldn't be found. The funeral her grandmother had arranged, even though the coffin was empty. Melody tried smiling back at the little picture, and carefully closed the locket. Maybe one day she could follow her mother.
The next day the storm had cleared, and there was a nice steady offshore breeze.
“Okay Melody. Tomorrow is the race. This is our last day.” Danny and Melody sat in the whaler with Dauphin bobbing behind them. “Please concentrate on what you're doing. Now, go get in Dauphin and rig her up.”
She could see his eyes today, but he wasn't smiling. He seemed to be annoyed with her. Melody grabbed the little sailboat's bowline and pulled her up alongside the whaler. Once she was in, she raised the sail, lowered the centerboard, and carefully dropped the rudder into the water. Danny unhitched her from the whaler, and Melody pulled the bowline in, making sure to coil it and stick it neatly out of the way. She grabbed the tiller, pulling it towards her knee to point the boat further downwind, and adjusted the sail so it was just tight enough not to flap around. Dauphin sped off happily over the waves. As they got further away from the shore the big ocean swells started to rock Dauphin's little hull. Melody made it all the way out to the buoy, the farthest she had ever gotten alone. Its bell rang out with each wave that passed under it. She tacked around it, trimming the sail as she headed up wind. The only other time she had been this happy was when her mother was sitting in the boat beside her.
The morning of the race Melody woke before dawn. She ate breakfast alone, and then got ready for the big event. As she came out of the bathroom, Melody glanced over at her bedside table. Her locket sat there, it's gold chain rapped neatly around it's heart shape, her mother's smile locked safely inside. She picked up the little gold locket and slid it over her head.
Before leaving the house, Melody peeked around the door to the living room. Her father was still sitting in his old armchair. He hadn't moved since the night before.
“I'm leaving. The race is today.” He uttered another little grunt, still not looking up. “You can come watch me if you want. It starts at ten.” Melody closed the door quietly and slipped out of the house.
Melody sat in Dauphin as she was towed behind Danny and the whaler. As they approached the starting buoys other boats started to appear. Girls and boys hoisted multicolor sails, and parents shouted encouragements form motor boats. Danny was trying to motivate her with cheers of “You can do it!” and “Just remember to have fun!” but Melody felt alone all the same.
A red motor boat pulled up in front of the fleet of dinghies. A man stood up with a gun in his hand. Everyone tensed in anticipation, gripping their tillers. The shot echoed over the water, and sheets were pulled and sails trimmed. Dauphin took off, speeding over the swells. The first buoy appeared, and Melody tacked perfectly around it, letting the jib push the bow around just far enough before switching it to the downwind side. Another buoy floated not far off, but this one required you to jibe around it. Melody quickly ran through all the safety tips of jibing. She had never truly mastered it, usually getting hit in the head as the boom swung around wildly. The most important thing was to remember to duck. She was now right beside the buoy. Yanking the tiller towards her knee, she ducked and switched to the other side of the boat. The sail inflated in front of her, making Dauphin skim over the water. Melody was now well ahead of the rest of the sailboats.
Half way through the regatta, the wind started to pick up. Melody thought about reefing her sail but decided against it. It would just slow her down. Tacking around several more buoys, she came up along a small, rocky island. A buoy was positioned just passed it, and you had to jibe around it. Melody was confident that this would be an easy jibe, after all, there was barely any wind behind the tiny island. Just before Melody reached the buoy, she noticed a piece of torn, faded cloth caught on one of the rocks jutting out from the island. Melody reached out and pulled it free. She was advancing rapidly on the buoy, but she didn't notice. She was concentrated on what seemed to be a piece of sail in her hand. It had a star stitched on to it. Exactly like her mother's sail. She had sewn a star on the sail so that Melody could easily tell which boat her mother was sailing in big regattas. Melody looked up from the tattered cloth to see the buoy bobbing next to her boat. Without thinking, she pulled the tiller towards her. The boom swung around but she didn't duck. She just clutched the bit of sail in her fist. The boom crashed into her head, sending her flying backwards. She let go of the piece of sail, letting it wash once again up against the rocky island. The force of the blow and a swift current shoved her up against the rocks, too. Her lifejacket was shredded against their jagged surfaces, and Melody's locket slipped off her. She watched it half consciously sink down into the black water, and then let her body follow it.