Ken motored Sunshine alongside the pontoon in Coffs Harbour marina. A wizened old man leapt barefooted from the adjacent yacht. His long grey hair flowed behind. The yacht’s name was as impressive: Osprey of Boston.
He yelled in an English accent, ‘Throw me a line.’ Ken, with relief, threw him the stern line.
The Englishman called to his crew, ‘Ari, take the bow line.’ The pair belayed the lines around the pontoon cleats. The old man thrust his arm through the safety rail, extending his hand,
‘Ken Hughes, they call me Hughesy.
‘I’m just Ken.’ They shook hands.
‘You don’t know much about boats, do you Ken?’ said Hughesy.
‘How do you know that?’
The Englishman gave a wry grin. ‘I’m 78, have sailed all my life, all over the globe and I know you can stop a boat by putting its motor in reverse.’
The men shared a loud laugh. Ken felt a little defensive.
‘I’m 55 and started sailing three days ago, from Port Stephens.’
‘That’s 200 nautical miles south of here. You must’ve sailed one stretch through the night. Where did you learn to sail?’
‘Should I tell you? You might point out another short coming.’
Hughsey smiled and waited.
‘I’ve never sailed before?’
‘What? This is your first coastal passage?’
‘That’s right,’ said Ken ‘it’s the only time I’ve ever set foot on a small boat.’
The old man gave a long low whistle. ‘That is impressive. You’ve guts.’
Hughsey’s crew sidled up to the men. ‘This is Ari, she’s Spanish, is 26 and there’s no relationship between us.’ Hughsey explained everything.
She wore rough clothes that hid her femineity. Brown baggy shorts hung off her hips and two spindly legs poked out of them. They had shape but needed fattening or maturing. She wore a baggy open neck T-shirt. No cleavage was exposed and it was hard to tell whether she even had breasts. Her hair was as unwashed and as unkempt as Hughesy’s.
`Ken’s just sailed solo from near Newcastle.’ Hughesy said to her.
`Hi Ken, that’s daring.’ Ken noticed a spark in her brown eyes and he smiled at her. She held an impassive face.
‘It’s the first time he’s ever sailed.’ Hughesy added.
`Nooooo.’ Ari’s face became animated.
‘It’s true.’ Said Ken.
‘El hombre.’ Ari uttered alluringly. She gave Ken a Mona Lisa look. It was seductive, daring him; it was coy, pretending innocence; it was longing disguised.
Ken was recovering from a severe bowel cancer. He had avoided women for over twelve months. He was unsure of himself and his health was poor. He had lost his strength and his virility had gone on holiday. He also wore a temporary ileostomy bag.
The three chatted for an hour. Hughsey had planned to sail for Brisbane that evening. It was Ken’s home. The men swapped mobile phone numbers and arranged to meet in Brisbane.
During the late afternoon Hughesy and Ari had become Ken’s friends.
Their friendships grew in Brisbane. Ken taught Ari how to solo sail. She taught him Spanish and they became lovers. They lived together on Sunshine. Sex was difficult for them both until, on the net, Ken found colostomy patches for intimate moments. He’d used the words sex, bowel and colostomy in the search engine. That action had been inspired by a particularly nasty and messy accident during an afternoon’s rather vigorous playfulness.
Ken revelled in the age difference. The imbalance in their sexuality he found wonderful. Ari was enjoying her older man experience. He showered her with gifts. She unknowingly helped him heal. His health, strength and virility returned.
One day Ari came home to Sunshine looking forlorn. Ken knew. He had prepared for this.
‘I have to leave.’ she said.
‘I know, I’m old, you’re young, you’ll want children and have your life ahead of you. I’m past all that.’
‘I’m sorry, Ken.’ She hugged him.
‘It’s ok Ari. Look, I’ve bought you a top as a going away present. It’s your favourite brand.’
‘Chic by Jowl.’ Her arms encircled his neck and shoulders as she kissed him.
‘No, no Ari, Chic by JL.’ He corrected her for the final time and for the first time felt tiresome.
‘Thanks Ken, but what can I give you in return?’ she pushed her hips rhythmically against him.
Holding her waist just above the hips he pushed her away slightly and asked. ‘Tell me honestly, Ari, why you are leaving?’
She looked at him, was still and said as her head lowered, ‘Ken, I’ve met a man with a bigger boat.’