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"I know it."
For some reason that fact had to be established between them. It set the scene for what was suddenly an old man, hunched over on his bed in a small, windowless room. There was a sentence, unuttered, between the two of them that said this was it, this was the end, even if the old man lived for another 30 years. The years wouldn't matter, because he had seen what he had seen today. In the darkness his face was white, with the pallor of age and illness, as if his body had already ungratefully forgotten the summer spent in the sun.
The instant that Nat returned to the cockpit he could tell that the boat's behavior had changed. Dyce was leaning forward as far as he could while still holding on to the tiller, steering with only the tips of his fingers, his body stretched out as if he were riding the boat through the waves, and from the look in his eyes Nat knew that he had forgotten his father. The boat had sailed well before, but now it was altogether different, it wasn't fighting its way through the waves, it was riding over them. Dyce was sailing as very few men can sail a boat, and then for only a few minutes in their lifetime. During those few minutes a boat is something more than a boat and need not obey the usual laws. Dyce's eyes were fastened on Hunt. Minute by minute he was closing the gap between them and working to windward.
Nat did not speak. Dyce was sailing the boat for him, too. It did not matter which of them had his hand on the tiller—let Dyce have it, because he had a much better touch—it was their turn now. Their father was sitting on his bed, and it was their turn, and they were catching up with Hunt.
"Finish the race." It was Samuelson who spoke, standing in the doorway of the cabin, pressing his left arm against his side.
"The hell you say." Dyce answered without even looking at his father.
"I said finish it."
They were catching up. They were only a few boat-lengths behind. "Might as well," Nat said. "You practically have to sail past the committee boat to go home."
Dyce didn't answer. He kept the boat moving, and they could see Hunt at the tiller, turning around now, distressed at the sound of their bow wave growing steadily louder. They knew that a man who looks over his shoulder can be beaten.
The committee boat was in sight. The finish line could not be fetched on this tack, but the wind had shifted to the south and the final tack would be a short one, to be taken at the last possible minute. They need do nothing but hang on, keep gaining foot by foot, keep working to windward, and at the end Hunt would be unable to tack and cross them. It was a prayer that Nat was saying to Dyce—keep going, keep her moving, work up on him foot by foot, hang on, even if nothing is as hard to do as that—hanging on.