Monday, December 26, 2011

Do or Die

Slowly the boat weaved its way through tight packed bay, and finally they came alongside Tropic Star. Happy greetings were exchanged between the crews, and congratulations to the Caribes for sinking the pirates and bringing their ship in safely. A cargo net dropped down to the boat to hoist their belongings, and one by one the Caribes climbed up Tropic Star’s side, Jack and Linda bade to go first in a place of honor. Tropic Star’s captain, a tall, wiry man with sandy hair and a deeply tanned, crinkled face held out his hand and greeted them warmly. “Thornbush’s the name, mate, Billy Thornbush” he said in his Australian accent.

“Jack” he replied. “We haven’t been much for exchanging last names amongst our little band. Maybe the less we know, the better?”

“Right you ah” said Billy. “They cahn’t wrestle from yoo what yoo don’t know! Right then… I’ll see yoo to yoh quotahs and then we’ll bring yoo up to dayte.”

The captain led Jack and Linda to a stateroom, followed by a crewman carrying their bags.  He left them to get settled, and invited them to join him in the wheelhouse as soon as they were comfortable. The door had hardly latched before Linda jumped into Jack’s arms, kissing him deeply, almost violently…

An hour later they strode into the wheelhouse. The small Asian crewman who had been consulting with his captain on quartering the Caribes turned, gave a slight smile and a bow, then left.

“Jack, Linda, I trust yoh accommodations ah satisfact'ry?”
“Yes, very cozy” Jack said, letting a wry glance at Linda slip.

“Good, good” said Billy. “Let’s get right to it then. The fact is, we cahn’t stay. The playce is crawleeng weeth people, the hahbah is jam packed, and the goven’ment says they want us away. No room. So sorry.”

“That answers my first question; no point in going ashore then” said Jack. “Captain, have you-“

“Billy, mate. Cawl me Billy. Professional cuhtesy.”

“Billy- have you seen my boat? Has First Watch made it here?”

“Krikey, it escaped my mind, mate. She’s tied up alongside! Everyone sayfe and sound. In fact, Willie and Peggy will be up foh dinnah this evening.”

“I’m relieved to hear that!” Jack exclaimed. “So, Billy… Do you have anything in mind? What to do next?”

“No, mate. Oi’m just a navigatah. The crew elected me captain, aftah the other officahs weh… Relocayted…”

“I’m sure Willie will have some intel for us, and his insight as well this evening. Thank you Billy, for your hospitality.”

“No worries, mate. See you bowth at seex ohn the mess deck.”

Jack walked out of the wheelhouse with Linda on his arm, and he spotted First Watch’s mast just barely poking up above a life boat hanging on its davits on the starboard side. They broke into a run across the deck to the starboard rail, and hailed the boat.


“Jack! Damn I’m glad to see you! The pirates?”

“Sunk their asses.”

Willie’s eyes twinkled, but he asked no more. “We’ll see you later at dinner. Y’all run along and… rest up.”

Back in the stateroom, Jack could barely contain himself. “It seems we’ve a few hours to kill.” He shut and bolted the door, pulled Linda’s body against his, and began tearing her clothes off the second their lips met. She was equally aroused, and wasted no time undressing him as well. Their bodies writhed and undulated against each other as hands caressed those parts which most want to be caressed, and lips kissed that which is begging to be kissed. He pressed her up against the door, and she slid her soft, small foot up his leg and wrapped hers around him. Jack pulled her other leg up and around, carried her across the cabin, then laid her on the bed and climbed atop her. Linda quickly threw him over on his back and mounted him. Their quivering, sweating bodies moved in time with the gentle rocking of the ship, and they both had to suppress their moans of absolute pleasure which would be heard through the thin door or the open portholes. A short pause, much filled with kissing and stroking of one another; then followed by another, longer, even more passionate bout…

Panting and spent, Jack looked at the watch on his wrist. He looked at Linda, smiled, and said “An hour left ‘til dinner.”

They walked onto the mess deck with five minutes to spare. The Captain, Willie, and Peggy stood up, beckoning them over to their table. Jack and Linda exchanged happy greetings, then everyone took their seats just as the cook and his mate brought several covered dishes to their table. The first was a wonderfully aromatic plate of grilled wahoo steaks, fresh and spiced to perfection, the fish having been caught earlier in the day from one of the ship’s boats out by the deep drop off just outside the bay. This was followed by steamed langosta, spiny lobsters which were fished up from beneath the ship’s keel by two Jamaican crew members who have dived for them since they were young. Next came a steaming bowl of local vegetables, tossed with steamed shrimp. Local bread and cheese followed, along with several bottles of wine from the ship’s provisions (which had been kept under lock and key these many months).

Leaning back in his chair and patting his stomach- which had not been so satisfactorily filled in so long as he could not remember- Jack’s mouth broke out into a wide grin, and he thanked his host heartily. As the plates were removed and another bottle of wine made its appearance, Captain Billy leaned across the table and queried “So, what’s next do yeh reckon?” to no one in particular, but casting an inquisitory glance toward towards Jack.

Much to Jack’s relief, Willie piped up with his take. “The way I see it, our best course of action is to man this ship as fully as we can from the folks here in the harbor who value their skin, take a few boats in tow, and sail south. Much as I hate to say it, we’re gonna have to sail around Cape Horn. Forget the Panama Canal, that’ll be sewn up tighter than a nun’s ass on Sunday. ‘Round the Horn, then into the South Pacific. I think that’s the only place we’ll be able to get the hell away from the government bastards, and this locust plague of humanity that has found its way here. Jack, your opinion?”

There was a long pause as Jack’s mind contemplated the journey southward. The equatorial doldrums they would surely encounter, perhaps leaving them adrift on the current for weeks. The horrendous accounts he’d read of sailing ships in the far southern latitudes, beating against westerly gales and mountainous seas to round the Horn and reach the rich whaling grounds off Chile and Peru. Of the treacherous conditions encountered near the Tierra del Fuego (a misnomer if ever there was one), where wintery storms are the norm, and the great Brazil and  Antarctic Circumpolar currents meet in tumultuous confluence. His total lack of practical experience in those waters, and his ignorance of seasonal variations in the local conditions down there caused him to waver. Being put on the spot, even though he expected it, still took him aback. But he composed his thoughts, and after drawing a deep breath, he began to speak.

“We will need to top off anything that will hold water or fuel. Caribe still has some of each, but not a lot. Maybe we can barter her for supplies from the locals? Either way, she isn’t seaworthy. Her foremast and most of her bowsprit are gone and her steering is jury rigged. We will need as much food as we can cram aboard. When we reach the teens in latitude, we’ll be at the mercy of the Brazilian inshore breezes and the current to cross the equator, and the same until the southern latitude teens. Give or take. And then we will enter the ‘roaring 40s’” Jack’s fingers held up in quotes,  “where we will likely encounter monstrous seas and gale force, if not hurricane winds from the west which we’ll have to tack against to round Cape Horn. Then, if we survive, we’ll have thousands of miles of Pacific Ocean to cross. There are islands where we can take on water and some provisions, but they’re a long sail from the Horn. It will not be a pleasant passage.”

His companions were quiet for some time, digesting this information, and weighing it against their own desire to be free. After several minutes’ pause, having taken several sips from his wine glass, Captain Billy spoke up. “I’m game, mate.” Slowly the others around the table nodded their approval.

“We’ll have to put this to the crew” Jack solemnly stated. “They should know the hardship they are about to face, and decide for themselves whether or not they are willing to face death.”

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Saying Good Bye

“Land ho!” yelled the lookout from the main top. “Fine on the port bow!”

A greenish brown peak, crowned by whisps of cloud, rose from the sea on the horizon. The rising sun brought a moderate breeze along, and sails began to flash out and fill over what seemed the entire horizon. Caribe let fall her main course, followed by the main topsail. It was slow work, being so short of hands; but within an hour there were four square sails set, along with a trio of jib stay sails, and finally the spanker was set on it’s boom and gaff from the mizzen mast. The ship heeled to the moderate thrust, and her rigging began to sing as the breeze steadily freshened, humming and throbbing a living song which was transmitted through her hull.

Jack could not help himself from staring in awe at the glorious spread of canvas now painted orange by the morning sun. Linda came to his side and slid her hand under his arm, then rested her head on his shoulder. She too reveled in that breathtaking sight for a few moments before leading him aft.

“Breakfast is ready” she softly said with a slight smile, and a twinkle in her deep green eyes.

“I only wish we’d have time for dessert” he replied with a grin of his own.

Caribe rounded the point upon which Fort Amsterdam was perched, ancient cannon still bristling through the ports in the stone parapet high above the shimmering light blue water of Great Bay. Her sails boomed and flapped as the swirling wind was taken from them by the high peaks of the island, and they dropped anchor in water so clear that it could be easily seen some sixty feet down. Once again, the crew raced aloft to furl the sails so laboriously set just a few hours before. When the last was secured to its yard, Jack took advantage of his high perch to survey the mass of anchored vessels in the bay, keeping a keen eye out for First Watch.

The bay was so full of anchored vessels that most were obliged to set stern anchors as well, to keep from swinging into another boat as the tide ebbed and flowed. Caribe was further out into the offing, being as large as she was, and the forest of masts which covered the bay made it impossible to pick out individual boats. Some were rafted three or four abreast which made it even harder to pick out a single thirty foot boat. Even the Tropic Star’s hull was obscured by the multitude of boats that lay between the two ships, her tall masts blending in with the rest between her and the shore. It was only her pennant flying from the main mast that caught Jack’s eye, she being on the far side of the vast bay. So densely packed was the bay that Jack began to wonder if a boat could be threaded through the teeming mass to reach shore!

“Anchored fore ‘n aft, cap’um!” a voice hailed from the deck far below.

“Thank you, Duncan” Jack replied, then turned to the rat lines and descended to the deck himself.

Upon reaching it he was surrounded by questioning, troubled faces. “Oh hell” Jack thought to himself. “I haven’t got a clue what’s next, and these folks expect me to have an answer…” He looked at each of those expectant faces, Linda’s included. He could find no words.

After a moment’s reflection, Jack lifted his head high, looked everyone square in the eye once more, and with what meager confidence he could muster, began to speak.

“I want to thank you all… for your hard work. But most of all, for putting your faith in me. Y’all don’t know me from Adam, yet you trusted me to bring you safely… somewhere. I am truly humbled by that. Now, I think, by the looks in your faces, you want me to tell you what comes next. I am truly sorry to disappoint you, but I honestly don’t know. I don’t know how any man could. What I do know is that I have complete faith in all of you, and I know that y’all will meet any challenge that comes your way with the same confidence and resolve which each and every one of you have so… gallantly displayed over the last few days.”

Again, Jack looked each one in the eye as he formulated his next words. “I have no idea what lies ahead. But I do think, having seen all this around us” he said, waving his hand at the boats all around them, “That we will not be able to stay here for long. This island won’t support so many people as have gathered here; I have no doubt about that.”

Heads nodded in glum agreement as they swiveled about, taking in the scene.

“This ship, as good as she has been to us, is mortally wounded, I’m afraid. The foremast is gone, the steering jury rigged… I wouldn’t feel confident sailing her through a storm. There is no way to replace the mast, much less all the rigging we lost. I think the best we can do is to go aboard Tropic Star, and leave Caribe to her fate. There is nothing we can do for her, not here. And I wouldn’t risk a single life to take her somewhere that might be able to provide what’s needed to repair her, even if I could think of a way to pay for those repairs. Even if I knew we wouldn’t lose the ship to some gang of cutthroats regardless. So… I think it best that we all pack our belongings, lower a boat, and head for Tropic Star.”

Heads slowly nodded in reluctant approval. With a tear rolling down his cheek, Jerrick stepped forward and took Jack’s hand, shaking it slowly. “I t’ink wot you say is best, Cap’n. Pains me t’ say so, dis ship bein’ my ‘ome so long now… But it’s time t’ go.”

They lowered the boat, loaded with their baggage and all but two crewmen who worked the winches. Jack sat by the tiller, and couldn’t bear to watch the ship’s side pass slowly by as they were lowered down to the water. The winchers climbed down a rope ladder into the boat, then cast off the cables. The boat’s diesel tank had been pumped dry into the ship’s tanks long before, so the Caribes shipped the oars into the rowlocks and began to pull across Great Bay. Jack turned after a while, to take one last look at the ship as the boat glided smoothly across the low swell. Even disfigured, with the twisted stump of her foremast, mangled bowsprit, and crumpled bow plating, Caribe was still a beautiful ship. Though Jack had not been aboard for long, he still felt a twang of pain at having to desert such a fine vessel, and he felt for her long term hands who’s pain must surely be ten times that of his own.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Armada

“Cap’um” a soft voice whispered. Jack barely perceived that his shoulder was being gently shaken. “Cap’um, sir.”

“Wha…” Jack moaned, unwilling to be pulled from his deep sleep.

“Cap’um, there’s somethin’ ya need ta be seein’ on deck, sir.”

Jack swung a leg off the side of his bunk and slowly sat up, involuntarily stretching his arms high above his head. “I’ll be up in a minute” he croaked.

He walked out on deck, squinting and blinking, trying to see in the darkness. The sky was ablaze with stars, and after a few moments, he could make out the silhouette of the masts and sails.

“The weather’s cleared, sir” the voice said to him. A Scottish accent, Jack guessed.

“That’s good news” Jack said in a frog like voice, still not quite awake. “Is there something I can wet my whistle with?”

“Aye, cap’um. William! Go’n fetch the cap’um a mug ‘a sum’pn wet now!”

The sound of feet thumped across the deck, followed by the squeal of a water tight door being opened.

“I know you didn’t wake me to gaze at the stars…. Uh… What was your name?”

“Duncan, sir.”

“Duncan. What did you want me to see?”

“Why, cap’um, just you have a look around!”

Jack swiveled his head, still trying to blink sticky sleep from his eyes. He surveyed the starry night, 360 degrees all around, still not seeing whatever he was supposed to see. Then, out of the corner of his eye, he noticed that one of the “stars” was moving. Bobbing up and down on the swell. And then he saw another. And another. After he wiped the sleep from his eyes, he saw red and green lights bobbing up and down as well.

“Duncan, do we have any night binoculars?” Jack asked, after taking a long, grateful pull from the mug of coffee the crewman had brought him.

“Aye, sir. In th’ wheel house.”

They walked up the ladder and into the wheel house, and Jack scanned all around with the binoculars. “Shit! It’s a damned armada!” he cried.

“Aye! A bluidy great big ‘un too, cap’um!”

“But they’re… they’re all small boats. All sail too, as far as I can tell.”

“That’s me observation too, sir.”

“Wha… I wonder… What do you make of ‘em, Duncan?”

“I’m not for certain, but if I had ta venture a guess, sir, I’d say they was fleein’ ta Saint Martin. Same as we, sir.”

“You’ve seen no aggressive behavior by any of them?”

“Nay, sir. They be sailin’ a straight course. Come up on us right before I woke ya, then kinda split around us as ya kin see. We’re loafin’ a might slow, sir. Missin’ mast an’ all.”

“Well done, Duncan.” Jack replied. “Sharp eyes.”

“Thank ya kindly, cap’um.”

The wind dropped steadily throughout the rest of the night, slowing the huge fleet of sailboats, but favoring the tall ship, which could reach high above all those small sails and catch the undisturbed breeze. Caribe, overtaken at first by the armada, now kept pace with them. Jack had their running lights lit so the other boats could see them, and not run afoul of the ship. All the other boats had their running lights on, so “stealth” was out the window anyway.

Dawn broke, pink and hazy, and the wind had died almost completely. Caribe’s sails filled, flapped, hung limp, then filled again as the “cat’s paws” swirled about. It was enough to give her steerage, but not much more. About three knots, sometimes four if there was a long enough gust. The small boats surrounding the ship were having much the same experience, and those in the lee of the ship were all but becalmed; some even twirling about in the current. There was a rainbow of color out there as spinnakers flashed out from many boats, their skippers hoping those large, colorful sails might catch enough breeze to get them moving again. Puffs of diesel smoke dotted the fleet, and even the bluish white of outboards as some decided to burn precious fuel in order to get going.

“They’re sure determined to get away from something” Jack observed to the new helmsman, the watch having been changed among Caribe’s sparse crew.

“Dey sure am, cap’m” the coal black helmsman replied.

“And your name is?” Jack inquired, holding his hand out.

“Jerrick, sah” he replied, seizing Jack’s hand and pumping it briskly, bright white teeth gleaming in his dark face, eyes barely visible in the squint caused by a wide smile.

“Pleased to know you Jerrick. How long have you been aboard?”

“Five yeahs, sah. Been bos’un’s mate all dat time. And sometimes bah tendah” he said, still grinning.

Jack noticed the bandage wrapped around Jerrick’s left bicep, visible through his shirt sleeve. “You were wounded in the pirate boarding?” Jack asked.

“’Twas nothin’ but a scratch, sah” he said modestly, though Jack could tell it was much more than that by the way Jerrick favored the arm.

“Well you take care of it just the same” Jack said. “We don’t need to lose you to some damned infection.”

“I will do dat, sah. Miss Emily, de doctah, she fix me up good. Said de bullet pass clean t’rough. Missed all de important stuff mon! I mean sah.”

“We have a doctor aboard?” Jack said, raising an eyebrow.

“Yes, sah. Well, kinda a doctah. Miss Emily was goin’ to school to be a doctah. She ‘ired on ta be da ship’s nurse, to pay for more schoolin’. Before…”

“Right” Jack said. “Before. Well I’m glad to know we have her aboard. It’s a comfort, that’s for sure.

“Yes, sah. A comfo’t she is!”

“Steady as she goes, Jerrick” Jack said with a smile, and patted him on the shoulder as he turned toward the door.

The wind had failed them once again, and Caribe wallowed in the glassy swell. Hundreds of small boats surrounded the ship, all equally becalmed, bobbing lazily up and down. Those that had fuel were slowly motoring on, straight toward Saint Martin. Jack went below to start up the main engine once again, and sent the three crewmen on deck aloft to furl the sails. It took them two hours, even with Jack’s help after he’d gotten the main engine going. Many times he’d hoisted himself up First Watch’s mast in a bosun chair, but that was nothing compared to scaling the ratlines and scooting out on Caribe’s main topgallant yard arm, some one hundred and thirty feet above the deck. The huge deck, which then looked like a popsicle stick so far below. He resolved not to look down any more.

With the last sail finally secured, folded up to it’s yard and tied to it with the gasket, it was with great relief that Jack set his feet on the deck again. He called up to the wheel house for Jerrick to throttle up to half, now that the sails were all in.

“’Alf t’rottle, sah!” he answered, and the ship surged ahead once more.

Monday, December 5, 2011


Thank you Michael for your subscription!

The Caribe was underway again. Her main mast standing rigging had been repaired, and some jury rigged forestays were erected from the stump of the bowsprit, and some deadeyes bolted through the deck, up to the main mast. The Caribes bent their spare jib sails to these stays, to aid in tacking the ship if nothing else. She loped along now, making six knots with her reduced sail, steering toward Saint Martin. Another day, maybe a day and a half away yet. There was nothing on the horizon to be seen, which was both a blessing and a curse to Jack.

He saw to the squaring away of the ship; their course set, sails trimmed, main engine shut down and secured to save what fuel remained… Jack scurried from aft to forward and back again, not settled in his mind until he surveyed everything twice. This heavy responsibility he’d never had before, and it was beginning to weigh on him something fierce. A big ship, a crew, no matter how small…

“Jack, you look tense” Linda said, studying him as she met him near the wheelhouse.

“This is a lot more than I’ve ever been charged with” he said, casting an anxious eye around once again. “It’s something very heavy, having so many look to me for leadership. I’m no leader.”

“I beg to differ” Linda cooed. “You’re a lot more than what you give yourself credit for.”

“What have I done?” Jack asked. “Willie was the one I looked to for guidance, once we all came together.”

“Yes, but Willie looked to you for backup. And for ideas. You can do this, Jack. I know you can.”

They walked into the wheelhouse. Jack looked at the compass, then went over to the chart which was spread out at the table. They were on course. “Helmsman” he hailed.

“Oui mon capitaine” the helmsman replied.

“How long have you been aboard?”

“S’ree years, mon capitaine.”

“And you’ve been helmsman in that time?”

“Oui monsieur. I ‘ave been wis’ ze deck crew seense I come aboard. Ze steering, ze raising an’ treeming of sails, ze mooring an’ anchoring… I ‘ave ze skeels at ze ‘elm, monsieur.”

“And what is your name, sir?” Jack inquired.

“Sebastiene, mon capitaine.”

“Very well, Sebastiene” Jack said. “Steady as she goes, and let me know if anything changes.”

“Oui mon capitaine.”
Jack led Linda below, to the captain’s cabin just below the wheelhouse. They sat for a moment on the wide berth, holding each other. Just a minute later, Jack’s head went slack on her shoulder and he began to snore quietly. She let him down gently onto the bunk, then carefully lifted his feet into it as well, and covered him with the blanket which was neatly folded at the foot. She stroked his hair gently for a moment, then took her ease on the wide settee next to the berth, and soon drifted off herself.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Siege

A boat was lowered down from the attacking ship, and a score of cutthroats piled into it, along with their captain. They motored alongside Caribe, and not expecting accommodations, threw a rope ladder with grapnels up over the bulwark. Several pirates swarmed up the ladder, pistols in their teeth, before the captain followed them up the side. One of Caribe’s crew spat on a pirate as he gained the deck, and the pirate put a bullet through the man’s head, spraying his brain and blood across the oak planks. In their horror, the rest of the crew drew back to the opposite rail. Only Jack and Vasiliy stood their ground, to face the invaders.

“I hope the rest of your crew shows proper respect” the pirate captain spewed in a venomous tone.

Jack and Vasiliy only glared as he gained the deck; neither commented, nor gave anything away by their stoic expressions.

“You’ve got our ship, you bastard. Name your terms and get this shit over with” Jack said, with no lack of venom himself.

“Ah, straight to the point are we?” the pirate captain hissed. “Good. I like things to be straight forward.”

Jack’s glare would have burned holes through that piratical bastard if there were any justice in the world. But the captain merely turned about to survey the deck, the masts, and the rigging. Once satisfied, he sent half a dozen of his men to scour the ship for whatever they might find. While they were heading below deck, the captain turned back to Jack and Vasiliy, and asked “Which of you is captain of this ship?”

Vasiliy answered “I am captain, you son of an infested yak!”

The pirate captain struck Vasiliy across his face with the butt of his pistol, then screamed “You will show me proper respect, prisoner!”

Vasiliy straightened, nose bleeding, then lunged at the pirate. He shoved the pistol into Vasiliy’s chest and pulled the trigger. For a moment, Vasiliy stood there with his hands around the pirate’s throat, a bewildered look on his broad face. Then his head flinched to one side, his grasp loosened, and he slid down the pirate’s body to lie limp on the deck. A pool of blood oozed out from beneath his twitching corpse.

“Would anyone else like to offer resistance?” the pirate growled, glaring first at Jack, then at the crew along the far bulwark. “I didn’t think so” he said after a long pause. “You” he directed at Jack. “You are second in command?”

Jack merely gave him a vicious look, but said nothing. The pirate raised his pistol to strike Jack as he did Vasiliy, but Jack lunged at his middle; down low like a linebacker set for a tackle. The pirate was driven against the rail with such force that the pistol flew from his hand into the sea. Seeing this, the Caribes rushed the other pirates on deck in a fit of inspired rebellion. The startled pirates were taken aback, and faltered in their surprise. Many were pummeled by whatever blunt objects were handy, their skulls beat in for good measure. Several shots rang out across the deck; some killing Caribe’s crew, some killing the pirates with their own captured weapons.

Then gunfire brought those pirates that had gone below back topside, and as the ship’s crew put down the last of the pirates on deck, the rest emerged in a hail of gunfire from the aft companionway. And then, to Jack’s horror, one of them shoved Linda on to the deck with a knife at her throat. She shot him a look of utter despair, then hardened her eyes into a look of defiance. As if to tell him “my life be damned, save the ship.”

Jack grabbed the still befuddled pirate captain by his hair and pulled him upright, a pocket knife pressing into his jugular. “If you God damned cockroaches want to see this piece of human shit live another day, you turn her loose!” A volley of shots rang out from the ship across the way, and Jack plunged the blade deep into the captain’s neck before flinging his body over the rail. More gunfire erupted from the pirate ship. Caribes and pirates both scattered for cover, and Jack took his chance in the confusion to make a dash for Linda, whose captor had ducked for cover. He kicked the knife from the rogue’s hand as he sent a fist into the bugger’s gaping jaw, then grabbed Linda’s arm and pulled her behind the bar which stood amidship. Having recovered a rifle one of the pirates dropped on deck in his haste to take cover, Jack returned fire on the ship, killing one of their crew on the first shot.

The Caribes used the opportunity to attack the remaining pirates on deck with whatever weapons they could find. Some crafty hand had made a giant Molotov Cocktail from a five gallon water container during the melee, and launched it on to the pirate ship’s deck with a makeshift “slingshot” hastily crafted from the bungee cords that secured the tarps over the lifeboats, strung out between the fore and mainmast pinrails. It struck the pirate ship and spread fire over the whole foredeck, which raised a cheer from the tall ship’s crew. Jack took that opportunity to send a dozen men below, to the steering compartment, there to heave what was left of the tiller hard over to port. To ram the pirate ship!

Jack ran down to the engine room himself, while the crew disposed of the remaining pirates. Through the open door to the steering compartment, he screamed “Hard to port!” over the growl of the generator and the rumble of the still idling main engine. He heard them grunt as they shoved the remnant of the tiller over, then Jack throttled the main engine up to full.

Caribe shuddered with the impact. Steel groaned against steel, and her rigging could be heard to snap down below. Jack ran up to the deck, and he saw Caribe’s bowsprit had stove the pirate ship right in her middle before it broke off. Some of the foremast shrouds and backstays had parted, as well as some of the main’s. As the ship ground down the other vessel’s side, opening a great gash in the rusted and thinned hull with the stub of her bowsprit, the foremast came down with a great crash, right across the pirate ship’s deck. The shock, weight, and leverage caused her to list hard to starboard, and the sea rushed in through the gaping hole. The ship began to settle in the increasing swell, and many pirates tried to climb across the mast to Caribe, only to be repelled back to their own ship, or into the sea.

Jack watched with grim satisfaction as the pirate’s ship dipped beneath the waves, and Caribe’s crew cut the last of the rigging from the foremast to let it slide down to the depths. Next, they tossed the pirates’ bodies which littered the deck overboard. When that grim task was done, they shuffled their way toward Jack, who stood holding Linda in the cover of the aft bulwark. They stood before him with questioning looks in their eyes, almost pleading for direction. He took this in, and considered for a moment. Vasiliy had been their leader until today, their captain. Now he was gone. Jack had been right by Vasiliy’s side since he came aboard, and the crew looked to him as second in command ever since his short stay began. He took in the scene as the last gush of air and debris rose from the sinking pirate ship, then addressed the crew.

“First thing’s first I guess, let’s give Vasiliy and the other dead a proper burial.”

They wrapped Vasiliy’s body in a sheet, weighted down with scrap metal that littered the deck, as well as four more Caribes who died in the bloody exchange. Jack said some solemn words over the dead, and after a long moment of silence, their bodies were committed to the deep. Jack then asked the crew if they chose him to command. No one said a word in protest as the crew all solemnly nodded their heads in agreement.

“Alright then” Jack said. “I need a repair party to the steering room.”  

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Chase

Jack walked into the wheel house, still wiping the rusty grime from his hands with a greasy rag, exchanging one form of filth for another. A look out the aft port holes showed the approaching ship now only six miles away, chugging blacker still as her crew drove their ship mercilessly in chase. “May I?” Jack inquired, pointing to the powerful binoculars which sat atop the chart table.

“Sure, sure” Vasiliy replied.

Jack picked them up and walked to the aft ports. He trained them on the pursuer and brought the ship into focus. “She is a warship. An old warship… Can’t see any markings. No flags.” Then, after a long pause he said “I don’t think she’s gaining on us anymore. If she is, it’s very little. Vasiliy, do you have a sextant?”

“Of course, of course! Let me find it.” He rustled through several drawers in the cabinets that made up the instrument console along the forward wheel house bulkhead, retrieved wooden box, and passed it to Jack. He took the sextant from it’s case, aimed it at the pursuing ship, and noted the elevation.

Jack noticed Vasiliy’s questioning look, and he explained; “I can tell if the ship is gaining by the elevation of her mast in relation to the horizon.”

“Ah!” Vasiliy cried, slapping his forehead. “The closer she gets, the taller she gets, no? This I should have known! I am durak, ha ha! Stupid!”

“Don’t beat yourself up, I only thought of it because I read about it in a novel” Jack consoled, with a wry grin.

Except for the fact they were under power, and possessed no cannon, the Caribe and her sister Tropic Star might have leapt from the pages of that seafaring novel read long ago. The tall ships were running wide open, making just under nine knots. Jack took another sight on the chase, and his heart dropped as he found they were gaining.

“How fast can we sail, if we had a wind?” Jack asked Vasiliy.

“Oh, I seen ten… no, eleven knots before. In the trade winds. But where they are…” Vasiliy shrugged his shoulders. “You think we can outsail that ship?”

“I think she’s giving all she’s got right now. Just shy of ten knots, tops. I think she’s hurt, maybe has an engine down. If only we had wind, I think we could lose her. Otherwise, she’ll be alongside in about six hours. Who knows what her firing range is.”

Not five minutes after those words were uttered, a puff of smoke came from the bows of their pursuer, followed by the whump of the report, and a splash fifty yards shy of Caribe’s stern. Not a large splash, Jack noted with a sort of relief. Maybe a three inch shell. But plenty big enough to do some serious damage none the less.

Vasiliy took over the helm from the watchman and altered course slightly to port. “We don’t want to be sitting ducks, no?” he said, grinning. “I was in Russian Navy many years ago. How you say? The old dog knows his tricks.”

“Close enough” Jack said as another shell splashed not ten yards to starboard, right where the ship would have been. He surveyed the horizon, then doubled back to look again to starboard. A solid bank of low, dark cloud was just barely visible, stretching the length of the westward sky. “Vasiliy, me might just get our wind. And then some.”

“Ah, yes!” Vasiliy exclaimed. “Do you think we…”

“Yes, I do” Jack said before Vasiliy could finish. With a wink, he spun the helm to starboard, heading straight for the approaching storm. Tropic Star altered course as well, but a bit more to southward, forcing their pursuers to choose one ship or the other. They fired two rounds; one at each ship, both missing their mark by fifty yards or more.

“Thank God their gun crew is not so good!” Vasiliy said with a chuckle. “And we hope practice does not make perfect, no?!”

The chase latched on to Caribe, which was the nearer of the two tall ships. On and on they zig zagged toward the darkening clouds, dodging rounds that came closer to their mark with each volley. The wind finally began to ruffle the sea’s oily slick surface, and streaks of lightning shot across the not too distant sky. Vasiliy gave the helm back to the watchman with instructions on when to zig or zag, then opened the wheelhouse door. “Time to set sail” he said, his eyes shining brighter than his grin.

“Let me know where I can be useful” Jack said.

Linda, who had been sitting quietly in the aft corner of the wheel house, stood up and said “I will help too.”

Jack smiled, and the trio went on deck to hoist sail with the rest of the crew.

Thunder rolled and lightning flashed just a few miles ahead as the Caribes bravely climbed into the rigging to set sail. Several more shots from the chase had landed perilously close to the ship, and in the back of Jack’s mind he feared they would finally find their aim. They were no more than four miles distant now, and they would certainly find their mark as the gap closed. The crew worked feverishly, and soon the deck began to heel as the wind filled Caribe’s sails. Another shot from the chase found it’s mark, and the ship’s hull rang with the impact. The crew cast nervous glances at each other, then redoubled their already Herculean efforts.

The first enormous drops of rain began to pelt the crew high aloft, and shortly thereafter the first good gust of wind hit them from the northwest. Almost simultaneously, a round from the chase holed the main course, then glanced off the steel foremast with a loud CLANG!  With tremendous effort, the sparse crew managed to set courses and topsails as the ship heeled down, her leeward rail dipping into the increasing swell from time to time, sending sheets of green water down the deck. Suddenly, the ship gave a sickening lurch as another round from the chase struck home, and she sheared off of her course to windward. Instantly Jack raced down the ratlines as the helmsman ran out of the wheel house shouting “Bloody bastards shot away the steering!”

Jack followed Vasiliy down the engine room ladder and aft through a water tight door that led to the steering compartment. Vasiliy cursed in his native tongue something fierce as he held up a piece of the severed tiller, then threw it down to the deck in rage. “We are finished!” He yelled to Jack.

“We can rig something” Jack replied, his eyes searching the room. “We can rig something…”

“There is no time” Vasiliy lamented. “They will be on us before we can have steerage.” He kicked the remnants of the long steel tiller, still attached to the great cables that led to the helm, which was now completely useless.

“Are there any weapons aboard?” Jack asked, his mind searching for some solution.

“No” Vasiliy sulked. “This is cruise ship, not war ship. All we have are distress rockets, no more. We have no teeth, Jack. No teeth, no claws…”

The war ship drew alongside Caribe in the lightning streaked darkness, her guns leveled at the deck, and a crew of right cutthroats lining her rail, with a menagerie of small arms trained at the Caribe’s crew. Their captain appeared on deck and roared across the water above the din of flapping sails, wind, and sea, in English, surprisingly devoid of accent to Jack’s ear.

“Good evening, prisoners” he began. “You made a good run of it, but succumbed to our superior force, as was inevitable. But fear not, I hold no grudge against those who wish to preserve themselves, as I would wish to preserve myself.”

“What do you want from us?” Jack shouted.

“Why, your ship, of course! Surely you must know that fuel is rather hard to come by these days, do you not? As you nearly demonstrated, a sailing vessel has it’s advantages. Your flight led me to burn nearly half of our reserves in chase! Had my gunner not knocked away your rudder, I might have been forced to break off. But happily his lack of practice was superseded by good luck. Ammunition, especially that of the naval variety, is rarer than fuel you know. I despised the thought of burning rounds as well as fuel for what should have been an easy catch, but since we were so close I thought it worth the expense. How happy I am to have remained steadfast in my pursuit!

Vasiliy spat over the side and gave a murderous glare at the captain. “And what will you do with us?”

“Well, I suppose that is up to you. As I mentioned, I will have your ship. My force is superior; therefore you are at my mercy. I may find it in my heart to set you ashore some place appropriate, should you give me no trouble. And should you and your crew prove helpful, I may even allow you food and water.”

Jack’s blood began to boil, his hands clenched into fists, and his body began to tremble visibly. Vasiliy lay a calming hand on his shoulder, and quietly whispered “Easy, easy my friend. I know this kind of man. I know what he wants, and I know how far he will go.” Then, in a slightly louder whisper, he said “Linda, hide below.”