Hours rolled by, with First Watch loping along at six knots, barely heeled as she glided through the moderate swell. The two specks remained at what appeared to be the same distance off the port bow, their course and speed nearly identical.
Willie emerged from the cabin and reported that Peggy was doing much better now, then offered to take the helm. Jack handed it over and went below, where he found Linda checking in on Peggy as she slept in the aft berth. He then went forward to the master cabin and sprawled out on the bunk. He watched intently as Linda came in as well, quietly closing the door behind her...
Jack woke with a start, caused by an insistent knocking on the cabin door. He rummaged through the tangle of sheets and clothes lying on the cabin sole, in search of his shorts and T-shirt. Still fumbling to get his arm through a sleeve, he ensured Linda was covered up, then opened the door.
“Jack, you need to come look at this” Willie said, then made for the companionway.
On deck, Jack was bewildered by what he saw. One of the sailing ships had reduced sail to bare steerage, and was now less than a mile away. He scanned for the other ship, but it couldn't be seen in the fading light of dusk.
“What do you think?” he asked.
“I think we should break out the rifles” Willie replied. “And stage them where they'll be handy if needed. But no cause for alarm just yet. These guys are taking great care not to do anything provocative. Slow and easy is their M.O. so far. But I'd be ready for anything just the same.”
Slowly the two vessels inched closer to one another as twilight faded into night. A sliver of a moon was already in the sky as the sunlight retreated, and countless stars took it's place. The few scraps of sail worn by the square rigger presented an eerie grayish hue in the dim glow, and the black silhouette of the hull and masts gave an almost ghostly quality to it. Linda must have thought so as well, Jack mused, for she came up on deck, giving a visible shudder when her eyes fell upon the scene.
With a quarter mile now lying between the vessels, Jack suddenly recalled something from a novel he'd read, specifically about a naval battle between tall ships. The main character, an English frigate's captain, was locked in a dance of strategic maneuvering with an enemy vessel. His goal was to gain the “weather gauge”, or in other words, to position himself upwind of his adversary, which would give him the distinct advantage of being able to run downwind to attack versus beating upwind. And also left the option of speeding away open, should he find himself out-gunned.
Their current course would put them under the square rigger's lee, stealing the wind from First Watch's sails and leaving them dead in the water. Jack relayed all this to Willie, who then agreed they should very slowly alter their course to cross the ship's stern to windward. This they did, very slowly, very cautiously. About one hundred yards from the sailing ship, they had gained the weather gauge. Jack reduced sail to the second reef, which set First Watch's pace to just slightly faster than the ship. Willie studied the vessel through his binoculars as they crossed her wake, slowly scanning from stern to bow in the dim moonlight.
“Not a soul on deck” he said as he lowered the binoculars. “No guns, as far as I can tell. Looks to me like a cruise ship. Lots of deck chairs, and what looks like a bar about mid-ship. There, under that canvas shade.” he said, pointing just aft of the main mast.
Jack eased the helm to starboard, to bring them alongside the ghostly ship. When they were twenty yards off her port beam, they heard a voice shout from across the water.
“Ahoy there” the voice said, in a very thick, very drunk accent that Jack couldn't quite place.
“Ahoy” Jack replied. “We mean no harm.”
“That's good” the voice answered back. “We have no weapons.”
To Jack, the voice was beginning to sound eastern European now, possibly Russian.
“Where are you headed?” Jack inquired.
A shadowy figure appeared at the ship's rail, having stepped out from behind the high bulwark which shielded a door leading into the ship's interior.
“Saint Martin, we think” said the shadowy figure, the voice's owner. “Depends on crew not killing each other. Much fighting here. How you say.... Mutiny? Only six left now.”
Jack looked at Willie, trying to gain a sense of what he might be thinking. But Willie just stood there, stone faced, listening.