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.