“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.