The Last Hunt

Chapter Three

One morning as I awoke and reached for my shoes, I was horrified to see them slide across the cabin floor. Next, the ceiling lamp decided to do a St. Vitus dance and began to swing back and forth, increasing its velocity with each swing. The books in the wall bookcase decided to get in the fun. They toppled out and went skittering to the other side of the cabin. Finally, the suitcases fell off the stand and threatened to destroy the small cabin. I came to my senses and decided to investigate. I managed to dress and make my way out the door. By this time the boat had settled down to a slow plunging and climbing action. It was not a violent movement; it was the type that made one feel his stomach sink on the downslide and not recover on the upswing. I had trouble getting up the narrow staircase. My heart sank as I reached the deck.

Bryan and the Captain were in the small cabin quietly observing the compass. The first mate was on the radio talking to someone. I noticed that the sails had been furled and the diesel engine had been turned on. As I looked outside, it seemed to me that the swells had increased in length and depth. The Maiden dipped and rose, dipped and rose; it seemed to rise slower with each succeeding wave. I looked outside. The waves were high and menacing. Some crew members were having difficulty maintaining their footing on the sloping deck. I paid attention to the Captain’s voice.

“The winds are out of the east and have not picked up too much force. The Mate tells me that the weather station at Christchurch is reporting a storm heading our way from the Southeast at 50 knots per hour. It figures to be a humdinger. I’m sure the Maiden can ride it out. Still, inform the lady that she should beware.”

At that moment Bryan glanced around and spotted me.

“Summer, you heard the Captain, of course. How do you feel?”

“I’ll be all right. Do you want me back at the cabin?”

The Captain replied, “You would be just as safe in here as anywhere else. Hang on to something. As a precaution put on your oilskins and a vest.”

He did not elaborate any further. I knew what he meant.

“Bryan, perhaps you could get to the galley and prepare some hot food for the crew and plenty of coffee. We may be without dinner for some time.”

I interrupted, “I’ll do that. Let Bryan stay in the cabin.”

The rains hit the little ship as I made my way back with some hot food and coffee. Bryan looked very serious as he ate. I did not dare question him. I knew quite well that we were in for it. The ship made slow headway for the first hour.

Bryan and the Captain kept an eye on the falling barometer. A heavy patter of raindrops suddenly hit the starboard window like a ton of steel balls flung by a maniac. Some water slipped under the door and sloshed across the slanting deck that had begun to tilt at an alarming rate. The wind picked up malevolence; the waves increased in height and depth; the air vibrated like a giant drum roll. I looked outside again. I felt myself become weak as I observed the blackening clouds to the southeast and spreading north and west.

Darkness came in with a rush like the proverbial thief although it was still only noon. I felt trapped as if I was in an inkwell. Normally one can always pick out the horizon because the sea is darker than the sky. I could make no distinction today; it was total darkness. I could not mistake the angry waves washing across the deck and crashing against the windshield. Still, the little ship went down one deep through after another without losing headway. Bryan and the Captain took turns at the wheel. Both of them looked at me from time to time, but I smiled and reassured them in spite of my worries.

I had to admit that at one point the Maiden took a longer time to bring the bow out of the deep trough into which it corkscrewed and twisted.

The Maiden began to roll to port, then to starboard and back on the regular course; the waves began to look like N. Y. skyscrapers as they surged past the boat. It now began to rain in earnest. Huge sheets of water hit the cabin like thundering freight trains. There was nothing to be seen outside except valleys and tops of waves that caused the Maiden to pitch and roll. The waves flooded the decks, smashed against the cabin and flowed over the sides.

The air felt hot and sticky, like the insides of a Turkish bath. More and more water seeped under the door until it was ankle deep. I began to get alarmed but not yet panicky. After all the engine was still working and the Captain knew his sailing. But for the first time I began to think about the consequences of a broaching which happens when a ship falls broadside to a trough and does not come around to face into the  wind. It usually spells disaster.

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