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|Chapter 57: Maelstrom|
In the golden glow of sunset, Joel parked his Camaro on Lisa’s driveway, took a deep breath to steel his nerve, and got out. He had dressed for the occasion: new jeans, and a white long-sleeved shirt.
With trepidation, Joel rang the bell. A few seconds later, Robert Whitaker opened the door. “Hello Joel. Good to see you, but Lisa is working tonight; she won’t be home for a few hours.”
Joel smiled awkwardly, fidgeting a little. “I know; I came to see you. There’s something I need to ask.”
Robert blinked in surprise, and then, his brow creasing slightly, he said, “Let’s go inside; this sounds serious.” He ushered Joel into the living room, to a seat on the sofa, and sat down in his armchair, facing Joel.
Joel took a deep breath, hesitated, and then took another, trying to decide how to begin. “I, uh, I’m going to see Trev in Australia at Christmas.”
Robert nodded, his eyes narrowing. “Yes, Lisa told me. She’s very supportive of that, and a little jealous, but not in a bad way.”
Joel nodded, and tried to smile. “I know, I... Lisa hasn’t seen Trev in months, and by Christmas it’ll have been most of a year.” Joel paused, trying to plan how to ease into the subject gradually, “Uh, I want to take Lisa with me.”
Robert blanched, his hands squeezing the arms of his chair until his knuckles whitened. “Joel, I think very highly of you, in spite of the fact I know damn well you and Lisa have been going off somewhere together – you haven’t been sneaking in here anymore, and I know her work schedule. I’ve turned a blind eye to that so far, but this is too much. She’s too young!”
“She went to France alone, and stayed there alone, when she was a lot younger,” Joel pointed out, inadvertently raising a very touchy subject.
“Yes, and we all know how well that worked out, don’t we?” Robert said icily. Joel blanched as he recalled the way Lisa’s mother had shunned her. Robert glared at Joel as he added, “That brings up my whole point; I still think she’s too young for... all this.”
“Seeing Australia, for free, would be wonderful for her. It’s a fantastic opportunity, one that will probably never come again.”
Robert scowled, drumming his fingers. “She couldn’t have said it better herself, so it’s rather obvious that she schooled you in which arguments to use on me.”
Joel shook his head. “Lisa doesn’t know I’m here, and she doesn’t know about the trip, at least not her part of it anyway. I want to surprise her.”
“I’ll just bet you do. What teenage boy wouldn’t want a private cruise on a yacht with his girlfriend for a couple of weeks?” Robert said, glaring.
“Fiancée. We’re engaged to be married,” Joel reminded Robert, wondering if he had any hope at all. He sighed, and then carried on, “I love Lisa. I admit, spending time with her would be great for me, but as you’ve mentioned, we spend time together here anyway. This would be an awesome opportunity for her to see Australia, and it’s one that won’t come again; I doubt Trev will ever go back.”
Robert’s frown changed slightly. “You’d be staying on Trevor’s boat, Atlantis, correct? Has it slipped your cotton-picking mind that this is the same damned boat that his father tried to blast into dust with Trevor aboard a few weeks ago, and that the murdering bastard is still out there, at large?”
Joel nodded, glad that the subject had changed slightly. “Yes, if he did it... but the only time Mr. Carlson has come anywhere near Lisa is while she was here at home. The police saw him do that one drive by, but who knows what else he’s done? No one will know where Trevor is in Australia – he and I have already talked about that, and he’s very careful about his security now – but Dirk Carlson knows exactly where he can expect to find Lisa at Christmas: right here.”
Robert thought that over for a few moments, and then shook his head. “Believe it or not, that did occur to me. Lisa doesn’t know yet, but I am taking her to see her grandmother in New Jersey for New Years. Mom isn’t getting any younger so I’d like us to spend the holiday there, and it would be safer than here if Dirk is still on the loose. I’d like to go for Christmas as well, but I’ve got work commitments.”
“Lisa was heartbroken that she couldn’t go on the Mediterranean trip–”
“The one with the bomb?” Robert snarled.
Joel shrugged. “It’s looking right now like that bomb wasn’t aboard when I was, but I see your points... It’s just that... This would be a perfect opportunity for Lisa–”
“You do keep saying that,” Robert snapped, glaring at Joel. “So it’s all about what’s best for Lisa, is it? And your own lust has nothing to do with it? Fine, then how about this: I'll let Lisa go, but you stay here.”
Joel blinked in surprise, his heart torn. “Yes.”
“Excuse me?” Robert replied, staring at Joel with a look of shock.
“I said yes. I’ll do that. I had the Mediterranean, so it’s only fair that Lisa gets to go to Australia. And Trev is gay, so you really don’t have to worry about anything happening there.”
“I know he’s gay...” Robert said, his voice trailing off as he studied Joel with suspicious eyes. “How do I know you won’t decide to go anyway?”
Joel shrugged. “I can’t be in two places at once, so let me stay here with you. I’ll even take over the cooking.”
Robert stared silently at Joel for over a minute, and then said softly. “You’re serious, aren’t you? You’d give up your trip so Lisa can go...” Robert paused, and turned to look out the window before continuing, “I’m sorely tempted to take you up on that offer, but with your cooking I’d probably gain thirty pounds... okay, I’m sorry I misjudged you. It’s no longer you being there that I object to... but can you understand that I really am concerned about her safety? Joel, it looks like there was a bomb on that boat. What father wouldn’t worry about that? For that matter, what do your parents think?”
Joel frowned. “They’re really concerned. They made me swear that we’d keep Trevor’s location absolutely secret. The thing is, if Mr. Carlson tried anything now, even if he could, he’d be putting his own head in the noose.”
Robert drummed his fingers for a few moments. “There’s a large manhunt for Dirk and his lawyer... If they’re apprehended, that would be a huge load off my mind. Okay, for the sake of argument, let’s assume they are safely in prison by the time of your trip. What about Lisa’s grandmother? Mom is looking forward to seeing her. If I let her go, could you get Lisa back here by December 27th so I can take her to New Jersey? I don’t have the tickets yet, but if I remember right most of the flights are mid-day, and she’d have to be here by morning.”
Joel smiled. “If you don’t have the tickets yet, why not let me get Lisa a flight back that has a stopover in New Jersey? That way it’s less flying for her, she’d get there when you do, and you wouldn’t have to pay any airfare at all for her.”
Robert gave Joel a faint smile. “That would save me a lot. Joel... I can’t believe I’m saying this, but okay, she can go with you if Dirk Carlson is safely behind bars. If he’s not... the best I can offer is I’ll look at the situation as it is at that point, but I’ll probably decide against it. That’s the best I can do for you.”
Joel grinned, nodding. “Thanks Mr. Whitaker.”
Robert glanced at a clock. “Joel, if you’ve nowhere else you need to be, why don’t you stay awhile so you can say hello to Lisa; she’ll be home in about an hour.” With those words, Robert took the first tentative step towards truly accepting Joel as his future son-in-law.
The wind eased during the day, and Trevor noted that his barometer was rising: the low was passing.
In the afternoon, Trevor noticed a change; the wind had become gusty, and the seas even more confused. Over the next few hours, the winds shifted, a few degrees at a time, returning to their normal pattern of coming out of the west.
As the sun set, the skies partially cleared, enough for Trevor to both time the sunset and gauge his direction. Trevor’s improvised compass swung wildly in the heavy swells, but worse yet was averaging far to the east of north. He correctly guessed that, due to being so far south, the magnetic deviation had become severe. All he could do was make a mental correction, but in the rough seas, the compass was becoming close to worthless anyway, due to the severe motion of Atlantis.
With the wind now from the west and rising, Trevor centered Atlantis’s rudders, running before the thirty-knot wind and the long, massive swells coming from astern.
The air grew colder. Trevor knew that worse was yet to come, and that he needed more warmth than the netting sail alone could provide.
In each cabin, above the level of the mattress where it was adjacent to the walls, there were thin sheets of foam, two feet high and half an inch thick. These were attached to the hull with Velcro, and were there to protect anyone trying to sleep in a rough sea. They also provided some insulation, which was what Trevor needed. He gathered them from the cabins, and arranged them, along with the netting sail, into a roll in the corner of Joel’s cabin. He crawled in, pulling it around him, feeling the cozy warmth. ‘Great, I’m the world’s largest mouse,’ Trevor thought, with a wry smile as he remembered a mouse nest he’d once found in his car.
Overnight, the wind continued to rise, and Atlantis, propelled by wind, swells, and current, ran downwind, her average speed reaching, by Trevor’s estimate, fourteen knots. ‘That’s about three hundred and forty miles a day,’ Trevor thought, trying to keep his spirits up while shivering in the dark.
The next few days saw steady progress, as Atlantis was driven east by the steady, powerful winds and tossed on the turbulent seas.
On the fifth day, the high, gray overcast skies cleared enough at local noon for Trevor to take a series of sun sightings, and he grinned broadly as he averaged the results and calculated his position on the map, and then wrote in his journal,
“This is working better than I thought. We’re at roughly 45 south, 76 east, which means I’m about 450 miles south of St. Paul Island, and about the same distance northeast of Kerguelen Island. I didn’t intend coming so far south, but Atlantis is really moving. I figure we’ve been averaging ten knots, which is more than I’d hoped. It’s a gamble, but I’ll let her run while she can, then start angling north. I can’t head north too soon, otherwise the prevailing wind patterns will take me up Australia’s west coast and then out into the Indian Ocean again.
Australia’s southwesternmost point is at 35 south, and Tasmania, on the southeast corner, sticks down to 43 south. I’ll see how the winds hold, but if I remember right, there’s usually a strong area of winds from the southwest near southwestern Australia, so if I hit it right, I can ride it up and make landfall somewhere around that southwest point, Cape Leeuwin. I wish I knew what the coast was like, because I need a sheltered calm shore to beach Atlantis on. I hope I can spot one and steer for it.
Trevor looked out at the foam-streaked sea and airborne spray, studying the waves. The long base swell out of the west, driven by the near-gale-force winds, resulted in waves of up to twenty-five feet, which were sometimes breaking. These were of no real danger to Atlantis; only the top few feet at most were breaking whitewater, so the actual impacting whitewater was little different, at most, than a waist-high comber coming ashore on a beach.
The stinging airborne spray and cold wind forced Trevor to remain mainly inside, bracing himself in the corner of the cabin as Atlantis pitched from the following seas.
Sitting down between two of the exposed crossmembers in the ruined salon, Trevor could feel the occasional impact of a wave against the underside of the hull. There was little he could do, other than read, write, or draw, so he began a painfully slow pencil sketch of the wild, empty sea. Every so often, he would look out of the salon’s spray-hazed side windows, studying the blurry image of the waves.
An hour into his drawing, Trevor’s glance through a starboard window revealed a blurry, distant shape of brown, and Trevor raced out into the cockpit for a clear view, seeing that it was a hundred yards off his starboard beam. It was the remains of a tree, its trunk a little thinner than a telephone pole. Trevor gave it a baleful stare; it was his fourth sighting of tsunami debris since entering the Indian Ocean, and he knew that hitting something that size, at his current speed, could do significant damage. ‘I don’t have a choice, I have to take the risk,’ he thought, as he watched it recede from view astern before returning to his drawing in the salon.
The next morning dawned cloudy and cold. Trevor checked his barometer, and found that it had begun to fall again. A look at his swinging compass confirmed the news: Atlantis was heading southeast.
Trevor knew he had to go into the cockpit, but he could see that the driving spray would soak him in moments, and he was wearing the only clothes aboard. Trevor got a towel ready, and then peeled off the T-shirts and shorts, dashing into the cockpit naked to brave the biting cold and spray. Trevor adjusted the rudders so that Atlantis tracked ten degrees to the left of the wind’s path, but she was still heading a little south of east. ‘I don’t want to go any further south,’ Trevor thought, glancing into the salon, at the table he’d used as a sea anchor. His plan was to deploy it if Atlantis became caught in another southbound wind system, using it to hold her in place until it passed. Shivering, he dashed back into the salon to towel off, and then, fingers numb, he pulled his clothes back on.
The seas worsend, becoming more violent. Several times, Trevor felt Atlantis speed up on the face of a wave, and then begin to yaw.
The danger was severe and growing worse. If a breaking wave propelled Atlantis fast enough, she could ‘surf’ on its face, yawing to port or starboard before slamming into the bottom of the trough. This was the most common way for heavy seas to destroy a yacht; the impact with the bottom of the trough, at speeds of thirty miles an hour or more, was more than enough to leave a boat a shattered wreck.
Under normal circumstances, a yacht could either deploy a sea anchor from the bows and turn into the storm to ride it out, or run before it while towing a small drogue or ropes, for drag. The drag astern would serve to slow the boat enough so that she would not break free and surf the face of a wave.
With the daggerboards already down, Trevor’s only option was to add drag astern, which would also serve the purpose of increasing Atlantis’s directional stability. Once again, the pirates had taken what Trevor needed, so he had to improvise. It was something he’d had time to think about, so he already knew the answer, and had previously freed one of the toilets. He pulled it free and hauled it into the salon.
Working in the salon, Trevor tied several lengths of wiring together, end-to-end, until he had a cable over ninety feet long. Then, stripped naked and dashed out into the cockpit to haul his improvised safety float aboard. He hated losing it, but he needed the nearly one hundred feet of wire. Trembling, he raced back inside.
After drying off and pulling his clothes back on, Trevor twisted the two lengths of wiring together, knotting them every five feet, to form a stronger cable nearly one hundred feet long.
Trevor took a last piece of wire and tied one end to the toilet bowl. Atlantis’s marine toilets were considerably lighter than their shore counterparts, but they were too heavy to float. To fix that issue, Trevor added the second component; the pool noodles he’d previously used as a debris guard. He ran wire through them, two at a time, tying off the wire to the toilet, and then adding another set.
The pool noodles made it look as if he’s just stuck an enormous gift bow on a toilet. When he was done, Trevor stood back and looked at his creation, chuckling, the preposterous sight lightening his mood in spite of the danger he was in.
‘Time to freeze or drown,’ Trevor thought, peeling off his clothes again.
Trevor hauled his creation into the cockpit. He lashed one end of the heavy pair of wires to a cleat in the center of the aft edge of the deck, and then, timing the waves, shivering, drenched by driving spray, he heaved his improvised drag float overboard, watching it float astern into the roiling seas. The line snapped taut, holding it in place ninety feet astern of Atlantis, even with her centerline.
Trevor, numb and shaking violently, his lips tinged with blue, stumbled into the salon and closed the door. After toweling off and pulling his clothes back on, he huddled in the netting sail, pulling it tight around him, trying to warm up. As he shivered, he felt the difference in Atlantis’s ride, and smiled to himself: the extra drag was helping keep Atlantis steady.
Throughout the day, the skies darkened and the wind rose, gusting to thirty-five knots, then forty, as a light rain began to fall, and the seas increased, along with Atlantis’s speed.
The temperature in the salon dropped further, into the mid forties, forcing a shivering Trevor to retreat to Joel’s cabin and spend much of his time bundled in the netting sail, as Atlantis was pummeled by the rising seas, and the wind, already gale-force, continued its rise. Atlantis surged ahead, driven by the storm, often slamming through the furious seas at fifteen knots. It was a wild ride, growing worse by the hour.
All through the night, the storm’s fury grew, sending Atlantis hurling southeast, pitching in the massive following swells, some of which now exceeded fifty feet from trough to crest, and sometimes carrying breaking tops of up to eight feet of white water. When a breaking wave hit, it would strike the sterns first, making Atlantis shudder from the blow. Sometimes, when the wave was large enough, it would surge into the cockpit, battering at the salon door, imparting tons of weight to Atlantis as it turned the cockpit into a temporary swimming pool. When that happened, Trevor would feel Atlantis slow, held down by the weight for a couple of minutes, until the water drained away through the scuppers.
A constant, driving spray whipped at Atlantis, lost in the heart of the Southern Ocean. For Trevor, fear was a constant companion as the hammer-blows of the sea increased. He tried to console himself in the knowledge that, at fifteen knots, Atlantis was covering about four hundred miles every twenty-four hours.
On the second day of the storm, Atlantis’s severe pitching, rolling, and yawing made the improvised compass unusable, and Trevor could only guess at his direction, thinking that he was heading east, when in fact Atlantis was still being driven southeast. With the sky obscured, there was no way for Trevor to know.
The storm’s rage did not ease that day, but its increase paused, giving Trevor hope that it was almost over. That hope lasted until a little after nightfall, when Trevor heard the tone of the wind’s noise in his rigging began to increase even more in volume and lower in pitch, signaling that the storm was increasing in fury.
All through that night, Atlantis was pummeled by massive seas, the impacts under her hull wing making Trevor feel as if he was inside a massive drum, the force of the blows enough to shake and jar Atlantis as she reeled in the teeth of the storm.
Enduring the white-knuckled ride, Trevor struggled with his fears. There were, he knew, many things that could kill him. Atlantis could suffer a structural failure from the incessant pounding, or she could capsize, or she could be driven south to even colder weather where he’d freeze to death. The perils were many and his life hung in the balance.
Adding to the terror were moments when a breaking wave would pitch Atlantis forward, like a surfer taking off on a wave: a few seconds of sickening acceleration, and then her bows would hit the trough, bounding up with a shuddering lurch.
During one particularly severe wave impact, Atlantis pitched forward and then spun sickeningly to port, rolling through forty degrees of list as the wall of water shoved her partially over on her side, and Trevor blurted out, “Don’t roll over, don’t roll over, we’ll both die...” The wave passed and Atlantis returned to an even keel, but Trevor knew he’d come perilously close to capsizing.
Atlantis’s speed was inconstant; she slowed when sheltered from the wind in the troughs of the massive swell, and then surged forward when lifted into the full fury of the storm.
Another night of cold and terror passed, with Trevor unable to sleep in his wildly tossing boat. Every three hours he pumped the bilges, counting the strokes, as Atlantis’s rate of flooding slowly worsened.
In the hours before dawn, the wind began to ease, dropping to forty knots as the storm passed, and the seas eased slightly. When dawn at last came, Trevor smiled with relief as he saw open sky, marred only by a few scudding low clouds. He timed the sunrise, and as the wind eased to twenty knots, he was able to get a few hours of desperately needed sleep.
Trevor awoke with a start, glancing out at the sunlight, hoping that he wasn’t too late. Dashing outside into the clear, bitterly cold day, he shivered as he began taking his series of noon sightings, his first in several days.
While he was in the cockpit, he hauled in his drag float and stood it by the starboard wheel housing, hoping that he would not need to use the drag float again.
When Trevor came inside, he was shaking, his teeth chattering, and had to retreat to Joel’s cabin to huddle in the netting sail and warm up before he could perform his calculations to find his position. When he did, he had a shock, and sat numbly for a few minutes before writing in his journal;
I’ve run the figures twice, and averaged them. I don’t think I’m wrong, but I hope I am. If I’m right, we’re at about 92 degrees east, which is great, but we’re also at 51 degrees south, which isn’t. That storm carried us over eight hundred miles east, but it also took us about three hundred and fifty miles further south. Right now, the nearest land is nine hundred miles away, and it’s Antarctica!
We’re heading due east again, and Australia is about fifteen hundred miles northeast of us. I have us tracking to port as much as I can, but unless I can get us to higher latitudes soon, we’ll miss Australia, and that’ll be the end.
I don’t think we can take another storm like the last few days. I’ve checked the wooden sail, and the paneling is starting to fail. It’s holding for now, but the water strained and weakened it. Some of the holes have pulled through, and there’s no way I can fix them. If I have to, I can strip some paneling out of the cabin ceilings, but there’s not enough left to replace the whole sail.
It’s so cold... I’d kill for jeans and a jacket. I’m wearing Joel’s old shorts, my three old t-shirts, and socks, but I can barely keep warm enough when the netting sail is wrapped around me. If we go any further south, I’ll freeze to death.
I would give anything for someone to talk to. It’s just me and Atlantis out here, and I’ve found myself talking to her more and more. Sometimes... I wonder if I’m losing my mind. Time doesn’t seem the same anymore, a day seems like forever, and to me it feels like a lifetime ago when I left the Seychelles.
My best guess right now is we’ll pass Cape Leeuwin and end up clawing our way north into the Great Australian Bight, or maybe hitting Tasmania, if I can last long enough.
Trevor had good reason for his fears: the Roaring Forties have a fearsome reputation, especially amongst sailors. Circling the globe almost unimpeded by land, they are home to strong prevailing eastbound winds, frequent storms, and massive seas. The Roaring Forties are especially fierce in the Southern Ocean, southwest of Australia. It is the fiercest stretch of water on the planet, with the worst zone of all centered on latitude fifty south: the Furious Fifties. Trevor knew he’d arrived in the lion’s den.
Though Trevor could not know it, at that moment he was the most isolated person on the planet. He was far from shipping or air routes, and the closest humans to him were the crew of a fishing boat, a thousand miles away off the Kerguelen Islands.
Throughout the day, the winds and seas calmed, the wind dropping below twenty knots. Atlantis held a course of due east, churning through the cold waters of the Furious Fifties.
Trevor’s noon sightings the next day gave him a firmer fix, confirming his fear that he was below fifty south. The leaks had slowed – though they were still letting in more water than they had prior to the storm – so Trevor still had to pump the bilges at least twice a day. It was the only time he ever felt warm.
Late that day, Trevor checked his barometer, finding that it was rising. The sunset confirmed even more welcome news: Atlantis had changed course again.
The winds around a southern hemisphere high-pressure area rotate counter-clockwise, and the high approaching Atlantis from astern was bending the wind to a northeasterly heading.
A day later, and the seas had calmed. Even though he was below fifty south, it was, ironically, the calmest weather Trevor had seen for many days. The base swell remained; twenty foot swells, widely spaced, but the seas were mainly calm, as the wind dropped to a gentle ten knots under cold, clear skies.
The water temperature was in the upper thirties, so even the breeze had a chilling bite. It was only his need to use his netting sail as a blanket that prevented Trevor from temporarily raising it, as Atlantis lolled along at a serene four knots.
Three days passed, as Atlantis cruised steadily northeast under the clear, calm skies of the high-pressure system, then as it passed, the strong winds out of the west resumed, rising to just over twenty knots, and Atlantis resumed her eastbound course, churning ahead at ten knots. She had reached forty-five degrees south, still further south than Trevor wanted, and in the heart of the Roaring Forties, but four hundred miles further north than she had been.
In the Seychelles, the pirate trawler Algol at last limped to within two miles of the port of Victoria. She’d taken a long time getting there, making barely one knot in the light breeze for much of the last leg of her journey under jury-rigged sail, and then becoming becalmed for over a week less than a hundred miles from her goal. Ali’s contact had arranged for a towboat to meet her, and by evening, she was moored at a repair yard's dock. She did not receive customs clearance, nor were the authorities notified of her arrival.
The two surviving uninjured crewmen were waiting when Ali’s contact – a local smuggler – came aboard. The conversation was partially impeded by language barriers, but they managed to make themselves understood via the smattering of French that one of the pirates knew.
The local smuggler examined the AIS gear from Atlantis, and then the nameplate that had been ripped from beneath one of the cockpit seats. Satisfied that the instructions had been fulfilled, he did as Sanchez had asked and handed over thirty thousand American dollars. The two overjoyed pirates counted it, dividing it in half to split between them.
The local smuggler, with the ‘Atlantis’ nameplate in his pocket, got up to leave. The two pirates motioned for him to stop, and then led him inside, to their wounded comrade, whose bullet wounds were now festering in the tropical heat.
The wounded man was delirious, but the pirates were insistent, so the smuggler, with their help, dragged the wounded man to his car, dumping him in the back seat.
Complications and official attention were to be avoided at all costs, so the smuggler drove away, wondering what to do with the injured pirate. Dropping him at the hospital, he reasoned, would be too risky, so he settled for dumping the semi-conscious pirate in a back alley.
Several hours later, the now-unconscious pirate was found by a shopkeeper walking home, and was at death’s door by the time he was taken to a local hospital.
Aboard the Algol, the two pirates consumed some of Joel’s beers in celebration, and began wondering what to do. Repairing the Algol was beyond their means, and they had little interest in returning to Somalia.
The plan they came up with was simple, and reflected their lack of knowledge of the world outside of their lawless homeland; they would sell the spoils from Atlantis at the local street markets, split the proceeds, and then try to make new lives for themselves in the Seychelles.
The sun was partially hidden by a gray haze, but at noon, Trevor was able to discern its disk enough to take a sighting, and as he completed his calculations, he began to smile. His estimate placed him just under seven hundred miles southwest of Cape Leeuwin, and if the weather cooperated, he could reach it in just a few days, though that, he knew, was wildly optimistic.
The winds changed again, to come out of the west, resulting in a confused sea. It made for an uneasy ride, but it wasn’t severe enough to be of any danger. The night passed, with Atlantis making steady progress, steadily cruising eastward at nine knots.
Two hours before dawn, Trevor was sound asleep, bundled in the netting sail. One moment, and all was well, and then chaos began, heralded by a sickening thud from the port bow that reverberated through Atlantis, accompanied by a jarring lurch as she yawed to port for a moment, and then a bone jarring impact, as Atlantis came to a grinding halt.
Trevor awoke to the sensation of falling as he was sent skidding across the floor, landing in a confused heap against the cabin’s forward wall, the sound of the impact ringing in his one good ear.
Trying to focus, he leapt to his feet, feeling instantly that something was badly wrong. The first thing he noticed was that he could no longer feel any forward motion. The next was becoming aware of the deck listing beneath his feet. A slight rubbing sound from forward drew his attention, ‘Oh fuck, we’re aground... but where?’ he thought, racing into the salon.
A fast dash out into the cockpit revealed the blackness of night, but no sound of surf. Already suspecting the cause, Trevor leaned towards the side and looked forward, past the wooden sail, to where the port bow sat, angled up at an unnatural angle, two feet higher than it should have been, causing Atlantis’s list.
A massive dark mass was visible, an eerie tangle of thick black arms, like some frozen sea monster. Trevor went through the salon, then the forward hatch, emerging onto the forward deck. There, by the dim glow of pre-dawn, he saw the massive black shape of the fifty-foot long tree trunk. It was enormous, six feet in diameter, with a weight many times Atlantis’s own.
The log had been adrift for nearly two years, ever since being torn from the coast of Sumatra and hurled out to sea by the tsunami, along with hundreds of thousands of others. Caught in the currents of the Indian Ocean Gyre, it had circled, waiting to snare the unwary, or those unable to avoid it.
Trevor checked the bilges, finding no sign of increased leakage. He returned forward and waited, until the full light of dawn reveled to him the extent of the damage.
Atlantis had hit the log at a shallow angle, her port bow impacting first, partially crushing it, and then riding up onto the log as she slewed around a few degrees to hit with the starboard bow. The port bow had taken the worst of it; crushing in from just above the waterline to the keel. The starboard bow had fared a little better, but it was badly mangled. The port bow was staved in as far back as the forward watertight collision bulkhead, eighteen inches from the bow point.
The starboard bow, crushed in by a foot, was still rubbing against the log with every passing swell. A quick survey of the damage revealed to Trevor that it was serious but likely not fatal. That left the bigger problem; Atlantis, with tons of weight resting on the underside of her forward port hull, was stuck fast to the log.
Atlantis had become the log’s weathervane, slowly pulling the log around so that Atlantis was on the downwind side, the wind hitting the front of her wooden sail.
Trevor studied the log, looking for options. On one end it was bulbous: a massive swelling of roots that protruded four feet out of the water that had become bleached by the sea and sun. The opposite end was twisted, broken branches, none thinner than Trevor’s arm, some protruding up to six feet out of the water. Between the two ends, the main trunk floated awash, its top just below the surface. It was on this middle part that Atlantis’s port bow rested.
Trevor was concerned about the port bow. He knew there could be hidden damage, and if he succeeded in refloating Atlantis, that hull could flood. However, he could see no option other than trying.
One danger for Trevor was that if he was on the log and Atlantis pulled free, he’d have to swim to her in the frigid waters. Trevor considered mooring Atlantis, but dismissed the idea; he knew that even is she did pull free, she’d be stationary for a few moments, and then slowly turn downwind before moving away. If he reacted quickly, he’d have time to get aboard.
Shivering in the morning cold, Trevor leaped onto the log, landing on its smooth wave-worn surface in ankle-deep water. He studied the port bow, looking for a way to pry it free. He tried shoving it, but achieved nothing.
Trevor studied the problem for a couple of minutes. He had to find a way, or Atlantis would be stuck until the next storm knocked her free, and his dwindling food supply made that option one he did not want to try.
Returning to the salon, Trevor first looked for something to use as a large lever, and then he realized there was an easier way: use Atlantis herself as the lever.
With Atlantis’s starboard bow touching the log and her port bow on it, a hard pull on the port stern would pull the starboard bow away, turning Atlantis, and as she turned parallel to the log, her bow would, Trevor hoped, slide off the log. To do that, all he needed was a way to pull her.
Trevor took one of the strong steel cables he’d used as bracing on the forward end of the wooden sail. He coiled it, and then hopped aboard the log, walking forward to the thick, massive root end, where he tied off the cable to a gnarled root that was thicker around than his waist.
Playing out the cable into the water, Trevor scrambled back aboard Atlantis and made his way astern, swinging around the edge of the wooden sail, to reach the port stern. There, he tied off the steel cable, with just a little slack, barely enough to make a small loop in the cable.
Trevor hauled in the safety line and 2X4 – which was the float at the end – that he’d been trailing. He freed the 2x4 and placed it under the heavy steel cable to the log. Using the slack to form a coil around the wood, he began turning the 2x4 like a windlass, tightening the cable by twisting it. To Trevor’s surprise – it was taking less force than he’d thought he’d need – Atlantis began to move, just a few inches. Timing his efforts to make use of the motion of the swell, Trevor kept turning the wood, and Atlantis’s starboard bow eased away from the log, a few inches at a time.
After fifteen minutes of effort, Atlantis’s port stern was nearing the log, her port hull almost parallel with it. Then, to Trevor’s delight, he felt a vibration in the deck, as Atlantis’s port hull slipped off the log and settled into the sea beside it. Trevor held his breath, afraid that Atlantis could become ensnared on an underwater root or branch, but to his immense relief, the wind began to pivot her away from the log, until only her port stern was touching it, held fast by the steel cable.
With Atlantis afloat again, Trevor raced to check the forward bilges, on the lookout for signs of increased flooding. After many tense minutes, he became confident that the main damage Atlantis had taken was severe; both bows were mangled, the fiberglass broken, splintered and shattered, in some places as far back as her forward watertight collision bulkheads. To be sure, he went forward on deck and bent over the port bow, studying the external damage. It extended aft of the bulkhead in places; the fiberglass skin was gouged and distorted in one spot due to the impact of a branch, but the skin had held and was still watertight. ‘Still seaworthy, but it’s not like we have a lot of choice except to keep going,’ Trevor thought, scowling at the sight of the additional damage to his beloved Atlantis.
Trevor looped a length of the steel cable around a root so he could hold Atlantis fast for a few minutes while he freed the other end of the cable, intending to cast off right away. He hesitated, and then glanced towards the salon as he had an idea, a way to use the massive log to aid his chance for rescue. ‘A fire at sea can draw attention, and this log looks stable. If I start a fire on the root mass, it could smoke and smolder for days, until the next heavy seas,’ he thought, and then looked at the branches protruding from the water at the far end.
Trevor’s first stop was the salon, where he opened his loathed garlic crusher and took the jar of sea salt from inside. He dumped out most of the salt and sat down to compose an SOS message. He briefly described the pirate attack, his jury rig and collision damage, his planned course to Cape Leeuwin, and then his name and Atlantis’s, followed by the date. When he was done, he folded the paper and put it in the salt jar, sealed it tightly, and put the jar back in the red and stainless steel cylindrical garlic crusher.
Trevor lashed the garlic crusher in the log’s highest branch, six feet above the water. As an added aid, he attached his last strip of red cloth from his shorts, tying it to the top of the branch so it would move in the wind.
The next step was fire. With the main trunk of the tree still awash, there was no chance of a fire in the base spreading to the other end and destroying the garlic crusher. The wood on the root mass was hard and dry, but very solid. Trevor knew he’d need plenty of kindling, so he built a pile of it with debris from the salon. Now, all he needed was an ignition source, but that was easy: Trevor understood guns.
Retrieving his .357 Magnum revolver from Joel’s cabin, Trevor unloaded it. He jammed a cartridge, bullet first, into the end of the barrel, and with the aid of his adjustable wrench for leverage, worked the bullet free from the shell, taking care not to spill the gunpowder.
Trevor gathered up some scrap paper from the salon, and gun in hand, hopped aboard the log. There, he added most of the paper to his kindling pile.
Trevor poured half the gunpowder onto a crumpled piece of paper beneath the kindling, which was nestled in a sheltered crevice in the wood. He tore a small piece of cotton from the hem of his outermost T-shirt, and wadded it tightly into the half-empty shell, which he loaded into his gun.
Trevor took a deep breath, aimed the gun at the gunpowder from a few inches away, and turned his head just before firing. The roar of the gun made Trevor’s one good ear ring, and he glanced at the kindling with anticipation, seeing only a few wisps of smoke. It took him a few moments to figure out what he’d done wrong; he’d fired from too close, and the blast had scattered his gunpowder, blowing it off the paper before the cotton could ignite it.
He tried again with another round, and this time, he fired from a foot and a half away, sending the burning wad of cotton into the gunpowder, which ignited with a flash, setting the paper ablaze. Trevor turned to see the flames licking at the kindling, and with a grin, he knelt down to shelter and tend the fire, reveling in its warmth.
Ten minutes and more kindling later, and Trevor’s fire had grown to the size of a campfire. He fed in some heavier pieces of wood, including some branches and roots he’d managed to break off, as the hot fire licked at the solid wood of the tree base.
Half an hour later, and Trevor knew he’d succeeded; he could see the deep red of the glowing solid wood, and knew he’d started a fire that would at least smolder until doused by the sea. He was ready to get underway, but paused and grinned as he had another idea, and went to get a can of hot dogs.
For the next hour, Trevor grilled the hot dogs one by one, skewering them on a metal strip and holding them near the flames and glowing coals. After savoring each one, he’d grill the next, enjoying his first hot food in weeks.
After his campfire cookout was done, Trevor checked the fire one last time and released one end of his cable to cast off. Atlantis began moving away, with Trevor watching from the cockpit as the massive log, with a fire at one end and his garlic crusher on the other, receded astern.
Trevor’s hope was that some passing ship might notice the smoke and find his message. It was, he knew, a long shot, but he thought it could only aid his chances.
As the log receded into the distance, Trevor glared at his garlic crusher. ‘Even if this doesn’t bring me any help, it’s still worth trying, because it means I’ll never have to see that fucking garlic press again,’ Trevor thought. He would never forgive it for not being the EPIRB he’d wanted when he raided the pirate trawler.
As Atlantis resumed her voyage, Trevor found that he had to add a few degrees of right rudder due to the differing drag from the damage to each bow. He also noticed that her speed was reduced by a couple of knots to what it had been before in a similar wind.
Trevor redeployed his trailing safety float, and then re-installed the steel cable on his wooden sail, as Atlantis plowed on, carving the seas with her mangled bows.
Another day passed, with Trevor worried about the damage Atlantis had sustained. She handled poorly now; he had to adjust her rudder after any change in speed, because the drag on her more-damaged port bow increased with her speed, making her yaw more to port the faster she went. Even her wake was different, as her blunted bows bulled their way through the water instead of cutting through it.
On the following noon, Trevor took his sun sightings, which showed him to be about six hundred miles from Australia’s Cape Leeuwin. He was getting closer, and he knew that the average wind direction in the region he’d entered was towards the northeast, exactly the direction he needed to go. He began to feel hopeful and confident, until his barometer check showed a plunge, the fastest he’d ever seen. Within an hour, scudding clouds dotted the sky, which was suffused by a gray pallor. More troubling still was the swell out of the west; it had grown to monstrous proportions, sixty feet from crest to trough. The swell wasn’t yet breaking so there was no danger, but it was a further indicator of a massive storm to the west.
The storm was small but fierce. A fast-moving low, it was overtaking Atlantis from astern, whipping up furious seas. After sunset, the wind began to rise, and along with it the seas. Trevor deployed his toilet and pool-noodle drag float astern and hoped for the best.
The bow damage meant that Atlantis rode poorly, often tracking to the left of the wind, allowing the seas to batter her from her aft port quarter. At first, Trevor made frequent trips to the cockpit to adjust the rudders, but the tumultuous waves, driving rain, and frigid wind forced him to abandon the helm and spend his time in Joel’s cabin, shivering and hanging on, as Atlantis tossed about in the roaring storm, which seemed to grow worse with every passing minute.
For Trevor, it was a night of pure terror. He would feel Atlantis descend into the trough between every massive swell – a sensation of falling, like being in an elevator beginning its descent. Then would come the tilting of the deck and the feeling of upwards acceleration as the next swell lifted Atlantis on its face, raising her fifty to sixty feet above where she’d been. That was the moment of greatest tension for Trevor, because the swell crests differed. Most often, there was no breaking water at the peak, and other times, just a little, as Atlantis was battered by the full fury of the wind before dropping into the next trough.
But, every few minutes, the crest contained danger and terror, in the form of a massive breaker. On these swells, Trevor would hear a faint hiss, then a mild rumble, as Atlantis approached the crest, and then the wall of breaking whitewater, up to eight feet high, would slam Atlantis from astern, making her shudder and buck, sometimes filling the cockpit with water, sometimes taking Atlantis from the port or starboard quarter and venting its fury on the hull and salon windows.
Trevor could only hold on, alone in the darkness, feeling every trough, and waiting for the next impact.
The storm’s fury raged, lashing Atlantis with sheets of heavy rain. Flashes of lightning lit the night, the roar of thunder shattering the darkness.
As the next wave hit and Atlantis trembled from the impact, Trevor patted the wall, “We’ll get through this, just keep fighting, you can do it...” he said, wishing there was some way he could help Atlantis endure the savage seas.
Through the night, the wind continued to rise, shrieking through the rigging, the sea growing wilder, more confused. A cauldron of violence, for which the Roaring Forties are known, and rightly feared.
Dawn came, lighting the gray rain-swept skies, the storms fury inexorably growing, the winds now gusting to sixty knots, ranking as a violent storm; a force eleven on the Beaufort scale.
Atlantis was no longer under any semblance of control. The winds tore at her wooden sail every time she crested a wave. The force of the storm was weakening the former ceiling panels in the wooden sail, and already several holes had opened. Atlantis’s unevenly-damaged bows sent her yawing to port as she accelerated, turning partially sideways to the seas, then slowing in the trough, turning downwind in the lighter – but still strong – winds in the partial shelter of the trough. It was a wild, violent, perilous ride.
The wind, driving scudding clouds before it, continued rising, humming through the rigging wires as Trevor shivered in the salon and his cabin. Atlantis pitched in the heavy seas, the waves pounding her, more and more often slamming the underside of the wing, making her lurch and shudder. Trevor listened to each massive bang, wondering how much more Atlantis could take.
The skies, obscured by cloud and the driving spray, grew darker still, the furious seas battering Atlantis.
As the low began to pass, the wind’s direction changed. When this occurs, the seas often lag the wind, forming a wild sea where the main swells still following the wind’s former course, and a new, building series of waves are created by the wind’s new direction. A violent, confused sea, and in it can lurk the ocean’s greatest danger. Sometimes, when the conditions are just right, waves intersect, briefly combining two or more massive swells into a monster of the seas: a rogue wave. These were long thought the stuff of legend, only recently confirmed to be real. They can reach a hundred feet or more in height. Many ships have been struck by them, though few live to tell the tale.
The rogue wave is rare and its existence brief, often mere seconds, but while it lasts, it is the maelstrom, incarnate. The sea state Trevor was in; confused, with a massive base swell, was an ideal breeding ground for these monster waves.
Five hundred yards astern of Atlantis, two massive swells merged, giving birth to a giant.
There was almost no warning. Again, Atlantis slewed to port, and Trevor felt her drop into the trough, a drop that, this time, seemed more precipitous and deeper than before. For a moment, she seemed to hesitate, and then came the upslope of the following swell, one unlike any before. Trevor’s eyes opened wide; he could feel that something was wrong... he heard it first as a hiss, like a static rending the air itself. Then came the deep and terrifying roar, so powerful that the sound made Atlantis vibrate, shuddering as if in anticipation of the onslaught to come.
The monster’s crest bore down on Atlantis with a massive wall of white water, smashing into her hull, sweeping over her, tearing across her decks, burying her in its fury.
Tons of water surged over Atlantis, slamming into her wooden sail with many times the force it could withstand, ripping it apart in an instant. A loud crack, like gunfire, joined the furious onslaught of sound as the heavy wood rail at the sail’s top snapped like a toothpick.
Trevor hung on in the sudden darkness, the slope of the deck increasing, as Atlantis pitched forward, shaking, torn by tons of churning, violent water. Trevor felt the deck pitch even further forward, Atlantis nosing down past forty-five degrees, accompanied by the sickening feeling of violent acceleration, as Atlantis was carried by the wall of whitewater, riding within it at nearly forty knots, carried in the teeth of the monstrous breaking wave.
Atlantis, entombed within the three story deep churning wall of whitewater with only part of her mast protruding above, dove deeper in the frothy water, the pressure – far more than she had been designed to withstand – forcing water in from countless points. What faint light there was dimmed to nothing, leaving Trevor in a lightless maelstrom of sound and violence.
In the heart of the seething whitewater, Atlantis’s bows lurched even further down, sending Trevor plummeting into the cabin wall. He felt the hammerblows shaking Atlantis and the deafening roar, along with the sickening sensation of speed.
For more information on Rogue Waves, the Wikipedia entry is interesting. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rogue_wave
© 2010 C James
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Many thanks to my editor EMoe for editing and for his support, encouragement, beta reading, and suggestions.
Special thanks to Graeme, for beta-reading and advice.
Thanks also to Talonrider and MikeL for beta reading.
Thank You to RedA for Beta reading and advice, and to
Bondwriter for final Zeta-reading and