Gilboy’s Quest

by Sam Ivey

Table of Contents
Chapter III
Part 1, Part 2, Part 3
appeared in issue 219.
Glossary of nautical terms
Chapter IV: Tradewinds
part 1 of 3
“Alone on the raging ocean, alone in my craft I ride,
Alone on the foaming billows, in all their crested pride,
No man before hath ventured, alone, so far to sail;
Nor mind hath ever yet conceived a ship so small, so frail.”

Sydney Punch - February 17, 1883, Sydney, Australia


Howard Sutro was hunched against both wind and water as he came in the front door of his home. He shuddered a little, shaking his shoulders and rapping his hat smartly against his thigh. Droplets of water flew from both hat and raincoat.

“I’m home, Dear,” he called. Then to himself: “Knew I should have taken my umbrella this morning; they said it would rain, and it did.”

Raising his voice again, he called to Evelyn, “Lord! It’s coming down in buckets out there. What’s for dinner?”

Evelyn Sutro came hurrying into the living room from the kitchen, her hands appeared to be wringing the very life from a limp and decidedly damp dishtowel.

“Here, let me help you off with your coat, Howard. Don’t move around so much, Dear! Just look at you. You’re getting water all over the rug. Stand still! You’re worse than a dog after a bath.”

For whatever good it did, she wiped the towel over the shoulders of his raincoat before sliding it off.

“I know. I’m sorry, Dear,” he said, turning in anticipation of taking the coat from her. “What did you say we were having for dinner?”

“I didn’t say, but we’re having roast beef. And never mind the coat; I’ll take care of it. I’ll hang it over a chair in the kitchen.

Your slippers are there by the sofa. Why don’t you just go sit down over there, over by the fireplace? Read the paper. Dinner won’t be ready for about a half an hour.” And with the offending coat in her arms, she returned to the kitchen.

The fire greeted him with its friendly crackle, its woody aroma lacing itself into the savory smells emanating from the kitchen. Sutro rubbed his hands together, chafing off the chill, seating himself in his favorite chair before pulling off his shoes in favor of the slippers. He reached over to take the paper from the arm of the sofa as Evelyn’s voice came from the kitchen.

“Would you like some coffee, Dear?”

“Yes. Oh, yes! Thank you.” He rattled the pages straight and began turning them, scanning each one. “Anything in the paper here about Bernard?”

“I don’t know,” she said, returning to the room and handing him a steaming cup. “I haven’t read the paper today, been so busy. Howard, do you realize that you ask that question at least once a month? Did you expect there to be something?”

“No, not necessarily, and thanks for the coffee.” There was resignation in his voice. “I suppose I do ask that quite frequently, don’t I?” He smiled at her. “It’s just that I think of him so often, almost every day, I guess. I wonder where he is, how he is... if he is. I worry about him, Evelyn. I realize it’s pointless; there’s nothing I can do, but I worry — I do.”

His eyes went thoughtfully toward the ceiling. “Let’s see, today is October twentieth, and he’s been gone since... he’s been gone since August. What was it... the eighteenth?” He looked again at his wife. “That’s over two months, Evelyn; two months and not a word. You’d think that some ship would have seen him by now, that there would have been some kind of news.”

She sat down opposite him on the sofa, hands in her lap. “The ocean’s an awfully big place, Dear, and he is so little in comparison. He could be hard to see.”

“Yes, I guess so. It’s just that...” He took a deep draft from his mug. “Well at least he didn’t head back to the coast like some of those people from the newspaper said he would. Bunch of clowns! I knew they were wrong.”

She sensed his anxiety, and that his last comment was really an effort to wrest his thinking onto a more pleasant, less anxious level.

“Everything go all right at the office today?”

“The usual.” He nodded his head in affirmation. “The ticker from New York showed copper down a couple of points, and we took on a new client. That’s about it. Why?”

“It’s just that you seem so nervous tonight.”

“I guess it’s been kind of a long week, for whatever reason. I don’t know. Maybe it’s the rain. Anyway, I’m glad that tomorrow is Saturday.”

She stood. “Would you like to come sit with me in the kitchen for a few minutes till dinner’s finished? Then we’ll eat.”

“Sure,” he said, folding the paper. “Didn’t find anything in here worth reading anyway.”

He picked up his coffee cup and walked to the window where he stood looking out into the rain-drenched darkness. For almost a full minute the ticking of the clock was all that was heard. Finally he spoke.

“I sure hope that Bernard, wherever he is, is having better weather than we are.”

* * *

The weather was clear this morning, October 21st — clear and very pleasant as Gilboy began his tenth week at sea. At 10:00 a.m. the wind was holding comfortably to the east-southeast; a good wind, a cracking strong wind, and from a favorable point of the compass as well. Today he had altered his course to southwest by west, a quarter west, and finally, after so many disheartening weeks of foul winds, cantankerous seas, and drenching rains, he was again bearing westward, heading toward Australia.

Pacific was broad reaching now and on a port tack. She had the wind under her coat tails, as it were, and she was making over four knots at times as she pounded her loyal little bow into a heavy head-swell. The squally rains were still with him, of course; he had yet to be shed of them. And their destructive effect on his already inaccurate clock persisted. In spite of his keeping a lamp burning alongside the plagued instrument, an effort to offset the penetrating damp, he was largely unsuccessful in getting it to do any more than to run in fits and spurts; and it was only marginally useful, along with his calculated guesswork, in determining his longitude.

At noon he took his weekly sun sight, worked the numbers, and located himself at 5º, 5’ north latitude — nearly 200 miles closer to the Equator. It was such an encouraging discovery. So much so was it, that it went even to the extent of softening the recognition that he was another 74 miles east of last Saturday’s estimated longitude. But he rejoiced in the fact that he was bearing westward now, this in marked contrast to the south-southeasterly course sailed over the past week, and the even more easterly courses over the last month. And the day passed uneventfully.

I had so much headwind that I was sick and tired of it,” he wrote in the log on Sunday, the 22nd of October. It had taken him twenty-nine days to sail from 9º, 2’ north, to 5º, 5’ north. In terms of distance traveled southward, only 237 miles had been covered; a disheartening average of just over 8 miles a day. And, of course, there had been the eastward drift as well.

But today, at 6:00 a.m., he was underway with a strong breeze; a brave and steady wind from the east-southeast, and with a high sea that stayed with him all through the day. Doubtlessly it was something of a tonic — a sorely needed tonic — since he had been at the helm for fifty-one hours by the time he had hove-to at three o’clock that morning. Consequently, and despite the fatigue he felt in every muscle, he was, in addition, filled with what might be best described as an exhilarating anxiety.

His spirits were decidedly up. The weather had been warming over the last several days, adding to the general sense of well-being and of progress, and it was as if he could almost taste the Equator. Indeed, his eagerness to cross that prime latitude had become virtually an obsession with him. So much time had been lost; so much frustration had been endured. And now he felt it was time for reward.

So eager was he, that he now resented the time he necessarily gave to sleeping. That being so, he reduced it to no more than four hours out of every twenty-four — on occasions to less than three. Such self-denial would eventually have to be paid for, however, and this he well knew. But for the next four days, during periods when the weather was particularly favorable, he would strike the foresail, trim the jib and main to a balance that would allow the boat would virtually steer itself, and then lash the tiller and let her run while he slept.

There was, of course, some risk in doing this — such as striking some bit of jetsam that could damage the hull. (He still remembered the timber he had hit several weeks ago.) At this time, however, it was a minimal risk, and one that seemed to be more than offset by the large dividends paid in needed rest.

He had also, long ago, eliminated his routine of exercise. The weather had been so discouraging, and so much energy had been consumed every day in working the boat, that he felt no inclination to pursue an artificial regimen. Additionally, he had reduced his eating to two meals a day. A large number of flying fish still came aboard, and as usual he made good use of them as supplements to his supplies. But he had yet a long distance to travel, and he was acutely aware of the need to apportion those supplies wisely.

Friday, October 27th, proved to be the day he had awaited. On each of the past three days, in contrast to his more recent pattern of doing so weekly, he had taken a noon sight of the sun; and on each of those days and had watched his steady progress toward the Equator. And today, just about an hour ago and only hours short of ten full weeks at sea, he had been able to mark himself as being 4 miles south of that intermediate goal; he had “crossed the line.” He was, of course, barely south of the Doldrum latitudes, but now the winds tended markedly to be more easterly, much more favorable. And as he progressed on to the southwest, so much more would that be the case.

Saturday was a day he elected for taking inventory. This matter of discreet apportionment of supplies needed to be addressed. So with Pacific holding course by herself he set about the counting. Bread: five cans; a seriously diminished supply he discovered to his dismay. He had not given any inordinate thought to his stores during the past month, and he had not considered them analytically since back on the 18th of September, when he had opened the fourth can of bread and had been pleased to see how well he was doing.

But now he was unpleasantly surprised to find there were only 75 pounds left. He had consumed over half of the supply, and he was still less than half way to his goal. Here was yet another reflection of the Doldrums’ impact. Having noted this discomforting discovery, he proceeded with the inventorying.

He was encouraged when the balance of the accounting was not of such a dispiriting nature. He still had over half of the roast chicken, roast beef and roast salmon, and he was particularly pleased to find that there were still 90 gallons of water remaining of the original 140. Only 10 cans each of the milk and the peaches were left, but that was of no great concern as they could easily be used less frequently, and there were still 16 cans of pickled pig’s feet. The rest of the supplies: the lard, nut oil, and sugar, the coffee and tea — all appeared sufficient.

And besides, the island of Eiao, in the Marquesas, lay only a little over 500 miles ahead. Beyond that was a multitude of small islands, and there he felt he might find succor, or at least make a landfall, hopefully to meet with no hostility.

His position at noon showed him some 67 miles south of the Equator, and he noted with great satisfaction that he had gained almost 160 miles of westing; he was beginning to recoup some of those precious miles lost to unfavorable circumstances. His log showed him to have traveled 420 miles over the past week, and initially this too was heartening. However, once he was immediately below the Equator, he found himself breasting the South Equatorial Current, it being set dead east. Subsequently his observed latitude and dead reckoned longitude would allow him only 400 miles. He had indeed traveled through 420 miles of water, but at the same time, that mass of water had moved 20 miles to the east. Nevertheless, it was encouraging progress, as he saw himself now averaging almost 60 miles a day.

The next four days passed, and with their passing came the month of November, Wednesday being the 1st. For the most part there was his usual routine; save for a rather disconcerting event that was to occur on Thursday and with the exception of the fact that Pacific was now underway continually. His originally established custom, that of heaving-to in the early morning hours and then sleeping, had been abandoned in favor of making up the lost time and distance. And, of course, he finally had the winds that would allow for it.


Proceed to part 2...

Copyright © 2006 by Sam Ivey

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