Somewhere Beyond the Sea
by Bill Prindle
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3, 4,
5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10
When eleven-year old Michael Walker and his father are temporarily shipwrecked on a remote Maine island, Michael meets and falls in love with twelve-year old islander Bess. After sailing home, Michael discovers that nothing on the island was what it seemed, including his beloved Bess.
After three hours of tacking down the bay, we were still miles from Hatch, and the breeze had picked up, one gust one gust heeling us over so far that some water spilled over the gunwales into the cockpit.
“Man the pumps!” Dad called out, and I got out the bucket and bailed. Despite the brilliant sun and cloudless sky, the air had grown cooler, and we were getting soaked from the spray. We put on our slickers to warm up. At this point, we were closer to Hatch than we were to the other islands but, as the wind blew harder, it would be a rough sail to reach it.
Up ahead was Pumpkin Island, a granite bump with a few trees that offered some shelter. We made for it, dropped the sails, anchored, and ate our sandwiches. My hands were white from the cold seawater, and Dad’s left hand had gone numb from holding onto the mainsheet. He decided it would take too long to make Hatch; we would change course and, with a following breeze, sail back through the islands and home to Dark Haven.
What happened next even experienced sailors might never see, but it happened to us that day. As we were finishing lunch, the wind dropped, and then shifted 180 degrees. With the sky still blue and showing no signs of a storm, the wind resumed and intensified rapidly, soon blowing a steady twenty knots and strengthening. It was coming from behind us now, blowing northerly down the Bay, away from Dark Haven and toward Hatch, and the sea was churning up breaking waves.
Dad shortened the mainsail with a double reef, I hoisted the jib, and we headed due south for Hatch, aiming to shelter on the leeward side of the island and wait until the wind died down.
But it didn’t.
Within fifteen minutes, the wind was howling, and the mast was bending in an alarming curve. Dad told me to take the tiller while he loosened the main halyard and tried to drop the mainsail, but the boom was pinned against one of the wire stays bracing the mast, and the sail wouldn’t budge. Sadie suddenly heeled over so far that water poured over the gunwales, and we were about to capsize.
I panicked and made a terrible mistake. I pushed the tiller away from me, and the mainsail jibed, righting the boat but whipping the boom across the cockpit. Dad saw it coming and tried to duck, but it struck him on the forehead and knocked him flat onto the floorboards.
When I let go of the mainsheet, it raced through my hand, taking off a layer of skin with it, but I let go too late. With a sharp crack, the mast snapped in half, the wire stays and shrouds supporting it ripped away from the deck, and the boom, half the mast, mainsail, and jib went overboard, dragging on the port side.
Dad tried to get up but couldn’t. I froze, not knowing what to do.
I knelt next to him, but he pushed me away. “Keep the wind astern,” he said weakly. “Don’t broach,” meaning don’t let the boat go sideways to the waves, for fear of capsizing. His face was dripping with seawater mixed with blood from the gash on his forehead. “Get to the island.”
Even with all the gear dragging, we were still making way from the wind pushing against the hull. What had been a clear sky was now filling with scudding, low black clouds. Fat drops of rain hit my face and thunder growled in the distance. When I looked over my shoulder, it felt like sticking my head out of a car window at forty miles an hour.
Dad propped himself against the curve of the hull, water sloshing over his legs. Breaking whitecapped waves lifted the stern, swept under us, raised the bow, and rolled on, moving us forward. He looked at me with unfocused eyes and said, “Good job, Mikey. Hold your course,” but he slurred his words as if he were drunk.
Whether it was from the cold seawater or fear or both, I was shaking uncontrollably and held the tiller in a death grip. When the sea pushed us sideways, I fought to bring Sadie back on course and could now discern the dark hump of the island a couple of hundred yards dead ahead.
Dark, bruised clouds raced across the sky, and jagged bolts of lightning flashed behind us, booming thunder stalking closer. With a crack like a cannon going off over our heads, the sky opened up, rain pouring down in blinding sheets. Dad’s chin was resting on his chest, but with that explosion, his head snapped up. He was almost floating in the water we’d taken on.
“Mikey, we’ve opened a seam!” he shouted. “We’re sinking!”
With whatever strength he had left, Dad pulled himself under the foredeck, found the plank that had sprung loose, stuffed a life jacket into the gap, and remained there to hold it in place.
If we hadn’t been so close to the island and the wind hadn’t been dead astern, I don’t know what would have happened to us. Even dragging all that tackle and with seawater filling nearly a third of the cockpit, we lurched ever closer to the island. Waves were crashing in a foaming white line along the shore, and I felt a big one lift us up, tilting the stern well above the bow and sweeping us toward the rocky beach. I gritted my teeth, clung to the tiller, and braced for Sadie to run up on the rocks.
But before that, I heard an awful grinding and thumping. I had neglected to crank up the centerboard and hadn’t checked the position of the outboard either. With the sound of screws being wrenched out of the hull, the outboard’s bracket pulled loose and, along with the outboard, disappeared beneath the waves. At the same time, the rudder tore loose and floated away. When we fetched up on the rocks, I was thrown onto the floorboards.
Dad was hurt, Sadie was damaged, but we’d made it to the island.
Dad wasn’t moving. I pulled him out from under the foredeck and shouted that we had to get ashore. The waves had turned Sadie sideways and were grinding the hull against the rocks.
“I can’t lift you,” I shouted. “You’ve got to get up!”
He shook his head as though trying to clear it and braced his arms against a thwart. When he tried to push himself up, he collapsed onto his right side.
“My arm,” he said.
I wriggled under his left arm, and together we struggled to get upright. I leaned him against the gunwale, jumped onto the beach, wrapped my arms around his chest, and dragged him over the gunwale. We fell hard on the rocks, Dad on top of me.
I pulled him up a bit further and then retrieved one of the oars and the anchor line. I laid the oar next to him, tied the line to the deck cleat, ran up the beach to the nearest spruce tree, and made the line fast to its trunk.
I waded into the water, swung Sadie’s stern around, braced my back against her, waited for a big wave, and pushed for all I was worth. The hull rose up, the bow crunched foward, and I slipped and went under.
Without my help, the waves pushed the boat as far up the beach as it would go. I climbed aboard, took up the slack in the anchor line and tied it off, and used Dad’s knife to cut the jib free.
Dad was sitting up, steadying himself with the oar. I draped the jib over him, told him I’d be right back, and ran off to find shelter.
A few of the uninhabited islands closer to Dark Haven still had houses, abandoned decades ago by their last owners. Maybe Hatch had one, too. I ran along the beach, scrambled up a muddy embankment, shielded my eyes from the drenching rain, and scanned what I could see of the island.
I had no idea what time it was, but it had grown so dark I could only make out the dark silhouettes of a thick stand of spruce trees off to my left. A jagged chain of lightning lit up the sky and revealed a wide field of undulating grasses to my right, receding up a long sloping hill. When my eyes readjusted to the dark, barely visible through the grey sheets of rain, I thought I saw a flickering light. With another flash of lightning, I was certain I saw the outline of a house, smoke streaming from its chimney.
I raced back to Dad and shook his shoulder. “There’s a house,” I said. “Can you walk?”
He shook his head. I tucked the jib around him and set off at a dead run, stumbling and staggering through the stinging rain, the long wet grasses pulling at my feet, each lightning flash confirming there was indeed a house at the crest of the hill.
I raced the last fifty yards to the farmhouse. To the right of the front door was a window lit by a warm, inviting glow and over the door was a horseshoe, open end up. I banged on the door, heard movement inside, and a broad-shouldered man opened the door.
“We wrecked our sailboat. My dad’s hurt and can’t walk.”
Without a word, the man pulled me into a low-ceilinged room with a blazing fire in a wide stone fireplace. He had a ruddy face, wiry red hair, light blue eyes, and a thick walrus mustache. The warm room smelled of wood smoke, kerosene, and cooking.
At the far end of the room was a startled woman, poised to set a plate onto the dining table. A girl about my age, with short auburn hair, was seated in front of the fire with some knitting in her lap. She didn’t seem at all surprised to see me and smiled at me.
Curled up at her feet on a braided oval rug was a big cat regarding me with green, sleepy eyes. The only light came from the fire and three hurricane lanterns turned down low: on the mantle piece, on a small table next to the girl, and on the kitchen counter. I stood there, soaked, shivering, and dripping onto the pine-planked floor.
The man took a black slicker off a peg by the door, stepped into a pair of black rubber boots, pulled on a sou’wester hat, and said, “Take me to him, son.”
Despite the near total darkness, I could see Sadie’s white hull in the distance and pointed it out. We quick-marched down to the shore and found Dad. He’d slumped onto his side.
“He hit his head and hurt his right arm,” I said, burning with shame at having caused his injuries.
The man knelt down, shifted Dad into a sitting position, ducked under his left arm, and stood up with Dad draped over his back. “If you got any gear, fetch it,” the man said.
I climbed aboard, found the canvas tote, and rejoined him.
The man strode across the field as if he weren’t carrying anything at all. I had to take two steps to keep up with his one.
“What are your names?”
I told him I was Michael Walker, and my father’s name was Harry.
“Well, Michael Walker, I’m Virgil Clement. Get yourself ahead of me and open the door.”
Copyright © 2017 by Bill Prindle