Distant Horizons Essay
The cool ocean breeze felt nice as it caught her auburn hair. Danielle looked longingly at the moon rising from the ocean off in the distance. She wondered about Brock; what he was doing and if he was watching it the same time as she.
He had been gone three weeks, but to her it seemed more like an eternity. She missed his warm smile and the rich sound of his voice. Danielle wished inwardly she could change time forward to July and their union. Her heart ached for him, and she worried. The sea held his heart as strong as barnacles held the rocks below. The loud rumble the surf made as it crashed against the cliff face helped her to relax as her mind drifted off, deep in thought.
Captain Stephens grasped the rigging of the main and glanced out at the open sea before him. “Well Suds, what’s got you up ‘ere at this hour?”
“The lanky crewman next to him answered without turning his gaze from the ocean, “Only thinking about this here nor-east wind coming’ abeam.”
“Strange,” the captain nodded his head. placing his meerschaum pipe in his mouth. He lit his pipe from the smoking lamp; then, took a couple of puffs, removed the pipe, and continued. “The third watch noted the same thing in the log.”
“What was it ye found strange Captain, the note in the log or the man what wrote it down?”
Stephens smiled “If I didn’t know better Suds, I’d lay odds it was you that put that entry in.” He placed the pipe back in his mouth and took another pull.
“I might of had a bit of doin’ with it Capt’n.”
“You were out here at four am?”
“Aye, I’ was at that, putin’ on me chowder I was, and I come topside for a bit of fresh air. “He was starin off to the east and his mind adrift. Caught him short-sided,” Suds chuckled, “Near-bout fell off the gunwale, and or the side he did! I grabbed him and brung him back sure; told’ him he best be gettin’ back-minded to the watch. He asked boot the nor-east, said it give ‘him a wary feelin in ‘is gut.
“He’ll be a good man once he gets ‘is sea legs.”
“Aye he may be; boot, he best be keepin’ ‘is mind on ‘is duties and not on the wee lass he left home”
“Well Suds, you can’t be putting blame on him for that. After all their almost through the courting stage and due to marry when we get back to Boston.”
“Aye, I know. Boot he needs to be settin ‘is mind on ‘ere and not be thinkin”boot what may be. If I’d me own way about it, I’d have ‘him workin on my mess deck scubbin my pots and pans. I’d have him ship shape and come too in a fortnight I would. The sea is a jealous lady and she don’t take kindly to another mistress.”
“That she is Suds, that she is. But he will settle in soon enough. We’ve plenty time for that over the months ahead. ”
“Well, I’ve said my piece, and I’ll not say any more. there’s more to starboard an its commin’ our way. I best get me galley stowed. It’s up ‘ere you may be needin me should there come a turn in the weather.
“I’ve a few thoughts on that myself Suds, I may be bringing up the men and having her put on full sails. You take care of what you need to below. Perhaps, after this storm passes, I may send Seaman Malloy below. Just don’t be too hard on him,” he chortled. “I may need him back.”
“Aye Capt’n, it’ll be a better man you’ll be gettin in turn.” Suds knocked out his pipe and turned towards the galley. He looked back at the captain, “I’ll be topside when she’s all laid and well lashed.”
“Very well,” he answered then he shouted toward the focsal “Mr. Kenner!” From the bow, he could hear the reply.
“All hands to run a full complement with fore-top.”
” Fore tops Capt’n?”
“We need every stitch of cloth. There’s a Blow comin’ Nor-East and we’re going to come round and try to best it.”
“Aye Aye Capt’n,” he bellowed to a man standing amid ship, “Deck Watch Enter in the log, All Hands-on deck full sail, sound the bell!”
“Aye Aye, All hands-on deck.” He turned to the bell hanging on the Main and pulled hard on the striker chain giving it four volleys of two rings. The he turned to the down hatch and yelled, “Quartermaster, all hands turn too and give heed. Capt’ns called for full cloth!” then he turned to the log and made the entry and recorded the time as half past the first bell.
Bronson Kenner was strong and moved with a confident swagger as he crossed the deck towards the captain. To the men he was top-dog or topper; but had earned their respect, and appreciation of the Captain. Kenner knew the ropes of sailing. His father and grandfather had all been longshoremen. His respect for the men was returned to him fourfold, and his love of this ship rivaled the Captain’s. A tall man with a solid build, he kept his hair pulled back in a wrap and let it fall midway down his back. His skin was coarse and weathered from life at sea. His hands covered in freckles and sunspots matched his face and were highlighted by his long red hair.
“Sir, you’ve called for a full complement?” Topper said as he walked up to the Quarter deck.
“Yes Topper, we need to try and beat the storm laboring to port. My hopes are we can move around it then return to course.”
Aye Aye sir, I’ll get the men too it straight away!” And he walked back down to mid ship, where the men were gathering and rubbing the sleep from their eyes.
“Alright men up in it, captain wants all the cloth we can spread.”
As Connor took control of the deck the captain watched the progress from the quarterdeck. The crew of the Horizon worked well together and had all served with him a good many turn’s He watched them as they moved up the rigging and the mast; each man moving to their station along the yard arms to let out the sails. The Horizon ran a wide beam. It would take sixty men to turn out all her one hundred twenty squares of sail.
The men responded quickly to the all-hands call; they knew that to delay an order may jeopardize the ship. They worked feverously to get every sail masted as the Horizon began picking up speed. The captain glanced off again towards the looming dark sky in the distant. Lightning flashes lit the horizon. He took another pull from his pipe and studied the storm. White caps began forming on the swells as the cool early morning air brushed his beard. “Well, my dear, just what is it you’re sending us?” Stephens thought to himself, “will you be testing my crew early on then?
Danielle walked down the dew-covered cobble stone road. The quiet early morning dawn seemed peaceful to her as she walked down the road running along the seawall. She glanced across the harbor at the line of ships moored there. There seemed to be more British ships arriving since the conflict of Breed’s Hill. The foul smell of sulfur occasionally bore on the breeze as it traveled across the harbor, even after a week had passed. She thought back on her father’s words, “England is forcing contempt” and there is unrest instilled in the colonies, but they need to find a civilized way of dealing with it. War is not the answer!” Danielle knew her father was not happy with many of the decisions made by others. Her thoughts returned to the Horizons, the man she loved, and she worried more about his safety now that things had escalated.
Danielle’s first knowledge of the ship came when Captain Stephens entered her father’s Mercantile and Chandlery, looking for sailcloth. Captain Stephens, she learned was well respected among the longshoremen and the Captains from other ships. Her dealings with him proved to support this, and she came to think highly of him. When Brock finished school and looked to the big ships, she referred him to the Captain of Distant Horizons. But she wanted Captain Stephens to sign-on Brock because of his character and stature. It was not until after his employ that the Captain learned of their relationship.
Danielle remembered well Captain Stephens coming to the storefront and emptying his pipe in the lamp outside the entry. Then he walked straight back to the counter. “Young lady, this morning I signed on a stout young man as a deck hand on the Horizons. I was told you recommended him to my ship. I came here to inform you that I will show no leeway or favoritism! Malloy will work and work hard if he expects to stay onboard my ship!”
“Captain Stephens, I…” Danielle tried to reply.
“I am fully aware of your service to me and my ship. I have found your care to be first class and above board. But, what is between us has no bearing on Malloy!”
“Sir, if I may?” Danielle began.
“You may say what you will, but I will not sway from….”
Danielle interjected, “Captain, it is because of you and the impression that you leave, which caused me to send Brock to the Horizon. I request no specialty or expect anything from you or your ship.
“And none will you get! Malloy will be under my first mate Mr. Kenner. I will receive reports on him as I would any other man aboard.”
“Sir, the reason I did not mention his interest in the horizon to you was because of this very thing. I wanted Brock to acquire position on his ability and that alone. What pride could be afforded a man if his position provided like some prearranged wedding? I know Brock, and I know his determination. The character I see in him is what I love and abide. I know in my heart it will be the same he will afford the Horizon, and his shipmates.”
Captain Stephens placed his pipe in his mouth and looked studiously at Danielle. After a long pause, he nodded, “This conversation never took place Miss Castleford. I apologize for the misunderstanding.”
“Please, no apologies necessary. I pray safe passage for you and the Horizons. Now will you need anything before you sail?”
He smiled, “Always about business? Definitely above board, you’re a credit to your father Miss Castleford, a credit indeed. Since you brought it up….” she smiled remembering how he acted as if nothing was said and went straight to the order at hand.
As Danielle walked towards the Chandlery, seagulls flew overhead squawking and diving in and around the water. The sun was rising above the east point. She could see the lighthouse standing solitary on the jetty marking the entrance to the harbor. The rays of the sun reflected off its glass and cast a reflection across the bay.
Soon carts and merchants will be filling the streets providing wares and supplies for the ships. Danielle hopes for a busy day to help take her mind off Brock and the worry filling her heart. She had orders to fill and sails to sew; the work helped to pass the time. But when the evenings came, her mind would again turn to Brock and what he might be going through.
“Mr. Kenner” Captain Stephens shouted from the bridge, “Stay that line, the moon skimmer on the foremast is runnin’ free.”
“Aye Capt’n. Kenner replied, and then yelled up to men aloft in the rigging. “On the Fore, check your cloths!”
The Captain had seen many a storm at sea and knew how fast they could turn ugly. The ocean swells were now at ten feet; Horizons bow plowing hard into each one that rose to meet them. Kenner called out to the Captain; his voice barely heard over the wind whipping across the middeck, “Capt’n Sir, she’s fighting the pull! The foremast is overtaxed and may give way!”
“Very well Mr. Kenner, “Stephens yelled back. “lighten the load on her and strike the jibs. Stow the skimmers, we can’t afford to lose her!”
Kenner sent four men up the rigging to remove the top sails. Two men on the deck ran forward and released the line holding the jibs. Removing sail in this wind was a struggle, and every time they pulled on the heavy sailcloth, the wind pulled to take it back. The rain mixing with the heavy wind, made the canvas slippery and harder to handle. Kenner heard the wood creak from the heavy load it bore. He knew as the Captain the difficulties the Horizons would be in should they lose even one mast.
Danielle pulled a large amount of sailcloth onto her worktable and cut it off. Next to her she had her book laid out with the pages opened to The Marauder for a set of mains and jibs.
Danielle marked the lengths and positions where the battens were to be fitted. Her proficiency, considered to many as an art, became even more prevalent with the ships colors and symbols she embroidered on the sales. A main sail could cover four squares. Most ships contained about one hundred squares of sail area. The Marauder, a three masted schooner, displayed seventy square plus six, and would require -nearly eight-hundred yards of canvas to complete. Danielle, with the help of her younger sister Mellissa, would complete the work in a months’ time. She continued at her craft though her mind still occasionally would be on Brock.
The Captain walked forward on the deck of the horizons and approached his first mate, “Mr. Kenner?” the wind continued pushing hard Against them.
“Aye Capt’n she’s standin’ tough, but these winds are picking up!” The salt air was slapping them in the face, and he could feel the rain now mixing in with the wind.
The captain glanced up at the sails, and the men aloft trying to stow then. “She won’t take too much more of this wind, stow the top gallants and drop the upper mains. We have to give her, her keel or we’ll lose her all together!”
“Aye Aye Capt’n!” He replied in a heavy voice to be heard over the strong winds and rain beating in on them. Then Kenner struggled to walk amidships where the boatsman was supervising the men aloft. “Corbin!”
“Aye Sir!” he replied, his eyes never leaving the men aloft.
“Let out lifelines port and starboard in case someone goes over! Stow the Top gallants and upper mains, Capt’n is going to give way and ride the storm!”
“Aye Aye, I’ll send up more men,” he said trying to watch above through the rain now blowing in sideways. He turned to the men standing at the ready by the mast. “Up in it men, stow the top’s and upper mains!” Step lively!’
“Belay that!” Topper yelled, “Send up the Greeners’, It’ll give them a chance to get their feet wet!”
“Aye, I’ll set them on the lower Yard arm.”
“No, I want them on the top Gallants!”
Corbin stared blankly, in disbelief. “Topper they’re not…”
Topper cut him off. “You heard the order; send them up!”
Corbin shook his head and turned towards the men amid ship watching the others high above the deck. “All right, you five! Up into it bring in the tops and gallants and get them stowed and lashed.
“Are ye daft!” Suds spoke sternly as he approached Topper from mid ship. “You’ll be sendin’ them up to their death. This here’s no easy storm for yer best hand’s! Let them learn on the lowers. Post ‘them next to one wot knows the sea and her ways.” the rain began beating hard against his face, but Suds hard stare never left Topper.
“It’s my call, not yours!” Topper snapped. “I have to find out just how much salts in them. This’ll show me!”
“That’s a lot of bilge water and ye know it!” Suds quipped back.
“I’m not asking them to do any more than I did when I signed on my first ship!” Topper said adamantly, “I know what I’m doing!
“Look ‘ere”, Suds retorted, “I knowed yea when ye were just a codfish of five turns. You run up and down the riggings of yer father’s ship better than ye could walk. These young whelps are green an got no business in the tops. Least not till they’re ready man!”
“Lay off and tend to your Galley. I’ll handle this! This storm is getting worse, and I need to see to the boat!” Topper barked and turned glancing up at the men one hundred ten feet up from the deck, then he pushed forward towards the focsle. Suds motioned as if to push him off then turned around to make his way to the helm where the captain was standing.
Topper watched the new men work their way slowly to the top to help pull in the sails on the forward two mast. The men began lowering the yardarms for the large sails, rain pelting them in the face. as they labored to bring in the wet canvas. Malloy along with one recruit were now at the top of the foremast. The other three were at the top of the mid mast.
Topper watched the crew’s progress and kept an eye on the ship. Suddenly he heard a large crack and felt a deep knot in his stomach. he turned to see the foremast buckle in a gust and begin to collapse. Breaking in half, it drove back into the mid-mast striking it just above its main Spar. The men standing on its yard arms desperately reached for rigging to hang on to as the mast fell below their feet.
Still under stress from its sails, the mid mast broke from the impact and began to fold, still restrained by its lines. The men standing on the boom of the mid mast lost their footing and grabbed futilely at the sails and rigging.
The fore mast came crashing down to the deck and the men along with it. The two men working on the top Gallants tried to grab the support ropes to stop their fall, as it collapsed on the deck, one riding the top portion of the mast over the side. Suds turned when he heard the crack and watched the top portion falling with one man, as it went over. He ran to the sides and glanced down to see the lines trailing in the water then he dove off in the direction of the fallen man.
Topper saw the mast collapsing as he watched helplessly from the deck. Crewmen were falling from the yard arms of the two masts, the sails and rigging collapsing to the deck into piles of debris and men. He looked up at the mid mast. folded over and hanging by its support ropes. The foremast was down completely, its heavy weight crushing the gunwale when it fell to one side. He prayed the man who went over was alive and able to reach the lines trailing behind. However, he knew from the height of the fall, the chances were slim. The storm now raged; there would be no way to turn around to look for him.
The horizon and her crew fought hard to maintain course and continue underway. Topper looked around at the debris and bodies of the fallen men covering the deck of the Horizon; his mind searching frantically for an order to set things back on course. The foremast was lying in two pieces; one of them hung half off the deck with its sails dragging in the water, fighting against the helm as the storm raged on.
Topper fought his way against the wind to reach mid-ship and bent down to check on a fallen man. He was alive but toppy saw his leg was broken from its shape and position. He slid over to the next one to check his condition let out a breath of exasperation when he realized the man’s neck was broken, and his spirit had left.
Four other men had fallen to the deck and looked to be injured. Replacements from the deck had already run up the rigging to continue stowage of the sails as others worked to bring in the men hanging by their safety lanyards. Men on the deck worked to cut away the yard arms and spurs from the broken masts. The mid-mast’s main was ripped from the impact of the upper portion of the foremast as it collapsed. The rigging: a tangled mess of rope and tattered sails, would take hours to repair.
The wind continued to pound as the ocean swells rocked the ship and tested her hull. Topper grabbed one of the men standing on deck. “Find two men to help you and get the injured men below. Then get back up here and join the others. We have to get this deck cleared and scuttle the fore and mid-mast.
Captain Stephens grabbed a long knife and began cutting away at the rigging the held the foremast. Water mixed with salt and sweat now ran down his face as he fought to work against the wind and rain. Toppy ran over to him and tried to take his place “Capt’n, this is not your job, let me do this!”
No Kenner,” your job is to see to the ship. they’re men down and damage to be cleared; I will help these men scuttle the mast and clear the deck. She doesn’t need a captain now. I won’t stand while my men fight for her. We have to get her back in shape. As soon as we get those mast scuttled, we’ll bring up replacements.”
Suds worked hard to pull himself back to the boat. He worked his way up the rope and climbed over the gunwale back on the Horizons deck. Drenched from head to toe and exhausted, he made his way back to Topper. “Are ye happy now that ye cost a good man ‘is life! “His blood’s on yer hands it is, an God be merciful on yer soul!”
“You think I don’t care that I lost a man? There was no way anyone could have foreseen the foremast breaking.” It would not have mattered who was up there.” He looked at Suds and could see the contempt in his eyes. But he couldn’t change what had happened. He shook his head, “I have other men to worry about and damage to clear. I need you below to help with the injured!” then he turned and walked forward to see what more needed to be done.
Rain dripping from his beard, Suds watched Topper walk away and he turned to go below. Topper was right, there were men below that needed help. As he headed down his mind still labored on the lost man Malloy. This wasn’t over but, this also wasn’t the time to address it.