from Chapter One some winter time reading- historic novel set in 1880
Near midnight, the wind veered more into the north. Will ordered Nate on the wheel to fall off one point. Then he went forward to help the inexperienced crew jibe the foresail to run wing and wing. After the foresail boom was secured, he and Tommy climbed up on the deck load to put the preventer tackle on the main. Though the rough cut boards were close stacked, the surface of the load was somewhat uneven. Tommy caught the edge of one plank with his foot as he made his way toward the boom and nearly fell.
“C’mon, Tom hop to!” snapped Will who was already at the boom leaning hard against it to hold it out against the wind.
Tommy scrambled across the load and added his weight and considerable muscle to the boom. Both men pushed and shoved on the spar to force it out to where Ben waited holding the heavy preventer tackle block. When secured and tightened, this would keep the boom from making accidental jibe as the ship ran downwind. It was a routine maneuver, even in darkness, one that Will had done a dozen times as a mate on other larger schooners. The Gazelle took a bigger wave on her quarter and lurched underfoot, and Tommy grunted and staggered as he strained against the boom.
But the wind got around behind the sail. Just as Ben was reaching up to hook on the boom tackle, the Gazelle yawed slightly. The boom end lifted. Then in the blink of an eye, it whipped back across the deck in a flying jibe. Tommy saw the massive spar coming and dropped to the deck load flattening himself against it. But the boom struck Will squarely and knocked him overboard.
Mollie awoke to the ship’s sudden lurch and a loud crash followed by shouts, banging rattling sheets and blocks, and flogging thundering canvas. Then she heard a cry that shot a flood of cold terror through her. “Man over board! On deck everyone- man over board!”
Mollie grabbed her cape and sprang up the three steps of the companionway. The ship had rounded on to a reach. Her noisy sails luffing in the darkness overhead, shook the rig and hull. Mollie saw Nate’s pale face in the binnacle’s dim light as he stood frozen at the wheel. Ben came running aft followed by Tommy. Ben pushed roughly past her as he headed for the small yawl boat that hung aft in davits, hooked to a tackle at its bow and stern. Tommy leaped to the starboard davit and uncleated the line that lowered the boat. It had been a week since the yawl boat had been used, and the swollen wet manila wouldn’t run through the blocks on Ben’s davit. Tommy had already started to lower his end of the yawl boat.
“Wait, Tommy,” called Ben. “We’ve got to get the way off the schooner.”
The Gazelle was still moving ahead under luffing sails and clattering banging sheets and blocks. If the yawl were lowered now it would capsize and swamp before the tackles could be unhooked. Mollie hurried over to Nate. “Go help Zeb get the jibs down.”
Nate gave Mollie the wheel and ran forward. As she spun the wheel down hard to turn the schooner into the wind, she heard the davit blocks squeal behind her as the yawl boat finally began to descend.
Ben had the yawl ready, but now he shouted, “The oars-Tommy, where are the oars?”
Tommy sprinted forward to where the boat’s oars had been stowed on deck after being painted the day before. He came pounding aft gasping and half sobbing and dropped them into the boat. Then abruptly Ben was over the rail, into the yawl and gone into the night.
Mollie called out, “Tommy, we need to get both jibs and the foresail down. We’ve got to heave to and jog. I’ll keep her head to. Set up the weather staysail sheet hard after you get the jibs down.”
The blustery wind had rolled up a choppy five foot sea. Ben would have a rough time out there alone in the little yawl boat. In the intense darkness of an overcast night twenty miles offshore, Mollie saw only the occasional dim flashes of wave crests breaking near the ship. Her stomach knotted with fear. What if both Ben and Will vanished. What will we do then? The flogging canvas and clashing iron hardware of the jib sheets quieted. The boys had the foresail most of the way down. Mollie let go of the wheel and turned to haul in on the heavy mainsheet, trying to pull it in tight. Tommy came hurrying aft to give her a hand.
“Is the staysail backed?” she asked,
“Yes’m. Any sign of him?”
Hove to, the ship was much quieter. Mollie slipped a lash on the wheel and went to the leeward main shrouds. The crew stood rigid as they listened taut with fear and hardly daring to breathe while the Gazelle slowly drifted. Now and then a small creak or groan from the ship sounded almost like a distant cry for help. Once Mollie started upon hearing a high thin call. Her skin crawled. It was merely a gull startled from its sleep by their ship. Or was it? Only the slosh and thud of water against the hull answered. Only the swish and snarl of a nearby breaking wave came to her ears. The implacable void of darkness around them revealed nothing.
To find out what became of Captain Will buy your copy of “Widow Maker” from Amazon.com $15.00 paper copy 2.99 Kindle or buy a hard copy directly from susan(at) silverwaters.com Books make great Christmas gifts! and I will mail postage free thru Dec.