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Coming soon- hand crafted pebble and driftwood crafts and a new book “The Widowmaker, a maritime tale of Lake Ontario,” a historic novel by Susan P. Gateley
Excerpt below from Chapter Six of The Widowmaker a story set in 1880-
They loaded the next day starting at dawn to fill the hold with pine. Then the boys and Ben reefed the sails, two blocked the halyards and slacked the downhauls off to raise up the booms and make room. Under a scorching sun the boys then piled the biggest pile of boards ever upon Gazelle’s decks. When the decks were filled they lashed the stack down and cast off. Soaked with sweat and exhausted with heat, the crew got the load underway for Oswego without so much as a break for supper.
The boys and Ben slept on deck. Mollie sweating in her bunk below longed to strip all her clothes off. After midnight the fitful south breeze dropped off completely, and the schooner lay with limp sails and slack sheets upon a motionless lake with nary a whisper of wind. At dawn the sun rose out of the haze to glare at them with an angry red eye. By mid morning the deck was too hot to walk on with bare feet. The pitch in the deck seams softened and grew sticky, and Mollie let the galley fire go out after breakfast. They made their dinner on bread and cheese and a bit of smoked sausage.
After cleaning up, Mollie joined the crew up on deck. “It’s like an oven down there even without the stove,” she said to Ben.
The schooner crept along at a snail’s pace over the calm water an almost imperceptible ripple flowing off her bow. It seemed as if she were too hot to move. “It’s a scorcher alright,” agreed Ben, sitting on the deck box where the tow hawser was stored. He was whipping the end of a dock line winding the marlin around its end in a continuous comforting routine of binding. Sweat darkened his shirt, and he had exchanged his beloved brown cap with a brim for a bandanna to keep the sweat out of his eyes.
The boys were sprawled on top of the deck load in the scant shade of the sails when the sun faded bringing a slight coolness. Nate sat up and looked aloft. Ben squinted at a cloud edge overhead, looked into the haze to the west and said, “There’s weather coming.”
Then they all heard it, a faint rolling rumble in the distance. Everyone looked off to the west. Tommy nudged Zeb and got to his feet frowning at the horizon. Ben set his rope work aside. Already the gray haze looked distinctly darker. Another louder grumble rolled across the sky, followed by a deep boom.
Ben cursed softly, got up, dropped his rope work in the locker and shouted, “Get those topsails in and take the outer jib off her. We’ll squat the main and foresail.”
The vague darkness to the west intensified quickly. Mollie felt the air pressing down on her. Her palms were slippery with sweat as she gripped the weather rail. The pewter colored water around them lay slick flat and oily. Not long now, she thought. This one’s coming on fast. Tension clamped hard upon her, and panic flickered for a moment. She forced it down. Already she distinguished the lighter gray leading edge of an approaching roll cloud forming against the darkening slate colored sky.
She called to Ben up forward, “It’s going to be bad.”
Ben shouted, “Help Nate with the main halyards.” Mollie, grateful for the order and action, hurried forward to the pin rail by the mast to help lower the sail. The now clearly visible squall edge advanced with the speed of a fast freight train. Distant flashes of greenish lighting flickered behind the cloak of rain. Rumbles and growls of thunder were now nearly continuous. Glancing to the west as she worked, Mollie saw the fast approaching roll cloud forming a rising broadening arch that spanned much of the western sky.
Its pale pus-like gray contrasted against a nearly black backdrop. The air beneath the arch of vapor had taken on an ominous tint the color of corroded copper. The rapid changes in the sky were mesmerizing. Mollie kept glancing at the squall as she slipped the halyard as fast as she dared, while Nate dropped the peak. She thought, Hurry. Only a minute or two now before it hits. We’re going to really catch it this time.
The squall raced across the water towards them, shreds and tatters of cloud trailing at the bottom of its leading edge. Wind ruffled and darkened the lake surface a mile or so away. Mollie had the halyard slacked off, but would there be time to lash down the loose sail she wondered? The wind darkened water was advancing quickly. Streaks of ripples shot out ahead of the squall reaching towards them. The light south breeze suddenly shifted to the northwest. A cool puff touched Mollie’s cheek with the delicacy of a lover’s soft kiss. Seconds after a brilliant flash of lightning and a simultaneous ear splitting bang overhead, the wind slammed into the "Gazelle".
Even with main and foresail squatted down to the second reef, the schooner was knocked down on her beam ends. Mollie, who had gone aft to where Ben was at the wheel, watched unbelieving. First the deck edge, then the top of the nearly waist high bulwark amidships vanished under the water.
Mollie no longer heard the wind screaming through the rigging or felt the sting of hard driven rain against her face. She watched with horror as the water rose to cover the entire side deck. All she could think was We’re going over. Frozen in place, Mollie watched the water creep quickly up the deck house side towards the open ports. The schooner lay at an impossible angle. Minute details burned into Mollie’s conscience, the astounding angle of the deck, the main boom end now submerged in the lake, the seething foam along the lee side.
“Hold fast everyone,” Ben roared.
The ship was capsizing... tune in next week to see what happened next-