Thursday, March 25, 2010

Part 1-9 Keep Your Eyes on The Sunken Reef!

There was not a single star in the night sky. The indigo swells that rose and fell, rocking the ship in the daytime, were all the larger in the black sea of the night. Heaving up and down, we wondered where this current would take us.
As if bound by the unseen rope of Nature, we crew and our boat were helpless at the mercy of the tides. The swelling waves battered the ship like they were laughing in the face of our human frailty.
No matter how many times it's explained, someone who hasn't been there could never understand a captain's distress in a time like this.
On board the clock's bell rang, clanging out eight times in the dark of the night. When the ringing finished it was midnight of the twentieth.
About one hour later, I left my room to talk with the helmsman in the stern of the ship.
"We're in quite a bit of trouble here, aren't we?" I said, "It doesn't look like the wind will come out any time soon, but no matter, keep them measuring the ocean's depth."
As soon as I had spoken, the sailor measuring the depth beside us reported in a surprised voice, "the sounding line has struck bottom at one-hundred-and-ten fathoms."
Immediately, I shouted, "every man on deck!" and forced every sleeping crew member awake and put them on emergency alert.
I had the sailor measure the depth again right away, this time he reported, "sixty fathoms." (one-hundred-and-nine meters)
One-hundred-twenty fathoms, and then suddenly sixty fathoms. It was evidence that the boat was close to Pearl and Hermes Atoll. Pearl and Hermes reef's perpendicular boulders jut out from the depths like a folding screen, the tips barely breaking the surface. Surrounding each boulder is an area of about half a nautical mile, where the water is sixty fathoms deep.
It was now too late to prevent our being washed into the sunken reefs of Pearl and Hermes. Since we had come to shallow waters, I didn't care whether the sea floor was sand or mud or boulder. We had to throw in the anchor, "prepare the anchor!" I ordered.
The shouting of the sailor measuring the depth went on, "forty fathoms!" "thirty fathoms!" It was getting shallow quickly. We were being carried closer to the sunken reefs by the second.
"Twenty fathoms!" (thirty-six meters)
Now we were in danger.
I made the order, "throw in the starboard anchor!"
There was a crash, and the rattle of the chain as the starboard anchor fell from the prow into the sea. It sounded differently than usual. It was the sound of imminent danger.
The anchor's hooks did not catch on the boulders at the sea floor. The boat was still being washed along, dragging the anchor.
The waves washing in towards the reef and those coming back out to sea we were raging mad in the ocean in the dead of the night, crashing against the boulders in the shallow waters.
"Throw in the port side anchor!" I ordered, and it was thrown into the sea.
The two anchors finally took a firm hold on the boulders of the sea floor and the chain pulled tight.

At that time, the helmsman and the boatswain were manning the anchor in the bow. I, as captain, was issuing commands from the poop deck. A sailboat has no bridge, so it is standard for the captain to watch the state of the wind in the sails and to give orders from the stern.
So, when an anchor firmly catches hold of the sea floor, stops and pulls the chain tight, the prow too is pulled to a stop and it is no longer washed with the current. Next, the stern begins to quickly rotate in one direction. Before long the entire ship is pointing in the direction of the anchor, taking a fixed position. However, the waves that were assailing the prow when it stopped in this fashion were striking with the same strength as a head-on crash into an immovable boulder, they were truly enormous.
"The chain has pulled tight!" reported the helmsman, shouting.
"Right!" I answered. First I thought it was a good thing, but that same moment there was another thundering crash.
A giant wave had hit the prow. Like a tsunami, the sea water had risen into a huge mass and shattered against the prow. The boat lurched.
In the pit of my stomach. The vibration permeated through the hull of the ship.
I thought, "damn it all, the chain just broke," and as if to realize this thought, I heard the brave but tragic cry, "we've lost the starboard anchor!"
And when I was about to call out an answer, again...
In my stomach, the reply was a low tearing sound. And when I thought, ah, we've lost both anchors, a shout heaving like the swells of the tide came from the prow, "we've lost port side anchor as well!" It was too late.
I shouted the order, "all hands, prepare the emergency anchor!" This was our last resort.
A thunderous roar came. In this pitch black night I could not see around the ship, but it was the roar of waves battling boulders. The sunken reef was close.
With the broken anchor caught at the bottom of the sea, the boat was carried rapidly toward the rocks. Danger was quickly approaching. It was bad.
At his rate the hull would be smashed to pieces against the rocks and go under...
The fate of the ship now depended solely on the emergency reserve anchor we had stowed on board. Every member of the crew set to work desperately preparing this anchor.
You young cadets with your little experience cannot imagine what it was like on that tiny ship rocking in the waves.
It was pitch black, and we couldn't see anything.
It was past one o'clock in the morning, getting close to two.
Out of the deep ocean the swelling tide came hard, throwing itself recklessly against the sunken reef whose head was visible just above the waves. That tide would come rebounding back and would smash into the waves coming again and again at regular intervals, and whip into chaos, frothing and raging. Then, again, the waves would heave high all at once. All of these things came together and assaulted the boat. If I tried to put it all into a short phrase, I would say:
"The crazy dancing waves rocked the ship in their fury," or, "The raging billows swarmed upon the ship."
Well, it's close, but that isn't how it really was.
To put away any of your doubts, these waves were not a simple storm or rough water. The weather was calm, and there was no wind. Only the waves came heaving up and down, colliding violently into the sunken reef.
Every man urgently set upon preparing the reserve anchor. With the deck's angle changing wildly from front to back and left to right we had to take hold of something just to be able to stand.
Moreover, the starboard and port side anchors which had been thrown in already, were prepared to be used at any moment. But the spare anchor was firmly secured on the fore deck. It was tied so that however big the waves that crashed in, it wouldn't be washed away; however much the ship rocked, it wouldn't budge at all. If it did move, the anchor would tear a massive hole in the deck.
We were trying to untie the small chain and cord that held down reserve anchor, attach the thick anchor cord, and throw it into the sea. We could not afford even a little carelessness in this task. If the reserve anchor slipped because of the ships violent motion, someone could break a leg or arm.
The seasoned boatswain, the helmsman who would never flinch in the face of danger and four sailors with honed skills, were preparing the reserve anchor. In the lamp light, their faces were the color of pure intensity. The rest of the crew were unloading the anchor's cord.
The roar of the waves crashing into the boulders grew louder and louder.
"Ho, the waves are pure white here!"
"We're near the rocks!"
It must have already been too late. The ship was dragging a long chain on the sea floor so that the prow was pointed in the direction of the waves coming against us. We were being washed backwards.
A large wave lifted the prow up with ease and passed on towards the stern, heaving it up and plunging the prow down and forward.
There were two loud cracks and then a deafening snap from the bottom of the ship, the men on deck were struck dumb.
"We've been done in!"
A boulder had pierced the bottom of the ship.
The stone that had broken through was pushing up the bottom of the ship, lifting the deck with incredible power. Next, the pipes running from the pumps to the tanks burst through the deck. At the same time, the now immobile ship took it's first direct hit from the waves.
There was a boom and a splash as a mountain of sea water crashed onto the deck. It let it's great power run free, destroying whatever it touched and then flowed off the deck like a waterfall. Without leaving anything behind, it carried off all that it had destroyed. The savage waves came crashing in ceaselessly.
Even preparing the reserve anchor would be pointless now. After all we had gone through, we had been washed up onto the sunken reefs of Pearl and Hermes Atoll. The fate of the ship had been decided. It was two AM, and dawn was still far away.

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