Working the deck
by Susan Brittain
The gust was like a freight train, slow building but long, with rain that darkened the sky, leaving only white caps visible on top of the churning sea. The schooner shifted to leeward, groaned, and plowed on downwind. Water jets shot skyward through the anchor hawsers, as waves crashed over the rails soaking the decks with confusion and foam, providing no safe haven for any crew member working on deck.
The Captain had known for an hour that shortening sail was the prudent thing to do, but a green crew, and an approaching shoal had delayed the order. “Prepare to gybe,” came a booming voice from back aft. Two crew members worked their way forward, two stood by amidships to pass the foresail, and eight moved aft to haul in and pass across the giant mainsail attached to the ﬁfty foot wooden boom. Their movements were lit by
the closing lighthouse as its ﬂash seemed to scream, “Stay Away!”
“Five degrees, west,” the skipper barked, as the helmsman turned the wheel slowly, one spoke at a time. The schooner surfed down a wave and as it swept up the next, settled on the new course. “Five degrees more,” the Captain’s voice pleaded as the sound of pounding surf reverberated in the night air.
“Passing the headsails,” a voice from forward bellowed.
“Foresail across,” cried the midship crew.
Back aft, eight people, sixteen arms, heaved, and hoed; the start of a rhythm; a cadence as they began to haul in the mainsheet to bring the large sail and main boom to center. Sensing a change in the direction of the vessel the ﬁrst mate screamed, “Drop the line” and quickly took a turn on the large cleat before the boom came crashing across. As the mainsail ﬁlled, the mate eased the line and the schooner surged on its new course. The pounding surf and lighthouse now passed safely astern. Ahead a new
light ﬂashed, closing quickly.
“Sharpen up,” the Captain thundered, “we are going to make it through this passage tonight or be doomed … .Prepare to gybe, again!”
(Couldn’t think of a better illustration than our book cover. Dave is working on the third in the series, which we hope to publish in the next few months)
The Mason Key Volume 2 -David Folz