Caribbean Commander (Chapter 45)
Jordan returned to the deck and came to my side with downcast eyes. The wind was howling, wailing and whining through the rigging, the rain was lashing the decks and there were several hands around the mainmast area, busy belaying halyards, and generally battening down ready for the coming storm. Gregson’s screams were grating, he was trying to stop the ship’s violent attempts to roll his body around, but his attempts were futile. Jordan and I knelt at his side, I looked into his contorted face, tried to get him to open his eyes, to understand. It was useless, his face was contorted with agony and his eyes were tightly shut. I looked around at the men watching my every move. I took the item from Jordan, and prising open Gregson’s fingers, I placed the Officer’s pistol, loaded with a charge and a ball, into his right hand. I thought for a moment that an appearance of calm crossed his features, then, just as quickly it was gone, replaced once more by his agonised screams With a sudden, dawning realisation, Gregson lifted the pistol to his head with shaking hands, and there was an immediate explosion and a blast of hot air and gases, quickly drenched by the rain, the top-man had taken his own life. The ball had done its merciful work and he screamed no more.
I stumbled my way through the Lord’s Prayer and sent for Connors the sailmaker. Gregson would be buried at sea, in his canvas shroud, with as much reverence and dignity as the coming storm would permit. He might have to be laid in the foc’s’l locker until the weather permitted his safe interment to the sea.
I felt numbed by the experience. The decks were eerily quiet now the screaming had ceased. Each of us, every witness to the incident, was wrapped in thought, heedful of a shipmate’s misfortune. I stumbled my way across the deck and below to my cabin, I needed a glass of rum! The ‘Anna’ was rolling and pitching violently which led to knocks and bumps from corners and edges. I swore as I jammed my fingers under my table fiddles as I tried to grab for stability. I reached the spirit locker without further injury, and held on, unsteadily, as I drank from the triangular decanter. Bad manners I must say Captain sir! The fiery liquid burnt its way to my stomach causing a warm glow to surge through my veins. I took another long draught and closed the stopper, placing the decanter back behind the locker fiddles, ensuring its safe stowage. I was needed on deck!
The wind was hurling itself at our little ship. We had only scraps of canvas to try and hold her head to the sea. Huge seas were lifting the ‘Anna’s’ bows clear of the water at the crest of the waves, and then, almost with glee, letting her drop into the trough, burying her nose beneath tons of black and foaming water. Sea water cascaded from the foc’s’l, surging across the decks, taking men’s feet from beneath them as they desperately tried to remain upright.
“Mr Jordan…we need to get a safety line rigged from fore to aft at the double!”
The wind carried away his reply, but as I watched, I saw men lurching toward the foc’s’l cordage and rope lockers. We could belay a line from under the foc’s’l break to the quarterdeck, using blocks and shackles it could be hauled taut and fixed. Small pieces of rope, looped at each end could be slipped onto the main rope before it was tethered, thereby making a secure handhold that could enable crewmen to traverse the deck in comparative safety. There would be no-one allowed aloft until the weather abated.
“Those watchmen not needed on deck, get below now! At the double men!”
Some of the hands were three or four steps down the companionway ladder as a huge sea lifted the ship, my stomach did a flip as I became weightless, then we were crashing down into the trough. The men, caught on their way below, had paused whilst this danger hit the ship, then, as we plummeted down, icy black, spume filled water, hurtled onto the foc’s’l, smashing against the anchor capstan on its way to hammering against the fore rails which snapped like match wood, pouring feet deep down onto the decks and rushing headlong towards the men trying to balance on the companionway down ladder. My cry of warning was lost in the roaring noise and the wind. As I watched helplessly, the hatch coamings were buried under tons of seawater, which poured below, taking the men who had perched precariously upon the ladder, below with it! Oh God….not more injuries??
(To be cont...........................)