The Good Captain and the Dark Sea

by Eric Miller

The Good Captain and the Dark Sea

When the sun rises on the sea an immense golden beauty slowly laps across the rolling ocean waves. The immortal ocean, dark and cold becomes instantly warm and inviting, beckoning sailors to enter its warm embrace. For miles in every direction the smells of evaporating salt water enters your nostrils and tingles the back of your throat. The serenity of the Atlantic beneath your bow creates a sense of security and freedom which only a boatman can fully appreciate.

This is my life. I travel the waters in trade and in hobby. This trip belongs to the latter. From the moment I stepped aboard my heart flew to the sea waiting for my body and my sails to follow. Off with the bow line, off with the breast line. As I fall underway my bow drifted to the open ocean. With the sun on my brow I sailed South East to the clear waters between Florida and Cuba. The weather charts yesterday read steady winds and sunny skies which would promise coral blue waters and plenty of dolphin fish to find. I planned to be out until noon and I'd share with my wife a king's feast of Atlantic delicacies.

Had the Lord Himself told me it was already 10:00 am I'd not believed. The icebox was full on a dolphin, two young peacock bass, and a lucky catch of amberjack. Such luck a fisherman has never had in a mere 3 hours. Each fish came in calm and easy, barely a fighter amongst them. Dark clouds pushed the horizon and the wind picked up toward the aft of my boat. No fisherman could deny such good luck as this morning without tempting yet one last dip of his hooks.

I lowered my screw and shoved forward another 2 nautical miles to position over a steep drop off. My luck had never provided me any creatures of the deep but today was no ordinary day. I counted 20 fathoms my line sank before I held her steady. As I pushed South along the mouth of the gorge my line snapped taut. I let the hook sit and set and with my full strength pulled the rod. In an instant my line screamed and pulled another 3 fathom to the deep. Surely I'd caught a sperm whale with the power and speed I now handled. I barely noticed the rain.

When the clock struck 11:12 I was still battling the fish. As I reeled and strained my eyes caught the skyline. No longer were the coral blues of the ocean and the gold of the sun painting my landscapes but the dark and evil navies and blacks now rolled toward my skiff. I could hardly believe what a transformation had taken place as I searched for my catch. As providence so often does give us warning too late my rod snapped and my line followed the beast to the depths. Such evil omen is never to be looked on lightly, only now I had seen the face of the devil which was sneaking behind me. My first inclination was to swing back North West to search for land on which I could harbor. As my rudder turned my boat the first swell lifted me by two feet. From what I saw to my heels there was quite the squall behind me, all the more reason to release sails and tie down for a rough chug.

My screw was at full throttle but the sea is not a horse to come in second. Accustomed to winning she took my 15 knots to take 29 at my port side. As I began to leeway my hands pressed in the form of a prayer and I called out to the God of the heavens. Flashes of my wife in her garden, my kids at play, and my parents in the Kansas wheat fields bled from my lips in passionate pleas for mercy. A wave pushed my port side and nearly capsized my craft knocking me from the helm. I grabbed hold of the jib sheet before I lost my feet and saw the next wave of which I swallowed a good portion.

Water flooded into my cabin as I jumped to shut the doors and latch their seal. As I closed the hatch my vessel pitched with the violence of the storm. My back was square on the boom as I was reeled into the air again and again. The quiet seas had plotted against me and were delighting in their evil revelry. Once more I beseeched God on all that was holy, please spare my place on this life and return me to my family. As I said my amen the final wave crashed and I was pushed into the chilly wrath of Poseidon. The dark crushing weight of the ocean washed around me. I felt myself pulling up and down as the storm breathed in and out. Finally I broke the surface and saw my humble vessel sinking to the gorge. My stern light was all that was left above the wake for two seconds which lasted an eternity in my heart. As I saw her sink my heart too sank to the bottoms of the sea bed.

In my moment of troubles my heart grew strong. I could not die in this squall. My wife and children would not be robbed their man by a mere storm. I held tight my life vest and tried to tread the waves. Up and down I tossed for what seemed like days. I knew no pain or hunger, no thirst or want. My strength I saved for quitting myself this watery tomb. What I thought to be entire days in truth were merely 4 hours. My hopes of this storm being an unfortunate squall were washing away with the winds of this hurricane. As the waves moved from 14 feet to 40 feet I knew my time must be soon.

Just as I was about to deprive myself of my life vest I saw a light on the peaks of the waves. Surely this was no white cap! I looked and again I saw the searching light of a Coast Guard rescue ship. My beloved wife must have called the harbor patrol after the darkness reached the shores. I could see her beautiful face creased with the worries clouding her mind. Oh my beautiful wife, how I've loved you and love you still, clever wife. The fortune upon me was unreal. As I waved my hands with the little strength I had left the light fell up on my face. I could feel its warmth lapping my cheeks. Again my mind wandered to feel of the sun's embrace I enjoyed not 9 hours ago.

As the ship pulled close to me the crew tossed to me a life line. I felt the wind and rain burning my eyes as I tried to find my line to salvation. To no avail though, again and again they tossed to me. For one and one half hours they tried to throw it true. As I gave up hope the ship's captain voiced over the squawk to me.

"We've not the capability to line you in," came the glorious Captain's deep voice. "I've lowered the deck nets and we're to drift as close to you as is safety's sake. Now if you wish to live, by God's strength, swim to!"

My face was hard pressed to keep above the water's surface. Again and again I kicked my legs and grasped my life vest to push toward the ship. The black cargo net was so close to me but my strength had evaded me. I reached but could not find. As the ship drifted past the Captain called to me.

"Don't stop the fight! Hold strong young sailor!" The Captain's voice was vigorous and reassuring. I dreaded not heeding his calls as I dreaded the depths themselves. "We shall round to and try again, and again, and again if we need. Swim damn you! Stretch forth your arms and snare the nets!"

I no longer felt my body but felt like a child controlling a kite from afar. No longer caring if the kite did as I expressly commanded, I only wished for it to remain afloat on the winds. Again I swam and again I reached. My fingers stretched to twice their length as I drove forward to that massive hull and asked for its nets. I prayed they find my fingers and that my fingers had it in them to clamp to it like the jaws of a lion. Just as I nearly relaxed, my fingers found their mark. I gripped the nets with strength that I thought I had but expended. The crew of the boat, so gallant and brave, faced the rushing waves to pull me aboard. Their faces sang of redemption to me, their mouths moving in the chorus of angels on high. My ears rang with incessant ringing and I was confused as to what direction I was facing but I climbed up as fast I could. As I made my way up I felt the smooth coldness of the steel hull under my hands and the reassuring rough texture of the net against my face. This was what I felt before the last wave ripped me from my safety on the net. My fingers gave way and I found myself in the dark again.

The wave took me from the ship a space of nearly 40 yards. As the boat turned to me the Captain's voice came to me again. "I know its difficult Eric. I won't give up on you. The ocean is cruel and unrelenting but I have come for you. This crew is here to keep you afloat if you can grab their hands and come aboard. My ship will not sink when you are in its safety. Persevere and you shall see the shore. Again we try, I come to you, come to me!"

These words from the captain were in my mind as I dipped below the surface. My legs no longer kicked, my heart no longer strained. My unending fatigue had drained my resolve. With my last strength I unbuckled my life preserver. As I sank I saw the search light of the rescue boat cut through the waters to me. It stayed with me until my lungs filled, my eyes closed.

My dear and faithful Captain you tried to rescue me. Brave crew and sailors you were by my side to the final blow of the sea. I would not blame the Captain for my hardships. I would not make the crew wear the weight of the waves upon my shoulders. As the Captain loved me so too I loved Him. I relied on His strength and His words to reassure me and help me find the boat but in the end I had not the strength to board. The lifelines and the cargo nets were gifts given to give me hope but the waves proved too strong for me. The Captain knew the storm was not what the seas were meant to usher forth. The Captain knew the seas were meant to be golden and bright blue, calm and beautiful. The darkness ruined the seas and forced the storms upon me. Even though it was not as it was supposed to be the Captain came to me in my storm. For that I will always love and adore the Captain. He is my Captain, He is my Father.

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