Early in the gray dawn, wet and dripping rigging frames the tattered, sullen, iron-gray sky. Gray decks and rust-flecked white bulkheads pitch and roll deeply. This has been a long, dark, restless night. In the black morning hours the rain drove down hard, rushing and roaring on the steel decks. Just walking has been a breathless adventure as I’ve gone along the ship tugging, checking, making sure nothing is working its way loose under the strain of the constant pounding. Seas came smashing, soaring upward in black mountains draped and capped in luminous snowy foam, and water, tons of water, rising bridge-high and crashing down, often on deck, adding spice to my travels.
Now the sky and sea are misty in the gentle, soft-gray light. On the bridge, high above the deck, a ragged, circular expanse of ocean is emerging into sight, edges chopped with splashes of white. The chilling rain has gentled now.
In the water, away toward the edge … a contact. Something is floating. Something small and dark riding the surface. The Captain is called and everyone who can lifts glasses from the rack and steps out onto the bridge wings. The helmsman, left at his wheel, attends to course changes and rudder commands as maneuvering begins. Sharp eyes gather intently behind binoculars.
An inner tube, a very large truck tube, can be seen now floating high on the surface, rocking and pitching crazily on the gray-green sea. The engines slow, the all-pervading rumble falls in pitch and intensity. Activity deep in the ship quickens. Sailors stir in their bunks, fuzzy-eyed crewmen, called from their sleep by the changing engine sounds, begin to dress and make their ways topside. They are not particularly hurried.
The tube, now easily in sight, is rigged. Lines and coverings can be seen, nothing else. Engines at stop, the ship slides slowly ahead, and the tube is laid along our port side.
From the deck I can see the tube is sewn inside a burlap cover and a thin, frayed hemp line is sewn around it. Inside, slogging drunkenly in the shallow pool. are three green glass bottles tightly corked with palm heart. They are unbroken, and full. A bicycle pump is submerged and lying in the burlap bottom of the pool. One well-worn glove, the kind used in punching a heavy bag, floats soggily within the tube. A long white line trails down into the sea. I cannot see its end beneath the ship.
A long boat hook reaches the line and it is lifted into my hands. Inside my head I beg softly and intensely that the line stays light, achingly, urgently petitioning that somehow the someone who rode this insanely bouncing craft is still near….still well. The line is wet, and cold, and long. The end appears…it is empty.
The waterlogged burlap is heavy and several of us struggle to lift the tube aboard. Reveille has sounded and now the whole ship’s company is awake except those who stood watch from midnight till four A.M. They are drifting sleepily, motionlessly conscious waiting for the uproar to subside and the lights to go out again.
Business . . .stow inner tube and attendant gear after close inspection . . .
breakfast, . . . tend the caffeine habit on the bridge (including mine) . . . relieve the watch . . . announcements . . . check the ship once again . . . back to the bridge. We have immediately begun to search from “here” in ever-expanding “squares”. There are two or three extra lookouts above deck constantly and everyone, from stewards to enginemen to the executive officer, will at some time appear on deck to peer off into the distance . . . looking.
How long and black was that night! A rough, taxing, tedious night even aboard our 210 foot cutter. Where did he . . she . . they slip away? When? Was he there when I first saw the tube? Did he see us?
2:30 P.M. (1430 if you like) We are charging now, headlong, covering the ever-increasing length of each side of each square quickly. The day has broken to light winds, low choppy clouds and intermittent bright sunlight. A high cloud cover adds brass and the ocean shines with it. The air is translucent and I sit high up and forward in the bows. The engines, laboring at full strength vibrate my perch and I rock side to side, forward and back, riding the familiar motion as the ship gallops through the moderate sea.
And I look . . . quietly . . . off to starboard, scanning the choppy surface. The sun is warm and the air rushes past in a roar. Inside me is a low heavy ache, also a tiny, gemhard spark, that which “springs eternal” in humans . . . hope. Slowly and deliberately scouring with sea-sharpened sailor’s eyes, reaching out over the hundreds of square miles of ocean . . . sitting.
So now . . .
I hoisted your broken dream from the sea. I am sad and felt alone, as though I knew you. In the crude stitches and waterlogged burlap were written your determination, hope and courage. I call upon you from time to time to remind me what freedom means to those without it, what courage is, how safe the world is for me, and that some dreams are worth the life that dreams them. A Dios.
You are free.