Cape Horn Sailing: A Sailor’s Nightmare
Ed. note: The Block Island Yacht Club created the Short Story contest several years ago as an opportunity for seniors and juniors attending the Block Island School to write creatively about the island. The format is that the opening paragraph, created by the BIYC, must be used for all entries, but then the writer can let their imagination run free. The contestants are given a time frame to submit their stories, which must be fiction. We have a panel of three judges who are anonymous to each other and to the students, as well. The judges are given the stories not knowing who wrote them and they rank them to determine the winner. The winning story is below. Congratulations Cally Weber!
All the sails were set and trimmed. The crew had worked hard. Jake supervised the effort on the main, Roger on the mizzen, and Keith had labored on both the topsails and the jibs. Except for the chef the captain had called for all hands on deck! She wanted to give them some last-minute instructions. The breeze was fresh from the southwest and they were flying! But Jake noticed that there were two members of the crew that had not made it up on deck...
It was one of the roughest weeks they’ve seen yet. Day after day of winds howling and waves pounding the starboard side of the ship. Sailing around Cape Horn was no easy feat. Stray icebergs and the rocky coastal shoals of the Tierra del Feugo threatened disaster. For Jake, Roger, and Kelly, this was no surprise, but for everyone else, conditions
like these were dumbfounding. Fresh out of college, Keith, Eliza, and Lily were looking for a quick way to make money. When they saw “sailing crew needed” they assumed the trip from San Francisco to Miami would be through the Panama Canal, but boy were they wrong.
Rounding the southernmost part of South America was a mariner’s nightmare, especially in May. Earlier that night, Capitan Kelly had announced that they would be rounding the Tierra del Fuego archipelago, and crossing from the Atlantic to the Pacific at around 9:00 the next morning.
“Below 40 degrees south, there is no law; below 50 degrees south, there is no god” bellowed Kelly.
The crew slaved away, easing and trimming the jib and main to control the puffs and lulls. The smell of Fish En Papillote drifted through the air, as lunchtime was near. Everyone groaned while smelling the tuna, it is day 32 of fish and bread. They yearned for fresh fruit and vegetables and milk. They also yearned for warmth. Not only was it 35 degrees outside, but it was windy, winds howling out of Antarctica at 75 miles per hour, gusting up to 104.
As the day passed, the windier it got. 15-foot swells slammed the 70-foot sailing yacht. The temperature quickly dropped, sending a shiver down the crew’s spine. Rain began to litter the deck with dark spots. Kelly took one look at the barometer and cringed.
“890 millibars,” she read with disgust. This meant rain.
Just as the last word fell from her mouth, everyone aboard gasped. The crew dropped what they were doing and gazed out to windward. The jib began luffing and the boom swinging aimlessly. On the brink of the horizon was a massive group of fish and other marine life jumping in and out of the water. Splashing and thrashing as they sped as fast as they could as if they were trying to outswim something. The crew sat in a daze, watching the sleek dolphins glide by. The fish were now flying by, so effortlessly, but something still seemed off.
After a couple of minutes of floating towards the shore of South America, Kelly managed to get her crew to pick back up the sheets and halyards and begin sailing again. They tried to forget the chaotic dance of wildlife they just witnessed, but it was stuck in their head. The disarray of fish was just so unnatural, but their only option was to continue their journey down the Chilean coast.
Slowly, but surely nightfall came. Canopus and Sirius, the brightest stars in the sky lit up their pathway towards the Atlantic. Upon the deck, Lily and Eliza groaned about their night watch duty. Not only was it cold, but ocean spray soaked them to the bone. The only thing they were looking forward to was crossing into the Atlantic. This meant better conditions and smooth sailing.
Finally, the time hit 3:00 a.m. which meant they only had one more hour on their graveyard watch. The girls cleated the sail sheets and set the steering wheel on course, so they could finally rest. This was when Eliza spotted it. Dark and grotesque, the figure rose out of the water. Looming over the girls was a squid head, its pulsating body changing colors as the moon reflected off the moistened deck. The creature’s head alone must have weighed half a ton. Lily and Eliza stood in awe, unable to speak or scream. Almost as suddenly as it had arrived, the beast reached out with its two tentacles and shot out to capture his prey. Too quick to react, Lily and Eliza were pulled under
the surface without a single sound made, nothing left of them to be found.
At 4:00 a.m. when Eliza and Lily’s shifts finally ended, Jake and Keith came out from their cabins. Seeing the jib, mizzen, and mainsail all cleated, they assumed Eliza and Lily had quit their shift early. The men did not think twice and began plugging away at their tasks.
The morning went on and crews switched on and off. Finally 11:00 hit. When Kelly called for all hands on deck, she was surprised to notice Eliza and Lily did not join them. She searched the heads, the galley, the cabins, and the saloon, but still no sight of them. Kelly walked back up to the deck and asked around to see if anyone else knew of their location. No one did. But, the AWOLs were not going to spoil the moment everyone had been waiting for.
At exactly 11:23 a.m. the sailing yacht crossed from the Pacific into the Atlantic. The waves seemed to calm down, and the wind settled. It seemed as though they crossed into a new world. The crew cheered and whooped, excited for a peaceful trip up to Florida. After a minute the crew got back to work, easing and for everyone else trimming the sails as the wind gusted. Kelly appeared to forget about the missing girls until Roger mentioned it.
“Cap, Eliza, and Lily haven’t been working on their tasks,” yelled Roger over the wind.
“I’ll get em,” matched Kelly with a loud yell.
Kelly again wandered the boat searching for the girls, yelling every ten seconds to ensure they would hear her. On her third lap around the boat, Kelly gave up.
“Not much we can do,” said Kelly. “They must be seasick.”
“Probably,” shrugged Roger and Keith, not giving it a second thought.
Their voyage continued with good wind and conditions until dusk hit. Minutes after the sunset, a school of fish came rushing towards the sailboat along with gale force winds. Once again the crew sat in a daze watching the fish almost as if their eyes were glued to the water. Just as the crew began to collect themselves, a jolt knocked them from their feet. From the depths of the ocean rose the sea monster, bringing with it the stench of low tide and dead fish. It’s mile long tentacles reached out and plucked the crew one by one until it had filled its hunger. The squid left the boat deserted, sails in cleats, aimed for Miami. The ship floated away like a ghost in the night, never to be seen again.