Sixty miles from the nearest coast, and heading further out to sea a small vessel pitched and rolled through wild ocean swell. Above a dense, dark canopy of boiling, lightning-streaked cloud brooded low in the sky, making the hour impossible to guess. It was almost wholly dark but for the odd incandescent flash of lightning and would have been so whether night or day. Two lights, one blinking, glowed in the oppressive rain streaked gloom atop the pitching vessel’s mast, high enough to be seen above the massive swell even when they rolled into a trough between the waves, but nowhere about them did any other lights blink back. Its crew were alone, and the state of their vessel - it’s canvas in particular - suggested that the storm had come upon them swiftly. On the wind swept deck of the boat itself, amid the driving rain and pounding spray, two oilskin clad figures stood, one at each end.
Astern the smaller, sleeker shape was at the wheel. A female figure, she looked foreword with something quite like disapproval on her face, or at whiles would glance astern as though something unpleasant loomed behind her. She was worried about her boat; thinking of it as the Unsounded
, though the name painted on its side was Thunder Child
. Her own name was Alex, although her crewmate had a longish list of other, more pejorative, monikers which were perhaps best left unmentioned.
‘Seven-and-a-half!’ she called forewords though her voice barely carried the mere eight or so meters abow of the tiny vessel to where a larger male figure was trying to haul in the headsail. The wind took it elsewhere.
She was calling out the height of the swell for her crewmate - though she might have objected to the term crewmate as opposed to crew - who wanted to know when it reached eight. Eight happened to be his record, and he was looking foreword to surpassing it. Despite that private ambition, and the rigging in front of him on which he worked steadily with gloved fingers he seemed largely unconcerned about the weather, or his own safety, though he was securely life-lined to their forestay. He was not especially worried about the boat itself - having made it seaworthy in the first place he was confident she could take the pounding - which despite his crewmates silly ideas, and the name under which it was moored, he was determined to think of as the Thunder Child
. It was after all the name he had painted on the side. His own name was Damien, and that was generally what people called him, but for Alex who often considered things like idiot and moron a great deal more suitable and accurate.
If in any storm he would break his record it would have been the one the two were in the midst of. Had the young woman at the wheel, and the older man at the bow working the sheets not both been experienced ocean yachtsmen, or yacht-persons as Alex might have had it, such weather would have been cause for fear, even panic. As it stood though each held private concerns although neither would have admitted it - especially not to the other - and they both seemed outwardly calm despite that moments ago they had been asleep, or pretending to sleep at least. There had been arguments about navigation the day before, unresolved arguments, about their system of taking turns to fix their heading which had seen Alex sneak up on deck during the night to fix what she had deemed a faulty course. Damien had guessed she would do so and followed suit, but it was impossible for either to head up in such cramped quarters without the other knowing and so the back-and-forth had continued for several hours until neither was able to keep track of the many alterations, improvements and adjustments. They were pathetically off-course in other words, and only dimly aware of how badly. Neither could spare the time to think much on it though; the storm had their full attention.
Even over the booming and crashing of the shuddering deck timbers that sounded their progression as they smashed through the lip of each narrow wave crest the unerring sound of the torrential rain, a downpour so vicious it stung where it pelted exposed skin, could be heard as it thrashed the deck and all their raised canvas. The shrieking gale - easily over forty knots - caused it to gutter and swirl with each gust, and nowhere but below deck was there a way to escape it. Even if it had not been raining though nothing could have remained dry in such a storm. Each time they slid down into the trough of the steep, and rising swell their nose was buried by eleven tons of ballasted hardwood and rigging bearing down atop it at an angle of almost sixty degrees to split the surface of the uncharacteristically angry Pacific with a sickening crash. Under such impacts the deck shuddered disturbingly beneath their feet while their vessels sleekly cut prow and nose gouged beneath the ocean surface, and sent up sheets of spray so thick it almost seemed that Damien was plunged underwater with each lurch where he stood life-lined to the forestay. This spray was hurled up with such force that thick drops of white-water even rained down on atop Alex where she stood astern, almost eight meters away, manning - though she might have objected to this term - the wheel.
Glancing to their rear to see their wake their skipper stared for some time. Despite the swell, and the furling headsail their speed was impressive, but the young woman pulled her gaze away, and looked up at the low, brooding clouds that made up the boiling storm-sheeted sky. Neither moon nor star shone through them, but at whiles all was bathed in evanescence as lightning forked between the towering banks of cloud. Such storms did not occur over land, and they made for an absorbing sight so that she appeared unwilling to look away until a particularly excessive shower of spray returned her attention to the moment. Shifting awkwardly as it pelted her slender, oilskin clad figure, she turned, while scraping a saturated fringe of darkened, dripping hair from her eyes to start briefly. For a moment Damien had been entirely shrouded by white-water, disappearing from sight as if the rushing water had ripped him clear of the prow. Yet as their bow-sprit arose he became visible once more, completely drenched from head-to-toe, and Alex felt certain - though she could not see him - that he was grinning like an idiot. Somehow, she could feel
it, and it was obnoxious.
‘My socks are wet,’ he yelled back as though it were somehow interesting, important, relevant, or perhaps even revelatory.
The sound of his deep-voiced laughter drifted astern, and in no way did it seem contrived or forced. In fact he sounded thrilled.
‘Idiot,’ Alex muttered darkly as she hauled on the slick metal spokes of the wheel, and bore them about to come head-on at the next rising wave.
It annoyed her that Damien pretended to not know why she hated him. As if it were all a mystery - as if he were shocked that anyone could - when he refused to take even something like this seriously. Alex had actually been worried. Not because she was fond of him in any way, but because she was not a sociopath, but instead of having the common sense to be shaken or concerned like a normal person he treated it like an amusing game.. The canvas was down a moment later though, despite his amusement, and he managed awkwardly to traverse the wild rearing, lurching deck to where he furled it somewhat, and with that it was tied to the mast. Alex meanwhile guessed again at the height of the swell by gazing from mast-tip - she knew its height to the nearest centimetre - to wave-tip.
‘Eight,’ she called out, not needing to raise her voice as much, even as Damien traipsed nimbly toward her across the heaving deck.
That was something else which annoyed her. He was big - athletic, tall and broad shouldered - probably close to two hundred pounds, and looked like he should have been a clumsy, ham-handed idiot. Yet he was no less sure-footed when it came to traversing the pitching deck than she was. Though he was an idiot, or she was convinced of it at the very least. Spinning on a heel at the crashing sound of their nose smashing through the surface even as she considered him her crewmate threw out his arms as if glad of the sheet of white-water which splashed over him heavily along with the deck, and lastly Alex herself. She shook her head, but said nothing, and in a moment Damien had life-lined himself to the wheel mount beside her.
‘Look,’ he held up a bent shackle.
Alex raised an eyebrow at the twisted steel. Damien nodded. They both knew what it meant, namely that certain tolerances were being reached, and gear was going to start failing.
‘We’ll need a sea-anchor,’ she stated, while her crewmate nodded his agreement.
Even standing less than four-feet from one other they had to raise their voices to be heard over the wild weather.
Damien reached for his life-line, but moving more swiftly Alex had hers detached first.
‘No, I’ve got it,’ she spoke quickly, ‘You take this,’ she nodded at the wheel.
He might have had more raw ocean going experience than she did, but Alex did not trust him to set something so important; her thought being that he never took things seriously enough to be wholly trustworthy. In addition to being an idiot with wet socks.
‘Ah,’ his trademark vacant grin was replaced by a contrived expression of weariness, ‘Such is the prestige, the privilege, and the burden-’ he stopped with this when Alex raised a finger in a warning gesture.
‘This isn’t a steamer out of Shanghai, and you‘re not in command
.’ she cut him off, ‘So stop quoting that stupid
book, and turn us into the weather.‘ and turned away, heading astern.
‘-Such is the loneliness of command,’ Damien went on facetiously as though there had been no interruption, even as he sidled around to take the wheel.
Alex halted briefly to glower at his back.
‘Moron,’ she remarked though it was clear he either could not hear or was ignoring her.
As Alex headed astern to fix the sea-anchor, nimbly traversing the heaving timbers of the deck with practised ease, she thought ruefully on what strange compulsion it was which had possessed her to buy this vessel. Of course she had desperately wanted to own it, but being forced to share it with someone as vacant and bewilderingly irritating as Damien almost made her wish she didn‘t.
Ten minutes later and the two were ensconced within the dry, relative warmth of the cramped, lurching, dimly lit space that was their vessel’s cabin. Alex’ drenched oilskin was across her knees, and her outer, long-sleeved shirt had been tugged off so that she wore only a drying black tank top. She looked under the weather, and though her face was not visible there seemed a pallor to the otherwise healthily tanned colour of her smooth limbs as she sat with her athletic shoulders hunched over, while one hand gripped the back of her neck. Damien sat opposite atop a table trying to avoid looking at the bucket on the floor held between her boots.
‘It’s nothing to be ashamed of, happens to the best of us. Except me,’ he spoke in level tones - being offensively reasonable - regarding the bout of sea-sickness. Even so he appeared to be suppressing a grin as he slipped down from the table and held a green apple towards his crewmate, ‘they do work y’know,’ Alex looked up slowly, and narrowed her eyes as he took a swig from the bottle of gin he held in his other hand.
‘Fuck off.’ she spoke icily.
‘Oh, OK. Where should I go?’ he asked before taking a noisy bite out of the latterly proffered apple, ‘the conservatory-?’ his eyes widened as he swallowed the over-large mouthful too soon in order to go on, ‘Or perhaps I’ll take a stroll out through the gardens to the atrium, and watch the peacocks on the lawn, or the hedge-maze, oh yes, I’ve heard its simply enchanting this time of year, but on the other hand there‘s always-’
‘Shut up!’ Alex looked up again, ‘this bucket going on your head if you keep talking,’ there was a moments silence as her head lowered again. ’What the fuck are we doing down here anyway?’ she had never been sea-sick before in her life precisely because she knew the worst place to be while pitching was below deck and she disliked being stuck there.
‘You know why we're down here. Its safer if we roll-’ her crewmate shrugged, ‘and if you don't like it remember, if you’d set the sea-anchor right it wouldn‘t be a problem,’ he shifted with that as though trying to get a look at her face.
set it right,’ she ground out as though this were a sore point. ‘Your cheap line just snapped,’ Alex looked up as though expecting him to argue.
‘Its not cheap, its authentic, and actually more expensive than nylon, besides-’
‘-It snapped,’ she cut him off. ‘because it’s cheap. You and your stupid love of old shit, we don’t even have an engine! I mean what the hell, why are you such a retrograde simpleton? Afraid of anything more sophisticated than a wrist-watch,’
wrist watches,’ his tone was pointed, offended even. ‘Especially digital ones, they’re almost as bad as mobile phones,’
‘Oh that’s right, I forgot about your stupid watch-aversion.’
Damien sighed at this. Apparently his preference for the old fashion was a sore point between them.
‘Well I kinda wish we did have an engine now,’ he responded, much to her surprise, ‘I mean we can’t drop canvas without a sea anchor, and we’re carrying too much, but its the only way to head in without an engine-’ he scratched his head through a longish, untidy mass of drying brown hair. ‘if it gets worse we might have to call it quits,’ as he spoke Damien pulled a thick, long-sleeved shirt over his broad shoulders.
A moment of silence passed with that as Alex wondered at his voice. He hardly seemed disappointed though he was talking about abandoning a boat he seemed to love, and had thrown six months of his life into making sea-worthy. It certainly wasn’t an event she looked forward to herself, although she perhaps gave it less credence than she should have. Alex was simply not accustomed to failure though, and had always disliked admitting to being powerless even in the face of forces she had no control over.
‘Alright, fine. Give me that,’ she spoke up suddenly, snatching the bottle of gin from his unresisting hand before she took a swig, and grimaced over the unpleasant taste.
‘All good medicine tastes awful,’ he remarked.