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Tempest on the Deep

Storm for the Seafaring

By T.D. ZummackPublished 2 years ago Updated about a year ago 19 min read

He was a maritimer. His father was a maritimer and his father’s father was a maritimer. He lived and breathed the maritime provinces and the bounties they brought. For three generations now his family had fished off the shores of Nova Scotia and the sea had been good to them. He loved being a fisherman, the air permeated your lungs and nostrils until the only thing you could smell was the salt of the ocean. The waves rocked your boat back and forth, sometimes lifting you so high that if you looked straight out from the wheelhouse all you could see was sky, and then crashing you back into the ocean. It was better than any amusement park ride. The pride you felt when you had had a great catch and your hold was full as you motored your way back home was unlike anything else you felt. Your chest puffed out so far you thought it was going to split wide open. You beat the sea, provided for your family, and survived another trip. You were a man.

Those feelings were fewer and farther between nowadays. The life of a fisherman in 1940 was no easy task. The shores had been over fished, forcing a man to go further and further out on every trip in order to catch even a meager load. Business was bad, his family home was being threatened, he had bills to pay. Life was getting harder, and he was getting desperate. He owed on his boat, the ‘Slave To The Sea’, and if they took that he would have no other way to support his family. He hadn’t graduated high school, had no other skills, fishing was in his blood and was all he knew. James Bradshaw Milton was a fishing boat captain. He was forty-two years old and had been on fishing boats in one way or another since he was eighteen. It was a hard profession and he had the scars to prove it, a hole in each hand, one from the hook on the end of the long pole when it had been blown around during a storm, one from a random shark caught accidentally in their net, and a long scar down his left cheek from being blown overboard by a rogue wave. The cable he had used to tie himself to the boat ran along his face when he was thrown over and dug a deep trench. He had been handsome at one point in his life but too many years on the sea had taken their toll.

He was on the dock preparing the Slave for her next voyage. They were leaving in a few hours for their next excursion, it was going to be a three-week journey with a six-man crew. They weren’t the biggest on the water, but they worked the hardest. He and his crew had been together for five years and were a cohesive unit on the boat which was needed if you were going to have success on the ocean. He had known Bobby Glenville since middle school, they grew up together and had been on a crew together since they had started fishing. Mike Adams was an older gentleman and had been on two or three other crews from the same dock before he had settled on James’s crew. Freddie Gillespie and Ernie Childress had been gypsies, stray crewmen that travelled from crew to crew, until James had taken them on. They had been with him ever since. Greg Ashburn was the youngest member of the crew, having just turned twenty-five, but he was a hard worker and had earned the respect of the others. They had called him ‘Rook’ when he had joined the crew, due to his inexperience, and it had stuck. They still called him that now and he still answered.

The morning had a slight chill, and the fog was just starting to lift off the ocean as the sun crept up over the horizon. James was giving the boat one last look over when Bobby came walking down the dock towards him.

“Hey J.B.!”, Bobby yelled at him. “Almost ready to go?”

“Pretty close Bobby. Just waiting on the rest of the crew to get here.”

“You know, every damn time I get on this boat with you I shake my head. Only a damn fool thumbs his nose at old sea traditions. You know it’s bad luck to name a boat anything other than a girl’s name.”

“Weren’t no girl names I liked. Besides, I named it after me so to hell with the traditions. It hasn’t brought us any bad luck yet.”

“You mean other than this slump we’ve been in? We’re not catching like we used to.”

“We’ll catch again and if any man doesn’t think so he’s free to find himself another ride.”

“Calm down J.B. You know I’m with you ‘til the end, I’m just saying, that’s all.”

J.B. was about to say something else when Freddie and Ernie strolled up to join them.

“Morning Captain, nice day for a sail don’t you think?”, Freddie asked

“Jesus, this ain’t no pleasure cruise Freddie.”

“A little wound up this morning, ain’t ya Cap? Are you worried we ain’t gonna catch?”

Bobby shot him a quick look while J.B.’s back was turned and waved his hand across his throat to indicate not to talk about that subject anymore. J.B. straightened and was about to turn and lay into Freddie when the conversation had stopped so he let it go and went back to what he was doing. Mike and Greg came along, and they all finished loading the supplies and untied the lines in order to shove off. J.B. blew the horn and the ‘Slave To The Sea’ started to leave harbour.

J.B. raised his hand to shield his eyes from the sun as they motored out to sea. This was the part he enjoyed the most, standing in the wheelhouse, hands on the helm with the sun shining on you, a new day starting filled with hope. Birds flying overhead, and the smell of the salt in your nostrils. He didn’t think there was a better job out there. He smiled to himself and puffed his chest as he led his boat on their journey. This wouldn’t be an ordinary trip, he hadn’t told the boys yet, but they weren’t going to fish the same tired shores. This time they were heading further to the northeast, he had heard some stories about bigger bounties waiting there for anyone willing to try. It would be higher risk, this time of year the northern waters were rough, vicious storms appeared from nothing, and the icebergs moved freely through the travel lanes. It wasn’t his first choice, but he needed the catch, higher risk equaled higher reward. He knew the boys would be put off at first, but they needed the money as much as he did, they would understand. He forced the thought to the back of his mind for now, pushed the throttle to twelve knots, and powered through the open water.

They had been on the ocean for five hours when J.B. slowed the boat. He had fished here before; he had had good luck here before. If he could capture that luck again, maybe the trip to the north wouldn’t be necessary. He slowed to a crawl, looked out the window over the deck and yelled “Drop the nets!” There was a cheer from the crew below and they started lowering the nets into the sea. J.B. said a little prayer as he watched the crew do their work and hoped for a plentiful catch this time. After some time and a series of net drops, the bounty wasn’t there. By the end of the first day their hold was practically empty, he couldn’t find the fish. He was going to have to go farther, into the northern waters. He called the men together around the table and told them his plan.

“Skipper, those waters are a wreck this time of year. We’d be courting disaster.”, Ernie offered.

“Icebergs and weather, I don’t wanna go messing around with those Skip.”, Fred chimed in. “I’d like to come back from this trip boss.”

“Look,”, J.B.’s voice got serious. “the fish aren’t here, we have to go where they are. I’m not a fan either, but we need this catch. You want fish, I can promise you fish, but we have to go get them cuz they’re not coming to us. The money’s there boys, we just need to go grab it.”

“Mike, you’re the old-timer here, what do you think?”, Bobby was curious about what he had to say.

Mike paused for period and then spoke softly, “We need’em boys. We have to have them fish. We can’t keep doing what we’re doing, going the way we are. I’ve got bills and I know you boys do too. Let’s keep our eyes peeled, stay focused, and maybe we can get in and out before she even knows we were there.”

“Who’s she?”, asked Greg

“The goddess of the sea Rook, that’s who.”, it was Fred speaking now. “She sits out there in the dark, always just out of your sight, but always watching for herself. She knows who belongs out here and who doesn’t and if a crew makes a mistake, she makes them pay. She’s unforgiving and angry as hell, she’s a stone-cold bitch.”

“You believe in that stuff?”

“If you don’t Rook, you better. She’s real, she’s watching right now.”

“Well then I guess we better not make a mistake.”, J.B. weighed in. “Are we in agreement then? Tomorrow we head north?”

“You know we’re gonna follow you anywhere Skip. I don’t know why you asked.”, Bobby answered for the crew.

“Thank-you boys. I won’t let you down. Get some sleep, tomorrow we fish!”

The next morning the crew headed out for their new destination full of confidence and hope. If you took the time to stop and enjoy your surroundings it was a wonderful trip. Surrounded by water as far as the eye could see, they couldn’t have asked for better as the waves were minimal and the ocean was as calm as you could expect from a beast that was constantly in motion. The problem was they didn’t have the time to take notice. There was always work to do on the boat. At one point there was a pod of humpback whales swimming close by, the large mammals piercing the surface every now and then, just long enough to take a breath and disappear below again. Witnessing the grace with which they moved in the water from something so large was a humbling experience, truly beautiful.

They had been motoring for most of the morning before they saw their first sign of trouble. A large iceberg made its way past them on their left. Its peak stood taller than the Slave on the water, but not by much. It was a ways off, far enough that they weren’t concerned about how much they couldn’t see under the water, but it was cause for increased vigilance. You never knew exactly how much of those behemoths was lurking under the surface and if a ship like the Titanic could be felled by one, the Slave To The Sea wouldn’t fare much better. They slowed the boat and proceeded with more caution. The further they went, the iceberg sightings were more common. It was just after noon when the second sign of trouble was encountered. Mike was on the deck and staring into the sky when he was joined by Greg. “Whatcha lookin’ at old timer?”

“Clouds over there.”, he pointed at a dark sky in the distance. “Storm’s brewing. Heading our way, it looks like. Could be a bad one, we best get things locked down up here.”

Greg started working on securing the deck while Mike went to tell J.B. what he had seen. J.B. and Bobby looked from the wheelhouse at the distant clouds and discussed what the best path might be for the crew. “I think she might be rolling to the south, skirting around us.” J.B. gave his opinion.

“Maybe. That center looks pretty dark though Skipper. If she turns towards us, that could be real trouble.”

“We need the catch Bobby. She’s heading south, we keep going.”

“That’s why you’re the captain.”

Two hours after the decision was made it was clear it had been the wrong one. The winds picked up and rocked the boat back and forth. The sky grew dark and the waves grew larger. The boat crashed back into the sea after cresting every wave, sometimes so hard you thought it was going to snap in two. At the helm J.B. was having a hard time trying to steer the boat straight. He opened the throttle hoping more power would help them steer through the storm. He was joined in the wheelhouse by Bobby and Greg. The trio stood watch as the little craft was thrown around mercilessly in the ocean. On the deck, one of the lines Greg had tied to keep some of the equipment secure broke free. Equipment was scattering across the deck.

“I’ll fix it!”, Greg yelled over the noise and headed out to the deck. J.B. strained to keep the boat moving forward while he and Bobby watched Greg struggle outside. A wave hit the boat rocking it to the left. It crashed over the rail and Greg slipped, sliding to the other side of the boat. He grabbed a loose rope and tried to pull himself back towards the net he needed to secure. As he did so another wave rocked them, and a long pole slid towards Greg with the large hook on the end headed straight for his head. He tried to move, and the hook grazed his face opening a gash on his cheek. As his legs flailed the pole ran into them and the hook again caught him, this time digging deep into his calf and opening a large wound before freeing itself and sliding overboard. Greg hung onto the net desperately, wounded and in pain, before Bobby was finally able to reach out his hand and help pull him back towards the wheelhouse.

As the two men reached the house the boat was again jolted by a huge wave. The boat was picked up and carried before it was violently slammed into an iceberg that had appeared beside it suddenly. The sound of the hull meeting the ice was thunderous, it drowned out the sound of the storm temporarily. The boat was stuck on the iceberg for a few moments before it was released, and it fell back into the ocean. Bobby raced to the side and peered over to see the damage that was done. There was a large hole in the side of the Slave and it was taking on an enormous amount of water, the ship was sinking. Bobby made his way back to the wheelhouse to inform J.B.

In the cabin below, chaos reined. The men had been getting tossed around due to the storm. Ernie had been on his bunk, on the side that hit the iceberg. When the ice penetrated the hull it had hit Ernie in the head knocking him unconscious. The rushing water had swept up his limp body and had lodged it under the galley counter. Mike and Freddie had tried to rescue him, but the rushing water was filling the boat fast and it was too forceful to fight against. The chilling ocean water numbed their bodies. Ernie was gone. Mike had quickly gathered what meager food supplies he could get his hands on before he went up to the deck where the rest of the crew battled the storm while trying to release the lifeboat. They released the stern tie, but the crippled boat was again lifted by a huge wave. The dangling lifeboat crashed against the side of the ship as the men yelled to get it released.

“Get it loose or we’re gonna lose it!”, Bobby yelled.

J.B. finally managed to cut the bow tie and the lifeboat crashed into the ocean. Freddie jumped into the ocean, followed by Bobby. The two swam for the lifeboat and managed to get it under control. Mike and J.B. helped the injured Greg over the side and Bobby and Freddie pulled him from the water and into the boat. “Where’s Ernie?” J.B. yelled at Mike.

Mike just shook his head. J.B. lowered his head and then helped Mike over the side. He gathered some empty buckets and a few other supplies and threw them over the side before jumping in himself. He was dragged onto the lifeboat and the five men watched as the Slave sank lower and lower before disappearing under the surface for good. The five men struggled in the lifeboat, trying to keep it afloat in the storm until it had finally subsided. It was cramped in the boat, five full grown men, one injured, but they were alive. When the waters finally calmed, they were able to try and assess their situation. The northern waters were cold, they had meager food supplies and the only water was in two canteens that J.B. had thrown over before he jumped in.

The men had only a vague idea as to where they were as the ocean had thrown them around so much earlier. It was getting dark, which meant frostbite and hypothermia were to become real dangers as the men were already wet and cold. Shifts were decided and the men would take turns rowing westward, it would keep the rowers warm while the others slept, and it would start their arduous journey back home. So it went throughout the night as the men fought the odds and tried to survive. J.B. awakened shortly after dawn, his body shivering so violently that it woke him up. He saw Greg at the other end of the boat dangling his injured leg over the side into the ocean.

“What the hell are you doing?”. Bobby and Mike turned from rowing to see what Greg was doing.

“I’m sorry Skip, I couldn’t help it. My leg is killing me, and the water feels good.”

“You’re bleeding man. Why don’t you just leave a trail of breadcrumbs for the sharks to follow, make it easier for them to find us. Freddie, take over for Mike, Mike help Greg get his leg patched the best we can.”

“Whereabouts do you think we are Skip?”, Bobby asked.

“Probably four or five days rowing east of the shore. Depending on how well we keep up the pace. I’m sorry Gents, I should have turned her around.”

“We all wanted the catch Captain, we needed the money.”, Freddie said quietly.

“She was my boat, I’m the one that lost her.”

It had been two days for the men in the boat. Two days of rowing, rationing food in portions not fit for a church mouse, and feeling some of the coldest cold known to man. On the third morning J.B. had awakened the rest of the crew, but Mike would not get up. J.B. rolled him over and saw that Mike’s skin was blue and there was frost on his cheeks. His face had a contorted look frozen on it. The old timer has passed away during the night.

“What do we do with him? We can’t leave him in here.”. Freddie was agitated.

“He’s gone. We can’t keep a dead man in here.” Bobby protested.

“He’s got a family, they’re going to want him back.”

“Bobby’s right. We can’t keep the body here.” J.B. weighed in.

It was decided that Mike would have to be let go. The men dropped his body over the side and sat in silence as they watched him slowly sink below the surface. Greg quietly said a prayer as the old man slipped away. As they rowed away, Freddie turned and yelled back to the spot where Mike had disappeared. “There’s another one you bitch! Are you happy? Are you happy now?”, he waved his fist in the air.

“There’s no goddess of the sea you crazy bastard.” Greg sneered at him as he hugged himself for warmth.

“There is and she’s coming for us. None of us is getting back home.” Freddie went quiet and huddled himself in the stern.

Another day had gone by. The men were getting on one another’s nerves, lack of food and water leading that charge. Bobby was having a hard time taking his rowing shifts, the fingers on his left hand were turning black due to frostbite. He couldn’t feel them anymore. Freddie switched Greg out on the oars. “I can’t take this anymore, my leg is killing me.”. Greg ripped off the bandage on the leg and hung it over the edge into the water.

“Get that damn leg back in the boat.” J.B. ordered.

“It hurts, this makes it feel better.”, Greg left his leg where it was.

“Your Captain gave you an order.”, Bobby pitched in.

“Oh, screw you Bobby, there’s no Captain here. Look where we are, sitting in a rowboat waiting to die. If I’m going to die anyway, then I want to ignore the pain for a while first.”

At that moment a Grey Shark appeared out of the water at the side of the boat rocking it so hard it almost capsized. It opened its’ jaws and grabbed Greg’s leg before going under again. Greg was ripped from the boat before he even had a chance to scream. The men scrambled to the side of the boat as Greg appeared at the surface screaming for help. The men stretched out, but almost capsized the boat and pulled their arms back quickly. Blood was coming from Greg’s mouth as he screamed and then he was pulled back under amid a circle of frothing water. There was no more sign of Greg and the circle of froth now appeared red in color.

The men sat in stunned horror for the next few hours. There was no rowing, only floating like the icebergs around them. “That damn witch is gonna take us all.”, Freddie mumbled to himself.

“Shut up Freddie.”, Bobby spoke sternly and then went back to huddling himself. It was night again, the three were sleeping fitfully when J.B. was awakened with the sound of a splash. He looked around and saw only Freddie at the back of the boat, there was no Bobby.

He looked over the side as he yelled “Bobby! Bobby! Where are you?”

“He ain’t coming back Captain. The man just stood up and walked over the side. Never said a word.” Freddie adjusted himself in his corner of the boat.

“You…you just sat there and watched him do it?”

“A man has got a right to meet his maker on his own terms. I reckon that’s what Bobby was doing. What we all should do. We ain’t getting back Captain.”

Fog rolled in as the two men sat in the boat. “No, No I suppose we aren’t.” J.B. replied. He came to terms with his situation.

“It’s been a pleasure fishing with you Freddie.”, J.B. threw the oars overboard as he spoke.

“Been one for me too Captain James Bradshaw Milton.” Freddie feebly shook hands with J.B.

The two men sat back, resigned to their fates, each talking to their loved ones in their heads as the fog enveloped the boat. They floated further and further into the murky obscurity and as the boat disappeared the men fell asleep. A calm, eternal, sleep. The goddess of the sea had claimed her prize, she had won again.


About the Creator

T.D. Zummack

I'm a 48 year old aspiring writer who has finally taken the time and put in effort to make the dream come true instead of just keep wishing it. I currently have 2 books available on Amazon, 'Amazing Grace' & 'The Brand of Brotherhood.'

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