“Hang on to yer hat, lad. Looks like we’re in for a dusting.” McWhirr pointed at the darkening horizon and commanded: “Ready to man the pumps.”
I scrambled aft and pulled the aged, bronze pump from the lazarette before looking up to see the immense, glassy wall looming over the masthead like the adamant finale of doomsday.
Old Hand rose up the vertical wall to its breeze-feathered crest and launched skyward with a spray of rainbow light. It was as if she sought escape from her natural element, to take her place amid the constellations as guide to unborn mariners of this tropic-this weary globe where man has long toiled on the treacherous seas.
We landed in the trough with a bone-jarring crash as the wave broke with a deafening roar astern.
Old Hand yawed like a stunned boxer shaking off a vicious right hook and steadied up, ready to meet the next one. We mounted the second wave of the set and were again hurled down it’s backside, until I thought we might sound the very depths of the Mariana trench.
Each time McWhirr counted each wave until, after the 8th had thrown us rudely on our beam-ends, he said: “This is it, lad-the 9th wave. Say yer prayers, this may be the end of our pleasant, little cruise.”
The sight that met my eyes as I braced against the wheelhouse was enough to make Blackbeard blanch and Ahab drop to his knees and beg for mercy.
“No, it can’t be that big,” I said, upon seeing the wave’s awesome height. It’s aspect was all the more terrible for its calm refulgence-as gleaming and resolute as an executioner’s ax. The crystalline beauty of it seemed to mock all our puny efforts to survive.
Again, we faced the interminable ascent. As it jacked up over the reef, it turned a back-lit, emerald-green hue.
Good reader, we’ve all heard how time stands still, and the imagination falls prey to odd fancies in times of extreme terror. So it was with me. I thought I saw strange shapes in that massive beast of a sea-spectral figures who swam before my eyes and vanished again like mackerel flashing upon the wave’s face. One such apparition was dressed in a flowing white shirt and tight pants. He had the angelic look of one inspired by the muses and held, in his delicate hand, a goose-quill pen. His melodic words seemed to echo above the dismal keening of gulls that circled overhead:
…My spirit’s bark is driven,
Far from the shore, far from the trembling throng
Whose sails were never to the tempest given;
The massy earth and sphered skies are riven!
I am born darkly, fearfully afar…
Poetry from Adonais by Percy Bysshe Shelly