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And The Deep Blue Sea

by Charles Williams

1971

1

At sunset the next day after the Shoshone went down, the wind dropped to a gentle breeze, and by midnight it was calm. Now that the sea no longer broke, the raft stopped capsizing and throwing him, and he slept for the first time in forty hours. He awoke at dawn, cramped, chilled through, shivering in his wet clothes in spite of the fact he was only a few degrees south of the Line. After the first gut-twisting impact of returning consciousness of where he was and what was coming, he was able to subdue the black animal and slam the door of the cage, wondering at the same time why it mattered. He had nothing to lose now. And he’d already panicked once, or he wouldn’t be here. He could have done it the easy way.

He lay stretched out on the rubberized fabric of the raft’s bottom, his head on its inflated rim, a big man with graying dark hair too long uncut, gray eyes, and a broad, flat-planed face burned dark by the sun and now salt- inflamed and covered to the cheekbones with a week’s stubble of beard. His feet were bare, and he wore only the faded and sodden dungarees, a blue shirt, and a gold-cased Rolex watch which was waterproof and still running. He was alone on the raft, which wasn’t much larger than he was and contained nothing else except a whiskey bottle with a little water in it. His name was Harry Goddard, he was forty-five years old, divorced, childless for the past five months, and until the last of his luck ran out two days ago he had been single-handing across the Pacific in the thirty-two-foot sloop Shoshone for reasons he wasn’t sure of himself except that the horizon provided a sort of self-renewing objective if you no longer had any other.

He was overtaken by another attack of shivering and wished for the sun’s warmth to begin, knowing that long before the day was over he’d be praying even more fervently for its torture to end. The raft lifted under him, mounting softly and in utter silence, poised for an instant, and began to fall away again down the back of another swell rolling across the wastes of the southern hemisphere. The square shape of the Jack Daniels bottle was under his left leg, its neck secured to the fabric eyelet of one of the oarlocks with the lanyard he had fashioned from a strip of cloth cut from his shirt tail. He lifted it and squinted at it against the sky. It still held nearly a half pint of water, and he was conscious of no torment yet from thirst. The only hell was the certainty that it was coming.

What happened at the end, just how did you die? Did you go mad and jump overboard? Drink seawater and kill yourself with nausea and empty retching? How long did it take? He didn’t know, but there was no point in speculating about it now, and he might as well go ahead and sit up to look around. He was sufficiently awake and in command of himself to accept what he would see. Pretending there was still some chance, as long as he hadn’t looked, that there could be a ship on the horizon was something to hang onto, but you couldn’t keep it alive all day.

He raised up, his hands braced against the inflated rim of the doughnut, and as it rose to the crest of another swell he turned, searching the rim of his world where the sea met the sky. There was only emptiness. Well, he thought, you wanted solitude; you’ve got it. You’re up to your ass in it.

As deadly as it was, there was no escaping the beauty of it. In the vast hush of early morning, the sea was smooth as glass except for the heave and surge of the long swell running up from the south. It was full daylight now, the eastern sky a pale wash of rose becoming barred with gold, and the towering masses of cloud above him were touched with flame. A school of flying fish lanced out of the sea, scattering fanwise, leaving their takeoff trails etched for a fleeting instant across the mirror of its surface. But above all, and pervading everything, was the silence; it was the silence of the world’s dawn, before the beginnings of life. Under sail there were always sounds, the rushing of water past the hull, breaking seas, the flutter at the luff of a sail, spattering of spray, the creak of timbers, and the singing of wind in the rigging, and even becalmed there was the slatting of sails and the rolling and banging of gear that went on forever, but here there was nothing, no sound at all. The raft was an air bubble cushioned on a sea of oil that pushed it up, slid under it without friction or effort, and went on in its silent march toward infinity.

More flying fish shot out of a swell just ahead of him like an explosion of silvery projectiles, pursued by some larger fish below the surface, and he was suddenly reminded of hunger, remembering other dawns when he had found two or three of them on deck where they’d flown into the sails during the night to wind up unconscious in the scupper and then, cleaned and breaded, into the frying pan for breakfast. He thought of how they tasted, with crisp bacon and a boiled potato, as he sat in the cockpit with the plate on his knees and a mug of hot coffee beside him, watching the sun come up. And then the first cigarette of the day— For Christ’s sake, he thought, knock it off.

He felt a moment’s light-headedness with the withdrawal pangs of a cigarette addict nearly three days without a smoke. You could get drunk, he thought, on simple, uncontaminated air. He glanced at the bottle again, but resisted the urge to take a swallow, wondering at the same time why this insistence on cutting the puppy’s tail off an inch at a time. If he had anything to write with, he reflected, he could put a note in it when it was empty. What final bit of wisdom for the ages, what capsuled summation? A single Anglo-Saxon word? No, that was grandstanding. He could do better. Greetings from Harry Goddard, who didn’t have sense enough to drown.

Not that it was important any more, but he would never even know what he’d hit that had sent the Shoshone to the bottom. It couldn’t have been a whale. Yachts had been damaged by whales, but they usually made their presence known; they didn’t like it any better than the yachtsmen who’d hit them. After the first crashing impact there’d been nothing, no swirl of flukes or sound of blowing, or any disturbance on the surface of the sea. And a reef was out of the question; there would have been white water on it, and there wasn’t one within a thousand miles, anyway. A derelict would have had something showing above the surface. He couldn’t swear, of course, that there hadn’t been, since it was a dark night and he’d been staring into the binnacle except for an occasional glance around the horizon for lights, but it was still improbable. The most likely suspect was a half-submerged log, some forest giant washed down one of the great tropical rivers and carried across the Pacific on its currents or perhaps lost from the deck cargo of a freighter during a storm.

He’d been fighting the frustrating calms and fluky airs along the Equator for nearly a week when it happened. Around noon he’d picked up a gentle breeze out of the south and had ghosted along under the main and big genoa, momentarily expecting it to die out or go swinging around the compass, but it had held, backing into the southeast and freshening slightly by the hour. At sunset the Shoshone was heeled down smartly and reeling off the miles on a broad reach, her best point of sailing, with the wind still freshening and the sea beginning to kick up, and by ten p.m. her starboard rail was awash and she was logging her maximum hull speed through the darkness. If it picked up any more he’d have to shorten sail. He was listening carefully to the moaning sound of the wind in the rigging and debating whether he ought to get the genoa off her when she hit.

The sea was almost abeam. One had just rolled under her, and the Shoshone was dropping into the trough behind it so that in addition to nearly seven knots forward speed she came down on whatever it was with enough force to break the back of a lesser boat. Goddard shot forward in the cockpit to slam into the end of the deckhouse beside the companion hatch, momentarily stunned, while shrouds and backstay parted like violin strings. The mast went overboard with its two big sails in a welter of stainless steel wire and

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