Adventure Coming of Age Fiction

A sharp wind was whipping the sail smartly against my face as I hung on to the spar for dear life, and life and death it was. I was shaking with fear, wondering what I, Thomas Anderson was doing 60 feet above the deck of the Phoebe and not clerking in a staid London bank but more importantly, I was wondering how I was going to get down from there.

The captain, a brute of a man named Amos Dynever, had forbidden any of the crew to climb up and help me so all the men could do was watch and see if a green 17 year old boy would make it down on his own or plunge to a certain death. I had been sent up to reef a topsail that had come loose and the captain had it that I would do my job or else.

Many minutes I hung up there, too scared to move until my arms began to grow numb. I knew I had to make a try now or never. I took a tentative step toward the mast but Captain Amos yelled out for me to do my duty first. Having little choice, I inched back out and managed to secure the sail to the cleat with fumbling fingers. The crew made noises of approval and angry now, I began working my way back. Once I slipped and my feet went out from under me but I managed to regain my footing, make it back to the mast and climb back down the rigging, hands sore and bleeding.

That was but one incident among many for the crew of the Phoebe. The captain ruled with an iron fist and more than once I had seen a man smote with that fist to lie unconscious for hours, even when a bucket of seawater was poured over him. I didn't ask to be on this god-forsaken vessel but this is how it came about.

I was raised on a farm in Berkshire, the youngest of four brothers. We all worked hard from an early age, tilling the soil and taking care of the various livestock. The rolling hills and verdant pastures of the countryside were always a source of pleasure and discovery for me. I knew I would never inherit the farm but was quite happy growing up there.

At age 16, my father decided I should go to London and learn a trade so I was soon apprenticed as a clerk in one of London's large banking establishments. I found some squalid lodgings and reluctantly applied myself to my new duties, albeit in an airless room in the centre of a teeming city that rather frightened me.

About a year later there was some money missing from one of the accounts and the blame was laid on me though I was entirely innocent of any wrongdoing. I was summarily discharged. My father insisted I stay in London and learn another trade but I was unable to find other employment without any references. That led to the fateful night.

I had gone out for a pint or two with a companion. We became separated and I found myself lost and wandering down by the dockside. Stopping by a pub to ask directions, I was invited to have a drink by a couple of rough looking fellows and couldn't very well refuse. One led to another and soon I was singing sea shanties with them and having the time of my life. That is until the next morning.

The dank hold of a seagoing ship is where I awoke feeling sick and groggy. The two men whose company I had been enjoying the previous night had been sent there to shanghai a few crew members since no decent sailor would sign on with captain Amos Dynever. I was put to work immediately and if I didn't learn fast enough, the toe of a boot would be used to spur me along.

It was miserable work for weeks on end. The hardtack and mouldy biscuits were barely edible and I got very little sleep. The worst was whenever we ran into rough seas, as they made me violently ill yet the crew had to keep at their tasks even more assiduously lest we founder.

We were bound for the Americas, I discovered; a place I had only heard about but had rapidly been colonized for the past century. I dreamed of escaping from this hellish vessel but was quite sure I would be closely watched, perhaps even locked up below decks whenever we finally made port.

Then one morning, as we were a day or so out from land, the ocean was becalmed and the ship wallowed in the truculent waves with just a bare wisp of wind fluttering the sails. Since there was little to do, I stood at the rail gazing at the halcyon sea as it stretched out to meet the equally blue horizon of a clear sky. Fish could be seen cavorting nearby and the tang of the salty air smelled sweet. I asked the mate how long this would last but he replied sourly that this was only the calm before the storm. A big nor'easter would surely blow in soon and I'd better pray we made safe harbor before it hit.

True to his word, that night a steady rain began to fall. Within the hour it was pelting down on us in raging torrents. The gently rolling waves were replaced by towering breakers that slammed into the Phoebe unmercifully. The command had been given to strike the sails and we had done so. Now all that was left was to hang on for dear life while wave after wave washed over the decks as the ship lurched out of control through the raging seas. The captain was forward at the wheel trying to keep the ship abreast of the huge rollers but it was a hard task as one could see only a few feet into the sharp driving rain.

All of a sudden there came a mighty crash as if the ship had struck rocks. Many of the crew were flung overboard to surely drown in the tempest. It was only by desperately grabbing onto a hawser that I was able to spare myself a similar fate. It soon became clear that the ship was breaking up, the damage was irreversible. Captain Amos had ordered the longboat lowered and I pulled myself toward it by the railing. When I got there, he snarled that the lifeboat was not for the likes of me, whereupon he picked me up bodily and flung me over the rail into the cold ocean. I knew then that my life was over.

Resisting the urge to cry or cry out, I floundered about for several minutes until I brushed up against a piece of planking. Grabbing onto it, I paddled toward what I thought must be the direction of land though my efforts were futile. The waves carried me where they would and it was all I could do to gulp down a deep breath before the next wave drove me underwater.

The cold of the ocean was beginning to numb me and I was so tired I almost relinquished my grip on the wooden plank until I felt my feet hit bottom. A few more waves knocked me down as I tried to wade ashore but I kept doggedly going forward. Finally reaching the beach, I staggered a few more yards, half-dead, before I collapsed with exhaustion.

The next morning, I awoke to the dawn of a soft orange sun creeping over a calm azure sea. I looked out about a quarter of a mile to where the Phoebe had struck land. She had been mostly demolished as only the prow was still sticking out of the fierce rocks. Gazing down the beach, I saw that a few bodies had been washed ashore. Picking my way among them, I saw that they were all dead. The last one was the captain. Apparently, the longboat had capsized and all hands had been lost.

Looking down somewhat squeamishly at his bloated face, I said softly but with no little emotion, 'Amos Dynever, you'll never brutalize and torture me or anyone else ever again'. I couldn't resist giving his body a sharp kick. I jumped back in pain as my toe hit something hard. I checked all of his pockets and found that the greedy captain had not left the ship empty-handed. Stuffed everywhere were more than a hundred gold coins.

Cramming them all into my pockets, I took one last look out to where the Phoebe saw its end. Never again would I have to work on that cursed ship. Turning inland, I figured I had more than enough money to begin a farm of my own in this place they called America.

March 01, 2024 21:35

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.


Leslie Kirc
14:45 Mar 15, 2024

I loved the story, As a kid I wanted to run away on a training schooner. Your detail was right on.


Show 0 replies
H.e. Ross
10:07 Mar 14, 2024

I like the beginning with an introduction to the character on the farm and the transition in and onto the deck as a sailor. My problem was getting caught up in the nomenclature mid-use and sea tactics in bad weather. Clearing off a topsail while reefing and keeping a beam sea in a storm kind of thing made me skip along and lose the cadence of the otherwise good tale.


Show 0 replies
RBE | Illustration — We made a writing app for you | 2023-02

We made a writing app for you

Yes, you! Write. Format. Export for ebook and print. 100% free, always.