The Call of the Sea by John Alty

First published on the Writer’s Workshop site:

I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide

Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;

And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,

And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

~ John Masefield

An albatross and a handful of shearwaters skimmed the tops of the waves, their wingtips impossibly close to the water as they swept and dipped and darted. The sea was grey green and white clouds scurried over a pale blue sky. Waves marched past, spume was ripped from their tops and scattered downwind. The wind blows constantly in these high latitudes and the ship was making good progress.

“Glass has been dropping these past three hours, Captain, I think we’re in for a big blow before nightfall.”

“Aye, I think you’re right, Jones, let’s get these topsails off her and the foresail, too.”

I heard Jones call an all hands and soon the men were swarming up the ratlines and along the yards to furl the sails and tie them tight so the wind couldn’t tear them free.

By late afternoon the wind was howling, tormenting the sea, goading it higher. The ship was rolling gunwale to gunwale now, green water running down the scuppers.

I ordered the helmsman to steer five points lower to ease the strain. I’d have to take it back after this gale, though, to keep on course for Cape Horn. The English must have their tea and the best prices go to those first to market and that would be us, God-willing.

Through the night the tempest fought us, its army of watery dunes chasing and harrying the ship. She fought back, refusing to be overpowered, lifting her stern to the waves. Now and again a monster would rise above the rest and crash down on the ship, shivering her timbers and sweeping away anything not firmly lashed; several pork barrels and one of the dories was lost but her precious payload stayed safe and dry in her holds. By the next afternoon the wind was down but a big sea was still running and the men had to take care as they went about their duties.

We’d be past the Horn sometime tomorrow and then we could turn north, bound for Blighty and the embrace of loved ones, the taste of fresh bread, foaming ale and a bed that stayed still.

And then I’d be restless and yearning to be off, for I must go down to the seas again.