Capt. Charles Bruce, A-E’s great-great-grandfather, was killed at sea, Nov. 9, 1854. His death is chronicled in the prologue of an unpublished book titled “Nutcracker: fair winds and following seas” that takes place in the North Atlantic Nov. 9, 1854, the precise day, location and circumstances of his death. The almost 35,000 words of the prologue will become this and the next seven columns, unless readers or the Spectator city editor object after the first two columns that were hunted and pecked in a Canisteo den.

The fictionalized chronicle of his death begins here: The young helmsman fought to swallow a scream as gale wind drove soaring waves and tons of water over the schooner. His shrieks disappeared in the pounding rush as the ship listed toward the starboard beam end.

He and a shipmate stood drenched and roped to the wheel pedestal, struggling to keep the ship’s prow facing wind and wild seas. Two-story-tall metallic gray breakers heaved onto the tilting deck and water-logged sailors. Gulping watery air too often felt like drowning; crew members kept heads down against assaults of fierce surges and almost horizontal rain.

Spinning hand spokes of the helm had already cracked the ribs of a seaman who lay moaning, tied to his hammock below deck of the tumbling ship.

The cold North Atlantic gale stormed over the Elizabeth B. Muir for the second consecutive day, punishing the gaff-rigged schooner and exhausting her crew. Fear of shifting cargo, thick blocks of New Hampshire granite weighing tons each plus dozens of tall Nova Scotia pine and hemlock poles stuffed into the hold, kept the six crew members tense. They listened and felt for hints of devastating movement below deck. Crew searched the dark hold in shifts, probing for leaking seams that could let in too many gallons of the North Atlantic as the two-masted wooden ship lifted and twisted in the furious sea.

Angry rushes of chilling wind and shattered water from every direction smashed against the hull and threatened the ship, plunging the bow into frothy boil while cataracts of white tumbled down approaching slate-gray waves. Wind-driven rain stung the men’s faces and clouded their vision in the wan light.

Sky had vanished two days before when the constant shriek of wind began tearing through rigging. Sails had long been furled before the Nor’easter.

Ship Captain Charles Scott struggled aft along the starboard life line rigged on deck next to the rail from bow to stern of the heaving vessel as wind howled over predatory waves and merciless water. Dirty weather, he thought, head lowered to breath against stinging spray. He squinted while swaying against the pitch and roll. Growling wind muffled his apology to the soaked helmsmen for not bringing mugs of coffee in thirty-five-degree weather. Neither complained because everyone understood kitchen fires were snuffed two days before to thwart potentially fatal ship-board blazes.

The sailors nodded and smiled polite thanks for the pail of dry sawdust for their hands but focused on aiming the bowsprit windward into the cold spray, turning wooden spokes with tired arms. The younger sailor, a teenager who had lied about his age to join the crew, worked near panic as wind and rain roared and smashed.

The captain needed to know if the pair could endure another hour alone facing treacherous weather. He watched as they wrestled the tall wheel, satisfying Scott with their efforts and endurance. He knew the men would work until they could hardly stand, ignoring danger and fatigue and, for the youthful starboard helmsman, almost constant dread in front of the thick and foul storm.

The schooner had cast off in late October, hold half packed with pine and hemlock spars, planks and ships’ knees from Shelburne, Nova Scotia, and stretched away for Portsmouth, New Hampshire. There massive granite blocks were lifted aboard. The ship, bound for Oporto, Portugal, had then struggled against a shifting wind.