Following is another excerpt from Al Bruce’s unpublished story about rugged life on a tern schooner in the North Atlantic:
Another gust like that could slide the granite, Captain Bruce considered. Movement of tons of stone and wood could tilt the ship more, or worse, pound through the hull.
Just in case, Captain Bruce thought as he walked aft through the cold wind to the life boat, his rough hand, the one missing a digit to a long-ago storm, caressing the hull feeling for holes or torn wood. He tugged lines securing the inverted craft to two thick iron rings screwed into the deck. Just in case we need to escape quickly, the captain added. Short lines that lashed the boat to the deck seemed taut and he gripped one tightly as another gust, not as strong as previous blasts, pummeled the ship. She’s fast, he declared of the lifeboat.
Wind seemed to quiet as Bruce swayed into the hold; his eyes took long seconds adjusting to the dimness. He listened to the rigging thrum, inhaled the fragrance of sea spray, bilge water, and wet canvas. What he saw after too many seconds unnerved him. Gray blocks had shifted to starboard and tall poles lay scattered like twigs over the stones.
Captain Bruce sighed and contemplated a sail of maybe four days with hull pushed too many degrees in a riotous wind through countless uncontrollable heaves. He stood alarmed with too-detailed thoughts of crossing hundred miles of ocean in violent air as gusts and waves battered the Elizabeth B. Muir as she heeled and cargo smashed about below deck.
He sighed again, wiped sea water from his face, and stepped into the companionway. Captain Bruce knew he needed to examine all cargo. The schooner rolled as he stared down the narrow corridor between stones and squeezed sideways along the tight path.
The captain was in the middle of the walkway, reflecting about how the Big Dipper pivots around the North Star, when the gust hit. The ship tipped and, on deck, helmsmen barely hung onto the wheel. The younger man screamed, the mate lost the struggle to stay on his feet as chilling wind and rain and dark sea hurtled over the tilted deck and through rigging. Another mountain of water smashed into the hull.
Windward blocks of granite slid across the slanting hold. Master Mariner Charles Bruce, who had captained sailing vessels through worse storms in the far corners of the world, ran crab-like toward escape and was fewer than six feet, just two long strides from safety, when the heavy blocks crushed him, grinding out his life in an instant.