of John Dermott and his wife Joanna:
the full daylight came they could see the binnacle, and see the wind
was now west-southwest by their compass. At the same time, it had
risen higher than ever, and was now screaming in their ears,
deafening them, so that John judged it to be Force 10 or more. The
sky cleared with the morning so that they could see much further
than before, and away from the south there seemed to be a line of
blue sky just above the sea. John pointed it out to Jo, and put his
lips to her cold ear. “That’ll be the eye of the storm,” he shouted.
“Passing south of us?”
nodded. There were no great waves now, just a smoking, hissing sea
flattened by the insensate torrent of wind. To talk was an effort
and a strain; it was better to conserve their strength. They sat in
silence, each busy with their own thoughts turning over slowly in
their stunned minds.
John Dermott was thinking always of the ship. She was still sound
and practically undamaged. The mainsail and the trysail were still
lashed firm upon the boom, ready for use. No sails could stand a
minute in such wind; it was no good thinking about them.
There was one resource still left to them, however. They still had a
had scant faith in it, but it was still there. In dead calm weather
it would give the ship a speed of about four knots for going in and
out of harbour or up windless estuaries, the wind was now blowing
sixty knots or more. This puny little engine, if he could make it
work, could not affect the major issues of their course, get it
going it might serve to pull them out of trouble somehow. It was the
last resource still left unused.
gave the helm to Jo and went below, shutting the companion after
him. In the light of his torch he saw that the battery had been
thrown from its crate when the ship broached to and was lying on its
side; everything was streaming with sea water. He stood the battery
upright, checked the leads, and tried the light switch. There was
the faintest of red glimmers from the filament, which faded as he
There was no help in the starter. He wiped the magneto and the plug
leads with a wet handkerchief, having searched in vain for a dry
cloth, and tried her on the handle. For a quarter of an hour he
laboured over her, and never got a kick. Finally he gave up the
effort and went back on deck. There was no help from the engine.
While he was below, Jo sat at the helm in dull despair. The huge
efforts needed to pull the tiller continuously one way or the other
to keep the ship stern on to the seas were draining the last of he
strength; she could still make them mechanically but now she was
near collapse. There was no ending to this storm and would not be
for days and days and days; the ship might see it through if she had
fresh hands at the helm, but they would not. She was near failure
now, she knew; half an hour longer or perhaps an hour, and she would
be no longer to swing the tiller. Then the ship would broach to and
lie swept by every sea; they would be drowned. Shearwater
would fill and sink, and Janice’s future would sink with her. She
was too tired now to care about themselves, but Janice was a sharp
pain. Keith would look after her and bring her up, and he would do
it well. But he would have to bring her up into his own way of life,
not theirs; at sixteen she would have to start work in a shop.
Dermott came back to the cockpit and took the helm from her, “No
good,” he shouted in her ear.
She shouted back, “Won’t it go?” He shook his head, and she settled
down beside him, listless.
About the middle of the morning something in the water ahead drew
John’s attention. He gave the helm to Jo and stood up against the
companion, the wind tearing at his clothing lashed by the spray.
Visibility was between one and two miles. There was something
different half a mile or so ahead of him; the backs of the seas
looked different in some way. Then, over to the left a little, in a
quick, passing glimpse, he saw what looked like the tops of palm
trees above the waves.
turned with a heavy heart and went back to his wife. “There seems to
be an island dead ahead.” He shouted. “I think we’re driving down on
She nodded. She was now past caring.
took her hand. “I’m sorry about this, Jo.”
She smiled at him. “It doesn’t matter.”
“Can you take her a bit longer?” he asked. “I want to see if we can
She nodded, and she stood up against the companion. It was clearer
now for they were closer. What he had seen was the backs of great
combers breaking on a coral reef; the line of different surf
extended both on port and starboard hands as far as he could see. He
searched desperately for a break in the surf, something to indicate
a passage through the reef into the sheltered lagoon that might lie
beyond. If there were any break he would try to steer her off and
run in through it, even though they might be overwhelmed in the
process. He could see no break at all; it all looked the same on
either hand as far as he could see. There was no escape for them
now. Shearwater was driving straight on to a coral reef in
the Tuamotus somewhere, and would leave her bones upon the coral as
many a tall ship had done before. He had not the remotest idea where
came back to her and took the helm. In bad moments in the last
forty-eight hours he had imagined this situation, and had thought it
our. Better to take the coral straight, head on, than to be thrown
on to it on their beam ends, to have the hull crushed like an
eggshell by the fury of the waves. Better to take it head on, taking
the shock on the lead keel and trying to keep the stern on to the
seas. Reefs were seldom uniform in height; if they had the luck to
strike a fissure, a patch where in calm water the coral was a couple
of feet or more below the surface, they might possibly be driven
over it into the lagoon, and still float, and live. He bent to
explain this to his wife,
want you to go below,” he shouted. “When we strike, stay in the
hull. She’ll probably get full of water, but stay in the hull. Just
keep your head above the water, but stay inside.”
She shouted, “What are you going to do?”
“I’m going to stay up here and steer her on, I’ll join you down
below as soon as she strikes. It’s our best chance, I don’t think
she’ll break up.”
“If she breaks up, she’ll stay on the reef, won’t she?”
knew what was on her mind. “The keel will, and probably the frames.”
He paused, and then leaned across and kissed her, “Now go below. I’m
sorry to have got you into this.”
kissed him in return. “It’s not your fault.” She stood up, waited
her chance, opened the hatch and slipped down below, leaving it open
for him to follow her.
She sat down on one of the settees, the first-aid box in her hands.
There were now only a few minutes to go. She thought she ought to
say a prayer, but it seemed mean to have neglected God and her
religion for so long and then to pray when death was imminent; the
words would not come. She could only think of Janice, Janice whose
future happiness lay buried in the concrete beneath her feet. The
concrete would survive upon the coral reef, but nobody would ever
know of it but Keith. Keith had never made much of his life; Keith,
who had never been anywhere or done anything. Keith, to whose
keeping she had trusted Janice.
From the cockpit John Dermott shouted above the screaming of the
wind, “Next one, Jo!”
those last moments the power of prayer came to her and she muttered
in the accents of her childhood, “Lord, gie Keith a bit o’guid
Then they struck.