Sea of Lost Dreams
This excerpt from Ferenc Máté's fictional high-seas adventure will whet your interest for more books to bring aboard when setting sail. From our July 2011 issue.
Penniless and hunted, Captain Dugger and his lover, Kate, along with first mate Nello, make a spectacular moonlit jailbreak in 1921 on Mexico’s El Día de los Muertos and set sail for the South Seas. But they soon fall prey to the intrigue of two mysterious stowaways: Darina, a young Irish escapee from the brutal Magdalene nuns who’s in search of her lost twin, and Guillaume, a seasoned French spy sent to kill the leader of an anticolonial uprising.
Set in the fiercely beautiful volcanic islands of French Polynesia, this second novel in the Dugger/Nello historical adventure series is the story of man against the fury of the elements, of dreams colliding with reality, and of an anguished culture combating tyranny. Below, we catch up with Dugger and the crew in mid-Pacific as a tempest descends. —The Editors
The storm closed in. They tried to escape with all sails flying, but by early evening they’d been caught by the low black clouds, swirling like molten lead, fusing with the darkness. As the wind grew, they reduced sail, piece by piece, dousing the mizzen staysail, then replacing the yankee with a jib half its size, but the ketch still yawed wildly as she sailed down twisting slopes. They dropped the mizzen.
With his shoulder strong again, Dugger took extra turns at the helm, tirelessly fighting the rising wind and seas. He feared the steepening waves but relished the exhilarating power of the ketch. Cleating the empty mizzen halyard, he glanced at the sea behind them. There were only waves and clouds—the albatross wasn’t there. His heart sank, but then he thought, Would you be here if you didn’t have to be?
Night fell without the soothing lull of dusk. The light vanished suddenly from the sky, leaving only the suffocating dark and the hiss of breaking seas. Now and then a pale smear flared up in the gloom as a wave convulsed into churning pools of foam.
Dugger steered the ketch, with Kate close beside him. He followed no compass course, steering only by the angle of the wind that blasted across the deck, pressing on in the doomed attempt to outrun the storm. Belowdecks, the others were wedged into their berths, Guillaume trying to read, Nello staring at the deck beams near his face, and Darina watching the gimbaled lantern steady on the bulkhead while the ketch rolled and heaved.
Then the first gust hit.
An atrocious blast of wind knocked the ketch onto her rails and covered her with flying sheets of water. She lay with port deck under in the stunning darkness, but even half submerged, she persevered and sailed.
Dugger and Kate fell into a cockpit corner, but with an iron grip he held on to the wheel. The ketch righted herself, shedding the sea in streams. Dugger clutched Kate, but the feel of her wasn’t enough; he had to hear her voice. “Are you all right?” he shouted, but the wind and crashing seas blew his words apart.
“Yes!” Kate shouted. “Fine! Really!”
The main hatch flew back, and a glow shot into the sky. “Cappy! Kate!” Nello roared. “You still there?”
He burst out of the hatch, the storm lantern in hand, his face strained with worry. He hooked the lantern onto a boom bail where, swinging, it lit the vaporous air and their faces.
“Storm trysail!” Dugger shouted, and Nello crept toward the mast. Dugger slid Kate’s hands onto the spokes of the wheel. “Steer 100 degrees! Then when I wave like this”—and he swung his arm back and forth as if shooing away a fly—“head up to 200 so we can drop the main! Understand?”
Kate repeated his instructions: “One hundred. Two hundred.”
Dugger took the doubled mainsheet, wrapped it around her waist, and knotted it. “In case you decide on a swim!” he shouted. With his knees braced against the cabin, he inched forward to the mast to uncleat the halyard and wrestle down the main. Another gust hit, and through the trembling light, streams of brine flew at him like hail.
Just wind and water, he thought, but a bit too much of both.
The halyard wouldn’t give. The salt spray had soaked the hemp, each tug of the sails had pulled the knot tighter around the cleat, and the sun had baked the salt hard in the braiding, so he had to use the marlinspike to loosen it.
Kate put all her weight against the wheel, clutching the spokes, repeating, “One hundred. Two hundred.”
Nello had the lash-downs ready, and Dugger finished prying open the knot. Holding the halyard in one hand, he waved the other toward Kate. But with her eyes filled with brine, Kate didn’t move. “Two hundred!” Dugger bellowed. “Two hundred!”
The next gust hit, and the ketch went on her side into the churning sea. She struggled to right herself, but the gusts detonated one behind the other. A wave burst over Kate and forced her to her knees, but she clung to the spokes, gasping in the foamy air.
The wave smashed Nello into the sail, his face into the canvas, and he swore if they made land alive, he’d never look at the goddamn sea again.
Dugger slid overboard. He’d been standing beside the mainmast and waving to Kate to head the bow into the wind when suddenly the ketch went over. He grabbed the rigging, but a surge of water lifted him and swept him into the sea. The wind drove the ketch into him, and all he could do was hold his breath and wait. The sails were above him, so he knew the ketch hadn’t gone turtle but just lay on her side, and with the keel levering her, she was bound to right. Sooner or later.