Posted on Sat May 25th, 2013 @ 8:42pm by Snot Rag Chops McGinty & Captain Daenelia Bradley & Master Brem de Berg & Mate Sahka Mounzouk Oarsman & Sailor Santiago Moreno & Snot Rag Miyra Blackbird & Lieutenant Faizel Naji & Mate Herring Finn & Sailor Dorothea O'Toole
Chapter 7: Going West
Location: aboard Steamhawke
The wind seemed to change, and Chago knew what it could mean in this treacherous area, which was pretty boisterous due to a combination of head winds and steep seas, prone to gathering clouds of all kind, to hinder visibility. He was staying at helm, trying to keep the course straight despite the strengthening breeze, ready to become soon a gale.
He looked around and approached Sahka Mounzouk, the sky reader. He liked this man and he could say openly what he was feeling in the air:
"There is the smell of a storm. Hopefully not a strong one, as it isn't quite the hurricane season. What do you think?”
“Yes, there's something in the wind. You might be right, the clouds are gathering on the sky. But it might round about us and go blow elsewhere, if we are lucky. If not, we’ll face it.”
Why not? It wasn’t the first, neither the last storm they had met. “Steamhawke” was a good ship.
“I would have preferred to sense, instead, an enemy ship we might take over!" Mate Faizel Naji, the boatswain, answered, thinking about shares and fame.
“I think we should warn the captain,” Chago said. “Who is willing to go to tell her?”
“I will”, the boatswain offered, going to the captain’s cabin and knocking politely.
Once he was allowed to enter, he reported:
“Captain, the helmsman and the sky reader are saying there is a storm brewing.”
"Let me see, bosun" replied Daenelia, pushing past her boatswain. Raindrops were already hitting the deck, and by the time the captain reached the forecastle water was already starting to collect in the rim of the her hat. "Where did this rain come from? I thought there were only open skies ahead."
"I'm sorry Captain, but this rain was a surprise to me" apologised Sahka, "but I there are strong signs that it's going to get heavier. A storm that builds up this quickly is bad news."
The air got colder and full of moisture. The sky darkened down to pitch black as the clouds covered everything, hanging threateningly low. Chago didn’t like it anymore. Around “Steamhawke”, the sea and the sky foamed with waves down and clouds up, which didn’t bend and curl. The clouds were hitting in force the sails.
The rain was soaking through her hat, her shirt, her trousers, and even dripping into her boots. The captain wanted to be indoors, with a hot mug of coffee with whisky. "How bad ...?" she mused. As she said that, the wind was picking up and the ship veered off course under its influence. Daenelia quickly walked over to the communications pipe, connected to the engine room. "More power, master Brem!"
"I can't give you any more, Captain!" his voice came back almost instantly. "We're been running on full steam for a couple of hours, on orders of the First Mate! The engines will overload if this turns out to be a storm!"
"It is a storm," Sahka said calmy, as he peered into the distance ahead.
"We'll head back, go around...," Daenelia started, but Sahka merely pointed back solemnly. The weather was as bad behind them as it was in front. Daenelia exchanged glances with the crew around her. Chago's hair was whipping around in the wind, Daenelia had to hold on to her hat and Faizel looked less awkward in his wool sweater.
The first flash of bright lightening meandered across the sky, illuminating the clouds and the ship. Thunder followed with its threatening roar, and the rain started, heavy, smashing against the deck and the portholes.
Chago cursed in his language, as the ship was tossed and twisted in the air, over each crest of sliding seas heaped on seas, at the mercy of the storm.
„Reef all sails!" the boatswain gave the order after the hands were called on deck. “You here, secure everything you don’t need right now, below deck! The wind’s reel is starting!”
Miyra awoke below decks at the sound of raised voices, and hurried up and onto the deck.
"Chago!" She yelled, running over to him and slipping on the wet decks, then clinging to the side until she found her feet again. "Chago!" She repeated, quieter, and aproached him. "What on the West's name is going on?"
He had been quieter and happier knowing that it wasn't her watch to be up in the kitling's nest. He needn't worry about her safety in the heat of the storm. Now here she was, next to him, asking what was going on.
"It's a storm we are facing. Hopefully not as strong as it seems to be. If you remain on the deck, please fasten a rope around you, not to be thrown overboard. This is the first protection measure to be taken."
A strong gust pushed the Steamhawke sideways, the ship leaning heavily to one side, exactly after he had said it.
"Out with the fires and secure portlids!" ordered the first mate, at his turn. “Chago, keep the stern starboard quarter to the wind, and if the wind changes, mind it to adapt!”
Chago was steering the ship in these treacherous air currents, cursing under his breath the rain, the thunders and lightning – nobody could really know that deep in his heart, this experienced seadog was fearing thunderbolts, after having a former brother-in-arms killed by one.
“Captain, we are losing altitude! What should we do?”
Things weren't going well down in engineering, one man had already been knocked out by falling tools and the crew were starting to flap.
"Keep shovelin' you lazy enwars!" Brem bellowed.
"Sirr" Erm came to a stumbling halt near Brem, "Everything's secured as it can be.." a large clang echoed above everything as something heavy fell behind the engine.
"Pressures on the way down boss" a large man shouted after looking at a dial
"Well shovel more coal then" Brem replied as the man nodded and went to grab a shovel.
He went to the communications pipe but could only hear the wind singing through it. He turned to Erm and said "Go tell the capt'n that we may be going down, we'll do what we can but it may be rough."
"Aye sir" nodded Erm, and coughed through the coal dust as he made for the hatch. The ship seemed to right itself only to list too far in the oppposite direction, and Erm's legs flailed through the air as he hung onto the ladder to the deck. Water sprayed in the young man's face as he lifted up the trap door, and he emerged into a scene of chaos.
Only the lightning strikes provided enough illumination for Erm to see the pirates as they ran to-and-fro, adjusting ropes and securing themselves against the wind. He ran across the deck - almost on all fours - and lost his balance several times while searching for the captain.
Just as Chago noted that the ship was going down, Erm had reached Daenelia with the same message. Her eyes were wide with fear as she tried to gather her thoughts. "Erm! Tell Brem we are going to try and skimjump on the sea surface!" Erm almost stopped breathing.
Skimjumping was a dangerous practice for a sky ship. Landing in the water during a storm was dangerous enough, but landing with a hot engine could lead to the engine exploding due to the cold water cooling down the steam and metal too quickly. Skimjumping was an attempt to hit the surface and skim the ship along for a while, until the ship could lift off from the sea once again. The ship would hit the surface and jump a distance, and repeat this for as long as possible.
It wasn't without danger. The ship could hit the water too hard and break apart. The ship could not hit the water hard enough and be tossed aside, sinking under the surface. Daenelia looked at Chago and wondered if he had ever performed skimjumping. Much of the success of this manouvre would be in his hands. Literally.
"Ready for skimjumping, master Chago?" Daenelia bellowed.
The wind howled at Chago’s ears and at his feet as he walked along the deck. He wasn’t sure if to worry first about the ship or about Miyra.
The hurricane – let’s call it on its name, this was what the storm had become - swirled the ship in all directions. The helmsman and the first mate were oblivious to what happened down the hatches, where Master Brem had his own worries.
Chago had been a sailor for only three years. He had seen his share of storms and he had witnessed, several times, skimjumping maneuvers, but he had never been the one to actually perform it. Was he ready to admit it in front of the captain now? Not quite.
“Ready, Captain!” he answered promptly, praying in his thoughts not to fail.
Was he ready to do anything in order to get the ship recover, and to make sure that Miyra was safe? Yes, even if he was well aware of the fact that a slight miscalculation of the wave position might lead them to the mermaid’s embrace. But wasn’t this the fate what would have waited them anyway?
The superstitious sailors – and in this respect, he was no differently – believed skimjumping to be a magic rite, a secret of old helmsmen, which gave strength to the wooden nutshell to jump over the biggest waves, if done properly. But would he succeed? What if he missed or he didn’t remember any detail of the gestures seen at his mentor, the helmsman of the “Morning Star”? And if he didn’t succeed, could it be any worse than without it? So, he had to try, no matter what. He knew that if the “Steamhawke” had the slightest chance to resist, this chance could be only “skimjumping”.
He invoked his patron saint’s protection, letting down to the foaming, agitated waves and waiting for the surge to hit the hull in a certain way, as he had been taught. The keel sliced through the surface like a knife and then the Steamhawke smashed into the water with force. The impact knocked everything and everyone that wasn't tied down or holding onto anything into the air. The unlucky few didn't have too far to fly as the deck of the Steamhawke came up to meet them.
Chago made efforts to hold on the helm. No matter that he was also tied with a rope, how he had advised, he had to make efforts not to fall. The fact that somebody knocked on him didn't help either - for a moment, his hand had lost the control of the helm, but he recovered it immediately, following the necessary direction. The main question he wouldn't ask loudly, not to frighten Miyra and the others, was... would the ship resist?
The sky ship was skimming along the surface of the ocean like a pebble being tossed across a lake. Dottie was hanging on for dear life, her feet leaving the solid deck everytime the ship just hit the surface, only to be smacked down as the ship lifted up again. In the engine room, the machines were creaking and puffing almost as much as the wood of the hull. The room was filled with steam. "We're going to break the ship!" Erm yelled in Brem's ear. Brem looked at the engines with a grim determined look.
"Cool them down!" he yelled at the mates around him.
Water and steam filled the air as the mates who could, threw buckets of water over the engines. Brem shook his head at what it would do to his engines but it was needed. The engines cooled quickly and would take a long time to rekindle to the power they had had before.
Miyra hurried to the side and clung up through the rigging, setting herself in a place where she could watch the waves as they skimmed them. "Big one coming up!" She warned. Chago wrestled with the wheel and the levers, trying to keep the Steamhawke on course as the big wave approached. The decision he had to make was: Over it, or through it?
Or, rather, this was more of a predicament he was in than a decision, as he couldn't know how much steam was still available, but he could easily guess that not much. But, then, going through the wave and letting the ship sink by his fault was not an option either, so the only option possible was to attempt riding the wave. It didn't come without risks - given the magnitude of the storm, he couldn't assess exactly where the reefs were, since they were all covered by waves. Chago was good at helm and in the rigging, but not at reading maps and having any idea where they were in the deep blue.
The big wave was nonetheless received by a somehow prepared ship, trying not to get tossed in all directions.
"Captain, do you have any idea how much further we have to go?" Chago asked.
"We're nearly through the storm, I can see lighter skies ahead" yelled Daenelia above the sounds of waves crashing and the sea air rushing by. "Good work, sailor!"
Chago was right, the Steamhawke didn't have much steam left. Luckily the bigger waves had subsided and the ship needed less steam to power through. Most of the storm was behind them by now, although it was still pouring with rain. The Steamhawke rose less with each skimjump until it was merely sailing through the choppy seas.
"Steady as she goes" reassured the captain, and stepped down from the poop deck. "Everyone's drenched, but accounted for, captain" reported Faizel, semi-humourously. "We'll dry off once the rain stops and we get into the air again" advised Daenelia, "Nothing like a high wind after a cold shower"
The Atlantic sky spread out in every direction, but the crew of the Steamhawke were only concerned with what lay westwards. Every challenge brought them closer to the Old West, and the next stage of their adventure.