None of us like the long leg across the Southern Ocean. There’s no land, see. The rollers go right round the globe with nothing to stop them, only the molleys to see them. We was close-hauled when it happened, Lascar Jim on the wheel. The off watch hands were asleep in the fo’c’s’le, the deck watch loafing topside, taking shelter in the lee of the deck house.

Jim must have been caught napping, probably leering a goney. He allowed the head to pay off a few points to larboard so the squall took us full broadside, laying her over near to her beam ends. We hadn’t reefed the top gallants so she shuddered to recover with the weight of green in the scuppers and the pressure of the squall aloft.

The Bos’n was at my back shouting,’ Get those topgallants reefed sharpish, sailing master, or I’ll have your guts for garters.’  I had to whip the watch with a turk’s head to get them up the mast and do my bidding.

She slowly laboured back to upright, shaking the water off her like a dog after a ducking. She shuddered as the prow dipped into a trough but Jim had her back on course, head to wind.

I told off the deck hands to let fly the halliards for the top yards to give the reefing gang a chance to beat the wet canvas into shape so they could throw lines around the sails and reef them in.

We were now in a safe condition, not carrying too much sail and hove to until the sea state dropped. This would lengthen the voyage and cost the owners a packet but still less than losing the ship and cargo.

The frozen mast monkeys clambered down the rat lines and took shelter. The bos’n ordered a tot for each man who had been aloft. We only lost two men in that evolution.

The Bos’n beckoned me over and said, ‘Get Lascar Jim relieved off the wheel, take him to the grating on the poop deck and give him twenty lashes.’

‘Twenty will kill him, Sir,’ I argued.

‘He won’t do it again then will he? Just get on with it and make sure both watches are there to watch, unless you want a couple for yerself.’

Jim was lashed down on the grating, a wedge of quid rammed in his mouth to stop his screams. The flogging started. He was unconscious after ten, the open wounds dripping blood off his back. The torment continued until the chorus from the hands reached twenty. Salt was rubbed into the wounds to stop infection, then he was cut down and taken below where he died later that night.

I had the job of putting a stitch through his nose and sewing him in a canvas shroud before he was slid over the side with a marlin spike at his feet so as he didn’t float.

No one had a prayer to say for his soul.


©Richard Kefford 2016

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