I swear I could feel my heart in my chest sinking and my mind became heavy as a weight. “Aye, and we are adrift, matey”, I heard the old sailor say. I looked to my right where I heard the voice coming from. The old salt looked at me thoughtfully. “First we were driven off course. Now we are drifting off course but perhaps the captain at least knows where we are”, he said. “Did it matter if we know where we are if we can’t get back on course?” I thought as I turned full circle to look all around me. The ocean was so still that I felt I could see a hundred miles in every direction but all there was, was open sea.
Days went by. We were in tropical waters. It was hot and humid. The sailors took off their shirts. We were on rations of water and food. When we looked up at the sails there was not even the slightest of breezes to move them. There were no sea birds, no dolphins or fish leaping out of the water. Why?
At night when it was not as hot a sailor broke out a concertina and began to play music. He sang sailor’s songs. Other sailors sang along. Some danced. They told stories and laughed. The captain had allowed a ration of rum for all. The sailors made me smile. They joked about being in the doldrums. One sailor said, “Aye, and I’ve been in the doldrums before but only because I was on dry land for too long!” The crew gave a hearty laugh. I laughed, too. It sent a feeling of relief through my body. The rum was a helper.
I slept well that night but awoke feeling bad. It was not because of the rum. My soul was burdened by a weight of darkness in my being. I went out on the deck in the brightness and heat of the sun. Where was I? Our small, fragile vessel was in a nightmare landscape of yellow, brown and green seaweed! I looked at the sails, no wind, not even a breeze! The hot sun beat down on my enfeebled mind. I almost experienced vertigo as if I would lose my balance. “Aye, and we are in the Sargasso Sea”, said the old sailor.
All of the old, sea stories I had heard all my life about this accursed place came back to me. Would we all die of hunger and thirst here? I looked about at the motley crew. Their faces were grim. A burly sailor with a black beard and shaggy, black hair said, “All we can do is pray.” My mind went into a state that bordered on insanity. I thought back to the beginning of the voyage. Could I have made a decision to not get on board this ship? Such thoughts were futile I knew.
The next few days were a nightmare that never seemed to end. The sickening, horrible seaweed kept getting thicker as our once proud, ocean vessel drifted with no wind. There were pieces of old cargo and parts of old ships like small islands of rotting junk covered with seaweed surrounding us. We were getting deeper into the Sargasso Sea. Everything I had heard about this cursed place was true. Mentally I had descended into pure hell. Would we become just more of the flotsam and jetsam of the sea, rotting under green graves of seaweed? The sun in the sky was like a cruel, all knowing eye looking down on us.
One dark night we were all on deck. It was humid and very warm but not sweltering hot as in the daytime. Then a very young sailor shouted, “There’s a ship!” Without thinking with words my immediate feeling was that this made no sense. The sailors started stirring. Some stood up and walked over to the starboard side of the ship where the young man was looking out to sea. It seemed that the young sailor was looking intently at something. My curiosity was aroused. Another sailor said, “I see it!” Another said, “Aye, and so do I”. How was it possible? Was there another miserable crew of sailors like ourselves adrift in this abysmal place?
I walked over to the side of the ship and looked in the same direction as the others. There was something in the distance that shone pale as if in the moonlight but there was no moonlight. There was no moon. It started to get bigger on the horizon as if it was moving towards us. I remembered that there are fish in tropical waters that glow in the dark but the sailors had said that it was a ship. It was a ship! We all stood in wonder, frozen on the spot and waiting as the spectral ship in the darkness seemed to keep approaching us.
Then it came closer. It was in full sail as if a strong wind was driving it but there was no wind! No one spoke a word. I looked at the faces of the superstitious sailors around me with their wide open eyes, some with jaws clenched and some with jaws dropped.
The ship came closer. There was the sound of a howling wind. We saw that the sails of the ship were in tatters streaming forward with the wind and yet there was no wind. It was a ghost ship! My hair stood on end!
The ghastly, black ship with its flags and torn sails driven by a wind we could not feel started to pull alongside our ship. I looked at the sailors. Most were frozen with fear and could not move. Then there was the strange sound of music and sea chanteys. Then there was the sound of chains and moaning. There were screams. The ghost ship came up right along the side of our own vessel. The sound of chains and moaning grew louder. No one could be seen on board the ghost ship. It glowed pale and ghastly as if there was a moon with an eerie light of its own.
The ghost ship was passing slowly alongside of us now and a chill hit me that went straight through to my bones. I started to shiver. The burly sailor with the black hair and beard fell to his knees grasping at the beads of his rosary to pray. He looked up at the sky as if to ask God, “Why?” The old sailor’s teeth began to chatter uncontrollably making a horrible racket. Then the young sailor ran to the port side of the ship and jumped. As the ghost ship slowly passed our own fragile, little vessel and the sounds of chains and moaning gradually subsided none of us could even move.
The ghost ship had passed. We started to take deep breaths. Then we thought of the young sailor who was still just a lad. We ran over to the side of the ship. We shone lanterns all around the dark sea below us. There was seaweed everywhere. The Sargasso Sea had taken him.
The next days were misery. No one really wanted to talk about the ghost ship. We had all seen it. The merciless sun beat down upon us in the day. We were on starvation rations. The landscape around us was nightmarish.
One day I was lying on my back on the deck in a patch of shade, trying to conserve my energy. I did not want to die of starvation or dehydration. I opened my eyes a little and looked straight up. I thought I saw the flag at the top of the highest mast of our ship move. Was it my imagination? I kept looking at the flag. It moved again. My eyes were now fully open. I just kept lying there as if in a dream. The flag moved again. It started fluttering a little. I stood up still looking up at the flag. The other sailors around me noticed. They started looking up at the flag with me. The flag moved again. All of the sailors now were looking at the flag silently. The flag started fluttering some more. Then it fluttered even more. There was a breeze! Some of the highest sails appeared to move just a little. All eyes were above. The sails started to move some more. It was as if we were all frozen, afraid if we moved or said anything we would destroy the magic. The sails started to move more and the flags all started moving. The topmost flag started fluttering in the breeze and didn’t stop. All the sails were moving. The sails were starting to fill up with wind! We looked up at the helm of the ship. The captain was there at the wheel. He had a confidence and pride that we had never seen before. The ship was moving! It creaked and it moaned but it was not like the creaking and moaning of the ghost ship!
The first mate came on deck to assure us that the captain and the navigator had been keeping track of exactly where we were and would steer us on the right course. Some expressed concern about the obstacles of flotsam, jetsam and seaweed that surrounded us. The first mate said that those obstacles were taken into consideration. We were truly glad that we even had a chance since sailing at sea always involves risk. Only the use of skill keeps a man alive in the vastness of the awesome power of nature.
Much to our amazement, after negotiating some tricky turns to avoid being stuck in the seaweed of the Sargasso Sea, there appeared more open spaces in the water. It wasn’t long before we saw the open sea ahead of us and a clear path to reach it. We must have drifted through the hell of the Sargasso Sea and reached the other side.
We reached the open sea! The wind was with us and apparently the gods were now on our side! The sails were full as we were swept out to sea! The captain at the helm with the first and second mates and navigator around him looked proud but at the same time they looked like men who had been humbled. The sailors cheered!
It wasn’t long before the ship was sailing along at a good speed over bright, ocean swells with dolphins leaping about. A sign of good luck! Spirits were bright. That night the sailors celebrated with extra rations and a good ration of rum. There was music and singing of sea chanteys. The crew danced with men locking arms and dancing around in circles until they grew dizzy. This made everyone laugh!
And so the days continued at sea. It was a paradise. The sailors caught the best fish at sea. They cooked the fish on deck. It was a feast and a celebration of life.
Then the captain made an announcement. We were on course and soon would be reaching the Orient. Never before had the man in the crow’s nest with his telescope seemed so important. When he yelled, “Land, Ho!” the cheers of the grateful sailors went up to the heavens. Soon all of us saw land. We sailed into the harbor. It was a successful voyage. We delivered the goods and brought home valuable trading commodities from the Orient to Europe.
Those of us who were on this voyage continued our careers as merchant marines. We went our separate ways. We traveled all over the world. We had many adventures. I was fortunate to travel to the Orient many times. I was able to travel to the New World of the Americas.
Sometimes when I came into a seaport whether it was in my own home country or in a foreign place I would be in a restaurant or tavern that sailors haunt. I would sometimes be sitting by myself overhearing other sailors’ conversations. I overheard some sailors talking about the story of the ghost ship. Apparently some of the sailors who were on the same trip with me had told the story and it had gotten around. The sailors in the restaurants and taverns would discuss about whether they thought the story was true or not. The consensus was that it was just another sailor’s story.
I never told anyone this story because I knew that no one would believe me. As I make the rounds, traveling all over the world and meet one of the crew members who was on that fateful trip we look into each other’s eyes. We know we share a secret of something that happened that no one would believe. How do we explain about the young sailor who jumped overboard if anyone should ever ask us? In the end I guess it is just another sailor’s story. Wherever I go in all the travels of my life I am restless and can’t seem to settle down but the memory of the ghost ship rests firmly in my mind and cannot be taken away.