January, 1978—Three Months Later

Somewhere between Barbuda and Antigua, the wind began to fall light. Hanns bent more and larger sails. Windship Chaos charged southward beneath a festival of ballooning canvas.

“What’s that up ahead of us,” asked Raquel, pointing to an unusual, unidentifiable shape ahead.

“I’m not sure but I’ve been watching and wondering; looks like a strange building. We’re slowly gaining on it though so we’re going to find out. Ask Veronique to come up and take a look, too.”

Veronique was a young Belgian woman who had hitched a ride with them a few days before in Barbuda. Pretty in a plain sort of way, she sported an unkempt mop of mousy blonde hair overgrown somewhat from the neglects of a gypsy life. Though she’d been traveling for over two years, she was fascinated by everything about the boat and the islands. She proffered questions about things that had obvious answers, revealing an unusual set of perspectives and priorities. Hanns hadn’t known quite how to respond when she asked why the sails were white. Jokes flew high over her head but she had a way of finding joyful amusement in details most other people would miss. She wasn’t stupid, Hanns decided, just ‘tuned to a different station.’ Veronique had little concept of the passage of time and never grew bored. When she offered to work for her passage and put a coat of varnish on the cockpit rail, she happily sanded and sang to herself for five hours, lost in the details of her work, clearly unconcerned about completing it and putting it behind her. Hanns and Raquel found her innocence and naivete amusing but they’d taken her aboard as much to protect her from her own vulnerability; she was quick to offer her trust to strangers and Hanns and Raquel were glad she’d met them before jumping on a boat with someone of questionable motives.

Hanns adjusted course slightly, aiming directly towards the subject of their curiosity until the strange structure atop a hazy horizon finally revealed itself to be a traditional, tall sailing ship.

“Now here’s something you’re not likely to see too often in your lifetime. If the tradewinds were doing their usual thing, there’s no way we could catch a ship like that; she must have a hundred-foot waterline and that makes her fast but in this light air, I think we have the advantage. Let’s get closer and take a look.

Joining them in the cockpit, Veronique watched quietly as the vessel ahead grew closer and closer.

Within an hour, Chaos was sailing alongside a three-masted gaff schooner.[1] Raquel took the helm. Hanns stood on the cabin top taking photographs. The Pernik had a white-planked hull with traditional black bulwarks[2] over which waved the top halves of about a dozen of her occupants, some of whom pointed their own cameras at Chaos. A bare-chested woman in decoratively embroidered blue jeans ascended the ratlines into the rigging to wave at them from on high, her shadow waving in unison upon the wall of canvas behind her.

“Looks like a bunch of hippies put together a floating commune over there,” observed Hanns.

“People from a disappearing tribe sailing a boat of a disappearing species; I wouldn’t trade what we’re doing for that but cruising around on a tall ship with a bunch of free-spirited people couldn’t be such a bad way to travel the world,” returned Raquel.

Hanns snapped another photo. “Looks like the party never stops.”

As the wind continued to die, Chaos gradually gained more advantage and was now able to literally sail in circles around the larger vessel, affording Hanns an opportunity to shoot photographs of her from every angle. Finally the breeze gave out altogether. The seas flattened forcing Hanns to start the engine and furl his canvas.

Aboard the Pernik, the crew lowered and tied down gigantic gaff sails. “Ahoy Windship Chaos,” came a voice from her rail. “Come tie alongside. Join us.”

Hanns obliged, placing inflatable fenders along the outside of the port ama to keep his hull from beating against that of the larger vessel before motoring over to toss lines to the waiting hands of his hosts.

A man stepped to the rail and spoke sternly. “I’m Captain Norman. Look around but please just don’t fuck with anything here. I’m running a goddamned ship and … ”

“Don’t mind ‘Stormin’ Norman,’ interrupted a smiling young woman. “He’s just practicing his people skills.”

Norman looked disgusted and walked off as if he had more important business to attend to on a drifting ship on a windless afternoon.

“I’m Bett and this is the Pernik, a hundred and twenty-three feet of 1920s Baltic trader salvaged from a ship graveyard in Sweden by a bunch of weekend sailors who had a thing for tall ships. They patched her up and crew members have come and gone over the years. Eventually they sold shares in her so the people here now are mostly owner/partners. We’re heading down to Martinique to do some work on her.”

“I imagine there’s plenty of that to be done,” noted Hanns.
“A ship like this must … ”

“You can’t possibly imagine … but we have a lot of fun, too,” laughed Bett. “There’s enough crew on board to handle the heavy lifting. Some of us enjoy sailing the boat and others are completely green. Knowing what you’re doing isn’t a requirement but I like getting involved with working the boat. When things get rough, I feel more like I can actually do something constructive instead of lying in my bunk and praying we survive.”

In company with a few of the Pernik’s residents, Hanns, Raquel and Veronique followed Bett around the ship as she showed them the galley and a former cargo hold converted into a not-very-private communal sleeping space. “This isn’t the Queen Mary,” Bett explained. “You get a bunk and a locker; that’s your stateroom. There’s no vanity allowed here. We shower on deck. The head hangs over the stern rail. There’s no room service and there’s no maid service but this boat’s been cruising the globe on a shoestring budget for years. Some of us have been aboard for a long time. It’s an adventure.”

Returning to the deck, they met the rest of the Pernik’s crew and passengers. They offered tours of Windship Chaos for those interested in seeing her or just wanting a change of scenery. The windless afternoon grew hot. Before long, sixteen naked people were jumping from the Pernik’s rigging into the placid sea and playing hide-and-seek between Chaos’s hulls. Guitars, a harmonica and set of conga drums made their way topside from below-decks. A bottle of Jamaican rum and a joint were passed around, blending the sounds and smells and colors and personalities of life aboard the traditional wooden ship into a pleasant tapestry of song and laughter.

A fairly good-sized black and beige pig wandered around the deck, mooching scraps and greeting people affectionately like an oversized dog. “Don’t mind Scallywag,” explained Bett. “Norman picked her up back in New England thinking she’d be a good source of protein once we got south. By the time we hit the Caribbean, everyone had bonded with her. She’s our friend and mascot. Even Norman has a soft spot for her. We just couldn’t kill the pig.”

Veronique laughed aloud with obvious disbelief. “You couldn’t kill zee peeg?”

“We just couldn’t do it,” replied Bett. “She’s as smart and loving as a good dog.”

“You couldn’t kill zee peeg?”

Bett nodded and chuckled as Veronique repeated her question, trying to insert it into her picture of reality like an odd puzzle piece.

“You couldn’t kill zee peeg?”

Norman stepped in with his usual tactlessness. “Jesus bitch, what’s your problem? We couldn’t kill the goddamned pig. What’s so fucking difficult to understand about not being able to kill something. Didn’t you ever have a pet when you were growing up?”

Veronique sat frozen on the deck, paralyzed, trying not to cry, at an utter loss over to how to respond to the unexpected barb. Muttering an almost inaudible “thank you” to the rest of the Pernik’s crew, she rose to her feet, climbed over the rail and returned to Windship Chaos where she went below to hide in her bunk.

“You’re a goddamned peach, Norm,” scolded Bett.

Norman shrugged and rolled his eyes but the music and other intoxicants soon restored the festive atmosphere. Raquel retreated below-decks with a woman who, it turned out, had a mutual friend in New York. On deck, Hanns swapped sailing stories with some of the more experienced crew members while relative newcomers to sailing and the Pernik listened on.

He sniffed the air and stood up, looking out over the sea. “I think I felt a puff of wind.”

“Alright folks, party’s over,” shouted Norman. “Let’s get some sails up and get this tub under weigh[4] again. Hanns, if you’re going to hang out here, you’ll want to put your boat on a tow line behind us so she doesn’t get the shit beat out of her.”

Swimmers clambered up boarding ladders. Crew members donned jeans and shoes and hauled huge walls of canvas aloft. “I’ve got your boat, Hanns,” offered one of the Pernik’s crew. Hanns nodded. The man untied Chaos from alongside, let her drift back and fastened her bow line to a cleat on the aft deck.

The tradewinds returned quickly. The Pernik gathered speed, heeling slightly. Chaos skipped along behind on her tow line as the breeze freshened.

Hanns wondered how he was going to get back aboard her.

The towline was under great tension. Pulling Chaos closer was not an option. He considered the relative risks and merits of using the tow line as a bridge. The Pernik was still traveling at a moderate speed, but if he fell off, he’d have to avoid getting run over by Chaos. There would be slim odds of successfully getting back aboard as she went by.

He abandoned that idea altogether when the tow line slipped off its cleat, leaving Chaos drifting and spinning slowly in the Pernik’s wake.

[1] Gaff sails have a boom or spar (called a gaff) along the top edge as well as along the bottom. A schooner is a type of sailing vessel with two or more masts, the largest of which is aft of the vessel’s center of effort.

[2] Bullwarks are wooden railings extending above the deck line.

[3] Though common usage is to say “under way,” old ships used a human-powered windlass to raise heavy anchors off the bottom. When the order was given to “weigh anchor,” the crew would feel the weight of massive anchors suspended on heavy chains on their shoulders. Once the anchors were aboard, the vessel was considered to be “under weigh.” Today, a vessel is said to be making “way” through the water, but this is likely a coincidental evolution based on the homonymous relationship between “weigh” and “way.”