LIFEBOAT CREW

A Journey to the Edge of Night

By R. L. Huber  

 

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Go back in time almost seventy years when the Coast Guard patrolled offshore in four stack destroyers, long before motorized lifeboats, radar, and rapid communications. This macabre tale of an eighteen year old seaman on the USCGD (U.S. Coast Guard Destroyer) HERNDON #17 describes a seven hour rescue made from a lifeboat pulled by oars in a dark and stormy sea.

    We are the lifeboat crew. Out of the dark and storm we come, from the heroic past, another world, another time. Like the meteorite’s brief trail, the ragged, twisted wake of our passage tells its story. Written on the water a writing known to only us and to God; we write it but only He understands what we are saying, only He understands the words, and what they mean.

A Rendezvous With Faith

A monster sea comes hurtling out of the raging dark in roaring, crashing thunder—the lifeboat reels to the shock, the oar handle slams into my ribs, wind-whipped spray drives into my face and stings my eyes. We have lost all control of the boat, slewing sideward down an avalanche of water towards the abyss that will be our grave if we don’t regain control in seconds.

The roar of billions of tons of water gone mad is stupendous, mind-staggering, overwhelming; we are ants in the heart of a bursting bomb. But in this moment of stark terror we are fighting for survival. Desperately, we on the starboard oars pull for all we’re worth, while port holds fast, digging in. McEacheron, cursing like a madman, hurls everything he has against the steering oar. The boat turns, straightens out. The lifeboat smashes head-on into the onrushing seas, in a cascade of spray and glittering ice, ghost-white against the blackness of the night.

And we’ve made it. Once again Death has reached for us, and again we’ve turned him back. Savaged, storm-beaten and stunned in this inconceivable fury of wind and water, we are coming on; we will not, we cannot give up—we have to go on.

All about us the roaring seas are racing by at fantastic speed. They are rolling endlessly onward toward a nightmare shore where Death was born and Faith lies drowning. But Faith dies hard and we too, have a rendezvous to keep before we reach the ultimate shore.

The Men From The Past

It is wintertime, in the early 1930’s. We are 300 miles off the coast of New England, battling a northeast gale. We are nine lumps of half-frozen meat, rowing blindly, stupid with cold and fatigue. Somewhere in the raving night ahead a ship is foundering, men are injured, maybe dying. We have heard their cry for help across the desolation between, we know their desperate need, and we must find them before that tiny voice is stilled forever.

To that end, we have bet everything we own—our beat-up, bargain-basement lives—that we can win this grim gamble against the odds for the greater stakes known to Man; we have nothing else to give.

But although we are dirt-poor in possessions, we have our pride for we are heirs to one of the world’s great traditions; the almost impossible feats and the rugged endurance of the lifeboat men are famous among seamen the world over. Nor is this idle boasting; it is a matter of record.

And yet, we are an anachronism. Steam and steel and the internal combustion engine have been in use for decades, but our lifeboat is built of wood, little different from boats of 5,000 years ago, and powered by men, just as they were.

Now our day is dying, nearly over, but we do not know it. The onrushing years will bring radar, television, helicopters, walky-talkies, powered lifeboats, scuba gear and far better clothing—and more. We make do with what we have. Now, in the 1930’s we are the last real link remaining to the days of wooden ships and iron men; and I often wish they hadn’t told me that. For our tradition is too hard to live up to and too easy to die for. Tradition does not keep you warm and dry in a gale like this.

Of Earth and Heaven

The wind here has a thousand voices. It screams, wails, whispers, laughs hysterically, sings to us, sobs like a child, lost and abandoned in the dark. And underlying it all is a sad, deep moaning, as though all the wounded men who ever fell on all the fields of battle are lying out there suffering, somewhere beyond our vision. It is a sound almost too terrible to bear; it is the mighty voice of the storm, but I cannot understand the words.

A Prayer by Starlight

In this staggering, thundering chaos of great seas, racing out of eternity, coming on forever, I remember other times out here, times that help to make our barren lives worth living. I remember quiet waters, the sea like a mirror; the diamond-white fire of the mighty icebergs in the searchlight’s glow, riding down a path of tarnished gold, straight into the mighty face of the moon, balanced there on the horizon; the cold glory of the Northern Lights; the countless stars silvering us in a haze of light; the quick-silver tracing of meteorites writing their brief histories in starry space, and all of these witness to the great glory of God, who made them long ago and placed them there so that men might know beauty. The wonders and the awe and the mystery of it all lives in me still.

On such nights we row quietly, listening for something sacred and secret that surely dwells out here in the enormity of night, beneath the vault of Heaven and the magic of enigmatic stars. God of our fathers, never stop dreaming, lest all this beauty vanish from our sight forever.

But beauty belongs to yesterday, and now we’re concerned with staying alive. We are face to face with the Master of it all, asking for the right to pass, and it is His decision. The wind from the far-off ice-cap of Greenland is singing a song we know; it is a song of death, but still I can hear McEacheron’s fine, Irish tenor, faint as a cry from another world, yet somehow carrying above this insanity of wind and wave, chanting the cadence—counting chant of the lifeboat men, putting some humor into it, trying to cheer us up.

“Ye without mothers—PULL,

“Ye without fathers—PULL,

“All you bastards—PULL.”

And we pull. Ice freezes on my gloves, on my weary arms, breaks and hurtles away in the storm. Ice freezes on my eyebrows, stinging with salt. But still I can see our ship’s searchlight, a very ghost of a light. It is our only hope, our last link to life; it holds all of our hopes, our memories, and our dreams. I dare not close my eyes for fear that, when I open them, the ship may not be there.

What if she goes down and leaves us here alone, lost forever in this lonely sea, to row on and on forever, into Eternity?  How many men like us have vanished into Mystery? They are the numberless dead who thought to beat the pitiless sea.

McEacheron and the Walls of Hell

Barely eighteen, my fear is measureless; yet I am proud to be here, with these men, who are a living legend of the sea; proud that they thought me enough a man to take along on this fearful journey to the Edge of Night, although as yet I have no conception of what awaits us there, or even that it exists. But before this long night is over I have a lot to learn, if I only knew. Now I only know that, whether I live or die, I will have spent this night in great company, in an experience known to few living men. For it is a truly awesome, fearful and humbling experience. It comes upon you as a revelation of the sadness. The loneliness and the stark terror underlying much of life itself, and suddenly you’re older, something deep within you dies out there in that bitter loneliness of sea and sky.

In that bitter loneliness a man is singing a wild Gaelic song, high and full of a terrible beauty, in the wild night. It is McEacheron’s defiance of the storm; his way of telling us that we’ll make it yet, if we only endure. He’s lost his hat; his red hair burns like a torch against the monster seas hurtling endlessly out of forever, to race by and vanish into darkness. He steers us down the incredible slopes into black, foreboding canyons, through the valleys of death, across smoking summits of sea, through the lonely places of the mind, the lost, forsaken desolation brooding in the darkness of our souls.

He is McEacheron, coxswain of the lifeboat, a wild, fiery Irishman from Massachusetts—and he is a man. He would assault the impregnable walls of hell with his bare hands, singing, and he’s doing it now. “PULL,” he yells, “PULL,” and we pull, onward toward the Edge of Night, but we do not know it, and it’s well we don’t.

The Final Enemy

We have a passenger. Somewhere behind us we found a body in the water, an East Indian from his appearance, although not much of his face remains—it was badly slashed by the oar blades. But we’ve stowed him under the thwarts and we’re going on. Our progress is agonizingly slow, we seem to be barely moving, the unending fight against the odds is taking its toll. And I’m learning something here—the battle is fought on two different levels; against the elements themselves, and in the darkness of our souls, against that part of us that makes us human.

It is a though the elements are trying to drive us back across the ages, to beat us into blind, unreasoning helplessness, to destroy our humanity, and to force us to surrender to the animal within. And we cannot allow this to happen, for this is the real hell existing here on earth. A man can be bludgeoned into surrendering his soul.

The lifeboat creeps on, every tiny gain is at the cost of frightful effort. I am beginning to wonder if I’ll make it, and this, too, worries me. If I collapse, if I fall apart, what will the others think of me? A man is a man or he isn’t, and I’m wondering which I am. Fear is the enemy. We may never win the final victory over the remorseless enemy, but we must keep trying.

The Foul-Up At The Start

The hell of it is, if the mission had gone according to plan, it would have been over and done with hours ago. But it began with a foul-up, a case of mistaken identity. The foul-up began when the ship’s lookouts reported what appeared to be wreckage floating in the sea. In the belief that this was probably wreckage from the fishing boat in trouble we launched the lifeboat. Any launch from the deck of a destroyer is successful if someone doesn’t get hurt, but it was premature. The wind and sea seemed to show signs of moderating and the risk of launching was one we were willing to take. Of course, we’re wearing life jackets, if you can call them that. Mine is stenciled as having been made in 1902. Dressed in these oilskins, sea boots, sweaters and heavy woolens, we would sink like stones. And a man can only live a few minutes in these freezing waters.

A long, hard pull to the wreckage in question, and an intensive investigation, told us that it could not have come from the fishing boat; it’s too large for that. This is something else and it creates a problem—because it cannot be allowed to float into the heavily traveled sea-lanes further south, it will have to be destroyed as a menace to navigation. But that’s a problem for the destroyer. Our problem is the distressed fishing boat, if it’s still afloat. The destroyer lost radio contact with them some time ago and we don’t actually know where they are, although it should be in this general area.

Such information as we’ve gained we passed on to the destroyer by blinker; there in no other way of communicating between us. Suddenly there’s the thudding crump of a cannon. Long seconds later a light grows and blossoms far away to the southwest . . . a star shell! Moments later the searchlight swings wildly, then points steadily outward. They think they’ve seen something, and the searchlight gives us the new direction. As we turn, the destroyer’s blinker sends a last signal: “GOOD SAILING, AND GOOD LUCK, TO ALL OF YOU—UNTIL WE MEET AGAIN.”

Then we turned away and started on our long, lonely journey, and with the passage of time the wind and sea built up again, and it grew colder. This was hours ago, how long I do not know; time has lost all meaning. I cannot feel my hands or feet but I am still rowing, if automatically.

And then, in the timeless dark, in the wildness of the night, I hear a voice screaming over the roar of the wind, “WE’RE THERE, WE MADE IT, WE’RE THERE!” It’s McEacheron on the voice trumpet. Stiffly, I turn my head and yes, we are there, wherever that is. The ship’s light has long since gone. We are a speck, a mote, far, far out on an ocean we only dimly see but ominously sense by its violence; so black is the night that one might believe in the death of light. But, we are there, we’ve reached our destination, and what worries me is the knowledge that we are also very, very near the limits of human endurance; the issue is in doubt.

At the End of the World

Out there, perhaps a hundred yards away, trailing her ragged banners of spume-like smoke, the ice-crusted fishing boat glimmers far down a vast slant of sea. McEacheron fires a flare which bursts high up in the storm-wrack, bathing this weird, surrealistic seascape in a strange and unforgettable light. In our armor of ice, in the eerie light of the flare, wind-driven spray makes us creatures of fire and ice, trailing long streamers of glowing, ghastly, unearthly fire, being of frozen flame, angels or devils, here at the end of the world.

For this is the end of the world. We are beyond all communication, beyond the reach of every other human being on earth; of the billions of people on this planet not one can help us now. Realizing this, we would be less than human if we did not know the gut-twisting fear of force and events too great for us. We are as alone as nine men in a spaceship, lost somewhere among the stars. We are rough men, we have to be, but we are lonely and afraid, but we will do our job, if we can. We are not heroes—we are only men. And yet we are more than what we seem. We are here not for glory, or money, or just because we are sailors. We are here in the name of humanity, all of it; and so, in a sense, we are not alone. We are not important; the important thing is what we stand for. We are Mankind’s challenge to Eternity, we are here to state the case for Man; and we are saying that nothing, nothing on earth or under heaven, can break the indomitable spirit of man.

No, we are not heroes, but there is no one else, we are all there is. At this moment in space and time, we are on the front line of Humanity, we are the front line, we are the very best that mankind can put forward her—because we are all there is.

Ordeal at the Edge of Night

Using the trumpet, McEacheron hails her. The over-strained muscles of my back and a-tremble with weariness, with pain close to agony, my hands in their ragged gloves are frozen to the oar. The wind in the fishing boat’s smashed rigging is a dirge, low and terrible and full of a nameless sorrow. I know that this may be the most awesome scene I will ever witness, and I hear that lonely voice calling, calling in this black immensity, this black nothing from a time before the stars were born. “Is anyone there?”

No answer. We skid down a vast slope of sea, ride upward at breath-taking speed. Again McEacheron fires the flare gun crawling with strange shadows, shadows that seem alive. Then the flare burns out. In two desperate, all-out efforts we have managed to put a man aboard to find out if there’s anyone alive, somewhere in the wreckage. But now we’re worse off than before: Our man has either fainted from exhaustion or he’s fallen and injured himself. We cannot see him; the hurricane lamp he carried has fallen into the sea. It fell like a falling star; I saw it glimmer far down in the water as it sank to the bottom, miles down. The pounding on my straining heart roars in my ears like the roar of the storm itself, but through the agony and the fear that fills me I know we have to try again.

But can we? The endless hours have taken so much from us. Do we have enough left? McEacheron gives us the answer:  he’s yelling, screaming, begging us on the voice trumpet, “We can’t let him die there! We can’t! Take me there and I’ll get him! Move, goddamn you, MOVE.” And because he’s McEacheron, and because he’s the only one now with the strength to do it, we’ll try again although now we’re one man short at the oars. “PULL,” he yells, “PULL,” and we’re moving again toward the wreck; it’s now or never.

We’re getting close now. The wind in the wreckage makes a high humming, vicious sound like all the angry hornets in existence are concentrated here; it is full of threat, pregnant with warning. The wind and the thunder of seas smashing the wreckage is deafening; we’re very close. Too close. Suddenly the wreck looms directly above us like a cliff of ice; we’re going to hit.

There is a rumbling, jarring crash audible above the storm, ice rains down on us in shards and chunks, a large piece hurtles down, and suddenly the whole miserable world is gone, and this freezing hell with it. I’m lying in the bottom of the boat; something is nudging me, it’s our passenger the dead man; he’s slipped his moorings and is prowling around in the half-drowned boat.

Men are lying everywhere, all but covered with fallen ice, but we’re still afloat; we must have struck her a glancing blow. There is a taste of blood in my mouth and of the salt water I’ve swallowed. I get to my knees, retching; McEacheron, his red hair a helmet of ice, is yelling at me.

“BAIL. BAIL, GODDAMN IT. Get the water out quick or we’re going down! Do you want to see what’s down there?”

Mick S.O.B. I can hardly hold the canvas bucket, I’m as weak as a feeble old man, and my hands are numb but I try, and others, now, are bailing too. My head feels like a balloon, from the blow that knocked me out, I’m like a man in a trance, but I have just enough sense left to understand that the attempt to rescue our man has failed. Three times we’ve approached the wreck, and that we haven’t gone to the bottom is a miracle.

Some of the others seem to be unconscious; those who can are attempting to haul them out of the water while still others bail, but our combined efforts are pitiful. This last failure was the last straw; we have broken down at last.”

Battered and beaten, near blind with pain, goaded and driven beyond the limits of human endurance, almost paralyzed with utter exhaustion, we are out of our minds from grueling toil, from terror too long sustained. We know now that we cannot escape this nightmare that will not end. Out of his despair and his pain and his terror, the man upwind of me is vomiting again, vomiting endlessly, endlessly, and it’s freezing all over me, and I want to kill him but I haven’t the strength.

We have been beaten into submission, into all but mindless helplessness; we have been whipped and driven and beaten back, back from everything that made us human, back across the ages to the point where nothing is left of us, nothing but the animal within. Now, slumped over these oars that are too much for us, we can only wait for Death, and He is on the way.

Now, now, we are on that thin, bleeding line where death is preferable to life.

Now, now, we have been driven back as far as men go, and still remain human; our backs are to the Final Wall.

God help us, we are there, we are there. We have reached the Edge of Night.

The Final Rendezvous

In the scheme of things, it may come to pass that I live to be old—very old—and it may be that one day death will seem preferable to life, and life no longer worth living, and I’ll turn my face to the wall and throw in my hand forever. Before the cards fall, in that last split second, I may recognize this place, and remember a boy of eighteen who was here long ago. And, wonder of wonders, hear again the howling of the wind, the surging roar of great seas, hurtling out of eternity, and a far off cresting monster sea, the glimmer of a lifeboat and its crew, storm-battered and sheathed with ice but coming on, coming on forever as we did when I was here before, coming for one of their own.

It may come to pass that we will keep a rendezvous again in great company here at the edge of night.

The Mighty Voice Of Man

It was McEacheron who saved us at the Edge. I found myself at my usual position on the starboard side. A great voice is shouting, it’s the loudest I’ve ever heard, and I said to myself that I’M DEAD, and that this is surely the mighty voice of God. The voice is cursing us, saying that we’re yellow, not fit to live—we don’t deserve it, and a lot worse. It isn’t God; it’s McEacheron, saying that he doesn’t mind dying but that he doesn’t want to drown in the same ocean with the rest of us cowardly bastards. “I asked for men and they sent me women. Girls. Where the hell do you think you are—in the Navy?”

This last hurts, really hurts, it gets through. There’s ill feeling between the Navy and the Coast Guard since the Navy Sub#4 was rammed and sunk by our destroyer Paulding with the loss of all hands. It was an accident, of course, but many Navy men still make an issue of it at every opportunity.

Men are glaring at McEacheron, he’s got our attention now, the Mick S.O.B. and he knows it. “ . . . so if you want to die, okay, but let’s do it together; we are still one man short. He’s there, on that goddamn wreck. Now, let’s go get him first, then die, if you want it that way.”

Then he puts on his military manner; his voice cracks like a whip, “Man the oars. Stand by to give way. Now, give way together!” Then he throws back his head and gives it all he has, and it sounds high above the grinding, howling roar of the gale. “Away, Away the lifeboat.”

And we’re doing it like they used to, in the beginning, when the old-timers made and gave us our tradition; we’re living up to our heroic past, although we’re far from being heroes. And I feel, now, that we’re going to make it. And it’s the goddamndest thing I’ve ever seen, that I ever will see. We drive the lifeboat straight on, through the raging seas until McEacheron yells, “Way enough.”

He let’s go of the steering oar, grabs the boarding ladder and swarms up to the fishing boat’s reeling deck even as we bash into her again in a rain of falling ice. I let go the oar and try to fend off with my hands. McEacheron, in an impossible feat of strength for so slender a man, picks up our man bodily and dumps him into the life boat.

The glow of his hurricane lamp glimmers here and there on the wreck. At last he reappears by the boarding ladder and waves us in. This time we don’t strike; we’re just a fraction short. McEacheron’s hanging on the end of the boarding ladder, dangling, there, and we have to get him. I drop my oar to help the Seaman on the steering oar; together we hurl her stern around. As the stern swings a Seaman stands up and reaches far out, yanks McEacheron off the boarding ladder. Both fall, McEacheron head and shoulders in the sea, but we haul him out of the water, he’s knocked out but hell, he’ll be all right. How can you kill a man like that? Crazy Mick bastard.

We’re shearing away, the gap is widening, we’re pulling away, bailing again, and keeping her into the seas as best we can. Suddenly I realize that I can see the others plainly. It’s dawn—the long dark is over. Lord, Lord, what happened to the night? Gone, too, is despair and hopelessness; they are behind us where they belong, back there at the terrible Edge I’ll never know again until the day I die. And I’m willing to wait.

The Long, Long Trail

We’re homeward bound, and the lifeboat has grown wings. Word has passed that our man is conscious, now, and pulling his share of the load, and we can’t wait to get back to our beloved liverwurst and baloney, back to the human race again.

Suddenly the world blanks out. We’re running through a blinding snowstorm; we’re a tiny, dim world all our own in the feeble light of the hurricane lamp hanging form McEacheron’s shoulder. And then it happens—McEacheron is singing, singing a song we all know, and I join in, and then all of us, we’re all singing, and to me it is haunting and sad and beautiful in all this wild loneliness.

 

“There’s a long, long trail a winding,

Into the land of my dreams—

Where the nightingales are singing,

And the white moon beams

There’s a long, long night a-waiting.”

In the day when I’ll be going down

The long, long trail with you.”

I find myself smiling, a stiff, frozen smile close to tears. I know that wild Irish bastard is telling us to forgive and forget, and it’s the least we can do for him. The song dies away in a great howl of wind, and the roaring surging of the sea, and somehow we all feel better.

The Price of Idealism

The exhilaration, the flame within us that carried us to the Edge still burns—but it’s dying. Something is wrong—wrong! Suddenly, in one blinding moment, I realize what this night has cost me, I know the price I’ve paid. I’ve aged the best part of a lifetime in a single night. Somehow, far out there on the measureless sea I lost my youth, somewhere I crossed a boundary, never knowing it was there.

Ah, that I could one day search the sea to find the place where I lost my youth in a matter of hours, and there turn back the faded page of time to when I was a boy, and still believed in the dreams I dreamed. And in the future, when I know despair, I’ll remember that once I rallied at the Edge and I’ll do my goddamndest to do it again; a man of courage, a man who knows himself and believes in himself cannot be defeated. Life, the swift passage of the years, can break my flimsy bones, bend my back and shatter me, but it cannot defeat me, nor can any other power on Earth or Heaven or Hell, because I’ve been there. And, in spite of it all, I will always be an idealist event though you don’t get paid for idealism—you pay them. The bright flame is gone; we are exhausted men, somehow enduring the unendurable.

Where is the destroyer? We do not know it, but the men aboard her have spent a busy, sleepless night. The steering engine broke down and they had a hell of a time steering manually. On top of that, the old “can” sprang a leak, so they, too, have spent a miserable of a night. Battered and weary as they are, men have spent endless hours straining, hoping to see the lifeboat come out of the storm, from out of that special hell that belongs to us alone. And we, in that special hell, are famished for the sight of other humans, starved for just the sight and the sound of them; we have been so alone that we are afraid that other people no longer exist.

Suddenly we emerge from the snowstorm, to iron-gray skies and the lead-gray sea. And as we crest a great sea I see a star, shining far away, it’s the destroyer’s searchlight—they’ve left it on to guide us home. Coming from hell, I know that heaven exists, that’s it real, because I see it shining there; it is that grim, gray, old destroyer, reeling in the seas, but heaven never the less.

Lord, lord, to get this nightmare over with, to drink a hot drink, to strap myself into my bunk and sleep forever. To be alive, to walk the streets again, in the unbelievable world where people can see other people, watch cars go by, drink a beer in speakeasy (this is 1932-33).

Always, always, in the years to come I will walk strange streets in strange towns, searching for what I do not know, that part of me I lost out there on the lonely sea, and never found again. And this, too, is a part of the price I’ve paid.

McEacheron waves a hand to us, he is smiling a frozen smile. Then he puts our stern hard over and we can see that we’re approaching the destroyer’s bow. He picks up the voice trumpet and yells above the storm, ”Ahoy! Would you have room for a few tourists?”

The bridge answers, “Lay aboard, tourists. And welcome home!”

And wonder of wonders, McEacheron, that tough Irishman, proceeds to become emotional. He bows his ice-crusted redhead and cries like a child. Only then I remember that he has a red-haired wife, also Irish, and a lot of kids to take care of. Only then do I remember that he wears that ragged old sheepskin coat for luck, he says, although we all know that he can’t afford to buy a new one; he feels that his kids need coats more than he does, and so McEacheron, that brave man, goes without.

I wonder if his children will ever know what kind of a man he was, really was. But, of course, they can’t it’s not possible. In order to know McEacheron you have to be able to remember him as I do, in that ragged old coat, shivering with cold, his red hair burning against the monstrous black seas, and singing, and this is how he was and what he was—and that’s how I remember McEacheron.

McEacheron, here’s to you and to all men who wear their guts on the outside, and here’s to that special hell that belongs to you and me and all of us who manned the oars when it was for real. I say to you, from my special hell to yours, “PULL, PULL, you Mick bastard, PULL.” and I want to hear your spine crack when you do. Just like mine did.

This, from me to you, miles and years away, until we meet again at the Edge, if we ever do.

The Breakwaters of the Mind

The crew has hung the aft rail with mats and fenders and rigged a sling to lift us aboard; they know we haven’t the strength to get aboard on our own. And they’ve dumped oil to smooth the pounding seas. Finally, close aboard, a Seaman awaits the right moment and leaps into the lifeboat. He throws a line around me and they haul me up and out of the lifeboat. I bounce off a collision mat, and then I’m on the deck. Two men hustle me down the reeling deck to the ship’s galley, where I can thaw out and get a hot cup of coffee and a sandwich.

Our long ordeal is over. I’m sitting on the metal deck in the galley, plastered with frozen vomit, shaking uncontrollably, trying to hold a cup of coffee in bloody, half frozen hands. It’s comparatively warm in here, and much quieter, but raging winds are still howling somewhere in my mind, monster seas roll endlessly out of Forever and vanish into darkness somewhere behind my eyes.

We have spent some seven hours in the lifeboat. The coffee has a reassuring, familiar smell, but my frozen nose cannot smell it. I want this coffee badly that the wanting is intense, a kind of agony, but I never get to taste it. There is a great darkness rushing down upon me, I desperately try to hold on. A last, strange thought comes spinning blindly out of the rolling thunder of great seas, sledging at the breakwaters of my mind, surging on forever, world without end, “Someday I really ought to learn to swim.”

Then the cup falls from my hands and I’m asleep.

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