Throughout the morning, a haze had occupied the air over the ocean. It sat on the peaks of waves, mixing with salt as whitecaps threw spray in the air, then rushed into the empty space left behind when the waves rolled past. It rode on the gusts of wind that howled over the gray ocean. It shrouded the ship as she fought for purchase over the swells, pointing dangerously upwind.
On the quarterdeck, the captain’s hands were chapped from the wind and crusted with salt and red from a tense grip on the wheel. The polished wood was slick with sea spray and morning haze and it pushed against the captain’s hands as the cutting breeze tipped the bow of the ship off her set course. The captain grimaced and resisted the wind’s diversion with a sharp tug on one of the wheel’s pegs though he knew the wind would take back whatever he had just gained.
Angela, relieve the helm.
What’s your bearing, Captain?
Zero nine five, and keep her above zero nine zero.
How will we reach port tonight on that course?
Unfavorable wind, nothing we can do. Just keep her as high as you can, full and by.
Water droplets clung to the pin rails and cabin tops and puddles formed in crevices on the deck. The haze felt heavy on the ship’s back and she groaned at the challenge of the waves against her hull. She wanted to flee, let the wind guide her wherever it would, but she was bound to a different master. Zero nine five, and keep her above zero nine zero. The ship keened and coughed. The luff of her sails raked the air like a ragged breath as she struggled against a truculent sea.
Afternoon came. Now the sun began to pry its way through a thick cover of clouds. Now the sun came, reluctantly at first but then hastening to fill the sky. Now the sun caught the haze in its beams and dispersed it to the wind, drying the air and the deck, coloring over the gray of the sky and sea in kinder blues and greens. As if called by the welcoming sun, the crew who had been standing easy in the fo’c’s’le timidly ventured above decks where they were greeted by a warmth that had become unfamiliar in the past week.
And now the wind changed, too.
The captain was back at the helm.
We’re backed off to zero seven five. Perfect to tack. Ready about.
The echo of the crew, ready forward, ready midships.
Hard to lee. Pass heads’ls. Brace sharp, starboard side haul.
The ship was eager now, cutting lithely through the water. The morning wind had held her back but now the afternoon breeze drove her on. The air was no longer heavy with haze and the ocean glistened and sang sweetly. The sun beamed, a benediction in its rays.
The crew was eager as well, unburdened of the haze. Palms stinging from hauling line and hair tangled from gusts that were no longer mean but playful, the crew gathered back on the quarterdeck. They perched on the cabin top like hatchlings or else lounged indulgently against the rails and basked in the light, no longer driven to seek shelter belowdecks. After so many days, now they remembered what it was to be welcomed by the sea. Even the ship remembered, as she skimmed over a glassy ocean. The swells caressed her hull and the favorable winds filled her sails. On the horizon, there was land.
The captain looked up from his chapped hands resting on the wheel, and took in what was ahead of him. Land, sea, sky, all lit by soft afternoon sun. After one last glance down at his compass, he kept his eyes fixed on the horizon, where he could just make out the black and white of a lighthouse and the harbor’s entrance of their port of call.
Hands to set the fisherman, hands to set the jib top, hands to set the jackyard tops’l.
The crew sprang to action with a restless and excited energy. They called back, fisherman, jib top, jackyard tops’l.
The ship was flying now, and she and the captain both hummed with contentment. With this wind, we’ll be anchored at Nantucket by dusk.