He ran back to the afterdeck and to the helmsman. Try as he might the helmsman could not control the movement of the ship. The canvas sails were beginning to be pulled over the sides; the weight and downward pressure from the sea was pulling the hull dangerously over. The ship was out of control.
“Where is Henry?” Michael yelled to the helmsman over the noise and confusion of the storm. The helmsman, shrugged. “I do not know sir.”
“Try to point the ship directly into the wind, if you can.”
“Aye sir but it is tough. I can feel the strain on the entire ship. The
rudder is under tremendous pressure.” He yelled back at Michael
above the ambient noise level. Michael looked at him, then forward
then back again. Suddenly something to port caught his eye.
“How can this be?” he thought to himself. Then it dawned on him.
The ship was dangerously close to the shoals and reefs of Gravelines,
a small port off France’s northeast coast. The irony was not lost on
Michael. Here, just over 50 years ago, his grandfather and the Royal
Navy had it out with some of the galleons of the Spanish Armada,
at least those ships that had escaped the ‘hellburners’ but had not
reached the open North Sea to escape.
“God damn it.” He cursed under his breath, and then made the
sign of the cross.
Michael ran forward as best he could. The men below were now
on deck. Michael yelled at them to grab axes, swords, anything sharp
and begin to hack away at the ends of the running rigging that were
still secured to the ship’s superstructure and hard points. They had
to free the end of the rigging that was still secured to the ship to
relieve the pressure of the sails in the water and let them run free
and hopefully clear of the ship’s hull and keel. The sailors began to
hack away. They had to be careful as the rigging was as taught as
harpsichord wire. Tremendous pressure was exerted on the rigging
so much so that as the axes came down and cut the lines they flew off
at such a force that a man’s head could be cut off cleanly if caught in
the line of trajectory.
Michael ran forward up the starboard side, which was now the
high side of the ship, dangerously so. He looked aft and saw that
the helmsman was being helped by two of the crew. By the look and strain on their faces it would appear that they were having little luck in controlling the ship.
He continued forward. Suddenly he heard some screams below him. He looked down and was shocked to see Henry caught on the underside of one of the booms, which had separated from one of the main mast yardarms when it came down. Michael bent down to examine Henry’s condition. He could see that both of his legs had been crushed and were pinned down by the weight of the yardarm and mast itself. Michael tried his best to relieve the pressure but to no avail. He yelled at Henry as best he could over the noise of the storm. To make matters worse wave after wave of cold channel water crashed over the starboard side bulwarks soaking Michael and Henry.
Henry could not move. It was impossible for Michael to save Henry. Every slight jar of the boom caused Henry unbearable pain.
“You Michael…sir. Forget about me…I am finished. Save the ship.”
Michael was caught in a moment of indecision. He knew he could not help his friend and shipmate but did not want to leave him. He looked about for help but all hands were busy.
“Go Michael…go. Forget about me. Save yourself and the ship.”
Michael stood up. He felt considerable remorse and guilt considering his current situation but he knew Henry to be right. Slowly he walked back, away from Henry’s sight. He could not bear to see the hopelessness and fear on Henry’s face. He knew that death was sure to come. Another wave came crashing over the bow drenching Michael. The shock of the cold water woke him up to his reality.