The good ship Hydra was a simple two mast affair. It didn’t carry any cannon, but if it had, I would have been ready to prove my valor manning a swivel gun, or repelling boarders. The deck ran about ten feet above the non-kraken filled depths of the straight that protected Catalina from Los Angeles. The masts were the main and the mizzen. Since I was too chicken to climb the rigging on the main-mast, I had been relegated to crew the mizzen, a slight step above those unfortunates that were on the jib or permanent deck detail.
When we had weighed anchor and left port, my trepidation about the main-mast had been palpable. I did not want to lose face among my crew-mates, least of all in front of Bartleby. Then, in a matter of minutes, the fear had slipped away with our wake. One minute, we were cruising through the ant-tidal waves of the harbor. Then the prow plunged into the ocean, and the sound oak of the hull was slammed with a host of mini-tsunamis. The ship lurched and tossed like a restless somnambulist. Immediately, my crew-mates hurtled to the rails. From their horrified mouths, a gale of undigested material fell into waters, marking our path for hungry fish and gulls.
At that moment, when I and the seasoned salts of the crew stood fast, I saw what was imposing about the Captain. His face contorted into a shark’s grin at the predicament of his minnows. He then noticed me staring, and quickly bellowed at me to make myself useful. This gesture won me more accolades than he could have imagined from the ailing lads. It was impressive as I was mopping the deck on the first day with stable legs, sans vomiting, alone while the ship cut through the massive chop of four foot swells, while the rest of them cursed their weak inner ears and bemoaned ever leaving their fair desert land.
The next day passed with much groaning and complaining. I doubted that half of them would climb the main-mast, and as such I relaxed, and enjoyed my solitude around the ship. At midday, my fair-weather thoughts clouded over, as the crew slowly began to adjust to the harmonics of the waves, and began to explore their new surroundings like curious monkeys. Steadily, my fear began to creep up inside the bilge of my mind.
The main-mast, I estimated, was at least thirty to forty feet tall from the deck. Which meant it was fifty feet or so from the cold surface of the Pacific below. It was not the height that bothered me, I mused on the second day, as I watched recently recovered mates scramble up the flexible rigging. I had climbed higher – much higher on land, and had not thought twice about it. It was more the motion – the random, bizarre, herky-jerky, involving both x and y planes in terms of physics, flat out unpredictable movements of a standard boat at sea that phased me.
The only parallel I could draw between it and my previous ascents was completely improbable. Climbing it, I guessed, would be like free climbing a face that was being shaken roughly by an unfriendly giant. This meant that as my compatriots ascended and triumphed, I watched. I stared balefully at the rigging, at its lurching and flapping.
My eyes bored into the height, as my brain mused: Verily, should ye attempt it, ye shall be flung; nay catapulted from the mast into the high seas and thereupon meet a horrible fate in the quick brine. I wasn’t sure why I was thinking in old English about this matter, but I was sure that it was further evidence of my paranoia. I couldn’t fathom the depths of my fear of the mast, as I had executed much more dangerous actions in my life, but fear has this funny way of refusing to listen to logic. The fear had turned my brain to a spineless floating jelly. More importantly, by day three, the fear had the undesirable side effect of scuttling my reputation and potential standing among the crew, thanks to the machinations of Bartleby.