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A Matt Christopher Adventure Classic


Author: Matt Christopher
2010 Reissue Edition
Retail: $9.95US; 96pp
5"x 8" Trade Paperback
ISBN 978-1-933523-40-8 print
ISBN 978-1-62268-026-9 ebook
LCCN 2010929270


Chapter One

The thirty-one-foot sloop, Excalibur, was heading in a south-southeasterly direction from Great Exuma Island in the Bahamas, having already spent three weeks among the numerous cays that stretched out for ninety-two miles from New Providence Island to the southeastern tip of Great Exuma.
    Up till now there had been no indication of impending foul weather. A wind had been blowing from the north-northeast at a steady fifteen knots per hour, providing ample power for the craft's leisurely journey: first to Great Inagua, then around the Caicos Bank, the easternmost tip of the route, finally to return to the outer islands on the way home.
    A check with the coast guard before leaving George Town at the southern tip of Great Exuma had assured her three-member crew, Andrew and Mary Ann Crossett, and their twelve-year-old son, Andy, of good sailing weather for the next few days, providing nothing unpredictable happened. So far only an accidental grounding in the shallow waters of the Jumento Cays had delayed them about half a day. To free the sloop Andrew Crossett had carried the plow anchor some one hundred feet astern in a power-driven dinghy, dropped it into about five feet of water, then returned to the sloop and tried to winch it back into deeper water. It was a tough, grinding operation, even with Mary Ann and Andy's help. When at last the sloop broke loose, the Crossetts continued on their journey, this time with extra caution.
    They anchored on the leeward side of Castle Island for the night, then set off at daybreak for Great Inagua.
    It was just past ten that morning when the radio announced a storm warning.
    "A tropical storm has developed about one hundred miles east of Mayaguana Island and is heading in a westerly direction at about fifteen to twenty knots an hour," the announcer said.
    "A tropical storm?" Andy whispered. The thought suddenly sounded scary.
    "Wait, Andy," said his father. "Let's hear the rest of it."
    "The diameter of the storm is predicted to be at least fifty miles and probably as wide as one hundred. The damage that it could cause to anything in its path is nothing short of disastrous. The coast guard warns that all vessels within the area head for safer waters as soon as possible."
    "I don't like the sound of that, Andrew," said Andy's mother worriedly.
    "Neither do I, Mary Ann. Get me the chart. I'll change course right away."
    Traveling with the Crossett family on the sloop was Max, Andy's pet dog. Max had been with Andy constantly since the Crossetts had found him, almost four years ago. Though he had never been trained as a Seeing Eye dog, he acted as Andy's second sight. For Andy was blind.

* * *

It wasn't entirely for Andy's sake that his parents had embarked on this extensive journey through the Bahamas. Andrew, Andy's tall, blond, robust father, had lived by the sea and sailed boats ever since he was in his teens. A long cruise somewhere—though he had never planned exactly where—had been a dream of his for years. Then he read about the Bahamas, about the trade winds that kept the climate moderate, and about the hundreds of sandy beaches and sandbars off which excellent snorkeling could be enjoyed. Though sightless, Andy could enjoy the sailing, too. It was no problem for him to man the tiller as long as there was someone nearby to direct him which way to turn it. And he was an excellent swimmer. His parents knew he would enjoy swimming in the buoyant salt water of the ocean, and he loved to fish.
    But there was another side of Andy, a side that had often worried Andrew and Mary Ann Crossett. For a long time after Andy had become blind—a firecracker had destroyed his eyesight when he was nine—he had withdrawn into a shell, refusing to see his friends. "I wish I'd die," he had said to his father one day. "I might as well be dead. I can't do anything anymore."
    "You're wrong, Andy," his father had tried to reassure him. "There is still a lot you can do. You have all of your other senses: smell, taste, feeling, and hearing. You also have us—your mother and father. And you have Max. We'll be your eyes."

* * *

The waves had grown high and perilous by four o'clock that afternoon. Dark, cumulonimbus clouds were advancing from the northeast at a rate of almost twenty knots an hour. The sloop rode the crests like a fragile box, then sank into the troughs, lifting again on the next crest as water raged furiously up over the deck and cockpit.
    In a short time the sky above the smell craft was black. The loud, howling wind billowed both the mainsail and the Genoa jib, battering the boat with hard, angry thrusts as if trying desperately to capsize it. The rain, too, lashed out in savage bursts as if from a giant hose which became intermittently plugged, only to break loose again with another devastating torrent. The halyards whipped against the mast, and the ship's joints quaked in protest.
    Andrew Crossett sat in the cockpit, both hands on the tiller and feet braced against the port locker to keep himself secure. The yellow slicker he wore glistened with water, as did his weary, grimacing face. His orange life jacket was tight around him, and the bottom of his pants and his white sneakers were soaked.
    A little while ago he had sent Mary Ann down into the cabin with Andy and Max and asked her to call the coast guard, to notify them of the Excalibur's location. They were somewhere near the northwest coast of Great Inagua Island.
    Now his thoughts returned to his decision to sail down here in the first place—the birthplace of the tropical storm, the cyclone and the hurricane. Of course he had not considered the possibility of running into any one of them; there were meteorologists on the job every minute, and radio reports at regular intervals. But even so he hadn't listened to the reports every time they were broadcast, figuring that the possibility of a tropical storm developing was very small.
    But now here it was, and he and his family were in the middle of it.
    The vertical hatch cover lifted and Mary Ann stepped out, a life jacket over her yellow slicker, its hood tightened around the oval of her face.
    Andrew stared at her. "Mary!" he shouted. "Get back into that cabin!"
    As if she hadn't heard him, she dropped the cover and sat down on the starboard locker, the rain pelting her slicker.
    "Mary! Did you hear me?" Andrew shouted again.
    "I heard you," she answered calmly.
    "Don't you think you should stay with Andy?"
    "Andy's all right. He's lying down, and Max is with him."
    "Did you get the coast guard?" Andrew asked, his voice softer.
    "I don't know. I didn't get an answer," she said. "I just kept on calling. I don't know whether or not anyone heard me. There was a lot of static."

* * *

Mary Ann looked over her shoulder at the clouds, which were advancing so fast that they looked like a black canopy sweeping across the sky. Then she looked beyond the starboard bow of the sloop, and Andrew caught the worried gaze in her eyes.
    He remembered the long discussion they had before they had planned the trip. Like he, Mary Ann enjoyed the sea, but she had always preferred to tag along, never really caring to learn very much about the fundamentals of sailing. Andrew had always wished she would take more interest, but he knew that he couldn't force her. He was pleased that she was willing to participate with him as much as she did, knowing that she did it because of the bond between them—their love together and their mutual love for their only son, Andy.
    However, when it came to the Bahamas trip, Andrew didn't think these reasons were quite enough; she would have to have some genuine interest in going. But when he suggested they call it off she insisted that they mustn't. "Now now. Don't worry," she had said. "Once we get going, I'll enjoy it, too."
    And she had. Up until now, she had enjoyed every minute of it. He could tell by the laughter in her voice and in her eyes. He could tell by the things she said, the tone of her voice and every move she made.
    Now Andrew looked away from her to the task at hand. Never before in his life had he been so worried. On the other hand, the boat seemed big and durable enough. She weighed slightly over eight tons, with a two-ton keel and a five-foot two-inch centerboard designed to maintain stability in very rough seas. She had two twenty-five-horse-power diesel engines in case she needed them: sails might tear under severe wind conditions, although it was rare, and on northern trips the winds might calm down to nearly zero, though here in the tropics that was practically unheard of.
    "Land, Andrew! Land!" Mary Ann shouted suddenly.
    He looked in the direction she was pointing, and when the huge waves lifted the boat to the peak of their crests, he saw a hump on the horizon. It was still very far away. Too far, perhaps.

* * *

Max, lying on the forward berth next to Andy, heard Mary Ann's cry and lifted his gray, dark-spotted head. His long white ears perked up and his heart thumped. He listened for the cry to repeat, but when it didn't, he relaxed and looked at the soft, quiet face of the boy beside him. The boat was pitching and yawing so violently that Max had to keep bracing himself so as not to fall against Andy, whose eyes were closed as if in sleep.
    Max had been selected by Andrew Crossett from a litter of five English setters. He was a year old when Andy lost his sight, and ever since that day he had been as devoted to Andy as any animal could possibly be to his master. Max was big and lean, with a shiny gray coat that suggested good health. His long ears, the only completely white parts of his body, draped over the sides of his angular face like furry curtains. His eyes, like his ears, were sharp and keen.
    Suddenly the boat struck something hard and careened wildly, knocking both Andy and Max against the portside bulwark. Andy's first reaction was to reach for Max and encircle him tightly with his arms.
    "Max! We hit something!" he yelled.
    There was another stunning blow, which sent boy and dog sprawling on the floor, and then a distant scream which Max's sensitive ears picked up. He immediately sensed that something terrible had happened, and began to utter a shrill, whining cry. He struggled to keep from falling all over his young master, but Andy was holding him tightly in a panic-stricken grip.

* * *

One of the dangers threatening ships sailing among the many outer islands of the Caribbean is the reefs that encircle the islands and extend for hundreds of yards, sometimes miles, into the sea, seamen check their charts carefully and steer clear of them. Andrew Crossett knew about the reefs from his close study of the chart, and under normal circumstances he could have avoided them.
    But late this afternoon with a hurricane turning the sea into a boiling cauldron, drenching the sloop with rain, and hurling it mercilessly in its deadly path like a plastic bottle, Andrew Crossett completely lost control. He had seen the reefs and had tried to steer the boat clear of them, but it had been a backbreaking, futile struggle.
    The first impact was a severe jolt that would have knocked him off the boat were it not for his tight grip on the tiller. He cursed, and realized he should have insisted that Mary Ann go back into the cabin. But it was too late now.
    He grabbed the boom which was swinging back and forth wildly, and released the tiller. The pulleys were straining at their joints, and the mainsail was torn from the severe lashing it had received from the now nearly one hundred-mile-an-hour winds.
    "Mary Ann!" he shouted. "Try to get into the cabin!"
    She was sprawled on the cockpit floor, thrown there by the collision. Now she braced herself against the sides, put a hand on the tiller and was reaching for Andrew's legs, when the boat struck another reef. At the same time a huge wave smashed against the starboard beam and lifted it, and Mary Ann, trying desperately to hang onto the tiller, lost her grip and was thrown into the sea. Her shrill scream was terror filled as she sank into the white, frothing water.
    Andrew froze in horror as he saw her go over. He glimpsed her in her orange life jacket bobbing up in the water, saw her hand reaching up and heard her voice screaming above the din of the storm. Her cries knifed into his very soul, and he knew instantly that he must try to save her. There were reefs beyond her, but if he could get to her—praise God—perhaps there might be a chance for both of them.
In an instant, he let go of the boom and dove into the water.

copyright ©2010 Matt Christopher Royalties, Inc.

Author: Matt Christopher
2010 Reissue Edition
Retail: $9.95US; 96pp
5"x 8" Trade Paperback
ISBN 978-1-933523-40-8 print
ISBN 978-1-62268-026-9 ebook
LCCN 2010929270


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