Chapter 46 – Jason at Sea I

Jason looked back as the dock slowly receded in the distance. His cheeks were still red from the scene on the dock a few minutes prior. Rayla would not let go of her boy until the last minute, and had hugged the boy to her chest. Jason was just a bit younger than 12, so at his height, his face was just about level with his mother’s ample chest. When he finally broke free to run up the gangplank before it was pulled aside, he heard one or two comments about his ‘ear muffs’. The sailors spoke softly, because they all knew Rayla was Stone’s wife, and they didn’t want to annoy the giant. But every sailor, and some of the officers, stared at the pretty woman, who still looked like a teenager since she hadn’t aged since arriving on this planet.

Jason went to the captain’s quarters to join the other cabin boy, who had been on the last few voyages, although he was a year younger than Jason. Kolan was nearly as tall as Jason, but much thinner, and immediately pulled the seniority card on the new boy.

“Our main job is to serve the captain and sometimes the mates,” Kolan said. “We serve the meals and sometimes run errands, although most times they use the whistle to alert the men. I likes to sleep in mornings, so you serve breakfast and lunch: I’ll do dinner. We eat after the captain is fed and the dishes are sent to the galley. We sleep in here’s.” He opened what Jason considered a closet, and saw two cloth things spread across. “I’ll sleep in the top hammock so’s you don’t wake me getting up in the morning.” With that the younger boy clambered up a ladder and spread out on the top cloth. Jason had never seen such an affair before, but sat on it and found it fairly comfortable.

“Don’t you lie down,” the bossy boy said. “You are new and can serve the evening shift today. Head to the galley and see what they need you to do, then take the cap’n’s supper to him.” Jason just stood in amazement, and less than a minute later his partner was snoring lightly.

Jason had no intention of lying down. He was on the ship: at sea. He wanted to learn anything and everything he could about sea life. He wandered about, staring at the men on the masts and the men climbing about them, looking like little monkeys up there. He wondered about for 15 minutes, and finally his sense of smell led him to the galley, where four men were hard at work. One was clearly in charge: barking orders at the others.

“You the new cabin boy?” the man snapped at Jason. “Whar’s the other brat? He’s s’pposed to be showing you the ropes.”

“Kolan’s sleeping, sir,” Jason said,

“Hah. ‘bout the only thing he’s good fer. And don’t call me sir. Sir is fer the officers. You kin call me cookie like the others do. Since the kid finds sleep more important than his job, you’ll have ter figgur it out fer yerself. See that cupboard on the wall next to yer? There’s china dishes in there for the cap’n and the mates. The tin ones is fer the rest of us. Get out two plates an’ set ‘em on that tray. You need a big plate, a saucer, an’ a cup. Cap’n drinks tea. The mate’ll take a grog, so git one of them small cups out for him as well.” The cook poured the tea with one hand as the other stirred the big bowl. Then he lifted a lid of the grill and put two slices of fried ham on the plates. “Cap’n gets the big one.” Finally he scooped out two large ladles of the food from the pot, again, putting a bigger amount on one plate.

“Yer got yer sea legs yet? Take that platter up to the cap’n’s cabin aft, and doan spill none. Taint no more ham if yer drops it. Cap’n will have words with you if yer does.”

Jason did have his sea legs, and picked up the tray and started out the door, nearly colliding with a sailor poking his head in to see when dinner would be served. He walked towards the front of the ship to where the captain’s quarters were. The rolling motion of the ship seemed to want to make him spill, but he quickly got the hang of anticipating the movements and compensating. When he got to the cabin, a passing sailor noted that his hands were full, and opened the door for him.

“Thank you,” Jason said as he entered the cabin, closing the door with his foot.

What a polite young fellow, the sailor thought as he went on his way.

The captain rolled up several charts to allow Jason to deposit the servings on the table. With both place-settings laid out the way his mother had taught him, he stood back, glancing around to see who the second setting was for.

“Sit, boy,” the Captain said. “Normally I dine with the first mate, but he is eating with the second mate in their room. I wanted a chance to chat with you. It will only be this one time, but I have some information to pass on to you.”

“Thank you, captain,” Jason said watching the captain carefully and only taking small bites of the rich food.

“I have some rather express orders from you mother,” the captain said. “She said you are to be kept safe, away from the sails and climbing the masts. I think she wanted you to be a personal servant, staying with me at all times.”

Jason looked shocked. This was not why he had come to sea.

“But later I spoke with your father,” the only white man on the ship said. “He intends to take this ship across the ocean in a year or two, and he expects you to learn as much about sailing her as you can in that time. I explained that this would mean going aloft with the men as needed, and learning your ropes.”

Jason realized he had stopped breathing, and let out a gasp of air as he learned that his father had countermanded the orders his mother had made.

“I owe your father a great deal,” the captain said. “He gave me a second chance. So I want you to be careful, and take no risks. Leave the dangerous jobs to the other men: they are expendable; you are not. I do not want the job of telling your father that you were lost at sea. And especially not your mother.”

“So, based on your father’s wishes, you will not serve as a cabin boy. Your new title will be ship’s monkey: a position that will allow you to roam the ship at will. You can go into the masts, the hull, anywhere. Your goal will be to find anything that looks amiss, and report back to me, or the mate on duty.”

Jason was elated as he ate the rich dinner he had served. This was the ideal position for him: he wanted nothing more than to get into the masts and spars and find out how the ship actually worked.

When Jason cleaned up the serving dishes as the captain sat back and lit a cigar. The old man said: “This is you last day as a cabin boy. After you get your dishes cleaned, send the other boy to me. He should have spent more time showing you your job. Probably sleeping. I will deal with him.”

Jason headed back to the galley, where the cook was cleaning up. “The first mate tells me you ate with the captain,” he said somewhat sarcastically. “I hope the food met with your approval.”

“It did,” Jason said. “It was wonderful. So tasty. I think the ship is lucky to have such a fine cook.”

The compliment pleased the man, and he decided that Jason was not such a bad fellow after all. The boy eagerly washed the dishes from the captain’s table, and put them away without grumbling the way the other cabin boy did.

The ship’s company was 34. There were three shifts of eight able seamen, a master and a mate (or the captain). The men not on shifts were the cabin boy, the ship’s monkey, Kalosun, who was both chaplain and doctor, and the carpenter.

The day shift ran from 8 to 4. The evening shift was 4 till midnight, and the third shift was midnight to 8. It was the easiest shift as no men went into the sails when it was dark, so until dawn started to light the skies, not much was done.

There were different shifts as well. Storm shifts meant that men worked two shifts and slept for the third, with the captain and the first mate in charge. Finally, ‘all hands on deck’ was for emergency situations, such as hurricanes, when men all worked as long as needed to keep the ship afloat.

Of the 10 men on each shift the mate (or captain) stayed in the helm cabin behind the captain’s cabin, where the charts were. The master would be on the main deck, and relayed the orders of the mate, usually by a combination of pipes on a shrill two-note whistle. One to three men were at the wheel near the aft of the ship, depending on the height of the seas. Higher seas meant it took more men to turn (or steady) the great wheel. Two men were in the crow’s-nests (except at night) and five to seven worked the sails, during the light hours. At night the watch came down from their perch and took positions at the front of the ship, one to either side, where they listened in the inky black for sounds that warned of rocks and breakers.

As monkey, Jason worked as needed, and soon was on the masts and spars, learning what the men did, and helping out where he could. His infectious smile and eternal good nature soon endured himself to the men, particularly when he learned their jobs, and was quick to lend a hand rather than sitting back and watching them work, as most monkeys do.

Some of the men were harder to befriend then others. The mizzen watch on the afternoon shift was one. Jason got a fairly cold reception when his first crawled into the nest. The sailor said nothing, ignoring Jason as he continually rotated his head to search the seas for danger. “That must be hard on your neck,” Jason finally said as the man swiveled back and forth.

“Tad”, the sailor said, the first word he had spoken in nearly an hour.

“Let me try this,” the boy said, standing behind the sailor and started to massage his neck the way Rayla had taught him. The sailor was about to order him to stop, when he realized that the boy’s hands actually felt good. And Jason was rewarded when the old man started telling him exciting stories of his days on the whaler’s. From that time on Jason made sure to spend at least a half hour in the crow’s-nest with the old man who told stories and pointed out whale’s spouts in the distance. On a whaler, such a spotting was the start of action. On a trader it was just an interesting view.

Jason tried his hand at the helm, and learned that his young 12-year-old body was far too weak to hold the wheel steady. If the normal helmsman was not helping, the wheel could have yanked the boy off his feet. But two days later, he was back again this time with a short length of rope. He asked to try the helm again, and this time, before taking the wheel, he hooked one loop of the rope around a post on the wheel, and the other end to a belaying pin on the side of the deck. When the regular helmsman let go, the wheel tried to spin, and the rope held it firm. Jason and the helmsman both stood back and let the ship sail on Jason’s autopilot. He then tied another rope, and strung it to another belaying pin, constraining the wheel from spinning in another direction.

The helmsman stood relaxing his muscular arms for nearly a half hour until the captain came back. The wind was picking up, and he wondered if a second helmsman was needed. He saw the two ropes, holding the wheel on a straight course, and was confused.

“What the devil is that?” he barked.

“It’s an invention Jason came up with,” the helmsman said. “The rope makes it a bit easier to control the wheel. I just have to make course corrections, and the boy resets the pins to the new heading. Saves the arms.”

“Taint natural,” the captain shouted. “Take it off and steer the ship the way God intended you to.”

Keenstone, the first mate, had been in the helm cabin, but came out at the captain’s roar. He saw the roped in action before Jason and the helmsman dismantled them, and decided the idea was a good one. However he would not countermand the captain, so he said nothing. But when Jason walked away with the ropes, Keen took them from the boy, and whispered “smart thinking.”

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