We gather in a tight, worried circle, all hands on deck waiting for Captain Wes to break the news. He sighs.
“This is the largest sickness to ever strike Niagara.”
I look around, still unsettled by the gaps where Neil, Jesse, and Paul should be standing. We haven’t heard back from the hospital.
“I know it’s not exactly what you want to be talking about,” Wes continues, “but you’ve got to be honest.” He looks at each of us. “Has anyone been having diarrhea? Anything unusual?”
Megan huffs. “Captain, girls don’t poop!” We all chuckle, and it’s reassuring to see even Captain’s face break into a smile once again.
The sun’s hot. The deck isn’t as cool as I’d like it to be as I lay flat on the grainy wood. Sweat trickles behind my ears and down my neck, carving paths in the dirt and dust that none of us has had time or strength to wash off. I watch the rigid lines of the mast and yards contort and crackle like the static on a dead television.
We’re dropping like flies out here.
Another weary crewmember wobbles toward a gunport in time to vomit into one of the buckets, but the bucket to sick crewmember ratio is, shall we say, a little inadequate. Sailors lie draped over all manner of deck equipment like rags, like a bomb went off. I sigh and close my eyes, losing myself to hot, damp darkness for the next 16 hours.
When I wake, I see the hammock population below deck has nearly tripled as more than half of the crew succumbs to whatever invisible foe is attacking us. There aren’t enough sailors left to man the ship.
We’ve run aground in the water.
I don’t know what time or day it is, and I haven’t had anything to eat or drink for close to a day. Slinking out of my hammock and ducking out of the way of a sick and wobbly fellow, I head up onto the deck to take a few sips of water, then a few sips of Gatorade. I’m not as bad as most of the others, but I need to sit down again.
When I return to the berth deck, I notice that some still-surviving crewmember has dumped out a stash of granola bars on a storage box near the galley. I snag one and flip back into my hammock, sweaty and drained. It takes another 20 minutes of doing nothing before I actually crack the package open.
This is THE BEST granola bar I have ever tasted. Sunbelt chocolate chip granola bars — who knew?
I doze, letting my mind wander and my ears take in the wonderful sound of creaking ropes as my hammock rocks back and forth. Wait, what? My hammock’s rocking.
Just as I roll over, I see Lara come down into the berth deck.
She ninjas her way through the maze of hammocks over to me. “There’s enough crew left to get us back to Erie. We’re in quarantine, so we’re not helping. Captain disbanded alpha, bravo, and charlie watches. Now we’ve got Healthy Watch and Zombie Watch, which is us.”
“What about everyone at the hospital?” I ask.
Lara shakes her head. “They took Jamie and Jesse to Hamot.”
“Yeah, unfortunately.” As she makes her way over to her hammock, I roll over again and stare up at the ceiling a few inches away, hoping that everyone will be all right.
It’s dark and cold the next time I emerge on deck. Why on earth would Captain call all-hands right now? I look around.
We’re at another port. A port with a rounded stone pier. There’s a lighthouse nearby. Dobbins’ Landing? Wait….
This is the pier where I first boarded Niagara.
Wes sends us off in quarantine groups after a few wonderful (and obviously tired) cooks emerge from a nearby building and give us a little food. It must be 2 in the morning, and they’ve been cooking for us!
The hugs are long and strong when my parents meet up with me after all this time. The ship, now revived, once again bustles with hale crewmembers, and Cusson helps me to unload the last of my belongings from sea bag #42. Neil, Jesse, Paul, and Jamie are as fit as ever, and I scan over the ship one last time. I turn back to my mother, tucking my right arm behind me to hide the injuries that I don’t want her to see, and I shake Captain Wes’ hand with a confident smile that’s so much the opposite of the shy stare that I gave him all those weeks ago.
What have I gotten myself into? That’s what I asked when I first stepped aboard Niagara. What am I doing? I watch Wes turn away and return to his ship, and I catch Billy waving at me from up on the bridge deck. I smile.
I got myself into something great.
I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.
I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.
I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way, where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.
— John Masefield
Quotes from these days’ ship logs:
“Half of our entire crew is down.”
“Wes is handling the situation very well — this is the largest sickness to ever strike Niagara.”
“Spent the entire day in quarantine in the berth deck. Only a handful of crew are left.”
This marks the end of the official Flagship Niagara Diaries series. However, stay tuned for next week, when I’ll do a great collage of all the things that didn’t make it into the series! Lots of pictures, and TONS of hilarity! Don’t miss it. When I return to the ships in September 2013, expect another post about the historic Battle of Lake Erie! Thanks for reading!