Captain’s Log

I am the Captain of a mighty vessel.
The voice of a hundred men.

Can a man who is good, but has never known God, find him? The true and living God. This Captain did.

My Voyage Begins

Deep in my heart there is no evilonly a justified revenge. My ship was destroyed by fire and my men are dead. I lost my Glenda years ago. That my second wife ran away is the claim to my schedule – and the sea I love.

Now I am a drifter. No longer a captain, the sea is my sole companion. Where Reason takes me, I do not care. Let me go with the tides and the wind.

I begin my log.

The Way of a Man.
My Log since the Accident

Captain’s Log
February 28

I am the Captain of a mighty vessel. The voice of a hundred men. I have sailed every sea, and visited every land. I am without equal.

Three weeks ago, I lost my ship in a storm. With it, fifty of my men lay at rest outside Gibraltar. I am in despair. I lost my first wife Glenda. My second wife left me two years ago for another captain. He took her away.

Early today I picked up that Bible book, which my mother laid in my hands before she died. It had been collecting dust at the back of my cabin but I managed to grab it at the last minute just before my great ship went down. I did not rescue it because of the writings it contains, for to me it is only a book, but because it was given to me by my mother just before she died. I care not for the words or the thoughts. They are not real to me. I visited Jerusalem and walked the way of that man’s cross. The guide showed me where they laid him. I could not believe. No man dies for me. No man. What about my fifty?

Still, my mind is drunk with life’s losses. This is the first time I have lost any of my men. Two were women, Mattie and Lace. I shall never forget them. Never. They were as mother and sister to me. There really is no God. I declare my life to be a shame. Though they lay on the southern reef, I shall remember their laughter and songs. The tears when I had to send Lace home to care for her brother. He, too, was dying. Cerebral palsy. The doctors said it was his time; yet, how come I was never hit with sickness? A boy can live and grow if he has a mother who loves him (and it would help to have a father), but, I didn’t have illness and pain. I don’t understand.

I have purchased a forty-two foot sailing yacht. I will fly to Baja, California to take possession of her. The company that sold her to me will prepare her and stock her for me according to my specifications. She will have a fresh coat of paint, soft dove grey with masculine pink trim, the colors of my first wedding, and a new name, “Reason”. From there, I will sail the world and forget. The sea is my home, as it has been for thirty years. I started as a mate on the great oilrigs in the North Sea. I was thirteen. Mom knew she couldn’t keep me. Everyday I would run to the ocean in my Ireland, and look to the horizon. She said I was made for the vast ocean land outside my little home. There, I tended sheep. Here, I have tended men’s lives.

For the first time in my life, I have no purpose. I have let myself go. And, though I do not drink (for I was made to work), I am enticed to find a woman of no reputation and walk into the room of red curtains: and shut the door to good. Yet I have seen so many men destroy their lives with booze and bad nights, that my stomach turns even to consider the temptation. My fifty men, I hope you rest in peace. I do not agree, but, if there is a God and something better than this, I pray he is good to you. I want to be buried at sea. Where my men are, that’s where I want to be. The sand beaches where I have walked, that’s my chapel.

My men, they had among them nearly two hundred family, just the kids. I am responsible for them, my men. But what could I do? I wish that I had been the one to go down. It would have been better.

I am forty-three, and in fifteen days I will be forty-four: twenty- two years added to this life of mine since my first marriage. My Glenda, I lost her in the tsunami that hit the coast of Borneo. She was waiting for me to come in: I was three days out. It hit in the middle of the night. All they could find was her purse with the letter. That letter. How I missed her. And my son. My only son, too. My Johnnie J. It took the two of them. They are at the bottom of the ocean, somewhere out there. Somewhere beneath the waves, he is there, and I will join him and his mother someday.

Captain’s Log
March 6

I arrived at a small airfield just outside the small town of Santo Domingo, along the Pacific coast. “Reason” belonged to my best friend, my first mate, who had some problems with his health and was forced to sell her. She was built in Sweden by one of the best naval architects.

After a dusty cab ride, I arrived at a run down, dirty dockside warehouse where I spotted my new vessel immediately. She was out of place in this little backwater harbor. She is a true beauty, especially seen in these squalid conditions, looking as if she was made for challenging the great oceans of this world just as I am going to challenge the ideas I have heard are written in this Bible. Fortunately, the proprietor of the run down warehouse was only the agent from whom I had to take possession of her, so “Reason” was far more seaworthy, and cleaner I might add, than anything else within sight. I checked her over to make sure everything was shipshape, made haste to finish my business dealings and left as quickly as possible. I will sail down the coast of Baja, continue south to the Canal and then sail eastward to wherever “Reason” takes me. I have no particular destination but am tentatively bound for Cape Town, South Africa, then beyond into the Indian Ocean.

Click to read the scripture

I am reading “Vessel”, David Jorgensen’s newest book. We shipped out together on the oil tankers in the Middle East fifteen years ago. He says on page twenty-three that he had to fight a shark that had been trailing his yacht. He cried out to God when he accidentally lost his footing and fell overboard; he knew that shark was not far behind. As the shark came at him, he felt as if someone had pulled him under, and the shark missed him in the attack. Then his hand went into his boot and discovered a knife; he didn’t remember it being there. It was small, but it had a very sharp blade. When the monster returned, after circling, he was ready. He stabbed the sixteen-footer in the eye, and it swung away. He was hit by the tail and bruised. But it did not return. He had to swim fifty yards to get to his boat. All he could do was lie on his deck and cry. He, too, was alone. He says it was a miracle, the knife – I say it is luck. He says he never hated another man after that. Life is too short. Jorgensen lives in Nassau, in the Bahamas. I will store up extra provisions, as I want to keep going. My sails and rigging are new. “Reason” is my boat, her teak deck gleams.

Captain’s Log
March 12

The seas are rough, but the grey skies reflect my mood. I dislike this time of day, the sun will set in twelve, short minutes. I have learned to tell time by the placement of my ship – uh, yacht. Soon it will become so dark. Weather forecast is predicting gale forces off the coast of southern Mexico and Central America. I can take that, but it’s the night I can’t stand. Ever since the men went down, I’ve felt the night deep in my gut, where nothing tastes good: there, that night, the water sweeps into my memory like a mountainous swell: like death, when the fish in a net are caught and cannot shake loose; every effort to loosen causes a tangling that is inescapably tight. I wish I were back at Yale. At least there, I had a chance: my mind thought like the championship oarsmen that we had become. Life was good then. Our boat won that summer, and the following. Those two were my best years. Then Mom began to get the dizzy spells. She couldn’t work. She should have married Uncle Tim, my father’s older brother. I urged her; she was so pretty with her fair skin and auburn red hair. No, she told me, he reminds me too much of the man I loved, your father. Uncle Tim always called on her. Strange that he died one year after she died, one year to the day. It’s as if he willed himself to go. There’s nothing out there anyway. The Bible in front of me just sits. I have cleaned it off, but, what is this death all about?

Captain’s Log
March 15

I have discovered The Psalms. It says that only a fool says there is no God. I’ve never been called a fool. I’ve met many fools on the pier, and in the fisheries, but none can match the fool kid that lit that fire in the engine room. I told him he was finished on my ship. Those drugs, they kill the kids. Fool fell asleep. Was probably those kerosene candles he made and Lace discovered. But it’s too late. The fool.

Captain’s Log
March 18

I suppose that I could stick around for the investigation to finish, so that the insurance can be collected, but I don’t care to be here. The memories. I had talked with the shipping line’s office, and the president personally told me to take off. He told me privately that he would do the same, if it had not been for his wife and children. He said their prayers made him change. He heard them one night saying, “Please, God, make my father stop hitting and yelling at our mommy.” He walked for the whole night sorting out his life, he said. The next day he quit the docks and the parties. Cold turkey, quit. Went on his own. He believed my story of what happened, and the attorneys have taken my deposition. The president asked that I keep in touch. I do. I visited all the men’s families along the east coast. They were spread out from Maine to Virginia. I saw every one of them. None of them wanted to turn me away. My men; my great men. Six of them were from Italy; two from Spain. But I couldn’t leave the States for their memorial services. Their families understood. One of them was that fool kid. I didn’t want to talk to his parents, but I forced myself: I called him a good soul, but deep in my heart, I wanted to strangle him. It’s hell in my head. This Psalm, number 58, it talks to me when I’m in “Reason’s” hull: the righteous shall rejoice when he seeth the vengeance: he shall wash his feet in the blood of the wicked. I tell myself, I will get my vengeance from that kid that took my men down. Him and the dealers. When I am finished with this sail, I will hunt those men down in Morocco. I saw him talking to three men and that woman. I remember that woman, and that mole on her back. And some of her jewelry, especially that aquamarine brooch. I will get them. I should have checked that large box that the kid brought onboard. I’m not so righteous, but I know vengeance. I will wash my feet in their blood. Whoever you are, if you are out there, help me.

I have never taken another man’s life. I’ve fought many men, from the tough Russians that man the whale boats to the mean Koreans on the smaller boats (except for the Korean Sung He, who was aboard one that was rammed by our ship in the Pacific when I was the second mate). The captain was drunk and commanded the steersman to ram. When we hit them, I was on the bow checking the winches. I heard the yelling and the ram. He hit them broadside. I ran up and shut the engines down. Then I executed rescue. The captain’s three thugs came after me. I had to take them on and coordinate the rescue at the same time. The big black stayed by me. We took over the ship. I testified, and the captain was finished. Him and his boys. That’s how I got my first ship. Those two Koreans, ex-Tigers, took on the twenty men against us and beat the daylights out of the wags. Sung He and I talk to each other occasionally. He hasn’t heard about “The Gull” going down.

Captain’s Log
March 22

Encountered rough seas, the gale force winds that were predicted, with swells up to fifteen feet crashing into “Reason’s” bow, but she takes them in stride. I expected when first I saw photographs of her and read her description that she would prove herself in heavy seas and I am not disappointed. She is like a dolphin, riding the crests as if they were made strictly for her enjoyment. If only I could take the losses and disappointments of my life as easily.

At this moment, my life seems still to be empty, a shambles, tossed by endless storms much like the sea. I have finished Jorgenson’s book. To me, it is just a story, and, yet, knowing the man, Jorgenson has found something that changed him. It makes me wonder.

The sea and my vessel are my only companions. In the early evening, I stare out at the blue line, half expecting someone or something to appear on the horizon to deliver me from my tortured existence. But, of course, there is nothing. So I go on, sailing on a journey whose destination I know not, living an empty life.

I have, several times, thought of the handgun in the cabin below, but this is not my way. I have never been one to give up, to take the easy way out. And the handgun does surrender to an easy way out. I have seen more than one person, at the end of their rope, resort to some meaningless form of violence upon themselves to find release from their suffering. This is not a true release but, instead, a doorway into a different form of suffering.

Captain’s Log
March 26

The bad weather and rough seas continued for two days but it’s behind me now. I see blue skies trying to break through the grey cloud cover. I will put in to Panama to make sure my vessel has not suffered unseen damage. This is merely a precaution. She took the storm and the winds well. I am making good time along the coast of Mexico and expect to reach the canal by the morning of the first.

I now have time to tinker with my rigging and equipment, setting them just the way I want; too much time. I have the time to look over everything I have ever sought to accomplish, every plan I have ever had for the future. All of it has been, little by little, washed overboard; loose cargo not battened down, not secured.

The death of my men, the loss of my great ship, has made me look back at all I have ever succeeded at, what a waste! For a certainty, I have sailed the seven seas, visited nearly every land and become a master at ship handling, but to what profit? It has not left me with any sense of worth or satisfaction, only a more skilled mariner. I have not become a better person for it. This Bible, in the book of Ecclesiastes: it states that the writer looked on all the works he had accomplished in his life and it was all vanity. I wonder what this life really is. Is it just a wisp, a vapor, or something else, something more permanent? I cannot believe that a God would make man just to live for a certain number of years and then return to dust. It does not make sense. There has to be a greater understanding here. I do not believe the words of this book. To me they are just words. Yet, in my despair, I have found a strange comfort in reading them.

Captain’s Log
April 2

Panama City has changed little since I was here last. Were it not for the commerce of the Canal Zone, it would be only an impoverished tropical village. There is some farming and sheep raising, but most of its livelihood comes from the canal. Because of the international traffic it draws, it has succeeded in acquiring some good restaurants and shops.

Click to read the scripture

I arrived here on the morning of the 1st as a large freighter, much like “The Gull”, was exiting the western mouth of the canal into the Pacific. Its colors and markings were Italian, its name was the “Sicilian Quest”. I was forced to wait until it had moved out of my path, something I am not accustomed to (as Captain of my own ship, I was accorded the right of way from smaller vessels and even ships somewhat larger). But no longer in a position of authority, I have to adjust.

Finding a berth in the harbor was easy, since most of the traffic here is just passing through. I was able to find a reliable individual to examine “Reason” for me. He seemed familiar and I was sure we had met before, but I have met so many men I’m not sure. I found him to be knowledgeable and fair in his prices. I will visit a small establishment I know that serves very good Portuguese fare and a line of international coffees. It will give me a break from my own cooking and maybe I will be able to forget the sad state of affairs of my life.

Captain’s Log
April 6

I have now passed through the Gatun Locks into Limon Bay and ahead is the Caribbean. At each of the locks along the way, I was made to wait until the larger commercial vessels had passed before I could have a turn and this took several long hours. But, at last, I am through the Canal and able to set sail into open waters with no more delays. As many times as I have traversed the canal, I never gave much thought to the smaller craft that were forced to wait for my ship before they were able to proceed. Now I have been able to experience their frustration. But, it is the way of commercial shipping. The larger or more prestigious your vessel, the more respect you receive and the more privileges you are accorded.

In Panama, I visited the small coffee shop and noticed a young lady at a nearby table sipping her coffee while she read a small book. On the front cover was an emblem of a rose. Her entire attention was so riveted on this book that she was completely oblivious to all the activity going on around her. I was surprised that, even when her table was jostled, her attention never left this book. Being a reader myself, liking a good story, I approached her and questioned her on this particular book. I was surprised that the book she was so engrossed in was a Bible. She asked me to sit with her and I reluctantly accepted. She immediately asked me if I knew this man Jesus Christ. I acknowledged to her that I was aware of him, but did not believe in what has been stated by and about him. I did confess to her that I had been dabbling in the words of the Bible but did not tell her what had brought me to this place in my life. The feeling of my life’s losses, my guilt at surviving while my fifty men perished is a burden I must bear alone.

I now know that it was a mistake to impose on this woman, an error in judgment on my part. The next two hours were filled with her speaking of how she felt such a hunger for the word of God, her excitement when she found this man, Jesus, to be real and personal; her eccentric ideas of religion, forgiveness, salvation, sinlessness, and perfection. I do not know where she has found the basis for her peculiar ideas and theories, nor where she has acquired the boldness to preach to me. I finally pulled myself away from her table with the excuse that I had to check on my vessel and left there with the feeling that this strange young lass was as filled with notions of fantasy and imagination as I see this Bible to be. I am happy that she does not know my name or the name of my vessel as to further press her strange ideas on me.

She seems to have some sort of a belief that Adam and Eve, had they not disobeyed, would never have died, that the curse placed on all mankind for this disobedience, this sin, was death, but that Jesus Christ came to take away this curse. She further stated that Jesus Christ, though the son of God, was not born perfect but was born a flesh and blood man like us, subject to all the temptations that we are. But because he did not give in to them, we can do the same and therefore, become like him; sinless, perfect and immortal. She said that he told men to be perfect and, in doing so, man could live forever and never die; that her God is a God that would never tell someone to do something that he was not able to do. I have never heard such a thing. I have met many men in my day and no one is perfect, including me. It is impossible. The best person I have ever met was far from it. I never considered myself to be anything close to it. I’ve been a hard demanding man, although a fair one. But to be perfect, I never considered it. I hope someone sets this woman straight and makes her realize her mistaken beliefs.

Captain’s Log
April 10

My course is north-eastward toward the Windward Passage that passes between Cuba and Haiti. I will pass within sight of Jamaica but will not put in. I know a few people on the island but Jamaica and the Bahamas are not areas that I have frequented much. They are a place for vacationers and tourists, for cruise ships and luxury yachts. I was made for work, not for vacations. I did visit Nassau once, but only long enough to deliver a yacht I had transported from Spain for a retired banker. But my travels have been for business, not pleasure.

The Caribbean is calm with a cloudless sky overhead and a good breeze. I have seen several large pleasure yachts since I left Panama but I have no interest in communicating with them. I awaken at night when the seas are calm, hearing the voices of my men. They call to me in the night. I remember little things about each of them until the pain and depression overtake me. It is then that I go up on deck and, by the light of a small lantern, I open the Bible and challenge. Why did that David praise God over the death of his baby? Yet, I search for meaning. My life, once so full and satisfying, now is so empty, so meaningless. Nothing has importance any more. Though I have had a life of travel and adventure that many men only dream of, it is as empty as if I had stayed in my Ireland and tended sheep for the rest of my days.

I still think about what this strange woman spoke to me and, despite my misgivings, I cannot help but wonder. She seemed so sure, so confident of what she said as if she had somehow experienced it herself. I have heard others preach what they believed, but none seemed so sure, so convinced. And, in the end, instead of trying to convince me, she told me to find the truth in the Bible, to seek God for myself. Most others would fight or get angry and spend hours trying to make me see it their way, but she did not.

However, I do not believe that this woman has place to teach me about these kinds of things. Women are too emotional and their religious ideas are impractical. I will find the truth in this Bible and then, if our paths ever cross again, I will have the ammunition to set her straight.

Captain’s Log
April 15

My position is just northeast of Jamaica. I passed within sight of Kingston in the middle of the night; I could see the lights and when the wind was right, I could hear the sound of music drifting across the water. I have never been one given much to partying. My wedding to Glenda was the most carefree event of my life. She was so beautiful with her golden hair framing her blue eyes, and she loved life so. Even when I had to go away, she never let it get her down. Instead of dwelling on my absence, she filled her days with plans for my return. And when our Johnnie was born, she wanted to show him everything, teach him all the good things about life. I miss them so; it is a knot in my chest when I think of them. Nothing has been the same since they died; it was the beginning of my life turning sour. Even when Carmen and I were married, though I loved her very much, I could never forget my Glenda. I found myself waking in the middle of the night, and finding Carmen beside me, thinking for an instant that Glenda had somehow returned.

Captain’s Log
April 17

Being so close to the coast of Cuba, I have been concerned about the Cuban gunboats that patrol these waters. Though I have been careful to stay past the twelve-mile limit, these rascals have been known to push it beyond and stop private vessels at a distance of twenty miles. I have nothing to hide and all the proper papers to show that I am an innocent sailor, and yet, the Cubans go out of their way to hassle small vessels.

On the evening of the 16th, I noticed a dark shape without lights shadowing me a few miles to port. It matched my course and speed for several hours before finally veering off in the direction of the island. I suspect it was a Cuban gunboat and am surprised that, with no witnesses, they made no effort to stop me. I have had contact with them before and they are more than anxious to stop and search passing vessels. These searches are nothing more than an excuse for the crooks to get on board. The crew almost always finds something missing after they have left: personal belongings, certain portable items of cargo like food, watches, and especially magazines. They like the dirty ones. Pickpockets, petty thieves, that’s what these guys are. Looking for easy targets.

I have changed course away from Cuba, turning northeastward into the passage known as the Tongue of the Ocean. By tomorrow, I should be putting in to Nassau and will see Jorgenson. It will be good to see him again and his wife, Wanda.

I have found a scripture in one of those books, Galatians, that states that there is neither Jew or Greek, bond or free, male or female, for all are one. This grabbed my curiosity. I began to search in Colossians; much the same. I’m seeing certain things, such as the first one to see this Jesus Christ after he was resurrected was a woman. Can it be that this God actually looks on all people as equal? Don’t know.

Captain’s Log
April 20

I have rented a berth. I will check “Reason”; make sure she’s ready to go. Then visit Jorgenson. It has been several years since I saw him in person, though we have occasionally talked by phone. I have known him for many years. He always had a way about him, a knack of knowing when something wasn’t quite right, like the time the Iraqi patrol boats tried to stop us for one of their “routine” inspections. Who could have known that they were after hostages? It’s lucky Jorgenson convinced the captain to keep going. Then we sighted those Navy ships. I sometimes wonder, was it really luck, or, as Jorgenson said, someone watching over us. Me, it was luck.

It will be good to see my old friend. Maybe he can help me forget the shambles my life has become, if only for a little while.

Captain’s Log
April 26

My position is somewhere east of the Bahamas, just exactly where, I have not taken the time to work out on my charts. I have neglected my log, my charts, myself since I left Jorgenson five days ago. I am sailing eastward, simply moving. Even the beauty of the turquoise green waters cannot comfort me.

The visit with Jorgenson left me disturbed in a way that I have never felt before. I am unable to plan my voyage, unable to decide on a destination. I feel lost, alone more than ever before in my life. Despair talks to me every waking minute. I try my hardest not to hear her voice. It would be so easy to slip over “Reason’s” side and let her go on.

Click to read the scripture

There was Jorge, that tall Swede. We hugged. Talking of old times, the places we’ve been, the things we’ve seen, old memories, good and bad. Into the night, we talked about crewmen that we had known and lost. But, then, the conversation changed. No longer did Jorgenson have the restless look of a sailor about him, he looked somehow different. He began to speak of Jesus Christ, of the peace and happiness he had found through him and his word, the Bible. He spoke of something called Pentecost and a new baptism and of a Holy Ghost. He said this Spirit (and he emphasized Spirit with a capital “S”) speaks to him and leads him every day. Wanda also spoke of giving her life to God, of being born again. She went on about something called the carnal mind and the flesh. I didn’t even know what she was talking about. But it was much like what I was told by that strange woman in Panama. And I noticed the same sense of surety and confidence that I noticed with her. It is as if they had met somewhere and planned what to say and how to say it. It makes no sense to me.

I found in the Bible, in Acts, where it speaks of this Pentecost, of this Holy Ghost, of this baptism. It’s all there, in the same chapter, but what is it all about? What is this baptism? I’ve been baptized, my mother made sure of that before she died. Is this what it means? And this thing called the Holy Ghost – How could a ghost be anything good? How could a ghost be holy? The only ghosts I’ve ever heard of are the ones that haunt houses, children’s storybooks and your dreams.

Captain’s Log
April 30

I have sailed out of the Caribbean and am now in the Atlantic. My course will carry me to the coast of Africa where I will catch the Guinea Current southward. I have always been a man of planning; had to be in my profession; but no more. I do not worry about what I will do tomorrow. I live one day, one hour at a time, as if tomorrow does not exist.

At night when the winds begin to die down, unable to sleep and with no desire to eat, I pick up the Bible and thumb through it. Though I still do not believe that a man I did not know would die for me, I feel my restlessness with these words; something that I have been searching for, though I do know not what.

There is a very big question in me. I keep coming across this word in the New Testament – perfect. That woman in Panama said you can live without sin and that’s what she called perfect. These scriptures confuse me. I know nobody’s perfect. Everybody makes mistakes. I came across this strangest of all scriptures: Be ye perfect even as your Father in heaven is perfect. What did he mean? I have no answer.

Something else the woman from Panama and Wanda said still plagues me. They said you must be born again, a term I have heard before but have no understanding of. How can a man be born again? How does one go back to his birth and start over? Is this what it means? All these things, being born again, this Holy Ghost, Pentecost, and perfection, do they lead to the same place? I do not want to start all over again. I can’t get Glenda back. I can’t get my men back standing on my deck. I can’t teach Johnnie the strength and power and beauty of the oceans. Of my experiences in these great waters that have been my home these thirty years. I can never give the keys of the currents and the winds to my only son. There is no such thing as born again.

Captain’s Log
May 15

The seas are calm, the skies are cloudless, but the current continues to carry me onward. Passed within sight of Cape Verde, some 400 miles off the coast of Mauritania. It was once a staging area for the slave trade and was impressively wealthy. But after the trade died, and after years of drought, it is nothing like it once was.

The Guinea Current has caught my vessel and I am making good speed along the Ivory Coast. I continue to search out in this Bible about this Holy Ghost, this thing called Pentecost, this being perfect. I read about this born again experience in John, but it doesn’t make sense to me: That which is flesh is flesh and that which is Spirit is spirit. What’s that supposed to mean?

Then I read about a man named Paul who persecuted early followers of Jesus. In one miraculous happening, he totally changed and began to support these people; even to preach the same things he had fought against. Was he in some way, born again? Made new? His whole life changed. I wake up wanting to read. I feel a different surge of life in me.

The Captain’s Log continues…