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image from the book The Brittle Sea

Storm Warning.

The sinking of the Titanic had demonstrated to the world and the world’s sailors that the new invention of telegraphic communication was going to save many lives. What wasn’t known at the time was that communications between vessels in distress at sea were hap-hazard affairs, with more emphasis on pleasing passengers by sending their personal messages above all other considerations, including listening out for ship-to-ship hazard warnings.

So, it was fortuitous that the Lady Jane’s communication officer had no personal messages as the ship had no passengers on the remaining voyage. Instead, Mr. Archer diligently spent his working time listening out for messages across the airwaves. Three days after crossing the equator he was rewarded by a message from a steamer on the same course as the Lady Jane, but many nautical miles ahead of them. What made Archer sit up and take note was a storm warning. The message was slightly garbled and erratic, which gave more concern to Archer than the actual storm warning.

Captain Blackmore received the news from Archer in his cabin as he sat reading, trying to clear his head of the dark feeling of impending doom he was struggling with.

“It’s a little too garbled to make out what storm force we are talking about, Mr. Archer.”

“I know sir,” Archer said with a nod. “But that in itself indicates the air-waves are disrupted as well as the problems the Marconi man is having.”

Blackmore placed the note on his writing table and shifted his position in his small chair, crossing his legs. “I’m intrigued. How can you tell their Marconi man is having problems?”

Archer pulled himself up to as close to standing to attention a non-military man can achieve. “It’s the way he’s transmitting. The flow. The ship is a Cunard vessel, sir. I know the operator, I’ve met him, even worked with him. I know the way he transmits, we are all unique in the way we communicate with these devices.” Archer could tell from his captain’s frown he wasn’t buying his explanation. “It’s a bit like you and I captain. If I stood outside your cabin, with the door closed, and shouted something you could probably tell it was me, though you could not see me. The same with Mr. Lee or indeed any of the crew. You know your crew, you know their voices. You probably have an idea of how cool under pressure these people are. It’s the same with telegraphy. I know this man, we were taught together, practiced on each other. We’re the best at what we do because of our time at the Marconi school. This man is not only under pressure, his messaging is hap-hazard which indicates to me the ship is probably experiencing very heavy seas in a very bad storm.”

Blackmore sighed and sat back as far as he could in his chair. “Mr. Archer, I am impressed.”

Archer sighed and then suddenly blushed.

“Don’t ever let me berate you again for your lack of knowledge on your equipment. Let’s you and I go to the bridge and see about making preparations for this storm.”

 

“We haven’t the fuel to go around. Apart from anything else we don’t know how big the storm is, so going around isn’t an option and there are no ports close by for us to make to.” David James tapped the map on the chart table with a pencil, then dropped the pencil on the map. “The way I see it captain, we have no choice. We carry on and prepare as best we can.”

Blackmore nodded his agreement. He had despatched Archer back to his small telegraphic cabin to see if he could glean any further information. But transmissions from the Cunard vessel had ceased forty minutes earlier.

“It doesn’t bode well for us, David,” Blackmore said, leaning over and peering at the map. “Within a few hours we will be in the storm, assuming it hasn’t played itself out by then. It’s a thin hope, but all we have to hang our hats on.”

“Aye, sir. I’ll make all preparations and batten down the hatches. At least we won’t be bored over the next few hours.”

“There are times, David, I wish your humour was a little less British.”

Blackmore’s first officer smiled at his captain. “If we canna laugh in the face of danger, when can we laugh, captain?”

Blackmore smiled back and as James left the bridge he turned his attention to his helmsman. “Did you hear that, helm?”

“Aye, Captain. Mr. James always did have an odd sense of humour. Me though, I’m more practical. I have every respect for the sea.”

“Good man, Jefferson. I know you’ll do your best.”

 

Even sat in his cabin, Blackmore could tell the sea condition was beginning to change and his ship was beginning a pronounced rocking effect. As he left the cabin, the wind buffeted Blackmore and he held firmly onto the rails, climbing up the steps to the bridge. At the top of the steps, Blackmore looked out across the ship’s prow and could no longer see the sky for the darkening clouds. It was still early afternoon and Blackmore knew that by nightfall they would be on the edge of the storm. By the early morning they would be in the thick of the storm and the fate of his crew and ship would be sealed, one way or the other.

 

By daybreak Blackmore realised the storm was threatening to be something more than just an Atlantic storm and the dawn had only brought more darkness. The night had been rough and his ship had been rocked by a swell so pronounced even he felt a little sick. This new day was proving him correct on his previous days observation. His ship was well into the storm and the waves were extremely high. The Lady Jane was maybe not making good progress, but she was making some progress and riding the waves with a dogged determination.

“It’s early, but maybe this is the start of the hurricane season.”

On the bridge, Blackmore turned to his First Officer. “You may be right, David. It’s certainly getting worse. Any news from Mr. Archer?”

“None, sir. Atmospherics, he says, whatever that may mean.”

Blackmore smiled. “It’s a brave new world, David. We have a duty to keep up with the latest technology.”

“Aye, captain. I will as soon as we’ve survived this wave.”

Blackmore followed his first officer’s alarmed gaze and saw the sea rising to at least thirty feet. “Brace yourselves,” Blackmore shouted to his bridge crew. The wave was upon them with a fury none of the crew had ever experienced. Their ship lurched as the helmsman tried to steer the Lady Jane into the wave. He didn’t quite make it and the crash of the sea over the ship’s bow made the ship shudder, lurched and stagger. The rending of metal on metal added to the cacophony and made many a superstitious sailor fear the ship was screaming in agony, perilously close to dying with them still on board.

The door to the bridge flew open and young  Charles Archer dragged himself into the relative calm of the bridge, shutting the door with help from one of the bridge crew.

“It’s no good sir, I cannot get a message out.” Archer had to almost shout in Blackmore’s ear, to make himself heard. “The cabin is virtually awash and I’m pretty sure the equipment is useless because of that. I doubt we will be able to use it again unless we can get it repaired.”

“Not much chance of that, Mr. Archer. How are you at shovelling coal? If you can’t use the telegraph, maybe you can be a junior stoker.”

Archer stood back, aghast. “Aye, sir. I can try.”

Blackmore put a hand on the young man’s shoulder. “I’m joking, Charles.”

Archer was both profoundly glad his captain had a sense of humour and more so, proud his captain had used his first name. That had never happened since he had been posted to the Lady Jane.

“I suggest you should go to sick bay. The Doc may need a hand before this day is over.”

Though he wasn’t obliged to, Charles Archer stood at attention and saluted his captain. Then he turned and made his way out of the door to the howling exterior superstructure of the ship. As a bridge crewman helped him out, ready to close the door again, another wave hit the stricken ship and Charles Archer was lifted off his feet and washed overboard. Blackmore had watched the entire scene play out, in slow motion almost, and rushed to the door with the crewman, trying to find any trace of Archer. There was none. The sea had made her claim on Charles Archer and she would not be denied.

Copyright Tom Kane © 2018

Please use the menu system below to read further chapters in The Brittle Sea saga

Chapters

MARCH 15, 1931

APRIL 15, 1912

DISASTER

DEBRIS

THE LOSS

MAGGIE

MISSING

NEW YORK

GORDON BELLAGON

THE TWO MINDS OF MAGGIE

A PARTING OF THE WAYS

VENEZUELA

THE DAYS GROW LONGER

CROSSING THE LINE

MAGGIE’S FALL

STORM WARNING

HARKER’S SEARCH

A BOX OF TRICKS

REBELLION

BALLANTINE LEARNS THE TRUTH

This is a first draft, so please forgive spelling & grammatical errors. Context and characters may change between now and the final publication date.

When published as an eBook and paperback at the end of 2018, this book will be the first in a trilogy: The Brittle Sea, The Brittle Land and The Brittle Sky.

As a English expat author living in Cyprus, you may think my life revolves around cocktails by the pool. You would be wrong. In ten years on the island I’ve had my fair share of adventures and interesting experiences.

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