A Sailor's Voyage
It was a starry night and the twinkling lights brought hope to the sailors under Jacques Cartier. The hammock creaked as Mateo Martinez rested his hands under his head. It had been about nineteen days since he thought would be the last day in Spain. All the other 12 men were asleep and very loudly snoring through their dreams.
Why can I not get to sleep? He wondered. Surely, I shall be exhausted when the morning sun rises over the harsh seas. Why hadn’t the crew allowed me to be a watchman? Then I wouldn’t have to worry about getting any sleep. For a moment, he thought he saw the glow of the sun creeping through the huge crashing waves. But to his dismay, he realized that it was just the other ship with its lanterns casting what looked like the glow of dawn. One must sleep when he starts hallucinating. Has my mind been playing tricks on me all day? Maybe that sea serpent I saw was just some kelp that has broken off from the rocky bottom. Kelp? That means that the beloved ground is approaching.
He was so excited by this startling thought that he sat up too fast and was dumped onto the wooden floor. He fell on his back to the view of his swinging hammock right above his face.
Curse this dreadful hammock! he thought. For Mateo was a rather paranoid figure. He came from a very wealthy family. And so, he too was well to do. Surely, it is a sin to put such wealth away to be forced on a cursed ship!
He swore a bit too loudly and was welcomed with some murmurs from half asleep sailors.
“Go back to bed Mateo!” a man with the name of John replied.
“Kelp! Kelp!” cried Mateo as he quickly got up brushing the dust off his ragged pants. “Finally, a sign! John, kelp, kelp John kelp! Do you know what kelp means?”
“Some sign from your God that it is night and you should sleep?” John replied turning over to face the other direction.
“Of course not. It means land!”
“Land?” John said raising his head over his shoulders and looking at Mateo.
“What’s kelp got to do with it?”
“Why, kelp grows near shore, of course!” Mateo shot back as if John should know.
By this time, murmurs of now wide-awake men grew.
“Did he say kelp?” one whispered.
“Doesn’t that mean land?” another returned.
“That’s what he said, Santiago.” murmured yet another.
All over the cabin the murmurs grew louder until, Diego, a huge muscular man shouted, “ENOUGH!” This instantly stopped the flow of conversation. “Somebody will go out to look to see if Mateo is correct. In fact, let us have Mateo himself go to see. Maybe it’s just one of his silly fables after all, the watchmen definitely wouldn’t have seen it.”
Ever since they left for the St. Lawrence River, it was believed by the crew that Mateo was crazy. The only one who acknowledged that he wasn’t guilty was John. In a way, he was Mateo’s friend. Or at least, what he thought a friend was, for he had never actually had a friend himself. He always stuck up for Mateo. In fact, about the 13th day into the voyage, the ship was caught in a storm. The waves were crashing into the Grande Hermine and Mateo. The ship gave a great lurch and threw Mateo over board. But John was there in a heartbeat with a rope. Mateo slowly watched the view of the ship’s side fall as he was raised up from the water. Ever since then, there was still water in his ear. The reason he fell off in the first place was because he was chanting some old once-believed-prophecy, and wasn’t paying attention.
The crew all turned to Mateo with disappointed looks on their faces. Their heads were all
buzzing with recollections of his mistakes, Why didn’t we remember this at first? They thought.
“Surely, the kelp w-wont still b-be here,” Mateo managed. He knew perfectly well that there wouldn’t be any kelp. It’s not like kelp is everywhere.
He slowly walked through the group of men staring him down. As he walked they parted to let him through. He opened the door and crept out of the forecastle. As he tramped up the stairs to the deck, the stars flickered above him as if wishing him luck. But as he walked to the railing, he didn’t need kelp to prove his theory. Something was blocking the sun’s direct light. Something was in the way.
If that is land, then why have the watchers not reported? Was it because of the Petite Hermine blocking the view? But then why didn’t the other watchers on that ship report? Thought Mateo. But this final thought explained it to him. Why, it was God himself blocking the view so that I may hold the honor for the first sightings of land!
“LAND HO!” Mateo shouted at the top of his lungs. The crew ran to the side of the ship in which Mateo was standing.
The watchmen all yelled at once, “WHAT?”
One said in protest, “I just checked the starboard side a moment ago!”
Another proclaimed, “It can’t be. Even if there was land there, we would be seeing it straight on. Unless…”
“Oh great! How long have we been going north? We could be completely off course!” said a watchman named Fernando as he pulled out a compass and flipped it open, studying the answer with his brows furrowed.
“Oh, good Heavens! Why did we have to drag Mateo aboard! For he is the thirteenth!”
“You know that silly superstition isn’t true, right? Why, it was that strong wind and current tugging at different sides of the boat!”
“That means we could be coming upon a re-” But the man never finished his sentence before a horrible cracking noise echoed through the bridge, forecastle, and deck. The men stopped arguing and all fell silent as they turned their heads down towards the hold. The ship veered to a stop creating huge waves that ran through the ocean like a shockwave.
“WHAT HAPPENED!” Captain Jacques Courtier roared as he stomped out of the cabin with his night gowns still on.
“A reef, sir. Or at least, I think,” Fernando reported.
“Blame Mateo! He was the one who did this! For he is the thirteenth!” Diego bellowed.
“I will not have any superstitious rubbish on my ship!” cried Jacque.
The morning air was not enjoyable this morning.
“PATCH UP THE HOLE! DON’T LET ANYTHING GET LOST! BATTEN DOWN THE HATCHES! TIE YOURSELVES TO THE WHEEL!” demanded the captain to the first mate who repeated the orders to the crew. Instantly 7 men rushed down the stairs to the hold.
From far down the stairs Mateo heard shouts. “THE HOLD IS LEAKED AND ALL THE THINGS WITH IT!”
“RAISE UP THE NOVEMBER!” shouted the captain himself. The November is a flag symbolizing negative. In this case, it was the only flag they had to signal for help. The Petite Hermine was not far and instantly saw the signal. It steered to the left to see more closely what was happening. They saw the rear of the Grande Hermine. A plank was stretched across the narrow strip of water between the two ships. To help the sailors cross, the Petite Hermine also threw over a rope that was tied to the wheel by the mast. With the help of the crew on the sinking ship, the plank landed with a thud on the railing of the ship.
“Quickly!” the captain proclaimed.
The whole crew crossed the plank over the thin stretch of the raging water with haste. In the back, Mateo held the rope with such vigor that thin strips of blood came leaking out of his palm while watching the roaring waves crash into the side of the Grande Hermine. He didn’t dare wipe the sweat off his head for fear of his body being tossed about in the water. The ship gave many shudders as it sank deeper into the water. Mateo yelped and tried to get the man in front of him to move faster, but he wouldn’t budge. Suddenly the plank slipped off the boat down into the raging water. Mateo screamed and held the rough rope so hard that his hands started to bleed even more. He felt wind rush past him and closed his eyes when he was about 15 feet away from the water. But instead of feeling his body crash into the water, he felt as if his heart rose into his throat. He peaked open an eye and saw, without warning, the wall of the Petite Hermine. He popped open the other eye and scrunched up his body as close together as possible.
With a loud crash, he burst through a small gap, splintering wood with him. He let go of the rope and was sprawled across the floor and crashed into a wall and blacked out.
When he finally opened his eyes again, he was in a much different place from where he had passed out. He saw bandages wrapped around his waist and chest. Spots of blood had been soaked into them. The room appeared to be about half the length of the ship. He guessed it was the sickbay. But then again, the Petite Hermine probably didn’t have one. The room had no windows, but about six hammocks were hanging from bars by the ceiling. Finally, it came to him.
Oh, of course. It must be the forecastle, thought Mateo. How long have I been laying here, and how… how did I survive?
He heard the tapping of someone’s shoes and thought to himself, those taps sounded quite formal to me. Maybe it’s the captain of this dinghy. Of course, the Petite Hermine wasn’t a dinghy, but rather a quite small ship compared to the magnificence of the Grande Hermine.
The steps stopped near the door of the forecastle and slowly the hinges creaked as it opened. Just now he noticed 3 other sailors wounded in other hammocks. One seemed to have a broken arm, being wrapped in a stiff bandage. Another man had a bandage wrapped around his neck. Mateo’s gazing quickly shifted over to the door as a man with robes draping down to the ground came through the thick wooden door. He had a huge hat that sprang out in every direction with a big feather sticking out of the top.
“Mr. Martinez,” said the voice.
Instantly Mateo recognized the voice and, of course, the face. He sprang out of his hammock and landed hard on his feet. “Yes, sir,” he replied firmly to Captain Jacques Cartier.
“How are you feeling? Enough to rise unwarned, apparently.” Cartier questioned.
“Well, how does one answer? I seem to have bled quite tremendously.”
“Yes. You came crashing through a wall breaking… many things.”
“I am terribly sorry, sir. I had no control,” Mateo tried.
As if trying to end this topic, Captain Cartier explained how he rolled across the floor that was lined with tiny sharp pieces of wood. Everything was made clear now.
“John, your friend, is okay,” Cartier told Mateo.
“You say ‘friend’, but we are no more than acquaintances,” replied Mateo.
“Well, he asked about you, and I thought you two must be close friends.
Does John really think that? Mateo asked himself. Does he really think that?
“We are getting off topic.” Cartier said. “What I really came down here for was a… request. As you know, the Grande Hermine sank. And along with it, all our provisions. I am making it your duty to find an area of land and food for our crew. If you encounter any type of Indians, see if you can befriend them. It would be a great help. You will be leaving tomorrow morning along with John.”
Mateo knew he couldn’t refuse this, so instead he said, “I will do my best.”
And with that the captain turned on his heels and sauntered out the door.
When Mateo popped his eyes open again, the sun was just rising over the ocean. He could hardly see the small stretch of land because it was still in the shadows of night. His arms and legs were sore, but most of his energy was back. Mateo crossed his legs over the side of the hammock and sat up rubbing his eyes. As his feet pressed on the hard floor, one of the injured sailors made a soft humming noise almost like a grunt. He stood up and instantly sat back down before his head rush turned into a faint. More slowly this time, he got up and started to walk towards the door. He slowly heaved the door open. The door opened into a hall about 20 feet long. On the left was another door. He guessed it belonged to the hild, but he had never been on the Petite Hermine to be sure. On the right was a big tapestry of a ship bounding through huge waves that were hitting the side vigorously. To Mateo, this was a painting of death and despair.
He ascended the stairs cautiously with his hand resting on the smooth wooden railing. The stairs weren’t long, but to ensure that he didn’t faint and fall, it took longer than normal. Finally, he stepped onto the deck. It seemed deserted except for three watchmen, who were leaning on the railing, looking down on the raging waters.
“Mornin’ Martinez,” said one of them.
“John is gettin’ ready,” added another, “just in case you were wonderin’.”
“Right then. I’ll, uh, get ready,” Mateo replied almost as if it were a question. What in Heaven’s name will I bring? Food for sure. Extra clothing, a gun maybe, and a compass. Surely, I will need more. John has done these things quite often. Maybe I can get help from him. This is what Mateo ended up doing. He asked the watchmen where John was, and after getting the answer, went to go ask him. When he finally came to the door of which John was behind, he heard scrapings and clattering from beyond it.
He slowly opened the wooden door and peaked in through the crack between the wall and the door. John was facing the opposite direction and was bent on his knees stuffing some things into a bag.
“Ahem.” Mateo tried to get his attention. “AHEM”
“Who-wha-what?” John said jumping up and turning to the door. “Oh. Sorry. Didn’t mean to, um, jump.”
“Actually, I need help packing myself.”
“Oh. Well, you see, I sort of packed for both of us.”
“Really?” Is this what friendship is? Why would he do that? Especially for me. Should I do that for my ‘friends’?
After an hour or two, they were ready to set off.
“Ready?” John said.
It was Mateo’s first step on land in 20 days. It felt amazing as his feet sank into the soft dirt. Grass was blowing in the warm summer breeze. Hundreds of trees loomed ahead, casting a magnificent shadow over the land. In the distance was the curved beach creating a v-shaped landmark. Past the thin fog was the silhouette of the Petite Hermine. John had already started ascending the hill from the beach to the forest.
“Aren’t you coming, Mateo?” John said from the top of the hill.
“Yes, of course. I am just… admiring the, uh, land,” Mateo replied.
“Ah yes. The land. And did you take the time to acknowledge that we are the first people setting foot on this island?”
“Good Heavens! You are correct! Wow, I didn’t expect that I, apologies, we, would be the first ones to set foot on an island.”
This was by far the most special thing that ever happened to Mateo. He didn’t care about the size or the land itself, but he was filled with pride. Even as they trudged through the wilderness, he was still imagining the splendor of his name in the streets as the civilians murmured his praise:
“Why, that man, Mateo. He is our savior! Without him, we wouldn’t have a home,” would say one.
“He is so courageous too,” another would pipe in.
Of course, these were much too dramatic and unrealistic, but Mateo had his hopes. Deeper into the forest they went and Mateo was enjoying the view. The trickling of a nearby creek made its way through the dense vegetation. Mateo wished he could run through the forest and jump in the cold water and drink to his content. But they had a purpose and it was not to be forgotten. Because John was in the front, he was always the first to see things, or encounter them. Mateo didn’t mind this too much. They were going up a hill now and Mateo couldn’t wait to reach the top and look around, but mainly so he could descend instead of ascending. After a while, he started to feel raindrops.
“Great. Now rain,” Mateo complained.
“Come on, where is your nature spirit?” John said.
Back in Spain. Mateo thought, but decided not to say it out load. “I don’t like it. It’s too… wet.”
“Now that is just sad.”
In front of them, a small cliff loomed above the trees. Mateo knew that John wasn’t going to find another way up. He was going to climb it. And this meant death for Mateo, but it was mainly in his imagination. John pulled a rope out of his sack and tied a small log to the end. He swung it around before letting it fly up into the air and land between two sturdy trees on the cliff side. It was now stuck between them and John instantly started hulling himself up. Mateo followed him. He found out the hard way that if he gripped the rope too hard, that his hands would bleed. John was finally about 5 feet from the top.
As he climbed over the top, he said in amazement, “Mateo, you might want to see this”.