“I was sittin one day,

By the breezy bay,

A watchin the ships go by,

When a snapper fisherman said,

With a shake of his head,

I wisht I could tell a lie,’

I’ve seen some sights,

That would jigger yer lights,

As they’ve jiggered mine in sooth,

But I ain’t worth a darn,

At tellin a yarn, that wanders away from the truth.”

 

Barefoot and darkly tanned Capt. Shelton was keeping a weather eye on the Gulf’s blue horizons out here on the Middle Grounds, standing in the 28 foot Miss Jenny’s bow and teaching this angry, still hungover wino-slouch of Havana/Madrid Bar and Grill drunks, saying, "this hinged iron thing laying here onna deck’s a valuable Danforth anchor. When I say, ‘heave the anchor,’ that means this here. Matacini, the Miss Jenny here’s owner’ll--case any of you don't know the name of this vessel it's the Miss Jenny, member the owner Matacini? back two nights ago at the dock? Probably don't, condition everybody was in, but that scoundrel’ll extract it outta our fish money if we lose the anchor. Not only that,  caint stop the boat without it. We out here in on the high lonesome all by ourselves, no radio, no coastguard, nobody cept God and each other; lose this anchor, and we’ll be the wanderers a’ the earth for all eternity like the Flying Dutchman."

This was Joe Shelton's first time captaining this particular vessel, this notorious half sinking Miss Jenny, no crew of real sailors would sail with him, she was notorious, on this dangerous old 28ft, snapper boat. Every trip was prophesied her last, "Matacini's s gonna collect  insurance money this time; she’ll sink for sure."

Fat Matacini, had met this particular crew with a gallon of cheap Petri wine in each hand at the dock 2 nights ago: "come on boards,” he said, in a heavy Italian accent, “and drink vino, we got plenty, 2 gallon, eets all on me, good boys,” he was also owner of the Fortune Street Fishshop; then he whispered aside to the Capt.,  "Capt Joe, we got him now comin' up goot wedders; ees almost safe for my Mees Jenny go across de Gulf to Campeche ahnd steal feesh from de Mexican, don lose my new anchor, ha,ha, eet weel cos you, an don sink my Miss Jenny on de Middle Ground."

The infamous "Middle Grounds" was a treacherous midpoint in the Gulf where huge rogue waves arose in every squall, roiled by jagged undersea mountains and came from all points of the card,  that would quickly swamp and sink a small vessel.

But, Middle Grounds or not Capt. Joe wanted this captaincy so he had dredged up this alcoholic crew of drunken sots at the Havana-Madrid; but in the process, his eye had been drawn to a strangely sober, neat and tanned, dreamy young man with chestnut hair sitting at a Havana-Madrid Bar and Grill table tying superbly correct nautical knots in a piece manila rope; this was young Maurice something more than a boy but still less than a man and his Silver Bar Ale glass was empty.

Shelton approached the young man with a full beer glass, "those’er some knots you’re tyin. Must bea sailor? Mind if I buy ye a beer?”

And the Capt. set the full glass down, “name’s Joe Shelton, lookin for a boat crew. Done any fishin?"

 "No,” Maurice replied, smiling, “but I'm gonna.”

Maurice loved the adventurous sea and had written:

“Oh I scent her salty breath, her roiling sprayed waters of flying brine,

My thirsty eyes feast on those azure-skied sunsets of fiery salt sea wine.”

 18 year old Maurice had only shipped on huge Merchant Marine ships, their decks 100 ft up, removed from the ocean, a pale substitute for the magical ancient sailing men-of-war he read of in Pedro of the Black Death, Lord Jim, Horatio Hornblower, Moby Dick, White Jacket,

 "I just shipped freshwater," he said to Capt. Shelton, "doesn't even smell like sailing."

Just then a whirling green Silver Bar beer bottle had come spinning along the Havana-Madrid barroom floor, spewing foam, followed by a scream.

"I see they whoopin it up already over there," observed Capt. Joe Shelton, “well, our Snapper Fishery's bout as salty as ye git. We mostly sail and only got a tiny auxiliary motor inna 28 foot boat across the whole Gulf of Mexico. Heard a the Miss Jenny?

“No.”

‘Good,’ thought Shelton to himself, “We only gotta a big mains’le and a small motor.” 

That sounded wonderful to Maurice, like true, old time sea-adventure: mails’els, jibs, t’gallants, royals, stun’sles, teak decks to be scrubbed.

Shelton went on, “we all sleep on deck under the stars or in her little focs’l’e. There’s riggin to be climbed, crow’s nests to be kept watch in, midships, gunwhales, anchor rodes and scuppers, creaking masts, ropes, and spars. All the ancient accoutrements of the ancient sailing vessels.”

‘Oh, better and better,’ thought young Maurice, maybe even living in romantically rat infested quarters like old time sailors, and eating hardened sea biscuits? moldy salt pork, and getting scurvy from no vitamin C?' Everything he’d always dreamed of.

 "Merchant ships’re just seagoing buildings," said Maurice with a sad smile. He had one of those tender poet’s faces that women love. Deliciously dreamy eyes and a tender sensuous boy boy's mouth.

The Havana-Madrid fight was getting louder: kathrunk, a limp body hit the floor followed by a breaking beer bottle across the room.

   "What’s your name?" asked Capt. Shelton ignoring the noise.

 “Maurice.”

“Oughta ship with us Maurice,” now both men ducked under the small table’s protection, looking up under there at stuck on pieces of red Dentine, gray hardened Wrigley's  stuck to the  table's bottom.

The captain kept his sales talk going, "it's beautiful out on that dark black liquid Gulf at night and smells very salty," this sticky bar floor they were kneeling on stank of spilled beer and  stuck to their pant knees, "just that silent sound a’ the parting waves beneath the bow,"—Capt. Joe needed Maurice, at least one sober soul somewhat competent in seamanship--blam a table fell over across the room; Capt. Joe went on, "with a great big delicious vanilla moon paintin a long yella streak in the water. Based on those knots you tied up on the table I’ll make ye first mate. Whaddya say?”

He didn't wait for an answer but the Capt. stuck his head up to check, “looks like crazy Xerxes is gettin the prospects out the front door to the truck for a drink a wine.”

Maurice said, “sounds like what I’m looking for,” so the Miss Jenny’s newly canonized 1st mate, and Capt. Shelton emerged from under the table, skirted the fight, walked through the Havana-Madrid out onto Tampa’s lower Franklyn st..

Several unsteady, dirty types were already tipping a wine gallon jug, drinking and reluctantly passing it sitting on the tailgate of a rusted pickup truck with a faded, "Mattacini’s French Fish" sign on its side, the handpainted “s” in “Fresh” having capsized sideways into an “n” of “French,”.  Capt. Joe and Maurice got in the cab. The old truck’s body was clanking, motor running, slowly edging away from the curb, “hey this thing’s movin,” said one of the derlects; they were on their way down to the Hillsborough river dock, a couple of the men seemed almost in DTs and might jump out the back.

 Xerxes grabbed one of them by the belt, “wait, we gone get ourselfs a little shipboard libation.”

When the truck arrived at the river these derelicts were assisted down a slippery fishgutmud slope from that semiconscious truck ride to the Hillsborough river dock; and then one of them—shaking, and weeping, falling to his knees, “o Lord save us miserable sinners,” Gonzalez, staggering to his feet then falling off the dock into the slimy Hillsborough River’s filthy shallow shore water—the others staggering onto Matacini’s disintegrating Fortune Street fish dock, Shelton telling them “we gotta bottle aboard.”  

Xerxes, whispered to the Capt. “got somebody waitin on ye in the bushes. Cap’n.”

            “Nother one, huh?” said Shelton.

“Yeh,” said Bosun Xerxes, “this one looks fat nough ta sink the boat,” said Xerxes who’d been marshalling the drunks on board, himself an old yellowed wino, was listening to the whine of the straining pumps below deck, murmuring, "this is it, this rotten seagoin coffin gonna sink with all hands this time out Cap’n Joe--have ta grab that Mattacini’s new Danforth anchor and wade ta the hill.” 

"Shut up with that stuff, Xerxes," whispered Shelton.

Xerxes turned and said to the bums, “here’s a nice big bottle,” handing a gallon jug of Petri wine from the dock down to the waiting thirsty.

 Capt. Shelton motioned to hiding fat man in jail house stripes, turned on an electric sawzsal to hack-saw through the monstrously fat jailbird’s leg irons.

 “Xerxes,” he said aside, as he sawed, “this here’s the new 1st mate,” pointing to Maurice standing nearby and then throwing the convict’s leg cuffs far out, faloosh, in the oily Hillsborough river and whispering to the corpulent convict, “take off those chain gang duds quick as you can, we got ye some old clothes aboard.”

 Xerxes shook his head, laughed and said to young Maurice, “ain’t you a little young to die, little boy?”

 “Take it easy on him, Xerxes,” said Shelton.”

“First Mate? Did ye git mommy’s permission?” said Xerxes.

 Maurice smiled.

 "Well,” said Xerxes, “ye may a gotta first mate's birth but you ain’t comin back. Ye made ye a will?” and walked away laughing out a spray of ill-smelling saliva.

 A truck engine was rumbling out on the still dark road by the river. A big diesel carrying fuel was arriving in the Fortune Street dark, it’s big black hose capistan was creakingly unrolling, the driver’s side door popped open and a large filler nozzle was getting dragged over and being inserted in the boat’s fuel tank, Blung blung, filling little Miss Jenny’s tank with pungent fuel and making her settle in the water.

Xerxes yelled, “never make it through the middle grounds, little fella, yer just gonna jump overboard,” back on the dock, puffing a homemade lumpy cigarette with a long bright fiery ash, “they's dangerous undersea mountains out there… .”

“Hey put out that butt,” said the fuel delivery man.

“…. marine peaks out there, waitin ta sink this here small boat under monstrous waves on the Middle Grounds out there, think yer up ta that?”

He went up in the bow for a drink of wine, but his foul breath still carried aft, “devil waves boiling up on a helmsman from all parts a the compass;” he waved the jug aloft, “no boat kin live in thet tumultuous sea that God stirs up, let alone this floatin coffin. We all gonna drown full fathom five to the bottom a’ the greedy green gulf in those tormented seas sure as snake shit’s slick, or the sharks’ll rip us up, seagulls peckin our pearly eyes, our bones'll turnin ta coral at the bottom a the Gulf. Scares the shit outta full growed men, little lad, and a boy like you as first mate? You’re just gonna shit yer little panties. Ye better abandon ship right now,” he laughed loud, nearly choking.

 Xerxes had wanted to be first mate, “hope ye confessed yer sins, ye git trapped below this here rotten deck an you’ll never see the sun again, shipmate--caught down in thet hold with heavy seas jamming down on the foc’s’le hatch flooding in, pushin out yer breathin air. An if ye don already know how to pray ta the Lord God Amighty, ye better take it up quick little lad,” he  said to the boy as the red moon disappeared behind a cloud, “no man ever comes back from a Miss Jenny trip a atheist."

“May God forgive us,” blubbered Gonzalez kneeling on the deck.

The ice truck was arriving on Fortune st. and a long rattly ice-smoothed wooden ramp that was banged down on the bobbing boat’s deck, big ice blocks came whizzing down, shaving off frozen particles, making a cold breeze as each went by.

“Wha’s goin’ on?” yelled George St. George, one of the other drinking men on the deck.

“Ice for the wine,” answered Xerxes, then to Maurice, “maybe they’ll still be nough ice ta freeze ye with those cold eyed Black Grouper and Red Snapper we catch an bring yer fish-gnawed pretty face back ta mommy. Oh yer little fastairas’ll be dead freezing mongst all those cold eye piscines.”

The drunks were soon passed out in the lightening Florida dawn as the Miss Jenny’s asthmatic little motor coughed out vile smoke, shook the whole boat and started, “pull up thet anchor, Maurice,” said the Capt. back at the wheel, and as Maurice was pulling and coiling the anchor rode, the Miss Jenny began putting down the Hillsborough River, turgidly riding the outgoing tide but making only three or four knots of way with a huge weight of clinging hull barnacles, chugging loudly through still sleeping downtown Tampa, then sneaking timidly out under the Platt St. Bridge, before the Coastguard could see her dangerous condition, slowly out into Old Tampa Bay.

 The unconscious shanghaied recruits remained in an alcoholic stupor all across the bay, and were still open mouthed snoring as the tiny snapper boat entered the open, already choppy waters of the much more dangerous Gulf of Mexico as the dawn sun began hemorrhaging sun blood up over the rim of the world, sanguinateting a long bloody streak behind the wallowing Miss Jenny from the East; it’s garish light tipping her masttop with ominous red.

 And, finally, as the rising daystar yellowed and the Florida coast was growing safely dimmer in the distance; she was finally safely out of sight of land before the shanghaied unconscious crew could wake up to jump overboard.

Now it was now gonna take a lot of bad judgment, divine intervention and superlative seamanship for Shelton to sail this sinking hulk of a boat 450 miles across the Gulf to the far fish-filled Bay of Campeche on the Mexican side. Florida waters had already been fished out.

 As the Florida coastline dimmed one Gonzalez woke up, “where to hail are we? Oh Dios mio, where’s a dock? I wan getd off, oh Lord, estamos perdidos, lost, they is nothing but water out here. I'm getting out… . ” as he was trying to lift a ragged vomit stained pant leg over the rail.

Xerxes grabbed the leg and pushed it back, “ye lucky devil," he said in low soothing tones, "yer off onna tropical cruise; have ye a liddle drink,” presenting him a pink part-filled gallon.

So, several days out and in spite of everything the doomed Miss Jenny, with a full load of diesel and ice, her raggedy sail flapping in a stiff gulf breeze, was half-way across the Gulf from Tampa. This morning  all the Crew were out here on her blistering deck up forward, already on the famous dangerous Middle Grounds, a boatload of raging, angry alcoholics, dry for the first time in years, with the Tropic of Capricorn sun now boiling their brains.

   “So," Capt. Shelton was saying, “let’s us learn some knots, tying the right knot’s life and death out here.”

“Better tie a hatchet hitch round yer neck and jump overboard,” whispered Xerxes in the first mate’s ear as the boy, 1st mate Maurice, disappeared through the deckhatch.

The Capt. heard him, “glad you brought up the hatchet hitch, Xerxes, like this here I’m tyin right now to show the boys. But, mind you, never hatchet hitch nothing you gotta loosen quick, like that mainsail rope there--very dangerous in the case of a squall cause you can’t untie it and lower the sail."

 Xerxes said, “don worry Capt., mosta this gaggle a drunks caint tie they shoelaces. And with a Jonah 1st mate below decks we lost anaway, when evrabody knows I oughta be 1st mate, anaways.”

“Xerxes,” Shelton said warningly, “that’s my business.

 1st mate, young Maurice now took off all clothes when he got down in the suffocating below decks’ heat, lay in a filthy bunk and was resting in the dark tiny cabin of the Miss Jenny after standing a double, a night-long wheel watch, being lulled to sleep this morning by his lovely longed for authenticity: the smell of molding canvas, urine, the rank body musk of huge cockroaches--a dense population of these 1.5 inch black and tan Periplaneta americanus relished the moldy, lightless, dank, below deck conditions as much as Maurice; and nightly pattered out softly of the Miss Jenny's damp boat crevices, stealthily crawling with spiny legs and waving antennae on a hairy, snoring, sailor's chin and rasping away his lip skin. 

But lately all the vermin had become worried, even the wet-footed old salty rodents, survivors of many leaking Miss Jenny voyages, but now uneasy at these presently rising bilge water levels.

But weary Maurice fell instantly asleep. He had cast off on a great green rocking sea of dreams, lulled by the whispering wave’s susurrus, by the passing gulf under the spongy Miss Jenny’s hull, by wave-induced thudbumps of sliding ice blocks, thunking in the sodden hold forward under the Captain’s feet with each rising and falling of the Miss Jenny, and the creaking of the sunwarmed deckwood expanding in the fierce Gulf sun over his bunk.

    The Miss Jenny was steering south-by-sou’west, motor off to save diesel and Maurice was dreaming of mountainous crushing waves, would he be the coward Xerxes had ridiculed or the courageous seaman he prayed to be? Would he be able to face the Middle Grounds’ seas?’

The Miss J. was a disintegrating Alka-Seltzer tablet; that, fizzing her way across the Gulf, was getting smaller and smaller, leaving pieces of her hull behind each voyage.

Topside, in the shade of the mainsle, the fat, chain gang fugitive, whose leg irons had been cast in the river, was sewing in a gusset expanding the waist of his newly acquired normal waisted pants, a piece of sail cloth, cut with a bait knife.

 “Don’t lose thet knife, keep it handy in that yella bucket,” said the Capt. .

 "Uh-huh an this here, Captain, this here’s the hatchet hitch?" said one trembling, emaciated, veiny-nosed drunk, George St. George, his wine-stained, whiskey-bleached long mustache hairs were flopping out with each breath, then back again, resticking to his bloated lip after speaking, stained by tobacco and a wiggling harvest of little dingle berries of former meals.

“Naw, ye derned fool,” said old Xerxes, “don’t tie thet hatchet hitch onta thet rope there, ye clodpole, that’s the mains’le rope, we’ll never git it loose. 

 But St. George kept tying, his mad bloodshot eyes were watering in this boiling inescapable sun, he could hardly see, tying to anything handy, any loose piece of rope, to the rail, to the cleats.

And all the men were defiant anyway and furious that the Captain had thrown overboard everything alcoholic.

The helmsman, Emilio Esteban González, was steering with one hand on the wheel and could hardly see the compass with its deposit of dried, cloudy, salt crystals on top and was inattentively allowing the weather-warped wheel of the Miss Jenny to indolently swing back and forth over a zig-zagging course.

But, what matter? Just now there were none of those deadly black Middle Grounds’ squall clouds to stir up the deadly, below sea waves. This morning was a time of crystal clear good Gulf weather and weary Capt. Joe was temporarily reassured and had lain himself briefly down in the cradlingly bow and drifted off in the mainsle shade for a very short nap.

 "Wake me," he’d said to González, "for any weather."

But teetering González--he was the one who fell in the water getting on the Miss Jenny—had begun dissolving in a puddle of body fluids, shaking and dripping volumes of foul-smelling alcoholic sweat on the deck boards at the wheel, massive gouts of plopping perspiration that set his bugged-out, already aching eyes on fire. And then his malfunctioning bladder.

He roped the wheel in place and went over to wring pee out of a reluctant penis, on the windward side, the reddish droplets rose up and blew back on the other deck sleepers.

“Ye damned dummy,” yelled dozing Xerxes, wiping off, “piss yer piss over the leeward side. Oh Lord that this should ever be, that slimy things with wilted dicks should piss upon the sea.”

 González rested rest his eyes for longer and longer moments at the wheel, his sweating feet that were making sloppy sweatwet imprints on the hot deck as he avoided looking up at the scorchingly blue sky.

But it was very different last night out here on the cool Miss Jenny’s deck, a fluttering gulf breeze sailed phantom high-flying clouds across a soft velvet sky during 1st mate Maurice’s nightlong wheel watch, moving their stately, nebular forms across a deeply rich black firmament, that was punctured and ablaze with a billion mysterious seastars, never seen on land, salty constellations reserved only for mariners, that furninhed young Maurice, his chestnut hair blowing out here on this salt-slick deck, a glorious wheel watch, his muscular tanned shoulders gently caressed by a soft mid-Gulf sea breeze, and listening to ancient sea memories on the winds, star-spoken legends of the Gulf, waking seadreams bourne on the tuneful wind sweeping across the narrow, spray-swept, Miss Jenny and strumming her rope rigging. There is a special   pure sea smell, unsullied by land odors, exclusive to the mid-Gulf of Mexico

The Miss Jenny was become a toy ship rounding the globe’s great curve as the watery, sloshing deep moaned old laments of unquiet, drowned pirate sailor ghosts that had been plying this storied Gulf for the last 300 years, in ghost ships resembling these same fanciful night cloud vessels Maurice was seeing, great black fleecy cloud frigates up there, cloudish men-of-war transiting the huge bare crescent of a yellow summer moon.

 He remembered his own poetry,

Oh, the glorious night ocean sky,

Brilliantly swelling with moonbeamed cloud,

Bursting with moonglow and windful sigh,

Filling my ear with wave song loud.

And, as his splashing sea solitude wore on, he imagined bobbing, swaying deck lanterns of those ancient Spanish Galleons, English pirate sloops: Blackbeard, Henry Morgan, Jean Lafite, mustachioed privateers—but would he, Maurice himself, have the courage to ship, even in imagination, with those brave sea-ancestors?

He tried, by the ancient art of sidereal calculation, to estimate the Miss Jenny’s position relative to Xerxes' submarine Middle Grounds’ mountains lurking below these frothing Gulf  waters, those that generate starboard seas and as he was trying to keep the Miss Jenny’s bow into them; while another was coming from port, falling on him, jerking the wheel around? Or from the stern smashing down to boil in over the transom, swamping and disintegrating this little boat, capsizing her, end over end.

 But for now, there was this docile rolling deep to sleep on below decks, “some as in dreams assured were that the spirit that plagued them so had followed them 9 fathoms deep,” but for now, he slept peacefully on the calm Gulf’s sea cushion in this dark, creaking forecastle, the day’s weather must be left to its own evil devices, boiling up on some hidden horizon.

 Topside the Miss Jenny's deck was suddenly darkened and cooled.

 Dozing González, the dozing helmsman, had left his post, to lay on the hot deck, blissfully grateful for the recent shade.

The green Gulf had turned leaden, the sun blotted out by a sky-squelching black   thunderhead squashing down on the little vessel, roiling whitecap fringes of this arriving fierce tempest began whining.

 It woke napping Capt. Joe Shelton, "why didn't you wake me? Xerxes, you damned drunk, wake up! San Antonio! St. George!" he shouted.

“Where’s the lazy 1st Mate?” yelled waking Xerxes.

Large white caps were already whipping off the fast rising waves, yellowish sea foam fragments began flying across the little deck.

“Lower that main’sle, wake up, is that a fornicaiting hatchet hitch?”

And then, whoom, the full force of a cold slamming squall-gale struck the Miss Jenny, bloating her rotten, still up sail, snatching the whole boat over on her side; almost knocking the Captain off his feet; and, below decks hurling naked Maurice out of his bunk onto the forecastle deck—she’d been struck broadside and was pitched leeward, her old mast groaning, about to snap.

Below decks was a rain of falling, shrieking rats on Maurice’s bare back, empty bottles of Corby’s whiskey, pots and pans, kettles and cans, hitting him on the head as he was trying to stand.

  Hysterical flying roaches lighting and crawling on his face.

But, worst of all, that  ominous, blub-blub sound, sea water bubbling in from the wormeaten boards in the Miss Jenny’s forepeak  getting jerked open, large spurts of seawater gushing in with every violent rise and pounding fall.

Out on deck Xerxes was yelling, “it’s God’s finger come down to squash that Jonah 1st Mate kid we got below,” and falunk, falunk, men’s barefeet, “thow’im overboard,” clomp, clomp, rubber boots, “bad luck.”

 Joe Shelton screaming, “shut up Xerxes, this here’s a damned hatchet hitch. Cut it.”

The Miss Jenny was beginning capsize.

Maurice was scrambling below, frantically grabbing at bunks or blankets trying to find his feet--his pants? Where were they in the musty jumbled darkness down here?

“God will not be mocked,” yelled Xerxes, “his fiery wrath smites us all for that Jonah we got below.”

 And where was the deck hatch for Maurice to go up on deck? He felt for it in the scrambled dark.

  Rats were hysterically scurrying through the falling junk, cups and plates, and biting rats climbing Maurice’s bare legs, a fork stuck in his groin, sharp roach claws climbing his bare buttocks, while he was cutting his feet on broken greasy plates, charts and tangling rope pieces.

   FLOP, SLOP, waves now were smacking on the exposed hull’s bottom, she was heeled over on her side, waves hitting her keelson— sinking with all hands, 200 miles here offshore on the Middlegrounds.

Finally Maurice’s blind hand found the deck ladder and his other a stiff, pants-like, cloth object to pull up around his waist, a pair of trousers? They felt like it in the dark?

“Save us, oh Lord,” he prayed jamming his skull upward against the deck, to find the hatch in the dark, grating his head against the hard hatch boards--a huge splash of salt water and gray stormlight burst in, the screaming squall wind—he wanted to just let the hatch back down, closed, the squall water was blinding his blinking eyes—“Father, give me strength,” he prayed as he kept pushed himself out and up, a choking wave’s cold salt foam was slapping his sweaty torso, “Where’s that knife?” Yelled the Capt. as Maurice pulled himself out, while pulling on the convict's huge pair of fat man’s wadded up trousers. 

“Oh, the rotten deep rebels and will drown the sleeping Jonah,” shrieked gargling Xerxes. 

Out onto the roaring deck scrambled the horde of rats and roaches climbing up Maurice toward the light, biting his hands, escaping onto the watery deck. 

“Where’s a knife,” Maurice yelled as he slammed back the hatch  

“In the bait bucket,” yelled the Captain, “in the bait bucket.”

But the bright yellow bait bucket was washed over the side filling with water and sinking.

All the vermin were falling into a tumultuous sea.

“It’s overboard,” Maurice tried to reach the washed away bucket while holding up the gigantic fatman’s striped jail pants.

"Cut this rope!" commanded the Captain .

BALLLOOOWOW-BOOM! A brilliant jagged lightning flash arched down, floating up stunned black grouper.

The cursing crew were all huddling against Shelton, holding onto the mast, drowning in the breaking waves, nearly dragged away with each one; and Capt. Joe, screamed, "cut this hatchet hitch Maurice! He himself was trying to rip the water soaked knot with his teeth, its tight coils swollen with water.

 There under the deck water was a gleaming silver knife blade, spilled out of the bucket onto the deck in the scuppers, about to be washed --he grabbed it--

--“Help me, Father” he murmured gasping for air, while grabbing a mast rope, sticking the found knife in his teeth like a pirate, looping the rope around his wrist before pushing himself off and swinging across the slanted deck with the wonderful picturesque courage of a book illustration and landing at the foot of the mast and thrusting himself through the terrified drowning men.

"Where's mis zapatoes, lost my shoes!" whined former helmsman Gonzalez as another wave subsided.

  Maurice was quickly sawing through the yellow tight Manila rope knot and felt a little thrill of courage and the joy of thankfulness that, with God’s grace, he was keeping his head, doing his job, cutting through the rope layers, the thick oily faded yellow rope, now sprang apart, as the fierce 50 mile-an-hour  squall wind filled his loose convict's pants, making his nether regions shrivel and ballooning them out from ass to crotch, hurting his tender parts, even lifting Maurice slightly and ripping the rotten jail fabric, near blowing him away—then he pulled his leg up and  ziiiiiiiipppp suddenly the wind-filled loose garment blew off overboard.

 With the sudden severing of the “hatchet hitch” the dangerous sail slithered quickly back down the mast and the Miss Jenny shuddered, masts still way over and almost pointing at the horizon, but now miraculously righting herself, splashing sail-gathered gallons on the deck that were spilling out her scuppers.

The drenched and shivering men stood there a moment on the pitching and yawing deck, all dripping, looking at the cutting knife in Maurice’s hand that had saved them, at the severed rope, at shivering 1st mate Maurice dripping water, goose-bumply naked.

Several soggy rats also stood dazed on the deck not sure what had  happened, others  rat-paddling in the frothing sea-suds, their wet fur plastered to them, swept overboard into floating islands of roaches, trying to keep their soggy snouts above the suddenly sun tipped waves.

 The squall was passing.

A sunbeam lit up the black sea’s white caps and there were Maurice's snatched off convict trousers, their striped ass still full of squall wind, now tacking off, riding the crest of a departing wave.

 "Well," said Captain Joe Shelton, "they’re gonna know I’m bullshittin back at the Havana/Madrid when I claim this squall wind blew the first mate's pants off."

           

© Pierrino Mascarino