David M. Quinn

Leviathan's Master – The Wreck Of The World's Largest Ship

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Leviathan's Master – The Wreck Of The World's Largest Ship

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Leviathan's Master

The Wreck Of The World's Largest Ship

December 27th, 1907

Balm of Gilead, my body hurts! I lie gingerly, careful to make no sudden movements. Taking a deep breath sends flashes of pain through my sides. It even hurts when I speak. For almost two weeks, I have not walked a step. Dr. Brushfield comes now and again from the main island of St. Mary’s. Says I’m better off than Mr. Rowe, whose kneecaps are smashed. They will plague him for the rest of his life. My broken ribs and broken wrist, though they vex me sorely, will heal in time. I know Brushfield’s right, but I’m not greatly consoled.

The bedroom where I am confined is pleasant enough, though the bed is not quite as large as I’d prefer. Opposite the door, there is a series of three casement windows from which I am able to take the morning sun and catch a welcome glimpse of the ocean. In front of the windows, there is a stuffed easy chair, its fabric sorely faded from direct sunlight. Though I am bedridden now, I look forward to that chair. A small table beside my bed holds a kerosene lamp, my water glass, and a small potted plant that I cannot identify. Having lost all my belongings, I make little use of the simple clothes cupboard. I enjoy the familiar scent of salt air that permeates my quarters.

Mrs. Hicks, Charlotte, is an angel, floating in and out of my room, seeing to my needs. She is careful in her ministrations to avoid causing more pain for me. And she patiently bears the indelicate tasks imposed by my immobilized frame of 250 pounds. Short and somewhat matronly for her age, she nevertheless moves with grace and kindness. I like her soups, which she serves frequently, as I am unable to cut up solid fare. Frankly, I’d welcome a drop of old Jack, at least to ease the pain. But there’s been no offer of spirits—even on Christmas Day!

I often see the man of the house as he passes my window, going to and coming from his work as a sailmaker and farmer. I would guess Israel Hicks is in his early forties, a tall fellow as the locals go. His brown hair is cropped very close, and a drooping, brown mustache decorates an otherwise plain and serious face. When he visits my room, he is polite, but I find his manner cool. He doesn’t say much. I know he was among the lifeboat crew that brought Rowe and me to safety. Must be thinking: how does this fellow, George Dow, a well-experienced master, lose the largest sailing ship in the world? Though the coroner’s jury laid no blame, I’m sure the loss of the local pilot sticks in Israel’s craw.

I haven’t spoken with Rowe yet. He’s laid up in a room on the other side of the house. I don’t care to see him just now. He’s a good engineer, and I certainly harbor no ill will toward the young man. Indeed, I’m delighted that somebody survived besides me. I just don’t want to talk to anyone about the wreck of the Lawson. Still, little else crosses my mind.

I’m on the little island of St. Agnes, in the Isles of Scilly, which is a part of Cornwall and off the southwest coast of England. From my window, the island appears as a bare, open space. All these islands are flanked with rocky shoals and ledges, creating what I’ve been told is a ships’ graveyard. Would that I’d known that two weeks ago—though wind and weather might still have rendered me powerless to avoid the hazards of the Scillies.

The Hicks have four children, who are friendly and well behaved—a pleasant reminder of my own sons and daughter. Sadly, I don’t see much of the Hicks’s youngsters. They are away most of the time, to the school on the largest island. Rather than commute each day, all the children of these islands board on St. Mary’s from Monday till Friday. This frees the bedrooms for Mr. Rowe and myself, though the children must be squeezed in on the weekends.

The Hicks’s stone and mortar house, with its slate roof, sits on the side of a grassy hill in Lower Town, overlooking Broad Sound. The building appears to have been constructed in stages, one addition upon another. Rowe is staying in the last of these, while I am quartered in the oldest section of the building. At night, I can hear the surf crashing against the rocky shore below. This has always been a welcome and comforting sound. Now I am disturbed by its call. It laughs; it rebukes me. I, who rode the seas with taut reins for nearly fifty years, am now reproached.

In my memory, there is always the sea—swelling, rolling, and lapping at rocks grizzled with barnacles or bearded with deep-green, mossy seaweed. Some days, the ocean flashes firelike in the eastern dawn. On others, she lies quiet in cool sea smoke. She can be blue and inviting or steel gray and full of threats. But I never viewed the ocean as friend or foe. Though nearly as essential to our lives as the air we breathed, she was a fact of nature, and I took my sustenance from her.

In these long, confining days, my mind races back to coastal Maine and my youth. I see the nearly barren landscape, pocked acres of tree stumps for miles inland, scavenged by the shipbuilders’ appetite for timber.

I think of the small family farm in Tremont, on Mount Desert Island, where I was born. It was my grandfather’s place, lying on the western shore between Seal Cove and Pretty Marsh Harbor. He worked it together with his sons: Charles, Samuel, and my father, William Henry Dow. When I was eight, Father and Samuel each purchased farmland in North Hancock, selecting adjacent plots just above the Skillings River. Farms in coastal Maine are an avocation, yielding more rocks than crops. While our new farm was larger and somewhat more fertile than the Tremont farm, it would never be enough. To supplement their incomes, Father and my uncles entered the shipping trade. When Father wasn’t home on the farm, he was master of the schooner Fulcrum.

I cannot recall much about Mother’s folk, the Obers. My mother, Naomi, was a short, slight woman with prematurely gray locks always pinned up into a tight bun. By God, she was strong! Years of hard work on her father’s farm gave her that strength, which preserved her through nine live childbirths and a stillborn. She was not given to idle talk, but she combined a loving disposition with strict discipline. When I doze off in these quiet afternoons, I can still hear her singing softly to herself, as she often did as she went about her many chores. She managed our farm capably during Father’s lengthy absences, making no fuss about carrying burdens shouldered by menfolk at neighboring farms. Not like my Jennie, who rues each year I spend chasing a tailing wind.

Damn! I try to shift from one hip to the other and pain shoots through me like an electric charge. But I can’t abide lying in one position for hours at a time. So, it’s pick your poison. When the pain subsides, I take a sip of water and return to my reverie.

I see myself as a boy, weeding and hoeing the vegetable garden, pulling an unending store of stones from our fields, fetching wood and water, milking the cow, feeding the chickens, and collecting the eggs. What a relief it was to be able to attend the little school at nearby McFarland Hill! Our farm fronted the busy Ellsworth Road on the western edge of the township. Often I would stop in the midst of a chore and watch the flow of freight wagons and carriages on that road. But there was never any thought of joining that passing parade. My life was predestined. I would go to sea.

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Leviathan's Master – The Wreck Of The World's Largest Ship

"Leviathan’s Master is quite the naval novel adventure, and is worth the read.” Able Greenspan – The Midwest Book Review

Leviathan's Master – The Wreck Of The World's Largest Ship

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The world’s largest sailing ship was on its first trans-Atlantic crossing. And Captain Dow had almost fifty years on the high seas. But hurricane winds and raging seas would overwhelm him and his mighty vessel. Seventeen lives are lost and Dow is called to account, most especially to himself.

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