Nautical Ghost Stories – Destination (2006)

Part I
1900 to 2200 hours. Odd times, but since there were 3 of us, the time and length on watch, was a “good” watch. Everyone had a bit of dark and a bit of daylight as we rotated through our duties. The last few days a warm Southeasterly had been blowing up from somewhere in California. It was giving us an unusual but welcome close reach down the coast. Unfortunately it was a light wind so we had been motoring for the past 30 hours. It looked like it was going to be a very long trip to San Diego. L’Espoir was going to be sold there.
Although why anyone would buy this beat up and used up old sailboat, none of us could guess. Oh, it was seaworthy enough but it looked and sailed awful.
It smelled. A bad smell. Like a Landfill . A sickly sweet decay smell.
The sky was an ugly flat gray , without texture that “dirtied” the ocean and made it look oily. The gray got into the hanging haze as well. So any coastal features were curtained off behind it. A rolling swell that was the same dulled color but at least not flat. It was like being inside of a gray balloon. Even the ship’s wake wasn’t it’s normal white. More like dirty laundry water.
The 3 of us, strangers a week ago, now sailing , well, motoring, along the Southern coast of Oregon.
Gordy was the boss. A professional Captain, he’d been a skipper for most of his adult life. His reputation for doing safe trips was legend around the Northwest. He had been hired by some guy in Seattle to deliver the boat to San Diego. Gordy had insisted on a survey of the boat before ever accepting the job. And it had been given a thorough going over, pronounced “Solid, and Safe”.
Only then did he put out the word for a delivery crew. I answered the ad and had my interview.
He had some tough questions about ability and personality. I passed.
Our third was “Sid”. Sidney Martin owned her own management consultant business in Tacoma. She’d raced and had been doing deliveries of Power and Sail for some time. Actually, I think she knew more about boats that Gordy or me but was kind enough not to let us know.
In a week’s time, we had found that we all liked and respected each other. At least that was going to make the trip on L’Espoir a pleasant one.
L’Espoir is an old wooden custom built 42 foot ketch. It’s birthplace, as well as its registry, was a mystery. No one seemed to know, or care, where it had come from or who had owned it or for that matter who was going to buy it. It was just going to San Diego that’s all we knew. It had been setting at a private dock in Mats Mats apparently for a very long time. When we all got there, we just slipped it’s mooring lines and headed out. A few stops along the way for provisions and fuel, now here we were, off the coast in a smelly old boat, going South.
It was strange, for days we’d been laughing and telling lies to each other, but today, it was quiet.
Well, not so quiet as somber. No one laughed and chatting had stopped. The only words that past between us was boat related. One or two word commands or advise. It must have been the dullness of our world.
Sid was the first to say something personal but her words damned near made me cry.
They still stay there, in my head. They are a pain that no medication can ease….
” I feel so lost. “… She whispered
Part One .. comes to it’s end….
Part Two …. More story yet ….
Part II
Sid had said it. ” I feel so lost “. She had that right. I felt the same way.
The grayness of the day, now turning into darkness of the evening, had “disconnected ” us from the world. But there was more to it. It was more than just a feeling of depression. It was a sense that things weren’t quite right. That somehow we were in the WRONG place.
At first I didn’t say anything to Gordy or Sid. But, I couldn’t help thinking that Sid has figured it out. Something was happening to us, or was about to.
We’d been plotting our position and the ” Made Goods” every hour. Marking our Fix by GPS on the charts and in the log. For the last couple of days everything was as we had planned and expected.
L’Espoir was approximately 50 miles off coast on a course of 140º Magnetic. We’d been averaging 6 knots, so our paper chart had a nearly straight line plot with little diamonds at each fix. So why did I (and apparently Sid) feel like we were lost?
I just had to look at the GPS to see if it read OK. It did. It said we were at W 125º 42.0 N 42º 50.0 . There, right off Cape Blanco where we were where we were supposed to be. But it still felt like, like I was someplace else.
Finally, I asked Gordy if he felt the same way. He didn’t answer my question. He just stood there staring at me
….My god! His eyes, it was his eyes. I had noticed how bright Blue they were when we’d first met. But now, they were the same Dirty Gray as the sky, water and haze that was around us.
I swear, his eyes had changed color!
He turned, without speaking and stepped out of the cockpit onto the deck and walked forward to the bow.
It was then I noticed that the haze following us had closed in and was thicker. A dirty gray wall of fog and smoke that was shutting the rest of the world away from us.
Now standing at the bow, Gordy had become covered with the stuff and was almost lost from sight out there.
The old Kinescope Radar showed a blank screen. I thought to myself, ” Well at least it’s Green”. A patch of color in this dingy portrait of the sea. A spot of something not the color of dirt.
My watch had begun at 1900 and now, an hour later, what feeble light had lit us, was now almost gone. The haze and fog had turned into a muddy blue black.
If you’ve ever awakened in a darkened room in a panic because you don’t know where you are. It was that kind of darkness that was flowing in around us.
More time had slipped away, it could have been hours, I’d lost track. Out of that “Cave” of dark and dirty fog, Gordy came. He walked back aft to the cockpit. Moving slowly, bent with an unseen weight pressing him down.
In the dim light of the binnacle and the bluish white light of the GPS screen I saw a man I no longer knew. He had changed! Not only his eyes, but Oh my lord!… Gone was the tan laid on from years of sun and the sea. His skin was now the color of ash! The ash of fires long since burned, now cold. His face was like the sea around us, without texture and grimy gray.
He spoke but his voice was a kind of a sigh. A sound so thin, without the deep and musical note he’d had before. I heard his words but I couldn’t understand the faint and wispy message.
I moved closer to him to better hear. Difficult to understand at first. But, getting closer, I heard his voice, a whimper, repeat.
“It’s all wrong, it’s all wrong, it’s all wrong…”
I shook him and the wail stopped. I looked into those colorless eyes and asked, “What’s all wrong”? For a very long time he said nothing. Then the thin gray lips barely moving, he said. ” The compass is wrong, the ship is …..”. He never finished. His voice had trailed off into little gasps of air.
The compass wrong? Wrong what? Reading incorrectly? I ran through the possible meanings in my mind. Now quickly looking at the dimly light binnacle compass. What the hell? It read 053º. Almost 100 degrees off our track. Steady now! There’s got to be a reason. It’s a problem that likely has a solution. Had some iron object moved close to the compass causing a major deviation? It certainly was possible. A knife in the pocket of a crewmember standing next to the compass had set many ships off course. But it’s an easy thing to confirm.
Close by was a hand held Digital compass puck. Doing a quick check of it far away from the other compass should show a correct reading. We all will feel better when I show the.. “Correct” heading.
I held it up to my eye, pressed the illumination lamp button. The faint red light that backlights the tiny screen seemed as bright as a headlight. It startled me. But there was the numbers, it read 235º !
It was reading all WRONG! It said our heading was 235º . Not the planned 140º that would take us close off San Diego and then off this old boat and home..
But how could both compasses read wrong?
Well, take it easy, I reassured myself. That’s not a problem either. The running compass in the GPS will clear this up!
“Check the GPS” my senses told me. Quickly I moved to the chart plotter LCD screen.
There in the middle of the screen was the icon of our boat. Trailing behind was the “bread crumb” track. Our Latitude and Longitude read out in big numbers. The GPS was working,
It showed our track, each little black mark of the plot showing the way we had come.. Telling us that we were on a correct course. We’d set waypoints.
WAIT a second! The running compass on the GPS says our heading is…….. 352º !
According to it, we’re headed BACK North!
But there was the little ship Icon.. Tracking, tracking its way… South! 140 degrees South!
Hot, “electric” jolts ran through me. I looked again at the Lat / Lon. Readings..
Sweet Jesus! They were the SAME as they were hours ago.. 42º 50.0 North, 125º 32.0 West !
The realization hit me hard.
This sailing vessel L’Espoir and her 3 souls is headed in FOUR different directions, with an SOG of 6 knots,…. going NOWHERE !
He had known, Gordy had known. All his years at sea told him what was happening and it had scared him. It had scared him so badly that he had become a broken and colorless man.
Up close to me, he sighed the words “It’s all wrong” over and over until they faded into sobs.
Then he turned and descended into the cabin below.
We never saw Gordy again! …
To Continue….
Part III
Part I
Part III
Gordy had vanished!
How or when had he’d left the damned boat, we didn’t have a clue.
Sid and I saw him throughout most of the night. He would be setting at the saloon table, sometimes with a cup of coffee, sometimes just rubbing his hands together like he was trying to wash the dirty gray skin away. Sometimes he’d be lying in the quarter berth. I’d watched him there, curled up like a frightened child.
Sometime around daybreak, we Lost him.
We couldn’t find him anywhere. He just sort of “Went away”, Silently, mysteriously.
Sidney had relived me soon after Gordy left the cockpit last night. We had rotated watches about every 3 hours. Although we both we dead tired, the two of us managed ok. But neither of us had slept. We were too scared to.
So, there was always someone awake in the cockpit. Gordy couldn’t have slipped by us.
All the cabin hatches were tightly dogged down. One of us would have heard something if he’d tried to crawl out.
He couldn’t have left the boat without us seeing him go.
We did a search of all the spaces where he might have hidden and found nothing.
Nothing, except Gordy’s Daily Journal…. We didn’t take time to read it…THEN…..We should have.
Now, there’s only two of us aboard. What had happened to Gordy? How?
Deep inside we didn’t really want to know. It just didn’t make any sense.
Well, for that matter, our captain had left the two of us on a boat that was motoring along,
On confusing headings, The speed claiming we’re at 6 knots SOG, but apparently not moving … and going nowhere… A lot of things didn’t make sense.
“Pawn Pawn, Pawn Pawn, Pawn Pawn, This is the sailing vessel L’Espoir , Position… 42 degrees 50 decimal Zero NORTH…125 degrees, 42 decimal Zero WEST… . We are declaring a possible Man Overboard at this position …… Over ”
It was time to call for help.
The Coast Guard at Newport could surely hear us and come to our aid.
Even if we didn’t find Gordy, at least they could tell us where we are. The Coasties would know.
But the VHF radio remained silent except for an odd background noise. It sounded like breathing.
“Pawn Pawn, Pawn Pawn, Pawn Pawn” .. I repeated the call several times but only that “breathing” sound came out of the speaker.
In a past life I’d done some radio engineering but I’d never heard that kind of sound from an FM radio. I’d never heard that sound even on the old noisy AM radio band either.
It sounded like the labored breathing old people make just before they die.
I HATE that sound.
Still no response from the Coast Guard or any nearby vessel. A lot of other folks, on shore, monitor Channel 16. We’re not that far from land that they couldn’t hear our radio. At least I think we’re not far from land.
Wait! Did I just say something about AM radio? AM, Of course! Why didn’t I think of it before?
The AM broadcast signal can travel a long way at night and some signals can travel distances during daylight hours.
Those broadcast signals, with a little “Old Time” radio engineering, can be used to get a rough Bearing. Rough, sure, but at least a general idea of direction. And, with a little luck, we could even identify what city or cities we’re close to.
I found a roll of wire and wound it into a loop about 1 foot in diameter. Turning the loop around could act a little like an old RDF system.
By rotating a loop there’s a position where the radio signal strength gets weaker. Called the “Null”, it points the way to the radio station. I could use it to get a bearing on some station on the coast or inland.
I pulled the stereo out of its mount just far enough to get to the antenna input connectors. After hooking up the wires, I turned the radio on.
Tuning the dial from one end to the other …I heard nothing. Nothing, but that “breathing” sound again.
Wait! What was that sound? Just for a moment I thought I heard music. I held my breath and listened carefully.
THERE! It’s the faint sound of music. Like a woman’s voice. It WAS a voice!
Then, I came the sudden realization that the music wasn’t coming from the radio at all.
In my excitement I had forgotten all about Sidney.
It was Sidney singing. Not the radio.
All that came out of the radio speakers was that same awful “last hours breathing” I’d heard before.
Sid’s singing shook me. It sounded “Wrong”. I had to find out why.
I climbed out of the cabin and up into the cockpit. She wasn’t there! She should have been on watch. She wasn’t. I followed the sound , forward, and saw her..
She was standing at the bow of L’Espoir. Her clothes were gone! She stood there, arms outstretched, singing. Head tilted back, she was swaying from side to side in a kind of dreamy dance. I recognized the tunes she sang…. But the words were all WRONG! The lyrics sounded like a recording played Backwards.
Then …I saw it! The dirty, greasy fog had wrapped around her like a shawl.
It had TAKEN her! It had turned her into a Madwoman!
There was something in that FOG that destroyed the soul of anyone who touched it !
Gordy had gone into it and vanished. Now it had claimed Sidney.
When I first saw Sid out there, naked, and quiet insane, I thought I’d go forward and try to get her back to the cockpit.. back to safety.
But, now, I KNEW that any contact with that unknown gray wall of “Decay” would surely catch and destroy me as well. I’d have to stay in the cockpit protected by the dodger and bimini and not risk the open decks
I shouted to her to come back to the cockpit. The singing continued. She sang familiar tunes but with words that were Wrong. More than “wrong” they were Lyrics of Madness.
Sidney never came back to the safety of the cockpit.
She sang and danced for a few more days, out there on the bow. Out there with that ugly haze.
Then, with only shallow dying breaths, she was gone.
She left L’Espoir.
And she left me here alone..
With that soul destroying, ashen fog.
It Continues…….
Part IV
Sidney seemed to “dance” as she slipped into the water. Madness had taken her away.
Like Ophelia, she had floated for a minute or two, and then the ocean “folded” about her and pulled her down. As the boat moved on (at least it seemed like it was moving) I looked at that part of water where she had been buoyed up. There, spreading out on the surface was a small smudge of that damned gray fog. It remained for a few seconds then dissipated. The warm Southwest breeze was still at our Port bow and it had scattered the abomination that had covered her.
Sidney’s cloud had taken her into the “Nowhere”. I guessed that’s where Gordy was.
I will not go there!
The gravity of what happened the last few hours was pulling me down. I felt tired. More tired than I’ve felt in my life. I had to almost crawl down the steps and into the cabin below. I got to the settee and that’s all I remember.
I don’t know how long I slept. It must have been hours. It was evening and what light there had been was going. It was getting that blue, black color outside.
I say I don’t know how long I slept because the clocks had stopped. Even the quartz electric clock at the navigation table. As soon as we had discovered that, we had to come up with an idea of how to keep crew watches.
The plot line on the GPS gave us that. Every 6 miles was an hour. Even though everything else told us we WEREN’T moving, the little Plot Line kept laying down a track. 18 nautical miles equaled one watch.
It seemed like it was the only “Right” thing left on the boat.
I woke up hungry and very very thirsty. We had stocked plenty of food and there was some leftover pasta. I ate it all. I picked up a cup and turned the handle of the faucet in the galley sink.
STOP ! A voice went off in my head. I quickly shut it off. I had no idea how much water was in our tanks. We’d filled in Astoria but I didn’t have any idea how much we’d used since. It now had been over two weeks, by my reckoning, and I had no idea how much water tankage this old boat had.
I’d better check. There’s no telling how long it’ll be before …….. Before what? Rescue?
I figured it’s still a good idea to find the water tanks and check just how full. Or… empty they are.
It didn’t take long to find them. Two big old copper tanks. Copper? I started to laugh.
“You damn fool, you’ll probably die long before the copper poisons kill you,” I said out loud.
Each tank had an inspection/cleaning plate. I opened the first one, looked in. It was FULL! The second one, FULL! Not one tank showed any use.
This was another “Wrong” thing on the boat. In two weeks we had used a lot of water. Yet the tanks were full! I suddenly got giddy. I decided to test this impossible situation. I took a long hot shower, I washed down the entire cabin sole, Washed and rinsed the dishes, took another shower and drank so much water that my bladder hurt.
Then I looked into each water tank….They were STILL FULL!
This was too much for me to take in. How could they continue being full NO matter how much was used?
Next I tried the “test” on the liquor cabinet. Inside there was a bottle of 18-year-old Scotch, unopened. I cracked the top and poured my coffee cup full. The bottle went back into the cabinet. And I went back to the settee. It took a long time of sipping its smooth fire to finish. By the time the cup was empty, I had warmed my body and numbed my soul.
Cautiously, I unlatched the cabinet door and swung it open. There the bottle stood. The cap seal unbroken, Full.
I was beginning to understand what was happening, but I didn’t want to say it ….Yet.
I’m not sure it wasn’t the full cup of Scotch that made me woozy or just the confusion of the event. What ever it was I had to set down, Quickly.
Suddenly I was struck with another thought.
The engine was an old 3 cylinder Diesel. That kind of engine must use about a half gallon an hour. Since Astoria we’ve been on engine power for 14 days. 14 DAYS! We’d had to have at least 150 gallons of fuel. That’s all wrong! It’s impossible to have that sized fuel tank. I had to find out.
It took some effort to move all the lines and junk that had collected in the cockpit lockers. Finally I spotted the rusty sheet iron that had to be the fuel tank. As I suspected there was a fitting on the top.
Next to it was an old yardstick that someone had calibrated by cutting notches at a few places. One notch was marked ” Half ” another “Full”. It took a large wrench and a lot of effort to loosen the fitting. Finally it began to move and then came free. I shoved the Dip Stick down into the hole and slowly pulled it out.
The wetness ran all the way up the stick to the notch marked “Full”.
Now I knew the truth. At least I thought I knew SOME of the truth.
I went back to the saloon and sat on the settee for a long while. My coffee cup of Scotch had been filled and empted twice by the time I saw the book. Gordy’s Daily Journal lay on the navigation table. That gray leather covered book. (Funny, I could swear it was covered in Red leather?)
I moved to the table and sat down.
The journal’s first entries were what you’d expect. Notes about the delivery, comments about weather and sea conditions. Stuff that probably was in the Ship’s log. There were observations about Sidney and me. He had liked us and thought us to be a knowledgeable and a happy crew.
As I turned the pages, the tone of the entries began to change. I could read Fear in each new line added.
Then the entry of two weeks ago. And then the last pages written in a shaky hand. Rambling words.
As I read, I understood. I KNEW the purpose of this voyage.
I now knew the Destination of the L’Espoir
It was never going to be … San Diego!
The destination is………………………….
To be concluded…
Monday October 30, 2006
Part V
Some of the answers were in Gordy’s journal. Many were not.
At first, his comments were easy to read. They told of the strange phone call that resulted in his being hired to deliver L’Espoir to San Diego. Strange, he said, because the person must have had a breathing problem. It sounded like he was on his last leg, Gordy had written
The delivery fee had been agreed on without discussion. Gordy said that he’d asked double the normal amount. He made a note that “It was like taking candy from a baby”. I couldn’t believe what I was reading. Gordy had cheated the owner! Gordy, that good natured, good guy, was a crook.
He continued bragging. He wrote about lying to his crew. He’d told us a story about how “Little” he charged for the trip. Sid and I, at Gordy’s request, agreed we would take less than he’d promised. He was ripping us off TOO!
What a Son of a Bitch, I thought to myself.
Later entries talked about a chat he’d had with Sidney. He’d got her drunk one night. They started talking about Sid’s racing days. How she won all the important races she’d ever been in. Races that got her “Skipper of the Year” awards for 3 years straight. The journal said she’d told him that she cheated on every race she’d won. She even faked crying to get sympathy, at one challenge hearing. Sidney told him about using her engine, during one big race, after the wind had dropped to near nothing.
Sidney was a fake. The worst kind of sailor, a liar and a cheat. I couldn’t believe what I was reading.
Gordy wrote that he’d tried to find some skeletons in my closet, but ” Hadn’t found any. Yet!”
He complained that he needed to find something on me because He wanted to blackmail BOTH of us as soon as we got to San Diego. With his damning stories, he would tell our friends or broadcast it on email lists. He figured we’d give him our delivery fee just to keep quiet. Damn him! DAMN him!
From that point on, the journal seemed to change. I could tell his writing was getting “Strained” and that fear was starting to catch hold of him.
He talked about how the L’Espoir was beginning to “Act Funny”. And that, once, he’d tried to correct our course but the boat had refused to be turned. How the GPS wasn’t reading correctly. And that the compasses were “getting screwy”.
His most panicked line was that a “Weird fog” had sprung up. He thought it was following us.
As the writing became less steady and the words began to be Jumbled, It seemed he was loosing the ability to put a complete sentence together.
There was this one line in particular. A Scrawl that said…
” Fog, dirty gray people talk …. Bad I not … All wrong “.
Gordy was loosing it. I didn’t know why.
There was another odd sentence that rambled on that was hard to read, Impossible to understand. Things like ” I scare” ” paper story” ” man baby” ” number combination “.
And a lot more I couldn’t make much sense of.
The last entry was very hard to read. It took a long time trying to figure it out. Finally, I could read it.
What he had written was also the last thing he’d said to me… ” It’s all wrong, it’s all wrong”
Wrong? Yes, I had seen that the compasses were reading wrong. Was THAT what he meant?
No, it couldn’t have been. He was too scared. A malfunctioning compass wouldn’t have shaken him as badly as he was. It HAD to be something else.
I grabbed the “Always full” bottle of Scotch from the locker, poured myself another cup.
The cup fell from my hand!
Everything was “WRONG”. The compasses, the GPS, Gordy disappearing, Sidney’s songs.
The fuel tanks, the water tanks,
And EVEN the damned booze!
The tanks were filling instead of empting, the Scotch bottle was always getting full.
Lyrics were sung backwards.
OK, What the hell does this ALL mean? Going backwards to What? Where?
At that moment Gordy’s journal caught my attention. The book had opened to one of the last pages.
The one that had all the gibberish. One word burned into my eyes… “COMBINATION”
It must mean something about a lock. Then I remembered. There was an old Safe with a combination lock up in the V berth. No one knew the combination so it was left alone and forgotten.
Damn! Gordy MUST have known the numbers. He must have opened the safe sometime earlier. Maybe before Sidney and I got on board. He must have read something that gives meaning to all this. Why would he have written ” number combination” in his journal if it wasn’t important?
I ran to the forward cabin, found the safe. It looked like it had been there since the first day the boat was built. It was an odd little box. It was painted all over to look like an old navigation chart. You know, with posit lines, soundings, Nav aids and all that. It was faded pretty badly but I could still make out what chart it was.
My God! I looked again. It was centered on 42º 50 N. , 125º 42 W. ! Exactly where we’ve been for nearly two weeks. I damned near fainted.
It took a second to clear my head then I looked carefully.
The combination dial was the COMPASS ROSE on the chart with a crown at the North Up position. The outer dial had Cardinal Points as well as marks for all 360 degrees.
Like a crystal bullet, it went through me! Those WERE the numbers!
The four headings seen on all the compasses!
The combination has to be those odd compass headings! I had to check them again.
All were reading as before.
The binnacle showed 053º. The Puck, 235º. The GPS, 352º and last, the Track was at 140º
I had the combination! 53, 235, 352 and 140!
But in what order? What was the order of numbers in the combination?
Think! Think!
All the compasses read wrong except one.
The “Bread Crumb” Track being laid down by the GPS was the only reading that had been correct. That HAD to be the first number.
Everything is backwards so the numbers have to go Counterclockwise from 140 degrees.
It sort of made sense, because, it made NO sense. It just had to be.
Then it’s… 140, 53, 352 and finally 235!
I twirled the compass rose dial a couple of times and then set it on 140, right to 53, left to 352 and then right to 235.
I pulled the handle.. Nothing happened. It was still locked tight.
What did I do wrong? I went Backwards just like everything else on the……….. WAIT!
Backwards could mean Reverse…. OR….. RECIPROCAL!
I had to figure the Reciprocals of the compass headings. I cussed myself for being damned so stupid.
That was it.
Let’s see. Take 140 plus 180, the reciprocal is 320. I felt a huge rush of success.
Then there was 053 plus 180, 233. …Then, 235? …Oh yea, subtract 180 when the number is over 180…that made it 55. And finally 353 minus 180, …172..
OK, now the sequence of numbers is 320, 233, 172 then 55.
I spun the dial. Set it on 320 then to the Right, Left, Right. Nothing happened…
My heart sank.
Oh crap, I’d forgotten it again, BACKWARDS! Backwards you idiot!
Set at 320 then COUNTERCLOCKWISE.. 233 , Right 172, Left 55 …….
The safe was open.
Conclusion — October 30, 2006
Part VI
The safe was open and its insides were full of papers.
My eyes were open and my insides were a mess!
That last cup of Scotch and my fright, had brought up a Sour, Salty mix. You know, the kind you get just before you throw up. It coated the inside of my mouth.
I wanted to know what was in the safe but I was too scared.
What was inside had to be the last piece of this horrible puzzle. An answer and reason for this voyage of mystery and madness.
I took a long look inside. What I could see looked like old newspapers. Finally I got enough courage to reach inside. My fingers touched a stack of news clippings, a large manila folder and an old fashioned spiral notebook. I removed them all and set them along side me on the cushion.
I shuffled through the news clippings. Some of them were fragile and had turned that Orange color that old newsprint takes on. A few of the clippings were recent. Some had dates printed on the edges.
Others, I could make a guess how old they were by reading some of the ads on the back. A few had cars I knew from the 50s and some had appliance ads whose prices gave me an idea of their age. One ad showed a square refrigerator with a funny “Bee Hive” thing on the top. That meant the 1930s.
They hadn’t been collected because of the ads. It was obvious that they had been saved for the news items.
Each clipping was a report about a sailor or a number of sailors being lost at sea.
They had left on pleasure cruises or business trips. All had been passengers or crew on a wooden sailboat called the L’Espoir . Each story ended with a sentence saying that none of the persons had been seen again. No survivors, no bodies ever found.
They had vanished while sailing off the Oregon coast always on the same boat. I guessed because the accidents had happened over long periods of time, no one had noticed that is was the L’Espoir . The other thing they missed was that it had always happened, at a VERY particular location.
50 miles West of Cape Blanco!
The boat had been found days later drifting, not having moved from the position it last reported,
There was much speculation as to why the people went missing. Nothing was ever decided. It was just reported as “An unfortunate accident, The Way of the Sea”.
It was No accident! It was the malevolent thing that had taken them.
I knew it had, but I didn’t know why. Now that terror made me weak and ill.
I was alive now but when will I be reported as one of those “Unfortunate accidents”? And WHY me?
I put down the news articles and picked up the Manila folder. The top flap fell back. Inside were separators with little labels marching along the tops. Each label had handwritten words.
Preliminary Drawings, Building Prints, Yard Contracts, Launching /Christening dates (guest list), Cruise Itinerary.
I quickly scanned the contents of each folder. Most were what you’d expect. The original drawings and scantlings, cost and time estimates. The Itinerary folder had one handwritten note ” A Fall cruise to California and Mexico”. That’s all it said.
The Launching section had two newspapers. The first one I pulled out was a full-page notice, a formal announcement. It read, in part, that a “Magnificent Yacht” was to be launched in Astoria Oregon. It went on…
” The public is invited to attend the ceremony and launching of the newest Queen of the Seas, A luxury yacht built for the Shipping tycoon, William N. Lesha. Attending will be his wife, Ronale (of foreign birth) and their newborn son, Edward R., ”
The second clipping was the announcement of the launching of Mr. N. Lesha’s “Beautiful yacht”. It went on to say,
“What should have been a festive ceremony turned tragic when a yard worker was crushed under the keel of the vessel as it slid down the launching rails. Mr. N. Lesha, while regretting the “unfortunate accident” asked that the ceremony continue. Yard workers were overheard to say that the ship had a curse on it and they refused to help with the launch. Volunteers were called in to assist.
Even with the tragic event, the launching of this vessel is one of the bright events of this year, 1930….”
Astoria Yacht Builders built the L’Espoir. The Oregon company was widely known to be one of the best yards on the West coast. Scandinavian craftsmen took particular pride in building sailboats. They often treated them with more respect than given to other vessels they’d built. Sailboats were often thought of as living, breathing beings. Some boats were regarded as having Evil souls, others as Happy Protective Gods. I wondered WHICH soul those old builders had bestowed on L’Espoir ?
The little spiral notebook was Mr. N. Lesha’s personal journal. As I read it I found it to be full of the most unnerving writings I’ve ever read. Page after page of angry dark and obscene thoughts. Accounts of deeds so vile it was like reading a Gothic Horror Tale. Crooked business deals, cheating fellow yachtsmen. Blackmail and destruction of the lives of many men and women. He felt no pity or remorse.
Every one of his victims was in the maritime trades. Sailors were particular targets of his scorn. Every low action was done to those who lived, worked or played in the Maritime environment. Rich or poor it made no matter to him. He enjoyed the pain and destruction he inflicted on others
I wondered why he hadn’t been discovered. Or why his actions hadn’t been stopped.
His journal continued. And what I read next was the most hideous of it all.
He hated his wife and son. He’d planned to rid himself or them “As soon as possible”
He detailed the method he’d use to do it.
He wrote…”The schedule for a Fall cruise was set. Fall would be a GOOD time to do it.”
He made a note that he’d had to convince his wife that she should take the cruise to the South with him. And that it would be “Excellent for the baby”. He wrote that at first she’d complained. She worried about the child and how a sailing trip would affect his health. At last, he convinced her to go and to take the boy.
Plans were made and the boat was loaded with provisions, water and bottles of his favorite Scotch whiskey.
Leaving Seattle the first week in October was uneventful. The sail down the Washington and Oregon coast was pleasant. He had written.
Then… The next passages in his book filled me with revulsion.
In neat little letters in precise little words, He described in detail how he’d drugged her and the baby, HIS baby. How he’d carried the bodies up to the bow of the boat and had slipped them into the sea. He detailed how his wife had floated for a while and then sank. His description of how the baby had vanished so quickly, made me ill.
His final words, and the last lines written in his little book was the entry:
” October 30, 1931. 11:00 AM, Position 42º 50’ 00’’ North, 125º 42’ 00’’ West ”
Now I had the answers! The answers to all the bizarre and horrible events that had happened.
I was sure I had the Key of Escape. The solution to this ghastly puzzle!
Here, at this position, 50 miles off the coast of Oregon, off the land mass called Cape Blanco.
This WAS the DESTINATION of the sailboat L’Espoir.
And why being here, it would move no further until its cargo had been discharged.
It was horribly simple.
Simple, when I found the story of a Sailor gone mad and murderous. One who had cheated and lied to other seaman and had finally done the most heinous of crimes in the name of Sailing.
The destination of this vessel was the position where the most awful of crimes had happened.
This boat, so wonderfully constructed 75 years ago, comes back to this spot to … Cleanse it’s self.
It had sailed here to remove all that was Wrong from behind a tiller or wheel.
It had sailed into a Gray and Dirty fog that was corruption. The remains of all sailors who’d lived their lives in darkness. A mass of lost lives without color or light. Always following, always waiting.
The ashen haze kept the boat in place, until it had gathered up all those on board who were the same as them.
For many years the L’Espoir had made its passage to this corner of hell, to sweep away the Wrongs.
I would escape the fate of those others. Gordy who cheated, Sidney who won at any cost?
I knew I was to be spared.
I love the sailing world and would never do anything to damage it. I have many sins to account for in my life, but I’ve sailed a True Course in all my days. I will continue to do that.
There was no reason for that evil fog to take me.
My excitement grew. I climbed back into the cockpit and stepped out onto the Deck.
I walked forward to the bow where the ugly foul mist remained. I could hear the sound of it. It wasn’t a sound of breathing, it was hundreds of voices whispering, ” Come to us. Be us. Come to us.”
I felt it start to close about me, but I had no fear now. I KNEW its weakness.
“Leave me, and leave this vessel! I am not you! ” I shouted.
The whispering stopped.. A chorus of moans sounded. It’s words now, “Follow, follow, ”
I ran closer to it and shouted,
“Leave me. We are not you. Go away from us who love the sea”
The grayness began to fall away from the boat.
“Go and leave me . I will not ALLOW you to take me”
The ashen colored haze became as thin as gauze and no sound came from it.
Then I laughed. A big noisy sailor’s laugh.
And a patch of blue sky opened above the boat. The fog had moved away.
I felt the boat move!
I ran to the main compass, 140º … The handheld compass, 140º It was the same on the GPS.
Oh! Wonderful ! The GPS was showing Latitude numbers changing. And Longitude as well.
The Fog had completely dissipated. Now sunshine flooded the cockpit and the decks.
I felt the warmth.
The boat was MOVING!
I would survive!
But then, Why would I’ve had any doubt?
I ….was born on October 30th 1931 at 11:00 a.m. ..
I came to take the place of the little boy lost here 75 years ago.
And…After all, The sailboat’s name is……..
” L’Espoir ” …… ” HOPE ”