A Storm at Sea

“A Storm at Sea,” Friend, Mar. 1971, 34

A Storm at Sea

Jason C. Jones climbed out of the hatchway and stepped on the deck of the ship. Full daylight spread across the ocean. He looked up at the enormous square sails spread overhead. Usually the rising sun tinged them gold, but this morning the clouds were heavy. No sunlight came through.

Jason walked around boxes and barrels lashed on deck that belonged to the emigrants. He was looking for his friend William Baxter, first mate of the ship.

William had told Jason shortly after they embarked from Liverpool, England, that he was glad to sail on a ship with Latter-day Saints on board.

“Sailors know,” William had said, winking at Jason, “that ships carrying your people aren’t apt to be lost at sea.”

During the long days of the voyage, William had talked with Jason, explaining many things about the ship. He pointed out how the sails worked and even let Jason raise and lower the small, triangular canvas sheets he called jibs and staysails.

He also told Jason what the captain was doing when he used a sextant. “He’s finding our way across the water,” William explained. “There are no roads on the sea. Our landmarks can’t rightly be called that. We must steer by sun and stars.”

Walking to the rail on this morning, Jason looked down at the water. He clung to the rail, frightened. Never had he seen such high waves. They looked like vast green hills, rolling forward, with deep valleys between. The waves caused the ship to pitch up and down, heavily. It was hard for Jason to stand. He was afraid.

The great square sails fastened crosswise on the ship’s mast billowed outward as the wind blew even harder. People who were beginning to come on deck for air after a night spent between decks felt its force. Jason saw Mrs. Perkins grab for her skirts as they swirled about. Mr. Wilson’s long white beard blew straight out. In spite of his fear, the sight made Jason laugh.

Then he saw his father going toward Captain Brown. Jason followed. He heard the captain shout, “Best get your folks below again, Elder Jones. She’s comin’ on to blow hard!”

Jason’s father, holding his black hat with both hands, began to direct the people back down the hatchway. Jason saw William swinging along the deck.

“Can I help?” he called, running beside the sailor.

He thought about how much William had taught him. Once they had even gone into the wheelhouse where he had let Jason take the wheel, alone. Holding the big wooden spokes, feeling the great square-rigger ship move under his hands, had made Jason feel like a king.

Now that ship was in danger, and so were the people on it! Jason worried about the old folks, the young couples with their children—even a baby born the day before—who had left their homes in England to go to new homes in the Salt Lake Valley.

Jason heard William shout, “Grab a line there, boy! Help reef the sail!”

He ran along the tilting deck. Pulling hard on a rope end, Jason helped the sailors shorten sails. Wild wind whipped his clothes. Pelting rain blew sideways and slashed at his body as he shivered with excitement and cold.

Captain Brown, standing on the forward deck with his legs sprawled wide, pointed upward. Jason heard him bellow, “Aloft, men!”

He could hardly believe that sailors were to be sent along those high ropes and into the rigging in such a storm. Jason saw the huge sails billow, felt the ship under him leap like a runaway horse. Then he knew the sailors must obey their captain; the safety of the ship depended on it.

Captain Brown took Jason’s shoulder and shouted, “Go tell your father we could use a special prayer!”

Jason scrambled down the hatchway into the darkness—no candles could burn in such a storm. Even though he knew there were more than four hundred people gathered below decks, he heard no sound except roaring wind and pounding water.

Then he saw his father. He and several other men were kneeling in a circle. Jason knew they were already saying the prayer for which Captain Brown had asked.

Jason returned to the deck. Tilting his head back, he saw sailors hanging, high above, to wooden booms that were anchored crossways on the tall mast. The sailors struggled to anchor sails to the booms. How could they keep from being blown off the swaying booms while they fastened flapping canvas? Finally the sails were secured. One by one the sailors lowered themselves on the ropes and jumped to the deck.

Suddenly Jason felt his feet slip under him. The ship was sliding sideways. Down, down it went, until Jason was sure it would never again float upright. An enormous wave crashed on deck, smothering him with green water. He gasped, fighting for air, as the ship slowly returned to an even keel.

Wiping water out of his eyes, Jason looked around. Captain Brown stood still. So did the sailors, their faces tight with fear. But the wild waves were beginning to smooth out. The screaming wind died. Gradually the calm sound of the creaking mast and of a baby crying below deck could be heard.

William Baxter spoke with awe. “The storm’s blown out.”

Jason’s father and two other men came on deck. Captain Brown went to them. He held out his hand.

“In my thirty years at sea,” he declared, “I have never seen a terrible storm end so quickly.” Then he added solemnly, “The Lord be praised!”

Illustrated by Jerry Harston