Atlantis - Return of the NationBy: Steven Cook
Chapter One - An Uncertain Future
Atlantic Ocean East of Saint Mary 27th November 1872
The ship beat its solitary way slowly eastward, the slight swell of the ocean causing a small wave to break across the prow, leaving a trace of a wake that was quickly absorbed into the vastness of the ocean. The low winter sun sparkled off the surface of the water, giving a deceptively pleasant aspect to the depths below. The light clouds spotting the sky all the way to the horizon gave no memory of the gale that had worried the ship through the night.
The ship was no different from numerous others that plied the trade routes of the Northern Atlantic. She had two masts and a slightly raised aft deck. This, combined with a length of one hundred feet and a displacement of two hundred and eighty tons, caused the ship to be classed as a Half Brigantine.
The ship had left New York on 7th November without any fanfare and had made reasonable time crossing the Atlantic to the small Portuguese island group of The Azores, where she and her crew had spent a couple of days.
The island of St Mary was now two days behind them. The harbour of Vila do Porto had been the last brief respite and restocking point before the final crossing of the Northern Atlantic. Ahead lay over seven hundred miles of cold, deep water before the landmasses of Europe and North Africa would come into sight. The ship would then negotiate the busy Straits of Gibraltar to travel another thousand miles to the final destination port of Genoa in Italy.
The Captain and part owner of the vessel stood on the raised aft deck, behind and to one side of the helmsman. Dark circles surrounded his eyes, courtesy of a couple of sleepless nights fighting the unpredictable weather and harsh sea conditions.
In spite of his exhaustion, he was dressed as always in a dark, woollen full three-piece suit. The high collar of his shirt standing above the lapels was well starched and closely buttoned. It was encircled by a precisely knotted plain black bow tie. His dark hair was starting to show flecks of grey at the temples, as was his neatly trimmed beard. He was without his usual greatcoat as the early winter sunshine was pleasantly warming the air.
Without interfering he was keeping an eye on the man on the helm as he made minute course corrections. Unconsciously he also monitored the tension in the sails and rigging of the Half Brigantine. As everything was under full control he was more than happy to leave control of the ship in the capable hands of the sailor.
The gentle creaking of the storm lashed timbers and rigging were the only sounds to compete with the gentle washing of the ocean against the hull. The rhythmic rocking of the ship was almost cathartic in its regularity. He half turned and idly watched the small wake. Perhaps four or five knots he thought to himself.
Beside the captain stood his devoted wife Sarah. She was dressed in a long, heavy skirt with a fashionable bustle. A well-tailored jacket of the same dark brown material as the skirt covered a high-necked white blouse. Her long dark hair was braided and drawn back tightly across the top and back of her head. Their two-year-old daughter Sophia was supposed to be napping below in the main cabin, out of the way of the efficiently working crew, but the odd scream of laughter and thump of small feet on seasoned timber betrayed her.
He looked over at his wife as she gazed over the rail towards the distant horizon and smiled fondly. She was seven years younger than he at thirty, and despite giving birth to their two children she still retained the trim figure and open, honest face that had attracted him.
Captain Benjamin Spooner Briggs was looking forward to the end of this journey, more so than any other he had undertaken. He had a growing young family to look after and spending months at sea was no life for any of them. It had split them up on too many occasions and this voyage was no different.
Although his wife and young daughter were with him, his seven-year-old son Arthur was with his Grandparents in the family home back at Rose Cottage, Marion, Massachusetts. He intended to sell his shares in the ship and the associated company as soon as they completed the return journey to America and enjoy a safer career on land, setting up a hardware business with his brother Oscar.
The pleasant thought of an easy life without having to fight the tempestuous Atlantic Ocean every voyage was very attractive, especially after the last couple of days. Some of the tension dropped from his stance and a trace of a smile crept over his normally gruff face.