“We are as near to Heaven by sea as by land” – Sir Humfrey Gilbert (last words, 1583)
The sickening tremor of a giant Atlantic wave explodes onto our little ship and sends us reeling and lurching like drunkards across the deck. As we pitch headlong, a black wall of water the size of a house rears up ahead, thundering and bellowing high above us like a wounded beast. The prow takes the full brunt of the impact, but our battle-hardened vessel holds firm. I scream an order from the deck and my crew scramble to check the halyards and the jibs. We mutter prayers and oaths. We plough on.
The first fingers of light are staining the eastern horizon and the storm front is now close to its tail end, smothering itself out like the dripping wick of a candle. It has been a savage night. My Jersey woollen smock is deeply stained with congealed layers of vomit and I am drenched in the bone chilling spray of the northern seas. Below deck, it is far worse; exhausted men are slumped on filthy lice-infested pallets; a foul pigsty reeking of sweat and dirt, with space for barely half of us to hunker down at once. Our little world spins one last time like a child’s wooden toy and regains an even keel as we finally burst through the growling weather front and stay on our restless course for the Newlands.
We are still a week away from landfall. Thousands of miles of desolate ocean lie behind us with hundreds still ahead, with unfathomable deeps falling away below, and the stars burning above us in a cold heaven.
From Jersey: The Hidden Histories (c) 2015, 2017