Dead calm


Though it had been less than four hours since he’d secured everything on deck and come below, Ingram awoke just at dawn. He turned his head in the faint light inside the cabin and looked at his wife asleep in the opposite bunk. Rae, wearing sleeveless short pajamas of lightweight cotton, was lying on her stomach, her face turned toward him, the mop of tawny hair spread across the pillow encircled by her arms, her legs spread slightly apart and braced, even in sleep, against the motion of the ketch. She never minded, he thought; some people grew irritable and impossible to live with on a sailboat too long becalmed, with its endless rolling and slatting of gear and its annoying and unstoppable noises of objects shifting back and forth in drawers and lockers, but except for an occasional pungent remark when the stove threw something at her she took it uncomplainingly. They weren’t in a hurry, she pointed out, they were on their honeymoon, and they had privacy measurable in millions of square miles.

Without even consciously thinking about it, his mind received, filtered, and evaluated each of the individual sounds in the orchestration of creaks and minute collisions going on about him, oblivious to the total melody but capable of becoming instantly alert at the mere suspicion of a note that was out of place. Nothing was rolling or banging on deck; everything was still secure topside. The metallic bumping just beyond his feet in the galley section of the cabin was the teakettle sliding against the rails that kept it on the stove. The click and intermittent rattle above it were dishes shifting minutely inside their stowage on the bulkhead above the sink. The creaking was only a timber working normally as she swung and swung back; if a boat didn’t have flexibility it would break up against any kind of sea, like a car smashed against a wall. That sound of something rolling back and forth was a pencil loose in a drawer. The clock struck four bells. He stretched luxuriously. Six a.m. Hot. Dead calm. But at least they’d sailed out of yesterday’s grapefruit rinds. They’d had a light southeasterly breeze for six hours last night, which should put them at least another twenty-five miles along their course.

After sliding out of the bunk, he put on water for coffee, moving silently about the galley so as not to disturb Rae. He stripped off his pajamas, picked up a towel, and mounted the companion ladder to the cockpit. Everything on deck was drenched with dew; it stood in great sweaty beads on the brass cover of the binnacle, and the bottoms of the cockpit cushions he’d reversed last night were as wet as if they’d been rained on. It was full daylight now, and the towering escarpments of cloud to the eastward were shot with flame. Not a breath of air stirred; the surface of the Pacific was as unwrinkled as glass except for the heave and surge of the long groundswell running up from the infinite distances of the Southern Hemisphere.

Standing naked in the cockpit, he leaned over and peered into the binnacle from sheer force of habit to check the heading of the ketch as she lay dead in the water except for her rolling. She was lying 290 at the moment, almost abeam to the swell. He turned and looked forward. Everything was secure. Wind or no wind, it was morning, it was beautiful, and it was good to be alive. He was where he wanted to be, at sea with a sound boat and