Gulf coast girl: original title, Scorpion reef


There was something ghostly about it. The mate and the two ABs of the boarding party looked at each other, unable to believe what they saw.

There were no signs of violence or even sickness aboard, and the Gulf itself had been in a benign mood for weeks. Her sails were set and drawing gently in the faint airs of sunset, her tiller lashed, and she was gliding along with serene purpose on a southeasterly course which would have taken her into the Yucatan Strait. Her dinghy was still there, atop the cabin, and everything was shipshape and in order except that there was not a soul on board. She was as mysteriously deserted as the Mary Celeste.

She was well provisioned, and she had water. The two bunks were made and the cabin swept. Dungarees and some odds and ends of foul weather gear hung about the bulkheads, and in one of the bunks was the halter of a woman’s two-piece bathing suit. And subtly underlying the immemorial bilge and salt-water smells of sailing craft there still clung to the deserted cabin just the faintest suspicion of perfume. It would have gone unnoticed except that it was so completely out of place.

The table was not laid, as it had been on the Mary Celeste, but there were two mugs on it, and one of them was still full of coffee. When the hard-bitten old mate walked over and put his hand against the coffeepot sitting on one burner of the primus stove, it was slightly warm to the touch. There had been somebody here less than an hour ago.

He went over to the small table where the charts were and opened what he took to be the logbook, flipping hurriedly through to the past page on which anything was written. He studied it for a moment, and then shook his head. In forty years at sea he had never encountered a log entry quite like it.

. . . the blue, and that last, haunting flash of silver, gesturing as it died. It was beckoning. Toward the rapture. The rapture . . .

Before he closed the book he took something from between the pages and stared at it. It was a single long strand of ash-blond hair. He shook his head again.

“Holy Jesus, Mate, look at this!” one of the seamen exclaimed behind him.

The mate turned and the man was holding open a black satchel that had been lying on one of the settees. He stared. It was jammed with green blocks of American currency, paper-banded sheafs of twenties, fifties, and hundreds. What next? he thought.

“Salvage, man, salvage,” the AB said ecstatically. “Must be a hundred thousand—”

“You want to spend it now, or wait till the court counts it?” the mate asked. “You’re pretty far from a gin-mill out here, anyway.” He took the bag from the other’s hands and snapped it shut.

Sticking the logbook under his arm, he jerked his head for the two to follow him back on deck. He jabbed a forefinger toward the mast.

“See that big rag up there? It’s known as a sail. We used to drive ships with ‘em. So if you’ll start pulling it down and just sort of bundling it up, I’ll go back to the ship where I won’t have to torture myself by watching how you do it, and we’ll pass down a towline.”

A few yards away in the red sunset the master of the American tanker Joseph H. Hallock waited on her bridge while the mate pulled back alone. He saw the two sailors begin taking in the sloop’s mainsail and jib