The Digital Adventures

Love of Siam-CH02



Things began to fall apart on the fifth day when a man died-a Dyak from Borneo. The passengers thought his death was a curse, and they were convinced of it when they learned, while burying him at sea, that he was a bomoh, a witch doctor.

On the seventh day, a slight breeze from the northeast rustled the sails and with it came hope as the crew hurried to set the main. But hope turned to alarm by nightfall. The wind increased, not slowly, but with a sudden fury. The crew had to reef the main. By nightfall it had reached gale force strength and sails were lowered. By midnight it was blowing a full storm. By dawn much of the rigging and top sails had been carried away and still the force of the winds grew in strength. When night fell on the second day, the Greek knew the tossing little ship would not see another day.

While the terrified crew huddled in fright along the deck on the lee-side of the main cabin, the Greek was hard at work on the foredeck. Between bashes of lightning, he labored to remove the hatch from its hinges, and once it was free, he tied one end of a line to it and the other end to his wrist. And there he waited. He knew it wouldn’t be long. Water had begun entering open seams in the ship’s hull faster than the crew could bail. Finally they gave up in despair.

The captain, who lay drunk and passed out in his cabin, was of no help. The helmsman worked hard to save the vessel, keeping her close-hauled into the wind, but the closer he pointed her bow into the eye of the storm, the more violently she pounded. With each thrust of wave the bow rose up high, shuddering as it did, like a dog shaking water from its back, only to come crashing down into a deep trough, completely submerging itself once again. The helms man could fall off and ease the pounding but out there, somewhere to port in the blackness of night, was land, but not friendly land. It was inhospitable land of which he was well aware. To become shipwrecked on the eastern shore of the peninsula that jutted south from Siam was a fate worse than drowning at sea. Malay pirates waited in coves for ships in distress. Despite his effort to keep the tossing ship on its northern course, the gale, for certain, was blowing them toward land.

The doomed ship shuddered and groaned; their only hope now was that they might have sailed far enough to the north to be in Siamese waters, away from the pirate coast to the south. It was far better to be shipwrecked along a coast under control of Siamese, who wanted to take their captives alive, to make slaves of them to build their cities and great temples, rather than be taken by Malay pirates who wanted plunder, and whose Dyak crews wanted not riches but human heads for their prizes.

Then it happened! In one choking green sea, with white foam everywhere, the Greek, clinging to the hatch on the foredeck, had fleeting glimpses of splintered masts crashing down while bodies in tangled rigging flew by in blurred images that would forever haunt him. He had survived other wrecks, some terribly violent, but now they seemed to have been only tests for what was to come. It was terrifying, the cracking sound of the ship breaking up. Then, in one violent thrust, the hatch cover he was tethered to broke free from the vessel and he found himself clinging to it among the tossing debris of the wreck. Voices called out in the darkness, helpless voices, but he could offer no condolence, and give no help.

Relief came when he heard the surf breaking. In his dazed confused mind he knew enough to untie himself from the hatch and let the unrolling surf carry him ashore and deposit him on land. He had survived.


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