Lost at Sea Part III

Thursday, December 15, 2016 0 comments

Storm tossed

Here is the third part of my serial tale from our role play group "The Airship's Messdeck".

You can start from the beginning here.

Previously, Max and his crew have been caught in a violent storm out in the North Sea, having been sent out to continue their testing of the "Chirper" after the engine of their old airship, the Doris, had failed. They are aboard an old fishing trawler called the Argo.  The trawler is a sturdy ship but the storm is growing worse and Lt Baleva, the navigator, is out on the trawler's lone mast trying to fix the aetherwave antenna.

Enjoy Part III.

Keep your sightglass full. your firebox trimmed and your water iced.

Lost at Sea
A serial story from The Messdeck.
Part III
  by Kevin Jepson
Josanna Justine

*Max watches as Iveta reaches the base of the mast after securing the wire. The seas are now continually breaking across the deck in a welter of icy green water and white foam.*

Max shakes his head. "She'll never get across all that! Mr Angus can you steer us slightly off the wind and bring the seas more on the bow to give her a better chance?"

"Aye I'll try, an maybe we can but if'n we fall off the other way we'll broach and then more 'n likely that hatchway will cave in and that will be that!"

"See what you can do if you please."

*Max heads down the ladder to the galley space just as Simpson comes up from below.*

"Simpson, get a line ready and head out on deck. The Navigator is up on the bow and you'll need to help her get back across."

"Aye aye Sir! What is she doing out there in this?"

"She went aloft to repair the comms. Now go! Mr Angus is going to try to steer to reduce the waves but you won't have much time."

"Aye aye Sir!"
*Simpson grabs a line from a locker and, tying himself into the end, carefully opens the hatch and steps out onto the icy deck.  Making sure the hatch is securely dogged shut he quickly heads forward.  Struggling to the front of the cabin he ties the free end of the line to the rail and looks across the open, wave lashed deck to where Iveta can just be seen at the base of the mast. He waves until she sees him.*

*A solid mass of grey-green icy water promptly washes him off his feet.*


Saviours come in various shapes and sizes. Today’s came in the form of a “Simpson”. The sight of him had never caused, in Iveta, any emotion whatsoever - but on this occasion he may as well have been a ruggedly handsome, sword-wielding, battle-ready warrior for the rush of relief she felt at seeing him wave. And then be promptly knocked down by one. Top over tea-kettle. While the knightly vision may have been broken, there was no denying his courage, and Iveta knew she could not get back alone.

She watched him move as quickly as he could, the water and wind fighting him every step, while she worked to revive her numbed fingers and feet. She felt the ship moving a bit differently, altering the fury of the wind slightly, and knew that the others were also working hard to bring her in.

Iveta had grown up in the north, was easily familiar with winter and deep, bitter cold, but the ocean bites with a different kind of chill and she was humbled by it. It was only now, seeing Simpson struggle on her behalf, that she fully appreciated the danger in which she'd placed both herself and now, her crew mate.

When Simpson did finally reach the mast, ready to bring her back, "Thank you," was all Iveta could muster through chattering teeth.

He smiled, some of the formality broken for the moment.  Shouting to be heard over the roaring wind and sea he says, “Captain asked me to bring you an umbrella Ma'am.”.

The sheer unexpectedness of his words, combined with the adrenaline she’d already spent, and the grim reality that they might not make it back across the deck at all, broke Iveta into a strange, incongruous laugh. It was what she needed.

He held her fast as they anticipated the waves, alternately moving when it was clear and holding on when washed over.

Move. Wait. Hold on. Water. Air! Breathe. Move. Wait.

After crossing a deck seeming twice as long as it really was, they reached the hatch. The wind seemed to give one last angry scream, and Iveta would long remember the sound of the hatch closing in triumph. She lived. It took her a moment to apprehend that. Bone-chilled and bedraggled, she turned to thank Simpson once more, but being a good crewman, he was already off to attend to other duties. She had duties as well; she was Navigator, after all.

First, dry clothes. Then back to where she’d left BB, and to the work it would take to make it back. Though had anyone asked, she’d have been the first to admit that what she really wanted right then was a good, stiff drink.
Vodka, of course.

*Max comes down the ladder from the Argo's bridge and sees Iveta sitting at the table starting to work again. Simpson is working at the trawler's galley stove trying to get some water boiled for tea. Miss B.B. is sitting at the table eyes tight shut again, still clutching her bucket.*

"Are you okay Lieutenant Baleva, nothing broken or frozen?"

"No Sir. I am fine Sir."

"Glad to hear it!" Max takes his flask from the pocket in his jacket and hands it to Iveta. "Take a tot, that'll help yer blood to get moving."

"Thank you Sir."

 *Iveta takes a swig from Max's flask and hands it back and he carefully returns it to his pocket*

"And Lieutenant... if I EVER catch you doing anything as foolish as that again you will be spending your off watches polishing brass in the engine room!"


"I'll not loose one of her Majesty's finest navigators because that navigator decided to go for a stroll on the deck in a bloody gale! Is that clearly understood Lieutenant?"

 Iveta stiffens in her chair "Yes Sir!"

"Good! Now as soon as this gale allows I need to know our position so we can tell Mr Angus the course to get us back to Scapa."

"Aye Sir."

"Carry on Lieutenant."

*Max goes over to Miss B.B. and gently puts his hand on her shoulder.*

"You still with us Lieutenant?"

*Miss B.B. nods but doesn't open her eyes or say anything.*

"When we have our position please send a message to Scapa informing them that we are storm bound at this position and will return when conditions permit. OK?"

*Miss B.B. simply nods and Max pats her shoulder.*

"Carry on Lieutenant, we'll be out of this soon enough."

 Max heads to the ladder leading down into the stoke hold and as he starts to carefully climb down he says, "Simpson, when you can, get a hot drink to Mr Angus, I'm going to check on his boys below, we will need to spell them off. I tried to take a trick at the wheel but Mr Angus wouldn't let me! He's a crusty old bugger that one, won't let any bloody navy types get their mitts on his ship."

 "Heh, Aye aye Sir."

 *Max descends the ladder into the stoke hold.*

 Simpson, seeing Iveta sitting in her chair flexing her fingers and obviously a bit dismayed by Max's rebuke, says, "It's alright Ma'am. He was just scared for you is all."

 "He has a funny way of showing it."

  "Aye he does at that, but more an likely he'll sing yer praises in his report. He cares for his crew more than most and that's a fact Ma'am."

*And still the storm, howling and screeching, rages around them, the twisting and crashing of the hull amongst the waves a counterpoint to the rumbling roar of the breaking seas.*

Part IV is here.


(1) This section is written by the accomplished, elegant, and talented Josanna Justine, who is Iveta in our role play group

Lost at Sea Part II

Saturday, December 3, 2016 0 comments

A tumult and a tempest.

Here is the second part of my serial tale from our role play group "The Airship's Messdeck".

Previously Max and his crew have been sent out into the North Sea on an old fishing trawler, the Argo, to continue testing the Chirper for the Experimental Airship Division (the EAD) of the Royal Navy.
Far from their normal place in the relatively calm sky aboard the Royal Navy's experimental airship the HMAS Velvet Brush, they are now battling a rising gale.

Lost at Sea
A serial story from The Messdeck.
Part II
  by Kevin Jepson
Josanna Justine

*Max reaches the head of the stoke hold ladder and finds Miss B.B. still at the table clutching her bucket. She is staring at the watertight door that leads out to the deck, shaking her head. There is no sign of Iveta.*

 "Where is the Navigator Lieutenant?"

 "She, she is on deck s... sir!"

 Ah off to check the speed, so she will have to get to the fantail to avoid fouling the propeller with her log line... Christ one of the worst bloody places to be in this muck!

 "Did she go to test the speed?"

 "N... n... No Sir! Urk... sorry. I lost my aetherwave connection, she went to check if the wiring was still ok. Oh Sir! The water, the ice! I saw it all over the deck when she went out."

 *The Trawler gives another great corkscrewing crash into the seas.*

 Max hanging onto the top of the ladder, swears. "I hope she can hang on bloody tight! Time we were out of this!"

 *Max scrambles up the ladder to the little enclosed bridge of the Argo where Mr Angus is still grimly trying to hold the ordered course. The sea is now almost white, the howling gale ripping the tops off the seas and blasting them into the little ship. Water is streaming off the window of the bridge as if it was being drenched with a fire hose.*

 *A quick glance at the compass and Max orders the trawler's captain to abandon the pattern course and run for shelter*

 "Aye aboot bloody time too! We'll have to aim direct into this wind, we daren't let it get abaft of us or we'll get pooped. We don't have the speed to run safely before it an all."

 "Well at least we are heading the right direction!"

 *With careful adjustments of the wheel the old fisherman carefully turns the Argo towards the wind at a slight angle to the seas, the motion eases slightly but even more spray and solid water breaks across the open expanse of the deck and the hatch cover of the fish hold, beneath which Simpson is working on the chirper amid the stench and swirling fishy water.*

 Christ Max you fool, you should have been running for shelter hours ago!

 *Looking through the blowing spray and the tumult of white foaming water crashing across the open deck, he spots Iveta halfway up the trawlers lone mast. She is struggling with a wire that whips and snaps like an angry serpent.*

 Mr Angus spots her too. "By God! What is she doing out there. She is as good as dead, she'll never get back across that deck!"

 Max's heart races as he watches Iveta fight with the wire high up on the ice rimed and whipping mast. "What about the fore peak hatch?"

 "Aye, but it leaks so it is bolted shut from the inside. Someone would have to get it opened for them. And before she tries to get back across that deck!"
=========== (1)
 *On the wildly swaying mast, drenched in icy spray and battered by the gale, Iveta struggles to catch hold of the cable.*

 “Don’t look down, Iveta,” she tells herself, and grabs again at the flailing wire. Missed! Letting out a string of curses which would have burned the ears of any who could understand, she allows a moment to collect her thoughts. The pitch and toss of the sea made every movement more difficult, not to mention the spray and angry wind.

 She is a stranger to neither heights nor motion, yet even among the most agile of acrobats, there are stories that deserve multiple tellings over fire and vodka. If they finish well, that is. If not, they become sad songs at those same fires. Iveta had heard more than a few of those, and committed herself to living to tell this tale. “Oh, and there will be vodka for this one!”

    Readying herself for another try, she knows she must find that place of cold calm or risk losing both grip and life in the moments ahead. There is no net, and no one to help. That means no mistakes. Breathe. Move with the motion. Breathe. Strong grip, relaxed body. Breathe. Eyes fixed on moving target. Breathe. Timing is everything. Her mind reeled with a long practiced, sub-conscious knowledge of physics lived as a child; the numbers came later and it was years before she ‘learned’ what she had always known. Breathe. Move with the motion… Timing is everything…. Breathe….. There. Iveta’s eyes steeled into a deep, unwavering determination, making herself one with the relaxed tension needed focus on her quarry. The storm, for her, was over for now.

    NOW!! Muscle memory stretched to its finest allowed her to do all things at once: hold on, anticipate movement, and ultimately lunge for the wire ……… “Piekrišana!”

    It was an aerial feat worthy of applause, but there was only the roaring sea, and it didn’t seem impressed. With one hand she coiled the wire quickly and began the delicate work of reattaching the wire. This part was slightly easier as it merely required holding on as the Argo alternately crested and plunged among the waves. All factors aside, the connection came together simply enough and Iveta hoped it was working now, since BB wasn’t there to verify. It would have to do, and she was soaking wet and ready to be out of the wind. It was then she allowed herself to look down, and wondered if she might yet become a song sung over vodka.
    The mast heaved as if it were attached to an angry bull, and in between each salty spray of the black iron sea, Iveta scanned the deck for the best way, any way, to get below decks without first being washed overboard. The wind howled its presence constantly, but reading the sea, its rising and falling, she saw that there was almost a pattern –more than a little erratic, but a pattern nonetheless – and surmised that once she let go of the mast, she’d be able to make her way to one of the hatches if she could keep to the rails, and time it well. But all the hatches were closed…for now.

    It is not easy to trust one’s life to another, and what the volatile gale didn’t know was that she’d spent years flinging herself into the air, trusting hands that didn’t belong to her that she’d be caught in mid-flight. She remembered the first time she let go of the fly bar, somersaulting into the waiting grip of a fellow acrobat. Iveta was little more than a child at the time, and even with all the masterful training she’d had navigating heights, the fear she faced that day was not of falling. She’d fallen and been injured before. And by then, Iveta had confidence in her own abilities; but in someone else's training, timing, strength and courage? That was different. A catcher lacking in any of these could have easily caused her death. No. The true fear was in not being caught. Every flyer has to make peace with the helplessness in depending fully on the catcher. That initial rush of relief when coming out of the twist and seeing, as she reached, sure and strong hands ready for her shattered the fear and freed her to try new combinations. She could still feel the chalked hands as they clasped her wrists, working with gravity to toss her into another form. Force out. Hollow. Sweep - Gotcha! Ah yes, they were really something to behold.

    And here, frozen and clinging to a battered mast, those lessons served Iveta well as she watched, waiting for an opening that would be her haven from the storm. “BB knows where I am. If communications are up, she’ll give word.” For now, she busied herself by not letting go, and making note of each point on the ship that would provide a sure hold.

When the moment came she would be ready.

Part III is here.
(1) This section is written by the accomplished, elegant, and talented Josanna Justine, who is Iveta in our role play group.

Monturiol's Dream

Thursday, December 1, 2016 0 comments

A real submarine in 1867?

Previously I wrote about the amazing Ictineo II, the worlds first true submarine.

I am currently reading a fascinating book "Munturiol's Dream" by Mathew Stewart, published in 2004.

The book covers the life of this extraordinary man Narcís Monturiol.  A social revolutionary in turbulent 19th century Spain.  He lept at any chance to try to create a utopia. He was a staunch non-Marxist Communist and participated actively in many revolts and social actions, mostly in Barcelona, that hotbed of republican/utopian unrest in Spain.

What I find most fascinating was that Monturiol was NOT an engineer, he was trained as a lawyer and spent most of his time as a revolutionary publicist. His various journals, pamphlets, and news papers were popular amongst Barcelona's teeming thousands and he was regularly shut down by the authorities as a result. He was several times forced to go into exile in the countryside to avoid arrest.

So how did this revolutionary/utopian end up creating the marvelous machine that was the Ictineo II?

She was steam powered, made of wood, capable of diving to more than 100', with a mechanism for scrubbing carbon dioxide and whose engine generated oxygen for the crew!

Jules Verne's fictional Nautilus couldn't even do that, she had to surface to replenish her air supply.

A truly remarkable machine.

 Mathew Stewart's book chronicles how Monturiol, while in exile on the coast, observed coral divers working to harvest the brilliant coral that grows there. This was an incredibly dangerous job and resulted in many drownings. The divers simply held their breath and held a heavy rock to sink to the sea floor.

He had a dream in which a technological solution would be found to help these people in their dangerous business. In part he figured that if he could show that technological progress could help the poor coral divers without destroying anything, that his dream of a technological and scientific based Utopia could be shown to be feasible.

But he was not an engineer or scientist, he was a writer!

So he set about solving the problem by becoming a self taught engineer. He learned the latest physics, chemistry, materials science, fabrication techniques, everything needed. He conducted experiments and recorded his results. In short he became the classic "Mad Scientist" beavering away on his own to develop a contraption that others thought impossible to achieve.

Chronically short of money, he found surprising support amongst his fellow Utopians and managed to bring his designs to fruition. However that same lack of money meant that his incredible invention was never used or further developed because it was seized for lack of payment of his harbour docking fees and destroyed.

A fascinating technological look at Monturiol's design, and also a look at his time and the point in history that gave birth to the Ictineo II

A highly recommended read.

Monturiol's Dream
The Extraordinary Story of the Submarine Inventor who wanted to save the World.

Mathew Stewart




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