AN INQUIRY INTO MUTINY AND ATTEMPTED MURDER ON THE HIGH SEAS
By Ames K. Swartsfager
He was dressed like any other cruiser. He wore stained shorts and a stained tee shirt which read, "NO! I DON'T WANT A TAXI!" His feet were bare and browned to a turn. His hair was shaggy as if his wife had been cutting it, but his beard was well trimmed. His physical features tended to obesity but, even so, he seemed a hearty soul, a sailor, even a voyager.
"Is it true , Captain Joe, that you are the Captain of the sailing ketch NOT SO FAST?" I had been asked to do a story on some unusual events surrounding this Captain Joe for the "Early Morning Grouper," a newspaper of some renown. I wanted to get to the bottom of the story and scoop the "Evening Guppy." I knew I had to be tough in this interview.
"Yes sir," he replied. "Why do you ask?"
"It has come to the attention of the press that you have been charged with several dire acts upon the high seas. An investigation is pending..."
"Now wait a minute! I haven't done anything!"
"Excuse me," this reporter replied. "We are looking into these charges and will do so with fairness. You have been charged with beating a crew member and throwing the same overboard. It has been said that you even made him sleep on the foredeck and gave him little to eat except for a few raw fish picked up off the deck. Are these charges true ?"
"You're talking to the wrong man," the captain said in relief. "I have never had a male crew member. My wife and I sail the boat with no other crew."
"You are Captain Joe. You’ve admitted that already. So you're the one."
"Who made these ridiculous charges? They're all lies!"
At this point Captain Joe became very agitated and angry. His face turned red and his hands clenched into fists at the ends of his brown arms. He was ready to explode. One could easily see that this person was capable of anything, even the vile crimes of which he was accused.
"These charges were made by someone who claims he sailed with you for a few days until you attempted to kill him by throwing him overboard. He says that he had to jump ship two hundred miles away from the nearest land in order to save his life. He also claims that you treated him so harshly because you are prejudiced against him and his race. Are you guilty of such acts?"
"I'm certainly not a racist. I don't know who you are talking about."
I was feeling a little uneasy now. Maybe I had the wrong man, but the name was correct. I glanced at the sheaf of notes I had taken over the phone when Mr. Charlie called and made his accusations.
"On or about June 25," I read from my notes, "you were sailing from the Virgin Islands to Grenada."
"That's right. From the British Virgins to Grenada."
"And," I continued, "did you not pick up a Mr. Charlie at sea?"
"Charlie," he said with a smile. "Sure I picked him up – or rather, he came aboard my boat without my permission, I might add. You'd better go back and check out your source."
"And you beat him?" I knew I was on the right track.
"No I did not. I nudged him with a stick, but I certainly did not beat him. I was a nice guy. Others would not have put up with the things he did."
"Well, first off he flirted with my first mate -- my wife. Second, he attempted a mutiny. Third, he didn't have good sanitation habits, if you know what I mean. And last, he didn't even say good-by when he left."
"Can you give me some more detail?" Perhaps Mr. Charlie had not told me the whole truth.
"No. I'm not going to talk to you any further until you talk again to your source."
I decided that Captain Joe was right, so I returned to my corner of the City Room and called Charlie at the number he had given me. It turned out to be the Maritime Operator who, after some waiting, got Charlie on the line.
"Mr. Charlie," I said, "I need some clarification about your accusations against Captain Joe."
"Aak, what's he been telling you? You can't believe anything he says."
"That may be so, but I have to check out both sides of the story for the sake of objective reporting. Captain Joe has accused you of some serious crimes, the worst of which is mutiny on the high seas. You know that carries a death penalty."
"What do you think attempted murder is? It's a pretty serious charge too, isn't it?"
"Did you flirt with the Captain's wife?"
"Well now, any sailing chap could not resist a bird like that, could they? All I did was preen myself a bit so as to be more attractive. I means I didn't say or do nothing outright. A nice lookin' bird she was though."
"What about the charge of mutiny?" I pushed.
"Nothin' would have happened iffen he hadn't attempted to kill me first."
"Tell me how that happened."
"Well I was just sittin' there mindin' my business, and fixin' meself up a bit, ya knows, when Captain Joe came at me with a long stick. I defended meself as best I could but he succeeded in pushing me-one-and-only-self overboard. I hit the water and tumbled under a wave. I was sure I was a goner then. Finally I made it up, caught up with the boat and boarded her again.
"This time the Captain was waving his battered canvas hat at me and a'flailing it all around. Even so I managed to get back on board. It were then I decides that I should take over the boat. I jump into the Captain's chair and starts to give commands."
"What happened then?"
"Aak, the Capt'n he gets mad as... well he gets mad. He comes at me with his stick again. He was a big man, much bigger than I, but I holds out for a while, then gives up. And I askes for mercy. What do I get? I get sent forward to stay on the foredeck where I's drenched by each wave that comes aboard. Not only that, but all I gets to eat is some dead flying fish that himself has pick up off the dirty deck. It was disgusting."
"But what made you leave the safety of the ship?" I asked.
"Aak, safety...I knows that the Capt'n was planning to murder me...poison me food. He was mighty afeared I'd steal his wife. And beside that, he weren't no great navigator anywho."
Now I was more confused than ever. I went down to the dock to talk with Captain Joe again.
"Captain Joe," I said, "I'm very confused about these events. Please give me your side of the story from the start -- from when Mr. Charlie arrived. In your own words, please."
"If you insist. My wife and I were sitting on the port side of the boat enjoying watching the waves. You know how waves are. The new ones come and each one looks different. They're discarded as they pass under the boat so there will be room for the new ones. We're always looking for a wave we've seen before, but so far we haven't found one.
"Anyway we were sitting there, peacefully and minding our own business, when "WOOSH" my hat was slapped off. I thought something had fallen from the mast at first. Then I saw this Charlie tangled in the starboard life lines.
"I thought he must have hurt himself, so I ran around and attempted to help him get untangled. After he got loose he stood on the deck and preened himself in a most seductive manner. Then, and I don't think you will print this, he made the most disgusting mess on my teak deck. It looked to me as if Charlie was in good health. He kept looking around, and I thought he was trying to find his way off the boat. So I took a stick and gently nudged him around so that he might leave the way he came."
"So you admit throwing Mr. Charlie overboard?"
"No...maybe I nudged him overboard, but I certainly did not throw him."
"What happened then?"
"That darn Charlie tried to get back on board again. I told him that I didn't want any hitch hikers. I waved my hat and told him to go away. I hadn't asked him aboard anyway. I waved my hat more. I didn't need any more crew. But he came aboard without permission and then sat there in the Captain's seat like he owned the vessel.
"I told him he could stay with us if he stayed up on the foredeck -- I was worried about his sanitation habits. He refused and I got out my stick and nudged – I repeat – nudged him off the Captain's chair. He fought back furiously, but I succeeded in overcoming him and showed him the way to the foredeck.
"I didn't have to, you know. I could have thrown him overboard again. The Captain is law at sea. But I wanted to be nice to him. I even gave him food – fresh fish right out of the sea. But during the night, as I was making sail changes, he kept attacking me, trying to slash and bite me. I was ready to hang him from the yardarm or throw him over again, but my mate, who was curiously drawn to him, begged me not to."
"Then what happened?" I asked.
"Then...well, then he was gone. He was on the foredeck in the morning and I gave him breakfast. That was the last I saw of him. If he was going to go, at least he could have said 'thank you.'"
"One last question. Are you prejudiced? Is that why you treated Mr. Charlie so poorly?"
"I don't have a prejudiced bone in my body. I love all birds, even that crazy Boobie, Charlie."
"Boobie?" I asked incredulously. "Mr. Charlie is a Boobie? We've been talking about a bird? All of this has been about a bird?"
"Certainly. What else? Charlie is a big brown Boobie. You know, longish neck, webbed feet and long – exceedingly sharp looking – beak. He acted almost human. By-the-way, where did you get your information?"
"Well...oh…we reporters have to keep our sources confidential, you know," I mumbled. "I gotta go now."
"I can't believe I've been taken by a bird," I mumbled to myself as I got into my car to head back to the 'Grouper.' Well, Captain Joe said he was almost human. I guess he's right.
Maybe there's another story I can write before deadline.