(Here's a link to google maps,centered on the areas in the chapter, which can be zoomed and moved around, because I know some of you are like me and love to follow along and see the areas on the story.)
Officer Gonzalez knew that he had to warn Trevor about Frank Tittle’s guess: if Bridget now knew – as seemed likely – that Trevor had the tape, he and Shane were in even more danger than before. He also knew that he needed a copy of the tape – at least its audio track, for now.
Gonzales called Fowler’s office, spoke to Grundig, and received Fowler’s satellite phone number. He confirmed that Fowler could contact Trevor, and passed on his warnings along with the request. He then filled Fowler in regarding the identity of Bruja: the new boss of a large branch of the cartel centered in the Bahamas.
Fowler, who was growing very restive regarding his confinement in Rhys Lagoon, asked, “If Bridget thinks Trevor has the tape, can you see any reason why Kookaburra and those aboard need to stay in hiding?”
Gonzalez pondered the question for a few moments before replying, “Not really, though I wouldn’t go trumpeting your return. Our best read is that the tape is what she’s after, and thanks to Trevor’s actions in Tahiti, she’s probably fairly certain that he is the one in possession of it. Just in case, I’d suggest keeping a close watch on Kookaburra.”
“I concur, and it’ll be good to get out of here. I’m sick of hiding – and I’ve got a newfound appreciation of my nephew’s difficulty in staying hidden all the time. Speaking of Trevor and Shane, what the hell are we going to do? If you’re right about Bridget running a major operation in the Bahamas, that’s a huge problem: Trevor plans moving there to resume his charter operations. The way I hear it, he has no choice; Shane can’t get an immigration visa for the U.S. for a while.”
Gonzalez chuckled. “That much I can help with; Shane is a witness to some of these events, and he’s clearly in danger, so I can get him asylum. However, I think that it would be unwise in the extreme for them to return to Florida for any length of time; the danger is greater than we thought. Bridget’s branch of the cartel has a lot of operatives in Florida – and we have to assume that includes some in law enforcement. Under other circumstances the witness protection program would be ideal, though in this case it would be useless: Trevor, and to a lesser extent Shane, are somewhat famous, their faces are well known. It would not take long for their cover identities to be blown. Maybe they should return to Australia?”
Fowler snorted. “I don’t like that; they had attacks here. I don’t think anywhere is safe. On the one hand, getting them away from boats of any sort might help, but mobility is probably their best defense. Maybe finding a remote island somewhere and hiding until this mess is solved is their best bet. On that issue, got any ideas on fixing this once and for all?”
“A few, mostly bad. Bridget has co-opted the local authorities in the Bahamas, so getting her while she’s there is nearly impossible. Luring her to a place we can snatch her is the best hope on that angle. The other is the tape itself; for her to be so persistent in trying to get it there must be a reason, and I hope that reason is that it’s a danger to her. I believe if we can find a way to take her out of play, this is over,” Gonzalez said, unaware that it wasn’t just Bridget’s branch of the cartel that feared the tape.
“So, where do I tell Trevor and Shane to go? Their current final destination is the Bahamas.”
“Final is a very appropriate term if they go there,” Gonzalez replied, and then sighed. “Just have them keep on the move for now – and stay the hell away from the Bahamas!” Gonzales paused for a moment, remembering something Fowler had done. After a long pause, he added softly, “Maybe I’ve got an idea. It’s probably crazy, really crazy, and I don’t even know if it’s possible, let alone a good idea, but I’ll find out. Oh, one more thing; if they are by any chance heading for the Panama Canal, stop them. That’s the cartel’s backyard – a sure deathtrap.”
“I’ll make sure they don’t go there,” Fowler replied, unwilling to mention their actual route – one he considered a possible deathtrap for reasons having nothing to do with the cartel. Fowler made a decision. “I think it would help if Trevor could talk to you without worrying about being overheard. I’m packing up a box for him that will be sent to his next scheduled port of call. We’ve purchased scramblers that attach to phones. They come in sets. I’m sending him one that I’ll keep the twin of, and I’ll send him one of another set and send you the twin from that set.”
“I like that idea,” Gonzalez replied, before giving Fowler his office address.
“I’ll mail them tomorrow, when we get to Carnarvon.”
“Thanks, I’ll be in touch,” Gonzalez replied, and ended the call.
Trevor, clutching at the wheel, glanced with trepidation at the tormented seas. Shivering, though not from the biting cold, he again wondered if he had overmatched Atlantis – and himself. Looking out at the angry waves and listening to their roar, he felt their power in his very bones. His mind flashed back to another time in the Southern Ocean, a different though similar maelstrom, during his desperate bid to reach Australia after the pirate attack, when he had nearly died when hit by a rogue wave. A shudder came over him, and he again worried that he may not yet be fully over that ordeal.
The coffee angel, personified by Shane, appeared – two mugs in hand.
“Coffee!” Trevor beamed, taking a mug with an eager hand.
Shane stared out at the disturbed seas. He’d been asleep for several hours, though he had not slept well. “It’s getting worse,” he observed, as another breaking swell from the aft starboard quarter pounded Atlantis, the uneven strike making her shudder, her port bow digging into the sea, rolling her as well as yawing her to port before recovering and, with a small input from the helm, resuming her course.
“We’re four days from the cape; it’ll get a lot worse before it gets better,” Trevor said, casting a wary glance at the weather display.
“How bad?” Shane asked.
Trevor considered for a moment. “Depends on the weather. There’s a big front closing in from the west. I think we can make the mouth of Beagle Channel before the worst of it hits. The wind’s picking up; it’ll keep rising until the front hits. I think we can beat it to the channel, but… the other option is to run north and try to let the worst of it slip under us.
Shane looked at the navigation screen, seeing that Atlantis was heading southeast, on a direct bearing for the Beagle Channel: a fjord that created the only route – other than the Strait of Magellan – past Cape Horn without rounding it. “If we run north, can we get back south again before the next one hits?”
“Probably not,” Trevor allowed.
“Which is why we’re still on course for the Beagle Channel,” Shane observed.
Trevor gave Shane a nod. “Yeah. Bad as this one will be, this looks like our best weather window for a few weeks – and if we linger out here that long, a sudden change of forecast could give us big trouble.”
Shane sobered, his normal happy demeanor gone. “How risky is it? You survived worse in a stripped boat the last time you were in the Southern Ocean.”
Trevor frowned. “Sorta. Part of that was luck. You saw the damaged seals around Atlantis’s windows and hatches. I was under the fucking ocean after that rogue wave hit. Ned thinks I had forty feet of water over the decks to make that much pressure.” Trevor noticed Shane’s eyes glaze over as he tried to convert to metric, and added helpfully, “That’s just over halfway up the mast. I was super lucky she stayed right side up.”
Shane’s gaze shot skyward to the upper mast, and he trembled. “I knew that, but seeing it now… drives it home. Rogue waves are very rare, right?”
Trevor nodded, this time with less unease. “Yeah. I think we could batten down and ride out a major storm, but we’d have to turn into it and deploy the sea anchor. I’m also kinda worried about icebergs; small ones won’t show well on radar, and a small one, maybe the size of a car, could wreck us if we hit it at speed. I’d prefer to go slow – but we can’t.”
Trevor’s last cruise in the Southern Ocean – to Australia, after the pirate attack – had been in the Austral spring. Icebergs had thus not been an issue. Now, in the teeth of the Austral winter, they could be. As they neared Cape Horn, they would need to worry about icebergs originating in Antarctica, and also from the glaciers of Tierra del Fuego, some of which lined the Beagle Channel itself.
The Beagle Channel, named for the exploration ship Beagle, was charted during her first voyage. On her second voyage, she carried Charles Darwin on his famous voyage, which included some research time in the Beagle Channel. Most large shipping preferred the larger Strait of Magellan to the north, or rounding Cape Horn to the south, though Beagle Channel was a far more sheltered route, allowing passage north of Cape Horn by seventy-five miles. Even so, it held many dangers of its own.
Shane shrugged. “I don’t like it, but seeing how Bridget probably thinks we’re going there, I’d like the Panama Canal a hell of a lot less. I think you’re right; no one would guess our route because it’s fucking insane. Um, how many times has it been run in winter by a cruising catamaran like Atlantis?”
Trevor gave Shane a grin. “As far as I know, it’s been done once… or at least, that’ll probably be the case – a week from now.”
“You’re a great confidence-builder, you are,” Shane replied, with a grin of his own.
“I do know that a lot of racing yachts have rounded Cape Horn in winter, it’s just big cruising cats I don’t know about. It’d be cool if we were the first.” Trevor was doing his best to show confidence via bravado, though he and Shane were both very worried.
Shane shrugged, trying to appear relaxed and confident. “As somebody whose name I can’t remember once famously said, “Damn the torpedoes – full speed ahead!”
The changes were not discernable from one hour to the next, though over the following days, the winds and seas grew inexorably worse. The base swell from the west built, roiled further by an overlying southwesterly chop – driven by the rising winds, which that morning reached force seven on the Beaufort scale. By afternoon, they were a solid force eight – gale force.
Trevor drove for speed, pushing Atlantis hard in the confused seas, striving to reach the sheltered waters of the Beagle Channel as fast as he could; the storm closing in from the west left no room for error.
They were a hundred miles from safety when the wind reached force nine on Atlantis’s anemometer and kept rising, along with the seas. A thirty-foot base swell carrying breaking crests continually slammed Atlantis, making her ring like a drum and lashing her with spindrift.
Trevor and Shane both wore safety harnesses, each with a line clipped to a rail near the salon door. Atlantis could be conned from inside at the navigation desk when underway on engines, and to a limited degree while under sail, because the lines controlling the rigging ran to the cockpit alone. In storm conditions, Atlantis could not carry much sail and be safely conned from inside, thus Trevor and Shane – increasingly, Trevor – had to man the cockpit. Already, an occasional wave brought water into the cockpit. They both knew it would get far worse.
Normally, the safer option would be to haul down the mains and run under just a small storm jib. However, the need for speed precluded this option. In the ever-more-violent seas, Atlantis raced ahead with just one reef in her massive sails, enduring the danger in an attempt to avoid the worst of the storm.
Trevor stared at the navigation display, studying it, and then the weather display. Trevor leaned over, putting his mouth near Shane’s ear so that he could be heard without shouting, “We’re making fourteen knots. Any faster in these sea conditions carries more risk – though not as much risk as being caught off a lee shore when that storm fully hits. I don’t like the way the forecast looks, so… I think we need to increase speed.” Being driven by the wind on to a rugged shore in a storm was a grave danger for any boat or ship, and all sailors grow nervous when upwind of a shore in a storm.
“How fast is the storm moving?” Shane asked.
“Looks like around twenty knots, maybe a bit more in places. Do me a favor and break out the sea anchor. Get it laid out in the salon, ready to deploy. If we need it, we might need it fast…” Trevor’s voice trailed off as he glanced aft, seeing a wall of white water bearing down from the aft starboard quarter. “Hang on!” he yelled, grabbing at the wheel and holding on as the wave slammed into Atlantis.
Shane, standing forward in the cockpit, lunged for the cockpit table’s leg, grabbing it as the wall of white water surged into the cockpit.
For a brief moment, Trevor lost sight of Shane amidst the churning waters. Fear gripped him; he knew that with enough force, a safety line could break, and that even if it didn’t, being swept away by a wave could cause serous injuries.
After an eternal three seconds, Trevor saw Shane’s head pop up through the foam, and turned his attention to Atlantis, which was now weighed down by two feet of water in the cockpit. Trevor glanced aft, dreading another wave – Atlantis was vulnerable to strikes from her stern quarter. “I think it’s time we lowered the mains, started the engines, and raised the storm jib,” Trevor shouted, as the cockpit scuppers allowed the water in the cockpit to drain.
In severe winds, the only way to lower the mainsail was to unload it – ease the wind’s force on it. Trevor checked the seas again before spinning the wheel, bringing Atlantis sharply around to starboard, facing her into the sea and winds. Even so, it was a struggle to furl the mainsail and foresail in the brutal gale, with Atlantis pitching in the pounding seas.
Finally, storm jib flying, Trevor returned Atlantis to her downwind course. With relief, a shivering Trevor and Shane opened the salon door and stumbled inside, securing it behind them as soon as they’d unhooked their safety lines.
Inside, Trevor, encumbered by his wet cold-weather gear, stumbled to the navigation desk, where he took helm control and started the engines. After a few moments, he advanced the throttles, slowly building speed. “We’re back up to fourteen… I’m going for sixteen, for as long as we can.”
“Get out of your wet gear; you’re shivering,” Shane said, already peeling off his own cold-weather clothing in the warm cockpit.
“I can’t; I’ve got to get back to the cockpit. I can’t see well enough from in here to do what I need to do,” Trevor said, flicking a finger at Atlantis’s large, sloping salon windows, which were fully obscured by the driving spray, which even the small windshield wiper in front of the navigation desk could barely dent.
“Trev, you’re freezing. Let me do it,” Shane said, with an apprehensive look on his face.
Trevor gave a now-shirtless Shane a wan smile. “You don’t even know what I’ve got in mind. You’ve never done it before, and it’s hard. Do me a favor and throw your stuff in the dryer; I can use it for a dry change when I come in. Even if it’s not fully dry, at least it’ll be warm.”
Shane finished stripping off. Their cold weather gear consisted of surfing wetsuits under insulated waterproof pants and jackets, plus wetsuit gloves and ski caps. It wasn’t full cold-water gear. Shane turned to look at Trevor, and said, “Put my wetsuit on over yours, that’ll help.”
Trevor shook his head. “No can do; you might need it fast, like if we’re swamped by a wave, or need to deploy the sea anchor. Or if I get washed overboard.”
Shane shuddered. “Maybe we should go ahead and deploy the sea anchor and ride out the storm.”
“We’d probably make it if we ride it out, but we’d take one hell of a pounding: twenty to thirty foot breakers coming over the bows. If we lost a main window, she’d fill with water and wallow. We’d be done for. We’d be staking our lives on Ned’s workmanship,” Trevor said, knowing the response that would get.
“Okay, if you put it like that, let’s keep going. I want to see what you’ve got in mind.”
Trevor winced; it was time. On shaking legs, he stood, turning to head for the cockpit. “I want to use the seas to increase our speed.”
“I’m coming with you,” Shane declared, already pulling his cold wetsuit back on. “You can’t stay out there much longer, and I need to learn how to do whatever it is you want to do.”
Safety harnesses secured, they made their way back into the cockpit. Trevor took helm control at the starboard wheel, carefully studying the confused and tumultuous seas as Atlantis pitched and yawed. He advanced the throttles to maximum, shouting over the wind, “Watch for a few minutes, then head inside.”
Relying on his instinctive feel for the sea and Atlantis, Trevor began steering, changing course slightly each time, playing for the best angle on the waves and swells, using them to help drive Atlantis faster instead of just taking the impacts. He leaned close to Shane to say, “I kind of did this in the Southern Ocean, and I’ve done it in rage seas off Florida. If you get the angles and courses just right, you can use rough seas to gain two or three knots over just maintaining course, but I can’t see well enough from the salon to do it. I need to see all around.” After a minute, Trevor smiled. “Seventeen knots!”
Shane glanced at the navigation screen, wiped off the water, and studied it for a moment. “About seventy miles to safety.”
“I think we can make it. The decision point is about twenty miles out from it; we can’t go past that unless we’re pretty sure we can make it, or we risk being driven ashore,” Trevor said, as he noticed something new amongst the driving sea spray: snow.
Shane winced. “You can’t stay out here for three and a half hours, Trev! You’ll fucking freeze or drown. Teach me, so we can take turns.”
Trevor knew that Shane was right. Through chattering teeth, he replied, “Take the other helm and follow what I do. You just have to feel the boat and the sea, angling her to take advantage of the swells and waves to gain downhill, or get thrust from impacts. Just don’t take a major hit from square astern; that can blow in the salon door.”
The swells were massive; over thirty feet, sometimes carrying a ten foot or more breaker. It was a delicate business, and every so often, Trevor misjudged a wave, taking white water in the cockpit. After twenty brutal minutes, Shane yelled above the rising wind, “Let me take her, I think I’ve got it.”
Trevor, shaking from the cold, pried his stiff fingers from the wheel. “Take over on this side; the view into the swells is better.”
“Yeah, especially when they come in,” Shane replied, stumbling across the pitching deck to take the starboard wheel.
With Atlantis diving in and out of the huge swells, the cockpit was being bombarded by continual driving, stinging spray carried on the roaring wind. The conditions were brutal; the spray was impairing visibility, blurring the line between ocean and sky.
Shane studied the waves, turning Atlantis five degrees to starboard for a better angle on a wave. For five minutes, Trevor stood by his side, occasionally nodding with approval. Shane could not match Trevor’s skill, though he managed to keep Atlantis moving just a knot slower than Trevor had managed. He glanced at Trevor and yelled, “Get inside, you’re going hypothermic; you’ve been out a lot longer than me.”
Reluctant and shivering, Trevor stumbled into the salon. Fifteen minutes later, he returned. “Okay, your turn to warm up.”
Shane shook his head. “I’m okay for a while. Go get dry.”
Shouting above the roaring wind, Trevor replied, “We’ve got, at most, an hour of usable light – and that’s if the visibility holds. You’re doing great, but we need every bit of speed. After we lose visibility, we’ll both be in the salon.”
Shane yielded the helm. “Okay, but I’ll keep the coffee coming non-stop.”
Trevor glanced at the wind speed indicator. “Gusting over sixty knots and these seas are getting worse. It’s not the seas that are worrying me though; we’re entering a northbound current. Icebergs, and soon we won’t have enough visibility to see them.”
“Won’t they show up on radar?” Shane asked.
“A really big one maybe, but the main radar is getting erratic due to the amount of pitching and yawing. The pole-mounted one isn’t as bad, but it’s giving false reads too. I need you at the nav desk keeping an eye on it. If any returns keep appearing from the same spot, that might be one. But even hitting one the size of a car could wreck us at this speed, and we’d never see anything small on radar. We couldn’t even see it in daylight in this driving spray. We’ve got a choice to make; deploy the sea anchor and ride it out, or run in blind.”
“Go with your gut; you know this stuff better than me.”
“I’ve never had to worry much about icebergs in Florida,” Trevor pointed out, while wiping snow from his forehead. “But… I think we’re better off taking the risk of hitting an iceberg than riding out the storm. From what I read, there aren’t all that many.”
Shane shivered, not only from the cold. “Damn the icebergs, Captain Smith, full speed ahead,” he said, trying to sound confident even though he’d used the name of the captain of the Titanic.
Alone in the cockpit, Trevor fought the storm, using the waves to help drive Atlantis faster. The wind, laden with snow and spray, whipped through the rigging, making the lines and stays sing in various tones, some shrieking, others akin to the sound of a pipe organ. The noise of wind and sea was near deafening, though the piercing cold was nothing short of agony.
Shane brought Trevor several steaming mugs over the next brutal hour, though with the last, Trevor motioned for Shane to stop as soon as the salon door opened. “I’ve done all I can, let’s go inside,” he said, barely heard above the force ten gale and constant driving spindrift. He flipped on the autopilot, selecting a basic setting that would simply hold their current base course – all he needed until he could get inside. In those seas, leaving her uncontrolled even for a moment would cause her to founder. As soon as Trevor was inside and had secured the salon door, he dashed to the navigation desk, gasping, “We’re losing the light, plus the spray is constant; I can’t see enough to be any more use out there than in here. I’ve got to put waypoints into the autopilot.”
“No you’re not; I can do that as well as you. Go get a hot shower now; you’re fucking cold as ice,” Shane ordered, feeling Trevor’s cold and numb hand.
With Shane manning the navigation desk helm station and setting up the autopilot, Trevor stumbled across the pitching deck and down the galley stairs, heading for the shower, already struggling out of his gear.
He did not yet know if his efforts had been enough.
Trevor increased the shower temperature gradually, wincing from the pain as the warm water hit his cold hands – even in gloves, his hands had been chilled to near-uselessness.
When he was at last warm enough, he dried as fast as he could with one hand – holding onto a towel rail with the other to remain upright on the wildly-pitching deck. Every so often, the roar of the engines and the wind was overwhelmed by the deeper roar of white water, preceding wave strikes that were making Atlantis shake like a leaf.
Trevor pulled on dry clothes. Rushing into the salon, he found a stripped Shane studying the navigation displays.
“We’re doing seventeen knots, twenty miles to go. The worst of the storm looks like it’s forty miles to the west – I think we’re going to make it,” Shane said, moments before a deep, thundering roar filled the salon and the deck began to tilt towards the bows.
“Hang on,” Trevor yelled, as the pitch increased to thirty-five degrees. Twenty feet of white water slammed Atlantis from astern in an angled strike, slewing her around to starboard and rolling her sideways to thirty degrees as it tore over her.
Shane didn’t wait for the autopilot; he tugged on the joystick controller, bringing Atlantis hard to port, well aware that a side-on hit from a big wave could roll her.
“Don’t overshoot our old heading. We can’t take a hit like that from dead astern,” Trevor warned, already by Shane’s side. “That door Ned put in is stronger than the old one, but I don’t think it can take a square-on hit.”
Shane returned to their original course; thirty degrees south of east. The base swell and the largest waves were coming out of the west.
Trevor glanced at the wind speed indicator. “The needle just hit seventy knots, that’s hurricane force. Just to be safe, get the handheld GPS, the charts I printed out, and a flashlight. That way we’ll have at least something to go on if we lose power at a bad time, like when we’re shooting the entrance. It’s a bad one. Then get your wet clothes in the dryer, then grab a shower. You need to warm up too.”
“Aye aye, Captain Bligh,” Shane replied with a wan smile, turning over the helm to Trevor.
Another roar, followed by another heavy wave hit, sent Atlantis racing ahead and slewing to starboard. “We’re starting to surf when hit, I’m cutting power,” Trevor announced, well aware of the danger; the power of the big breaking waves was adding sudden bursts of speed to Atlantis, pushing her fast enough to come partially out of the water and ‘surf’ the face of the breaker, putting her in danger of flipping. Trevor cut the throttles by half, slowing Atlantis to thirteen knots; her forward speed now provided mostly by her storm jib and the force of the wind on her rigging and superstructure, plus the actions of the waves. Atlantis took the next hit better, though Trevor knew he’d increased the time it would take to reach shelter.
Shane returned, taking a seat beside Trevor, though even seated they had to hang on against the violent motions of the boat. “We should install seatbelts,” Shane mumbled, his fear beginning to show.
“It’ll be okay,” Trevor replied, as a wave strike under the salon made Atlantis ring like a drum. “Ten more miles,” he added, putting a comforting arm across Shane’s bare shoulders.
Those ten miles took the better part of an hour as Trevor was forced to further reduce speed. At last, he tapped the navigation screen. “There it is: Stewart Island. We’ll pass north of it, into Ballenaro Strait. Stewart island has high mountains; we’ll be in their wind shadow in about three miles,” Trevor said, as another big breaker slammed Atlantis, shaking several books loose from the bookcase in spite of the low rail that held them in place. A clatter from the galley announced that some of Atlantis’s crockery had met a similar fate. “Uh, it might get worse for a bit, due to the funneling effect of the entrance.”
The entrance was six miles wide, and Atlantis’s navigation system held charts of the rocks and shoals. The GPS, backed up by the radar, allowed Trevor to hold to the center of the deep glacial channel. The sea, however, was not yet done; one final massive wave tore at Atlantis, slamming her with tons of water that filled the cockpit, ramming hard against the salon door. Trevor winced at the sound, half expecting the sea to breach the sliding door and flood the salon, but to their relief, the door held and Atlantis fought free of the breaker. Trevor returned her to her course, dreading the next wave impact, which never came. As if a giant switch had been thrown, the massive swells abruptly ceased as Atlantis entered the shadow of Stewart Island. Trevor held his breath, waiting nearly a minute to be sure, and then, beaming, he pulled back on the throttles and exclaimed, “We made it!”
Shane whooped, overcome by joy and relief. “I hope we never have to do that again,” he said, as Atlantis slowed to four knots. “Okay, now what? Do we anchor or keep going?”
Trevor shook his head. “Not safe to do either one in this storm and in the dark.” The wind had dropped, though it was still gusty and snowing hard. “First, I’ll pull down the storm jib and then find us a sheltered area that’s not close in on a shore. With this wind and current, the autopilot should be able to keep us pretty much stationary.
Trevor didn’t want to struggle into a cold, wet wetsuit and sodden waterproofs, so he braved his brief visit to the cockpit in just a light jacket and jeans, plus his harness. He whipped the storm jib down and returned to the salon. “It’s snowing like crazy, and ice is building up on the superstructure and rigging.”
Trevor soon had Atlantis positioned in a broad bay east of Stewart Island, and then let her drift for a few minutes to get a feel for the motion of wind and current. “The autopilot can hold her, but we’ll need to keep a very close watch.”
Shane smiled, glancing towards the cabin door. “You’ve had a lot less sleep than me, so get to bed. I’ll keep watch.”
With exhaustion setting in, Trevor gratefully agreed. “Will do. Wake me in three hours,” he said, already heading for the cabin.
“Don’t worry, I won’t,” Shane whispered, planning on letting Trevor sleep for longer than that. He then settled in at the navigation desk, keeping a close watch on the screens. Trevor had set a location alarm, but even so, neither of them felt comfortable fully trusting their lives to an automatic system if they didn’t have to; it was better to keep watch – good seamanship demanded it.
A thunderstorm rumbling overhead made for a perfect match with Bridget’s mood. She drummed her fingers on her desk, the slow, rhythmic cadence helping her think. A series of booms shook her home, though she paid them no heed; her mind was thousands of miles away. She glanced at a stack of reports; her business was doing well indeed, though as of late, it brought her little joy. With a sigh, she pressed the intercom button. “Xavier, I need you.”
When Xavier entered her palatial office, Bridget regarded him with a haughty air. “I am concerned. Trevor’s passage slot for the Panama Canal is in ten days, though it strikes me as too easy; he reserved the slot under the name ‘Atlantis’, making no attempt to obfuscate. According to Julie, he knows I am after that tape, so why, after all his past secrecy, would he be so blatant now? I suspect deception, though I cannot figure out what. I feel fairly sure that Florida is his destination: I doubt he would miss Lisa and Joel’s wedding, though regrettably we cannot wait until then to settle the matter.”
Xavier nodded slowly, deep in thought. “He has kept to his boat so far. The teams in Panama are in position, and I will be there when he is scheduled to arrive. I will check every catamaran of similar size, just in case he is playing games with the names again.”
“Do so. However,” Bridget glanced at her globe, turning it to look at South America. “I think we need to examine other possibilities. The longer he has the tape, the greater the risk he will send it, or copies, to others. If Panama fails, we need a plan already in place and in motion. Our primary need is to find out where he is.”
“I have dozens of people checking into everything that we can think of. Tracking his satellite phone is, unfortunately, proving to be beyond our current capabilities; bribes have been offered, but the companies guard that sort of capability very well. I will keep trying.”
Bridget met Xavier’s eyes, and to his surprise, began to smile.
By dawn, both Trevor and Shane were up, sipping coffee and eating cornflakes, watching as the first light filtered through the thick clouds above. “Sunrise is at around nine A.M. local, so about fifteen minutes from now. I’m surprised it’s still so dark out,” Shane said, with a glance at Atlantis’s snow-covered windows.
“There’s probably a few miles of cloud above us. The wind’s let up, but it’s still snowing. We’re going to need to clear the snow off the windows and out of the cockpit.” Trevor peered out through the window in front of the navigation desk, which, like two others, had small clear areas thanks to the wind. Outside, he could see the silhouette of mountains in the growing light.
They suited up in their cold-weather gear – the outside temperature was in the low twenties – and gathered up brooms and buckets, while wishing for shovels. “I’ve never really seen snow up close before,” Shane said, peering out as the growing light revealed the snow-clad mountains of Stewart Island.
“Me neither, but we’ll probably be sick of it soon; there’s got to be a foot in the cockpit; we need to get it out of there. The windows will be a lot easier; just brush ‘em off,” Trevor replied, heaving open the salon door.
They waded out into the cockpit, the pristine snow crunching underfoot. The air, icy and pure, burned in their nostrils. That sensation was forgotten in an instant as they took in their first unobstructed view of their surroundings; snow-clad mountains, rugged and steep, cascading down into the black waters of the bay.
The bay itself held countless chunks of white; small chunks of glacial ice, some smaller than a baseball, others as large as a car. “Wow, it’s awesome. Fucking cold, but awesome,” Trevor gushed, suppressing a shudder as he spotted a berg the size of a desk just a few yards away. “If we’d hit that at high speed, it could have wrecked us. There’s more ice in here than I thought.”
“Yeah, but you cut speed as soon as we were in the entrance. What would hitting that at four knots have done?” Shane asked.
Trevor shrugged. “Probably nothing too bad, unless it killed a prop. I’d rather not find out, so we’ll go through the channel only in daylight and good visibility.”
“Does the Beagle Channel ever freeze over?” Shane asked.
“I don’t know. I didn’t see anything that said it did, and it takes a lot to freeze sea water. I hope not, or we might get stuck here until spring,” Trevor replied, stooping to load a bucket with snow.
What they’d thought would take half an hour took four times that long, but at last the cockpit and windows were snow-free and the windows scraped clean of ice. As soon as they were back inside, Trevor struggled out of his gear and bounded to the navigation desk. “Let’s get underway.”
He selected a course he’d laid in weeks before into the navigation system, advanced the throttles, bringing Atlantis up to ten knots and turning her east, away from her night’s haven and into the main channel. “We’re taking the northern branch of the Beagle Channel. There are several until we get to about halfway. They join up on the far side of Gordon Island.”
“Where are we heading?” Shane asked, studying the navigation screen.
“The first port we come to is Ushuaia, Argentina. It’s about a hundred and twenty miles. According to the astronomical data table, we had about seven hours of usable daylight today, and we’ve already used two. So, we’ll need to anchor; we’ll find a place before we lose the light.”
Atlantis voyaged onwards, motoring through the spectacular channel – a glacial-formed fjord, bounded by soaring mountains and pristine forests, all cloaked in new-fallen snow.
The storm had passed, leaving only a mantle of gray cloud above. The waters of the fjord were almost black in that light, standing in stark contrast to the white of the land and the white and blue of the many small chunks of ice – growlers and bergy bits – that dotted the water. One of their sources soon came into view; a spectacular hanging glacier.
Trevor, in silent awe of the magnificent scenery, stood at the helm with Shane by his side. Throughout the day, motoring through the fjord at the bottom of the world, they saw glaciers, an occasional fishing boat, and nature’s arctic grandeur in all its glory.
One of the fishing boats radioed on VHF in broken English, solely to indicate their surprise at seeing Atlantis in the dead of winter. The radio call ended with a good-natured jibe from the fishing boat’s skipper, “You loco, man!”
Shane grinned at Trevor. “See? Everybody knows you’re crazy.”
They anchored for the night as planned, sleeping soundly, disturbed only by the occasional rumble of ice falling from a glacier across the fjord.
The following afternoon, with the main landmass of Tierra del Fuego forming the northern shore of Beagle Channel and the Chilean island of Navarino forming the southern shore, they saw a jet taking off, its roar echoing across the fjord. The northern shore was no longer uninhabited; a collection of homes dotted the landscape as they approached the airport, which protruded into the channel.
As they passed the airport, they grinned as Ushuaia Bay came into view on their left. Trevor, with a broad grin, ran up the quarantine flag and the Argentine courtesy flag, and then turned sharply to port, bringing Atlantis proudly into port: Ushuaia, Argentina, the southernmost city in the world.
There are more southerly towns, but with a population of over fifty thousand, Ushuaia is the southernmost city. Its broad bay, surrounded on three sides by high, rugged mountains, shelters it. Its weather, along with its heritage, imparts a Bavarian flavor to its architecture. In summer, its bay is a busy place, hosting all manner of yachts and ships; it has become a tourist destination for adventure travelers. In winter though, it remains one of the most isolated cities on earth.
Trevor and Shane tied up at the customs dock, welcoming aboard a customs officer, who examined Atlantis’s papers with great care, and then filled in several forms of his own. Their initial enthusiasm was soon tempered by frustration as they were given a rude introduction to Argentine bureaucracy; intensely detailed customs declaration forms and a search of Atlantis, all conducted with glacial slowness. It was dark by the time they were cleared to go ashore, their clearance given along with the unwelcome news that they would require a safety inspection, exit fees, and official clearance to leave. When Trevor asked how long it would take, the answer was a surly, “It takes what it takes.”
The officious official departed, leaving Trevor and Shane confounded, though now free to go ashore. They set out, their good spirits returning as they began exploring the quiet streets of Ushuaia, and were soon enticed by the delectable smell of roasting meat. They entered the restaurant, eager for their first taste of Argentine food. The restaurant was crowded, almost every table filled with patrons – mainly locals. The soft buzz of Spanish filled the air as Trevor and Shane tried to make sense of the menu – which was also in Spanish, a language neither of them knew.
A waitress stopped by to explain the menu in English, and they ordered. Soon, their appetizer arrived, an array of semicircular meat-stuffed pastries called empanadas. With eager gusto, they began to eat, only to be interrupted by the insistent warbling of their satellite phone.
Trevor, who had been expecting a call from Australia, pulled the phone from his pocket and answered with a cheerful “Hi,” mumbled around a mouth half full of food.
“Hello Trevor, it is so good to hear your voice. It has been far too long since our last chat,” Bridget replied, her tone every bit as chipper as Trevor’s.
A Discussion thread for this chapter is in my forum, please have a look and join in. direct link here. The forum enables conversations so in many cases it's a far easier to use it than the "leave a comment" section on this page, so I suggest having a look, but use whichever (or both) you are more comfortable with .