(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.)
Atlantis, crippled and adrift, her mast, boom, sails, and rig hanging over the side, banging against her hull as the surrounding maelstrom blasted her with fury untold.
It could only get worse.
Dean could not be avoided. No chance of rescue… all hope of racing free now a shattered wreck alongside. There was no way out.
Trevor, battered and bleeding, in agony from the bullet wound in his side, blinked as another flash of lightning revealed the carnage that had once been Atlantis’s proud mast and rigging.
With the mast and rigging trailing over the side, Atlantis could do nothing more than wallow, adrift and at the mercy of the battering waves and howling winds.
“Get the bolt cutters! Cut the rig away!” Trevor yelled, glancing at his dead instruments. Atlantis’s main radar antenna was mast mounted, and the navigation system had been fried by the lightning. Atlantis’s main radios were now a smoking ruin; their aerials had been on the mast top, and they’d taken a massive jolt.
Lisa and Joel dashed to the tool storage under the cockpit bench. There, they found the long-handled bolt cutters Trevor had purchased in Melbourne with just such a need in mind. Joel, bolt cutters in hand, braved the fury of the storm as he began the task of cutting the steel cables that had once been Atlantis’s stays.
Trevor glanced at Lisa. “Where’s Shane?”
“I saw him head for the bilge, but that was before…” her words died.
Trevor, though in agony, raced for the salon, trailing blood. “Shane!” he bellowed, falling near the starboard bilge’s open hatch. “Lisa, help,” he gasped, flailing in the dark.
With no regard for his wound, which was now bleeding freely, Trevor plunged into the flooding bilge.
When the lightning had hit Atlantis, some of the charge had found its way, via Atlantis’s wiring harness, into the water flooding the bilge through the bullet holes.
Shane had been wading in the water, heading aft to check the extent of the damage. The motion of the boat had compelled him to steady himself with his hands as he worked his way back through the bilge. He’d been touching a brass seacock on the hull when the lightning had struck, electrifying the water in the bilge.
Electricity seeks ground, and in this case the water in the bilge was insulated from the sea by Atlantis’s non-conductive hull. However, the hull held a conductive path; the brass seacock that ran through the hull to the sea beyond. The path to ground had been through Shane. It had run through him from his legs and up through his arm to the seacock. In so doing, the charge had passed through his chest, giving his heart a massive jolt that had scrambled the electrical impulses that keep a heart beating. The medical term for this is asystole: a cardiac standstill or arrest. The absence of heartbeat.
Shane had no pulse, no heartbeat, and was not breathing. Only one person aboard Atlantis had the training to help deal with such a situation: Shane.
In darkness and in agony, lurching around in frantic haste and seeing by touch alone, Trevor found Shane, floating face down and lifeless, his heart stilled by the fury of the lightning.
Panic rising, Trevor shouldered Shane, struggling to heave him through the hatch above, the exertion tearing at Trevor’s wound as his life leaked away, leaving a red stain in the sloshing bilge.
With Lisa’s help and with a final heave, Trevor shoved Shane up through the hatch. Lisa, struggling in the darkness, lay Shane’s body face up on the deck as Trevor struggled to climb out of the bilge, hoping against hope that the loss he felt in his own heart was somehow wrong.
“I can’t find a pulse and he’s not breathing,” Lisa cried out, frantically checking again – but there was nothing to find, even had she been doing it right. She lunged to the salon door, heaving it open to yell, “Joel! HELP!”
Joel, with a small flashlight in hand, raced in to stare in horror at the scene it revealed.
Lisa grabbed his hand, yanking him down. “I think he got zapped by the lightning. I can’t feel a pulse and he’s not breathing!”
“CPR,” Trevor blurted. “I don’t really know how… I’ve only read how to do this.” Trevor had read a few paragraphs on how to do CPR two years before, in case a charter passenger had a heart attack. “Oh God, I hope I can remember,” Trevor gasped, ignoring his own wound and moving to straddle Shane.
Joel pushed in, shouldering Trevor aside and straddling Shane. “Let me be your hands, Trev. You’re hurt bad; if you pass out, we all die, Shane too! What do I do?” he asked, handing Lisa the flashlight.
Though it seemed like an eternity, Shane’s heart had been without a beat for forty seconds.
Trevor grabbed Shane’s hand. “Okay, he’s still not breathing, coughing, or moving, so start chest compressions. Place your hands, one over the other, in the center of Shane’s chest, between his nipples. Push down two inches then release, and do it fast, at least a hundred times a minute. Count off the compressions. Every thirty, I’ll give him a breath.”
Joel took a deep breath, pressing hard, then releasing and repeating. “One… two… three…”
Trevor squeezed Shane’s hand, and with agony in his own heart, pleaded, “Shane, don’t die, please… Don’t die!” Joel reached thirty, and Trevor tilted Shane’s head back, lifting his chin – the same procedure used for a drowning victim to clear an airway, and that was something Trevor knew how to do. “Pause when I blow,” Trevor told Joel, before leaning over and taking a deep breath while pinching Shane’s nostrils shut. Trevor covered Shane’s mouth with his own and then blew, watching Shane’s chest rise. He let Shane’s breath escape before repeating.
Current medical opinion is that, with single-person CPR (a single person giving CPR, with no one to assist) compression-only CPR (not giving the victim any breaths) is best in some cases, though this advice does not apply in cases of drowning, drug overdose, children, lightning strike, people who collapse due to suspected breathing problems, etc. In those circumstances, breathing is still recommended by many. Unknowingly, Trevor and Joel were giving Shane the best care possible under the circumstances.
Joel resumed the chest compressions, and Trevor glanced at Lisa to say, “Get the satphone out of the microwave. Speed dial 6 is the Coast Guard. Tell them it’s a medical emergency and we’re doing CPR. Hurry!”
Asystole is the most common mode of lightning-caused cardiac arrest. With asystole from other causes, the prognosis is often dire. However, when asystole is due to electrocution – and particularly lightning strike, due to the brevity – the natural rhythm of the heart, especially in the presence of CPR, can spontaneously resume, assuming the damage is not too severe. For this reason, CPR as treatment for a lightning strike victim should be continued well past the point where the patient would, from other causes, be assumed to be dead. Ventricular fibrillation can also occur but is not as common as asystole, though it too can spontaneously resolve in the presence of CPR.
In Shane’s case, he had taken only a tiny fraction of the lightning’s power. His heart had suffered no permanent damage and, within it, the sinus node, which had been disrupted by the shock, was again beginning to send rhythmic pulses of electricity to his heart muscle.
Joel was nearing thirty again, so Trevor took a deep breath, bending forward to give Shane another breath.
A weak, feeble cough from Shane interrupted Trevor, who instantly grabbed for Shane’s wrist while Joel continued the chest compressions. Trevor frantically felt for a pulse, though found nothing. “Joel, stop for a second!” Trevor yelled, watching Shane’s chest intently for a moment. “He’s breathing! But I can’t find a pulse!”
Joel felt Shane’s neck, and then his wrist. “I can’t either, but he’s breathing. Do I keep going with the CPR?” Joel was making the same mistake many untrained people do under stress when trying to find a pulse; he was pressing too hard.
“I don’t know… I think so, but…” Trevor leaned forward, placing his ear on Shane’s chest. After a few long moments, he said, “I can’t tell over the rumble of the engines, but I thought I heard a heartbeat. His color is better… let’s see how he does without CPR.”
Lisa returned, still frantically fumbling with the phone. “I got it to turn on, but it doesn’t work like mine, it won’t speed dial,” she said, thrusting the phone into Trevor’s hands.
Trevor tried, and the Coast Guard operator picked up on the first ring. “Medical emergency, lightning strike, doing CPR!” he blurted, only to be told, ‘Please hold, transferring you now.’
After several brutally long seconds of being serenaded by elevator music, the phone went completely dead. “Oh fuck,” Trevor mumbled, wondering if the phone had been damaged by the lightning. The actual problem was less permanent; lightning emits radio-frequency noise, and the nearby raging lightning, some of it well under a mile away, was intermittently jamming his signal.
A brutal wave slammed Atlantis, causing her deck to pitch. Trevor grabbed Shane to keep him from sliding, and heard a soft moan. “Did you guys hear that?” Trevor asked, beginning to hope.
Joel nodded. “Yeah, but we need medical help soon.”
And with that, plus the pounding of another wave smashing the fallen boom against the hull with a jarring thud, Trevor’s attention was returned to their true peril. With fear in his eyes, he looked at Lisa and Joel. “Joel, finish cutting away the rig or we’ll be wrecked fast.”
Joel dashed off, and Lisa asked, “Trev, without the sails how can we get out of the way of the hurricane in time?”
Trevor, already lightheaded, felt his own chest tighten. “I don’t know,” he admitted, taking Shane’s hand again. There was no point to being at the helm while Atlantis had her rig dragging over the side, so Trevor remained with Shane, stroking his hair and holding his hand.
For Joel, the task was straightforward; use the long-handled bolt cutters to lop off the steel cables that had once supported Atlantis’s rig and mast. Joel dashed to his task, cutting the cables – and a few ropes as well – where they trailed over the side.
Working in great haste in the howling wind and pounding waves, Joel heard a roar. His hand shot out, barely managing to grab a stanchion in time to prevent his being swept overboard into the waiting tangle of the fallen rig.
Just three minutes after he’d left, an out-of-breath and dripping Joel returned to the salon. “I cut the last cable and turned Atlantis bows-on into the waves. Trev… let Lisa look after Shane. We need you at the helm.”
Trevor began to pull away, only to feel something. “Shane is squeezing my hand. Lisa, take his hand, keep talking to him.” Trevor took a breath, and said loudly, “Shane, I’ll be right here at the nav desk. You’re going to be okay.” Trevor reluctantly let go of Shane’s hand and reached for Joel for help getting up. “Get me to the nav desk. With the rig gone, I can helm from in here just as well… wait, no I can’t. The controls in here work via the autopilot actuators and those are electric. Get me to the cockpit.”
Joel half carried Trevor to his command chair at the port helm, and helped him into it. Trevor took the wheel, turning Atlantis slightly so that she took the oncoming waves, some of which were now reaching heights of twenty-five feet, at a slight angle.
“What now, Trev?” Joel asked, his tone almost pleading.
Trevor looked at his dead instruments. “I don’t know. We’ve got engines and not much else.”
The wind, now gusting close to one hundred knots, howled, requiring every word to be shouted. “Can we make it to shore?”
Trevor shook his head. “No chance. The wind and seas are from the north right now. We can’t make enough headway in these seas, and it’s at least twenty miles… we’d never get there before the rear half of the storm smashed us to a pulp. We can’t move fast enough to get out of the way, no matter which way we go.”
Joel swallowed, his fear rising. “What about riding it out or running through it?”
Trevor pointed at a twenty-five foot wave pounding Atlantis’s bows with white water. “The seas aren’t as bad here because the wind is coming from shore. Not enough fetch for them to build. On the back side of Dean they’re from the south, from open water. They’ll be four times higher and way the hell more powerful. Even without the structural damage, we can’t take anywhere near that. Nothing can survive that.”
Joel placed his hands on Trevor’s shoulders. “Trev, if anyone can get us out of this, you can.”
Trevor winced at Joel’s words. “Joel, I… I can’t. Any chance we had was lost with the rig. We’re too slow, there’s no way out…” Trevor’s voice trailed off as he stared out into the howling blackness.
Aboard Sea Witch, Bridget was unaware of the disaster that had befallen Atlantis, nor would she have cared. She had her own worries to attend. Of those aboard Sea Witch, only Bridget understood how truly perilous their situation was. It was for that reason she’d broken off her pursuit of Atlantis as soon as she’d noticed her port engine’s temperature gauge.
Xavier returned, covered with oil and with panic written on his face. “Bullet damage to the valve covers and oil filter. I stopped it up with rags, but… there’s almost no oil left!”
Bridget replied with a knowing smirk, “Oh, piffle! You really ought to learn something about boats, Xavier. We are carrying over two hundred gallons of oil: our fuel, diesel. It is an oil, diesel oil. Take the hand pump and add some to the oil filler cap. Keep adding it, we have ample. A constant flow will protect the engines for long enough for us to reach safety.” Bridget, in part, was trying to reassure Xavier and the first amongst equals; she could see how close they were to panic.
Xavier scurried away and, less than a minute later, Bridget breathed a profound sigh of relief as the engine temperature gauge reading began to drop slightly.
The damage Xavier had found was not the only damage. Trevor had been aiming for Sea Witch’s engines, and his first shot had missed the port engine by inches, on its way to blasting a hole through the starboard engine’s gearbox. It had missed the gears themselves, and though the gearbox – reduction gears to slow engine RPM to the RPM needed by the prop – still functioned, it was rapidly losing oil, and had a few case fragments compounding the issue. Already it was dangerously hot, though Bridget was unaware due to the gearbox not having a temperature sensor.
As metal heats, it both expands and softens. This generates more friction, and thus even more heat. By now, the remaining traces of oil in the starboard gearbox were burning, and Xavier, in his flashlight’s glimmer, saw the smoke that was emanating from a bullet hole. He also saw oil pouring out from the engine block; the bullet damage to the gearbox wasn’t the only damage the starboard power train had taken.
Before Xavier had a chance to understand what he was seeing, the gearbox, under heavy load, reached its limit. The gears, already starting to glow, relied on bearings in order to turn. These steel bearings, already beginning to generate metal shavings, began to vibrate. With a crack, one of the bearings failed, causing one gear in the train to wobble as massive braking forces hit it unevenly.
In the blink of an eye, the gearbox failed, the tortured gears jamming, bringing the gears to a sudden halt.
The gearbox had been under full load.
The massive torque of the engine’s driveshaft could not be denied, causing the gearbox to tear itself apart. Gears exploded, sending shards of hot metal punching through the gearbox and careening around the engine compartment, one of them burying itself in Xavier’s shoulder.
At the helm, Bridget felt the explosion and saw the RPM on the starboard engine climb as Sea Witch lost speed. Guessing the cause, Bridget cut the fuel to that engine, and Sea Witch began to slow. Bridget rammed the port throttle all the way forward, desperate to keep up speed; Sea Witch had a planing hull, and it takes a lot of engine power to get a boat up out of the water and planing across its surface. If Sea Witch were to drop below fourteen knots in those brutal seas, she’d come off her plane, settling down into the water where she’d become a displacement hull, which would limit her speed to less than eight knots.
In those tumultuous seas, Bridget had been constantly altering course to avoid the worst of the waves, and these maneuvers imparted extra drag. Bridget could feel Sea Witch beginning to wallow, and took the only countermeasure she felt she could; she engaged Seas Witch’s nitrous boost, feeding nitrous oxide gas into the remaining engine to boost its power. For the moment, this added power sufficed to keep Sea Witch at a speed of sixteen knots – still not enough to escape Dean, but enough to keep her moving at a good pace and maneuverable enough to handle the seas.
Bridget was well aware that on one engine, Sea Witch could not move fast enough to escape the storm. Bridget glanced at the first amongst equals, and in a conciliatory tone, said, “You were right, and I was a fool. We need help – Sea Witch can no longer escape the storm. I shall order the closest boats to the west to head east at their best speed and rendezvous with us. There are some just over a mile away, and we can still make about fifteen knots. We need a fast one to get away from the storm in time. Join me in calling for them; there are some that will not listen to me alone, though few would dare defy us both.” Bridget clicked on her microphone to transmit on VHF 13. “This is Sea Witch. We have an emergency; we have taken heavy battle damage. We are southwest bound at fifteen knots and will maintain course and speed. I am turning on my AIS transponder. All boats within three miles of my position, rendezvous with us as fast as you can. The head of our table needs you, as do I. Come at once, best possible speed.”
Bridget handed the microphone to the first amongst equals, who although in agony, still transmitted in a forceful tone, “Do as she says. We need you. Hurry. Any who ignore this order will feel the wrath of us both.”
Bridget took the microphone, and added a carrot to go along with the stick. “The first boat here will receive a ten million dollar reward to split evenly among her crew. The second one, half that, and so forth.” Bridget knew that she needed a fast boat; sea conditions were already marginal for an escape from Dean.
With a weak and feeble grab, the first amongst equals tried in vain to take the microphone, but Bridget kept it from his grasp. He gave her a sad shake of his head, and in a voice tinged with pain, said, “You cannot do that. Too many will come, you put too many at risk. The cartel can survive the loss of us, but not of so many of our people.” Unlike Bridget, the first amongst equals assigned at least some value to things other than himself, and that included the cartel he’d labored to build – a cartel which also protected his family.
“We have no choice, we need the fastest boat,” she said, her tone as cold as ice.
Aboard the boats in the cartel fleet, the radio message was heard by almost all. The main force, sprawled out to the west of Sea Witch, were the only ones close enough to respond, but they were sixty in number. They had been following Sea Witch east during the chase of Atlantis, though many skippers, fearful of heading for the oncoming hurricane, had been gradually reducing speed. As a result, only about half were within three miles of Sea Witch. Nearly a dozen were already fleeing westbound in violation of their orders when the radio call came in.
The reaction to Bridget’s broadcast varied. The combination of fear and greed caused twenty-three skippers – without bothering to ask the concurrence of their crews – to head for where they thought Sea Witch would be. The lure of vast riches, combined with their anxiety over Dean, caused many to firewall the throttles and soon reach a speed unsurvivable for the conditions.
Within forty seconds of Bridget’s broadcast, four boats capsized, their fates unknown to the others.
The boats belonging to the other two heads of the cartel present were a different matter. The two capos, unwilling to risk themselves or their forces, had already turned about and raced northwest toward Treasure Beach with nineteen boats. They had originally been detailed to pick up the force at the resort, and much preferred doing that to racing further into Dean.
Twenty of the remaining skippers, fearful of both retreat and the proposed rescue, declined to acknowledge the transmission, preferring instead to hold position and wait to see what happened to Sea Witch.
For several long moments, Trevor tried in vain to see a way out, despair eating at his heart. But there was none to find – as Trevor was at last forced to admit to himself.
Then came the thought that had been fighting to make its way into his consciousness for several seconds, ‘There’s no way out, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a way…’. “Eyewall replacement cycle,” he mumbled, as he remembered their latest report on the hurricane.
The eye is a circular area of calm weather at the center of strong hurricanes, and is dominated by descending air. It is surrounded by the eyewall, a ring of towering thunderstorms. The eyewall has the most powerful winds and intense rainfall to be found in a hurricane.
Eyewall replacement cycles, which are sometimes called concentric eyewall cycles, often occur in intense – category three or higher – hurricanes, especially while the storm is strengthening. When a hurricane intensifies, sometimes the eye contracts, or is already quite small, and part of the further-out segment of the core intensifies, forming what is essentially an outer eyewall – an intense ring of thunderstorms further out from the eye. It then gradually moves inward, and as it does so it saps the eyewall of its ‘fuel’: moisture, convection, and angular momentum. During this phase of eyewall replacement, two things occur; the outer core expands, creating a sudden intensifying of conditions at the core’s edge, and the eyewall weakens. A hurricane’s strongest winds are in the eyewall, so the eyewall replacement cycle, even in an intensifying hurricane, usually causes a temporary weakening of the storm’s maximum winds. The effect is temporary because the new eyewall thus created soon moves inward to replace the former eyewall.
What Trevor saw from this combination of events – the lessened intensity of the seas in the forward half of Dean due to the wind coming from off a mountainous shore, and the eyewall replacement cycle – was a possible escape hatch: a one-way door. Atlantis could never survive being at sea in the back half of Dean, but it was possible, barely, that under the current circumstances she might survive the first half. And that, he hoped, might be enough. ‘Out of the frying pan and into the fire,’ he thought, wondering what their chances were, especially with Atlantis already having structural damage. ‘Gotta remember to keep the starboard side as sheltered as I can,’ he reminded himself.
Trevor’s hand shot up to squeeze Joel’s arm. “Joel, listen to me. See if you can get the pole-mount radar back on line. The main radar’s gone, but maybe that one still works; it was shut off before the strike. Start at the main breaker panel.”
Joel gave Trevor’s shoulder a squeeze. “Okay… Please tell me you’ve figured a way out?”
“Not exactly, but maybe a chance to live – if you can get that radar working,” Trevor replied, withholding the truth to avoid terrifying Joel or giving him false hope.
Joel raced through the salon to the main electrical panel, which was just a few feet from the navigation desk. An emergency light above it allowed him to see, and he studied the labels on the breakers. With a prayer in his heart, he flipped the one for the pole-mounted radar, a breaker Shane had thrown before the lightning strike.
“Yes!” Joel whooped, as he saw the screen on the navigation desk flicker to life. A few seconds later, the radar display formed on the screen.
Joel dashed to Lisa and asked, “How’s Shane?”
Lisa, who was holding Shane’s hand, replied, “He’s breathing better, and he squeezes back if I squeeze his hand. I think I saw his eyelids flutter a couple of times, and he’s rolled his head to the side – at least I think he has. Hard to tell with the way Atlantis is pitching. How’s Trev doing?”
“He’s got an idea, I think. But, let me have the flashlight. I need to check him.”
Joel returned to the cockpit to find Trevor studying the helm radar screen. Joel clicked on the light, shining it on Trevor’s side. “You’re still bleeding, Trev. Let me put some wraps around you, to hold pressure on it.”
“No time,” Trevor replied, staring at the radar screen, which was in weather mode. On it, he could see Dean’s structure, and its oncoming central core.
“Trev, you’ve got to let me stop that bleeding.”
“In a bit,” Trevor replied, deep in concentration. He shifted Atlantis’s engines into reverse at minimum throttle, taking her southbound sterns-first at three knots, still bows-on to the pounding seas. “How’s Shane?”
“Lisa thinks he’s doing better. Now let me stop that bleeding.”
Trevor nodded. “Okay, you can fix me up soon, but first see if you can get the power to the nav desk helm station back on. It’ll soon be way too rough to be out here, but I’m gonna have to stay here unless we can helm from inside,” Trevor replied, as the remnants of a wave poured over the salon roof and through the gap between the cockpit canopy and the salon roof, where the spray dodger had once been. The plastic spray dodger had been torn away by the waves just after Atlantis’s mast had fallen. “Oh, another thing… turn on the breakers for Atlantis’s inside and outside lights and see if you can get ‘em on. Get a socket and driver set too; we’ve got to ditch the cockpit canopy.”
Joel replied, dashing inside to get a towel and a knife in order to make the wraps. He made a detour to the main electrical panel on his way back. There, he flipped the breaker for Atlantis’s navigation system, restoring power to it. A brief snap of electricity sounded from the navigation desk, unheard above the raging storm. Atlantis’s navigation computer had been fried by the lightning but, by virtue of the autopilot’s relays being off when the lightning hit, the actuators, which normally allowed the autopilot to control the rudders, were live again. Joel had no way of knowing that, so he grabbed the hand controller to command a brief turn to port. He then threw the breakers for Atlantis’s lighting and dashed for the salon light switch, flipping it on and then blinking in the resulting glare. Next, he tried to turn on the cockpit lights, though they did not respond to the switch – part of their main bus had been melted by the lightning. That meant they’d need to work by flashlight.
Atlantis began turning, and Trevor spun the wheel, canceling the turn. When Joel returned with a toolkit in hand, Trevor yelled above the wind, “If you started that turn, you got it working. Okay, let’s get the canopy off then head inside.” Trevor winced as he tried to get up, and then as Joel pushed him back down.
“Stay put, Trev. Tell me what to do.”
The cockpit canopy – made of fiberglass – was the cockpit’s roof. It was attached at its four corners by bolts. As lightning flared, Trevor yelled above the rising wind, “Undo the two forward bolts – WAIT!” Trevor glanced aft, at the pole mounted radar, realizing that he’d been about to kill them all. “Undo the two portside bolts. We have to make sure it goes off to starboard and not aft, or we’ll lose the radar.” Trevor turned Atlantis slightly, so that she was taking the wind from just to starboard of bows-on.
Working furiously in the stinging, driving rain, often lit by the brilliant blue flashes of nearby lightning, Joel struggled, freeing the lock nuts and then pounding the bolts out with a hammer and punch. “Got ‘em. Now what?”
“Get me inside,” Trevor said, as the wind blasted him; Atlantis was taking gusts of one hundred twenty miles per hour.
Joel, as carefully as he could in such haste on a pitching deck, hauled Trevor into the salon and seated him at the navigation desk. There, Trevor, wincing in pain and feeling Atlantis shudder and buck from the pounding she was taking, commanded her to turn to starboard. The wind angle shifted, soon coming from the port forward quarter.
It was enough. The wind began lifting the freed edge of the canopy, which caught the wind, its port edge whipping up to catch the massive power of the wind, shattering the remaining mounts and sending the canopy flying off the starboard side.
“The canopy’s gone! It was there, then I blinked and it wasn’t,” Joel reported, from his position at the closed salon door, flashlight in hand.
Trevor turned Atlantis’s bows into the wind, which was still coming from the north. Joel would no longer be deterred and turned his attention to stopping Trevor’s bleeding.
Trevor had been fortunate; the bullet had hit him from the front, but very close to his side, ripping a deep gash in his side as it blasted through him. It was painful, and he had lost a great deal of blood, but no vital organs had been hit. He was out of danger – provided that he received medical care soon.
After a few wraps which caused Trevor to howl in pain, Joel judged that things were as good as they were going to get. “Okay, that’s the best I can do. You need a doctor and so does Shane.”
“That’ll be a while. Lisa, see if you can get the phone working so we can get Shane some medical advice.” Trevor studied the radar screen for a few moments, and breathed a sigh of relief. “I think I see Sea Witch, heading southwest at fourteen knots. Maybe this’ll work after all – but damn it, a bunch of other boats are closing in on her, and unless she goes dead in the water soon, it won’t work. Looks like she’s still got one good engine, and that’s one too many. Joel, get a VHF handheld.”
Atlantis’s main radios had been taken out by the lightning, though the VHF handhelds still worked. Trevor chanced to catch one of Bridget’s frantic transmissions which, combined with a glance at the radar, caused him to say to Lisa and Joel, “Maybe this’ll work after all. Joel, see if you can get the AIS back online. Bridget said she has hers on, with a vessel ID of ‘Bruja’. If we set ours to that, it might add some confusion by pulling some of the inbound boats this way.”
Lisa’s eyes opened wide. “Trevor Carlson! The last thing we need right now is more boats coming in to shoot at us.”
Trevor nodded. “I know, but they can’t really get here; the seas here are too rough for speedboat hullforms. They can try, but they won’t make it – so I want ‘em to try.”
Joel flipped on the breaker for the AIS, which did precisely nothing; the AIS system had been taken out by the lightning.
“Damn,” Trevor grumbled in response to the news. “If they pick her up, they might get out of the storm.”
“Uh, what about getting us away from the storm?” Lisa asked.
Trevor didn’t want to tell Lisa that there was no way to get away from Dean, so he glanced at Joel. “Remember the seacock valves in the bilges you helped me maintain in the Med? I need you to disconnect the pipes to two on each side and open ‘em up. We’ve got to let the bilges flood – but not the engine compartments. We’re going to use seawater as ballast. That’ll keep the wind from getting under Atlantis and flipping her. There’s no way we can survive the back half of Dean, but this, plus the eyewall replacement cycle, might get us through the front half – maybe.”
Joel’s eyes opened wide. “What are you doing? Ballasted like that, Atlantis will be slow as hell. We’ll never get out of the way in time… oh fuck, you can’t be thinking what I think you’re thinking.”
Trevor gave Joel a feeble smile. “Yeah, I am. We can’t get out of the way, so we’re going in. That’s why we ditched the canopy and need to ballast; so we can survive the first half of the storm. Once we’re flooded to within a foot of the top of the bilge, reconnect the drain lines; the bilge pumps use those and when we need ‘em, we’ll need ‘em fast.” The bilge pumps were one system they knew still worked; they’d been running to keep the flooding from the bullet holes somewhat in check.
Aboard Sea Witch, Bridget was sweating. Sea Witch’s one remaining engine didn’t sound right to her, even though its temperature gauge, though still above nominal, was gradually declining.
The temperature gauge, much like in a car engine, relied on a sensor in the coolant. That sensor only read temperature, not pressure. The reading was declining due to a lowering of pressure causing less than full immersion of the sensor, and also the lowering of pressure reducing the ambient temperature.
The reason the coolant pressure was dropping was one of Trevor’s bullets. It had clipped the top of the block as well as holing the valve cover. What Xavier hadn’t seen was engine coolant escaping. Although the temperature gauge reading was lowering, the engine’s actual temperature was rising.
As the engine’s temperature soared, smoke began to emerge from the holes in the valve cover, which Xavier, though in pain from his wound, noticed. He scrambled out to tell Bridget, but she already knew; she could feel the change in vibration as the engine began to shudder. Bridget put her hand on Xavier’s good shoulder, and said, “We will need to deploy a sea anchor instantly if the engine fails. Get the longest mooring line we have and tie one end to the bowsprit. Tie the other end to the body of our gunner and make ready to dump him overboard on my command.”
Trevor had hoped that Sea Witch would either carry, or that Bridget would quickly make, a sea anchor – essentially a drag chute deployed from the bow to keep her bow-on into the seas. While commonplace on long-range sailing yachts, sea anchors were of limited use on powerboats, and Sea Witch did not have one aboard. However, Trevor was correct in assuming that Bridget could easily make one within a few seconds, as he’d known she’d need to do if he’d succeeded in killing Sea Witch’s engines during the engagement. He’d even, though without intending to, given her the means – for a while.
Sea Witch had suffered two dead aboard; the rifleman and the RPG gunner. The furious pummeling of the seas had knocked the RPG gunner’s corpse overboard, but the dead rifleman’s body was still aboard.
Bridget could feel the engine shuddering, and now its hideous rising scream of metal against metal was heard even above the howling wind, letting her know that she would have only seconds to deploy a sea anchor once the engine failed, for once Sea Witch lost headway, she would otherwise turn side-on to the seas and capsize within seconds. “Xavier, now!” Bridget shouted, as she turned Sea Witch into the wind and seas, taking them bow-on.
Xavier shoved the corpse overboard, and Bridget put Sea Witch into reverse just as the engine finally seized, shuddering to a very permanent halt.
Bridget immediately shouted on VHF 13, “Mayday, Mayday, Mayday, all boats within range, converge on Sea Witch now!”
Trevor, who had been listening to VHF 13 on a handheld, glanced at his radar display to see Sea Witch slow to a stop. He was well aware that without power, Sea Witch’s hull shape doomed her. As the speed boat dropped off plane and settled low in the water, the towering waves would easily overwhelm and capsize the boat. He was also painfully aware that, while Atlantis’s catamaran design was far superior to a speedboat’s hull form when it came to heavy seas, the conventional monohull yacht, with its ballasted keel, was an even better design to that of a catamaran in the wild seas they were facing.
Aboard Sea Witch, bow-on into the furious seas and powerless, Bridget watched her radar, seeing her rescuers closing in. She glanced into the howling blackness around her, feeling Sea Witch begin to pull to port as a breaking wave overwhelmed the drag of the corpse she was using for a sea anchor. Of those aboard, only Bridget understood what was about to happen. For a split second, she considered deploying a second sea anchor – either Xavier or the first amongst equals – but Sea Witch’s continuing turn, and then the roar of an oncoming wave, let her know that it was too late. She snatched up a lifejacket, and without even pausing to put it on, leapt over the side without so much as a glance at the first amongst equals.
The next wave, twenty five feet in height and carrying a churning whitewater crest for the full top half of its height, slammed into Sea Witch’s starboard side barely a second after Bridget’s leap. Sea Witch shuddered, rolling hard to port, her roll growing faster as her deck neared vertical and then passed it, flipping completely over in the teeth of the wave.
Xavier and the first amongst equals found themselves suddenly underwater, trapped beneath the sinking Sea Witch. The first amongst equals, caught between breaths and already badly wounded, gave in to the craving for air and inhaled, filling his lungs with sea water, suffusing his final moments with agony beyond measure.
Xavier struggled to the surface, took a breath of air, desperately reaching out for the smooth hull of Sea Witch, oblivious to the wave already towering over her. The wave’s brutal force slammed Xavier into the hull, stunning him and knocking his final breath from his body. Within moments Sea Witch, her buoyancy gone, sank beneath the raging waters, taking Xavier and the first amongst equals to their watery graves.
Bridget, alone in the darkness, did not see the fate of her boat. The walls of raging whitewater pummeled her, threatening to tear the lifejacket from her grasp. Each time a wave hit, she was slammed down, having to hold her breath and wait for the wave to pass before breathing again.
Aboard Atlantis, Lisa had mastered the satellite phone, and was in intermittent contact with the Coast Guard.
Trevor studied his radar display. The radar screen was growing increasingly hard to read; the towering seas were creating many false returns, as well as intermittently obscuring the many boats the radar was tracking. Trevor watched for several moments more, but Sea Witch did not return to the radar screen. With a nod, and then a sigh, he transmitted over VHF13, “This is Atlantis. I have just destroyed Sea Witch. Bridget Bellevue and all aboard are dead. If any of you assholes want to settle the score, I’m here waiting.” He released the microphone and told a puzzled Joel, “I’m trying to give them something else to think about. If they look for her too long, they might find her.”
Trevor listened as several of the boats rushing to aid Sea Witch began hailing her. He waited a few moments to be sure, and then transmitted, “Hail all you like; she’s dead.” Trevor knew that Bridget didn’t need to actually be dead yet – simply being unable to transmit was enough.
Bridget, contrary to Trevor’s hope, wasn’t dead. She still fought, clutching to her lifejacket and its tiny water-activated flashing light – a beacon designed to aid in rescue.
From the crest of a wave, Bridget caught a glimpse of one of her boats, just thirty yards away and brightly lit. She yelled, unheard amongst the fury of the storm. The tiny beacon on her lifejacket kept flashing, though in those raging waters it spent most of its time beneath the churning surface.
On the arriving speedboat, the captain, his night vision hindered by the bright lights he’d turned on to aid in the rendezvous, scanned the dark waters and pounding seas, and then checked his radar display. He could see neither Sea Witch nor Atlantis – though he’d never been able to see Atlantis except when she’d had her AIS on; his boat lacked the military grade radar Sea Witch had possessed. All he knew was that Sea Witch had vanished from his radar and Trevor had broadcast that he’d killed her. For all he knew, Atlantis was very close, as well as able to blast him out of the water. He had no way of knowing that Atlantis was badly crippled and three miles to the east. His boat shuddered from a wave hit, rolling perilously to port before his quick action at the wheel saved her. Even without Atlantis’s intervention, he knew that he could not stay and live. Without another thought, he hailed Sea Witch once more and, upon receiving no reply, turned west.
Again, a struggling and desperate Bridget, propelled to the peak of a wave, saw the speedboat through the maelstrom, just twenty yards away, but now she was seeing its stern. “No!” she cried out, knowing what this meant, though her fury was wasted, spent in the far greater fury of Dean.
As the next great swell lifted her high, Bridget, choking on the seawater she’d swallowed, caught a final glimpse of her erstwhile rescuers as they raced away, speeding west at nineteen knots.
Several of the other converging boats saw the westbound speedboat on their radar after hearing the unanswered hails. Almost every captain was well aware that the heavy seas were already limiting them to at most twenty knots; just barely faster than Dean. A slight worsening of the seas, they knew, would slow them further, sealing their fates. Three assumed that either the rescue had been made or all aboard Sea Witch were dead. In either case, there was no point in remaining and every reason to flee Dean. They turned west, a move clearly seen on the radars of the other boats, many of which seized upon this as an excuse to do likewise. In under a minute, every boat that had been converging on Sea Witch was westbound, leaderless, and running as fast as they could from Dean. So too were the stragglers from the main body. This was most of the cartel fleet.
Several of the captains, still fearful of Bridget’s wrath if she somehow survived, continued to hail Sea Witch as they fled westward – hails that would go forever unanswered.
Alone in the darkness, Bridget struggled in the pounding seas, fighting for every breath, some inhaled seawater already burning in her lungs. A greater agony came via the next wave to propel her high, giving her a view of only utter blackness. In that moment, she knew she was beyond hope; all her power and skill could not save her.
Raging against her fate, Bridget struggled on, fighting for every breath in the churning sea, coughing from every inhaled bit of seawater, hungering for the next wretched breath, pounded by the next brutal wave.
The agony only grew, a mix of excruciating pain and utter despair, drowning by inches, a few drops at a time, beaten and battered by furious seas.
At last, at the end, even her iron will failed her. Her clutching craggy fingers torn free of the lifejacket, her lungs full of burning seawater, Bridget Bellevue sank beneath the waves for the final time.
An intense hunger for air filled her with a deep and primal drive to do anything for just one more precious breath – but it was not to be. Agony, intense and growing worse, like lightning bolts exploding in her flesh, wracked her as she inhaled the sea, her lungs afire.
Drifting ever deeper in that dark and cloying hell, in her last moments feeling the pressure of the sea against her eardrums become pure and excruciating pain, Bridget Bellevue sank into the abyss, in agony to the last, to Death’s eternal embrace.
The two other cartel capos who had earlier broken away with nineteen boats to evacuate the men at the resort, arrived off Treasure Beach after a perilous race through the building seas. They sought the sheltered cove that had been chosen as the evacuation site, its high bluffs shielding them from wind and sea. They did not know for certain of the deaths of Bridget and the first amongst equals, though they’d heard the final radio exchanges and already assumed their loss.
Once in the comparatively calm waters of the cove, the two capos, neither of whom were seamen, decided upon a change of plan. Instead of evacuating the waiting men and going back out to again risk the growing fury of Dean – this time with boats burdened by extra passengers – they would anchor, secure their boats with shore ropes, and then retreat to the resort to wait out Dean. They assumed that they would be safe in the resort, for they could not imagine that the authorities would attack during a hurricane. In that, they were quite correct. The Jamaican authorities, due to having to deal with Dean, had exactly two men still detailed to watching the resort, who now found themselves coping with several of the released hostages.
In the darkness and driving rain, the capos and their men, along with the fifty from the resort, returned to the resort, where they re-established a defensive perimeter and hunkered down to ride out the storm. Their plan was to wait until the storm was largely over and then flee by sea. None of them realized that, while the narrow cove was ideal shelter from storm winds out of the north, it would be the opposite for ones from the south.
Aboard Atlantis, Trevor, with Joel looking over his shoulder, watched the navigation desk’s radar display, seeing the intermittent returns from the main bulk of the cartel fleet, which was now a scattered gaggle running west. They’d also been listening to the unanswered hails for Sea Witch. “I think we delayed Bridget just long enough after all. It’s working. They’re fleeing the storm by running west, and they’re able to make a speed that’s only slightly faster than the storm. Even if one of them did manage to pick Bridget up, by running west they’re all dead.”
Joel gave Trevor a puzzled look. “I don’t get it… what worked, and why are they dead if they’re moving faster then the storm?”
Trevor scowled at the radar screen, and tapped at it. “This was what I was trying to do: keep them busy long enough so that they were almost in Dean’s grip. But we had to get Bridget; she was a good enough seaman to know what they don’t. She could have saved them, but Frank Tittle was right; she thought only of herself. The only way to escape Dean is to run southwest, not west. But those guys out there… they aren’t experts at boat handling in storms, and those aren’t blue-water boats. They’re staying off Jamaica’s lee and running due west away from Dean. But the only reason the seas are calm enough to allow them to make that kind of speed is because of the wind is coming from the north, off Jamaica. Without Jamaica, the seas would be a lot worse this close to Dean. And they are running due west.”
Joel blinked. For a long moment he didn’t understand… and then he did. “Oh! I see what you did… by running west, they’ll soon pass the western tip of Jamaica.”
Trevor nodded, his eyes cold. “Yeah, they’ll find themselves in suddenly much heavier seas, which’ll drop their max speed by a lot. They’ll be slower than Dean and out of options; they can’t turn east because Dean will be too close by then and it’ll be too late to run, they’ll be too slow no matter which way they head. Right now, with those speedboat hulls, it’s probably too late already. The most northerly of them might be able to make shore in Jamaica, maybe, but they’re trying to run away from the danger, and they don’t know enough to see it’s a trap,” he said, wincing from the pain of his wound.
“I get it. You’ve been using the hurricane as a weapon. You knew they’d run west. I would have too; I wouldn’t have seen the danger in time. And now it’s too late, even if somebody warned them, they’re fish food.”
Trevor glanced at the radio. “Yeah; either that, or stranded ashore for the Jamaican authorities to round up after the storm. There’s over a hundred people out there on those boats, maybe two hundred. But they’re cartel, and Frank said the only thing that’d end this, really end it, is if the cartel lost most of its people. He didn’t know a way, and neither did I… not until you found out what they were up to at the resort. That plus the hurricane gave me the idea… Dean was a big fat opportunity the size of Texas, but just killing Bridget wasn’t enough, they’d have still kept coming after us like they have been for months. And that’s why I hate Bridget more than ever. I never wanted to have to kill anyone, not until the pirates. And then today…” Trevor’s voice trailed off, and he shuddered.
Joel placed a comforting hand on Trevor’s shoulder. “It was either us or them, Trev. If it still bothers you, look at it this way; the fact that it bothers you is what makes you so different from them. You did it because you had to; they did it because they wanted to. That’s the difference.”
Trevor gave Joel a wan smile. “Thanks. We still need to wipe out the cartel forces in Colombia and the Bahamas, but we need to wait a few hours. If I’m not around, call Frank – he’ll know what to do…” Trevor said, wincing in pain from the wound in his side.”
Atlantis shuddered, pitching bows up as she took a thirty foot breaker head-on. A great roar filled the salon as the white water passed over, and Trevor winced. “It’s going to get a lot worse soon. See what you can do to get stuff battened down.”
Outside, the breaking waves had an unforeseen effect. Atlantis carried several EPIRBS, and one of them was mounted to her cockpit bulkhead, designed to trigger automatically if submerged. Pounded by breaking waves, the EPIRB began to transmit.
In Florida, Officer Gonzalez, still at Homestead Air Force Base, greeted the arriving Dirk and Jim with a somber nod and a handshake. They’d been in touch by phone during the drive down, and so were largely up to speed on what was going on off Jamaica.
Dirk glanced over his shoulder. “The press is like a mob out there, we couldn’t even get through until a squad of Air Force guys shouldered a path for us.” The press was indeed in a frenzy; the situation at the resort, set against the drama of an oncoming monster hurricane and the involvement of both Trevor and Bridget, was far more than they could resist. The developing story in Jamaica was the top story of the day. Unbeknownst to the press, it was about to get even more suspenseful.
Dirk’s phone rang again, startling him. He answered it, his face paling as he listened to the businesslike voice on the other end. Without a word, Dirk ended the call. He chewed on his lip for a moment before saying, in a voice he was barely able to keep under control, “That was the Coast Guard. Atlantis’s hull EPIRB just went off.”
A Coast Guard captain who was with Gonzalez understood what had happened; Dirk was listed as the emergency contact for the EPIRB, and so the call had come to him. An ensign dashed in to hand the captain a phone. “Coast Guard operations for you, Captain Voorhees.”
“Voorhees here,” he said, and it was as he’d expected; a call to report the EPIRB, though unlike Dirk’s call, this one included latitude, longitude, speed, and direction. “Keep me posted on any changes,” he said, turning to consult a map. In a calm tone, he told everyone in the room, “She’s eastbound at around six knots. She’s west of the center, so that means she has to be under power; if she was just drifting in that part of the storm, she’d be southbound.”
Dirk’s eyes opened wide. “That means she’s heading for the storm’s core! Gonzalez, call him and warn him! Never mind, I’ll do it!” Dirk flipped open his phone, only to have Captain Voorhees’ hand stay his own.
“We have some communications issues. Atlantis lost her mast and took a lightning strike… but they have a satphone and VHF. The satphone contact was intermittent, and also hindered by the extreme background noise aboard. And a couple of minutes ago, we were talking to them when the satphone battery became critical, so they shut it down. Your son doesn’t want to risk trying to charge it with lightning around, so he’s saving it. We’ve got a hurricane hunter C-130 overhead within VHF range that can probably raise them, but… Trevor is aware that the cartel can listen in on VHF as easily as he can, so he’s staying off the radio for the most part. I’ll have them try anyway.” Captain Voorhees believed it was pointless; he could see no means by which Atlantis or those aboard could survive. He also had the compassion not to volunteer that opinion to Dirk.
Captain Voorhees used a phone that was hooked into a satellite relay. “Homeplate calling Teal. Homeplate calling Teal, over.” ‘Teal’ was the hurricane hunter’s call sign.
“Homeplate, this is Teal, reading you. Over.”
“Teal, see if you can raise Atlantis on VHF. Let her know that she is eastbound. Over.”
“Will do. Be advised; we’re having trouble holding her on radar due to the storm.”
Voorhees turned to tell Dirk and Jim, “That flight arrived an hour ago, to replace the one we’ve had overhead. That’s a WC-130J, and it has about ten hours of fuel left. I don’t know whether you’ve heard, but they’ve been listening in on VHF as well as watching on radar. Not long ago, they let us know that what was apparently the boat Bridget Bellevue was on went dead in the water and then vanished, not long after an encounter with Atlantis. Does she have anything aboard that could have done that?”
Jim nodded. “Yeah, a 30-06 rifle with AP rounds. And Trevor is well aware what they’ll do to an engine.”
Voorhees turned to glance at Gonzales. “Then given that fact and what we know from Teal, in my opinion, Bridget Bellevue is dead. The other boats have been hailing her, no reply.”
Trevor studied the radar screen, seeing the clear outline of Dean’s core, now almost due east of him. The wind shrieked with a thousand different tones all at once, powerful, elemental, so loud that it could be felt as well as heard; an unearthly howling that they could feel in their bones. The brutal continual blast, now over a hundred thirty miles per hour, tore at the seas, whipping the waves to ever greater fury, blasting massive amounts of water into a driving spray, sundering the barrier between sea and sky, mixing the two into one and creating a maelstrom such as few had ever seen – and far fewer had lived to tell about.
Atlantis, enshrouded in a veil of spray, a horizontal hell of blasted seas and shattered rain, shook as she took a pounding far beyond her limits. And all around was the mist, a driving wall of stinging spindrift and brutal wind. And it howled. Oh, how it howled, a thousand different tones mashed into one discordant banshee’s wail.
Now just forty miles from Dean’s center, Atlantis was beginning to feel the first taste of Dean’s full fury. Atlantis shuddered again, bucking in the teeth of the furious seas, and Trevor knew it was time. He swallowed once, and, hand shaking, turned Atlantis, advancing the throttles, struggling for speed as a wave slammed her port side. Fighting for control, Trevor saw the flash of lightning through the salon’s forward windows; an almost continuous flickering, piercing blue, sometimes close enough to feel and hear, one of the many furies of the oncoming eyewall. Trevor advanced the throttles, forcing Atlantis up to seven knots as he set course for the heart of hell itself.
Trevor could see it on his screen; a clearly defined circle twenty miles wide in Dean’s deadly heart, southeast of Atlantis; the eye. Trevor kept Atlantis running east, fighting a losing battle to keep Atlantis on course in the brutal seas and furious winds.
What words were spoken had to be shouted; even within the salon, the noise was loud enough to be painful. Rivulets of water ran across the wildly pitching deck, forced in via the brutal onslaught of the wind, which was now tearing at Atlantis, blasting her with gusts nearing one hundred forty miles per hour. Without her mast and rig, and heavily ballasted as she was, Atlantis could barely handle the conditions.
“How much longer?” Lisa yelled, struggling to keep herself and Shane from being thrown around the salon.
Trevor, running Atlantis by feel, trying to actively maneuver in the massive waves he could not see, glanced at the radar. “Another twenty miles, and it’s coming at us at nearly that speed… and we’ll lose our forward speed soon, so just under an hour.”
A towering wall of thundering water, thirty feet high and driven by the blasting wind, slammed Atlantis’s port side, causing her to slew sideways in spite of her deployed daggerboards. Several tons of water roared into the cockpit, weighing Atlantis down, unbalancing her, causing her to swing her bows to starboard. Trevor wrenched the hand controller hard to port, and added some throttle to the starboard engine. “I’m turning her into the seas, hang on,” Trevor yelled, as Atlantis’s bows pitched up, biting into the next wave.
Trevor hadn’t turned Atlantis dead on into the waves, he’d turned her so that she was taking them at a twenty degree angle off her port bow; it was, he reasoned, the best angle for both sea-keeping and preventing the wind from getting under her wing. The results inside were unpleasant; Atlantis was both pitching and yawing, and sometimes the upwards angle exceeded forty degrees.
“Joel, check that structural crack. Is it getting worse?” Trevor yelled, struggling to hold himself in his chair.
Joel, unable to walk on the pitching deck, crawled to the starboard side of the salon. “It’s maybe a bit bigger… and with my hand on it, I can feel one side move when a wave hits,” Joel reported.
Trevor did the only thing he could; he turned Atlantis five degrees to starboard to better shield her wounded starboard side.
At Homestead Air Force Base, Gonzalez sat with Dirk and Jim, watching the clock as well as the radar feed which showed Dean’s ongoing close pass of the Jamaican coast. The hurricane hunter had, half an hour before, made a brief VHF contact with Atlantis, and the news wasn’t good; her structural damage was increasing as Dean tore her apart, but Trevor was still heading for the eye.
Deep in the core of Dean, Atlantis shuddered, her deck pitching up to a forty-five degree slope as she took another wall of white water over the bows. Trevor struggled, doing all he could to hold her bows into the seas, which now took fully half of her available engine power. He said nothing; the roar was now too loud for even shouting to work, and he knew he’d done all he could; there was nothing left but to keep Atlantis angled into the seas and hope.
A sudden slight change in the salon’s light level caused Trevor to glance at the LED light fixtures, though he found them no brighter. In trepidation, he looked at the sloping salon windows, seeing a decidedly grey cast to them, growing brighter by the second – reflected moonlight. Atlantis was still being pounded by brutal winds and seas, her windows covered by blowing wind and rain even when not taking a wave, but he could see the light. Heart in his throat, Trevor listened to the storm, waiting, hardly daring to hope.
The end was not as gradual as he’d assumed; it was more akin to the throwing of a switch. In seconds, the wind dropped from a hundred fifty miles per hour to eighty, and kept dropping. The seas did not abate, but absent the howl of the wind, the windows began to clear. “Joel, fire up the bilge pumps and the auxiliary pump! We’ve got to get that water out fast!”
Joel dashed for the switches, flipping them on. He’d previously, on Trevor’s orders, routed the freshwater pump to draw out of the starboard bilge, and the auxiliary pump – most often used for hosing down the decks – from the port bilge. With two pumps each, the bilges began to drain, and Atlantis began to inch higher in the seas that had so nearly claimed her.
Trevor shot Lisa a weak smile. “We made it! We’re in the eye. In the very center, the wave patterns partially cancel out; we’ll have calmer seas and clear skies.”
A smile appeared on Lisa’s lips, only to fade suddenly, her brow wrinkling in concern. “Okay, we’re in, and I’m sure happy to be here… but now what? Shane needs a doctor, and so do you.”
There was one part of his plan, a shortcoming that Trevor had yet to broach, and he didn’t want to do so now. “We’ve got to get Atlantis pumped out and moving as fast as she can. As soon as the seas ease a bit I’ll turn her west. We’re going to have to run flat out to stay in the eye. It’s moving at eighteen knots.”
Joel’s head snapped around. “Trev, you said Atlantis could do about sixteen on engines, and that’s in ideal conditions.”
Trevor allowed himself a smile. “Yeah, but we’ll be a bit lighter without the mast, rig, and cockpit canopy. That’ll give us maybe another half knot. We’re also in an area of westbound current that runs about a knot and a half, plus there’s the effect of the storm surge on the coast north of us that’s speeding the current up by about a knot. In moderate seas, with a bit of helm input to play the swells, we’ll be fast enough, barely, to stay in the eye. I think.”
Lisa had not been placated. “Trev, okay, we’re in and can stay in for a bit, but how do we get out?”
Trevor swallowed once, and replied, “Um, I haven’t figured that part out yet.” The seas began to abate somewhat, diminishing to twenty five feet, and Trevor turned Atlantis west and increased the throttles to maximum, causing Atlantis to labor as she accelerated to ten knots. He was trying to buy enough time for the pumps to rid the bilges of several tons of sea water.
Lisa gave Trevor a puzzled look. “Don’t tell me we’ve got to go through the storm again?”
Trevor shook his head. “We can’t. The weaker half is in front of us, and we couldn’t outrun it before, let alone run through it. And the other half… that’d kill us, fast.”
“You got us in, surely you can get us out?” Lisa asked, with a touch of fear creeping into her voice.
Trevor gave her an apologetic shrug, only to wince from the pain of moving. “Sorry. It was a one-way door in; it was only possible because of the mountainous shore to the north, and the eyewall replacement cycle. There wasn’t anywhere else to go. If I hadn’t, we’d be dead by now. But hurricanes weaken eventually. If Dean drops to a weak category two for a while, we can probably survive making a break for it. And if Dean drops to category one I know we could survive.”
Lisa blinked. “We’ve got to stay in here and hope the hurricane dies down? You’re totally insane!” she said, shocked by the realization that their ordeal was far from over.
“You… you’re talking to Trev, gotta be, he’s always insane,” Shane mumbled, his eyes flickering open.
“Shane!” Trevor yelled, wishing that he could leave the navigation desk to rush to his side.
Joel saw Trevor’s look, and made it possible by dashing to the navigation desk. “I’ve got the helm.”
Trevor stumbled over to Shane, falling to his knees beside him. “You’re awake,” he said softly.
A very groggy Shane rolled his head towards Trevor’s voice. “Trev… what’s going on… and why do I feel like a horse kicked me? My chest hurts bad when I breathe.”
Trevor smiled in relief. “You might have a couple of cracked ribs. Try not to move.”
Lisa squeezed Shane’s hand, which she was still holding. “You’ll be okay, Shane, but don’t try to get up.”
Shane blinked, trying to clear his foggy vision. “Either my head is spinning, or Atlantis is bucking like crazy.” Shane glanced at Lisa, and then at Joel. “When did you guys get here?”
Trevor gave Lisa and Joel a worried look, and then asked Shane, “What’s the last thing you remember?”
“I… I don’t know. I remember us heading for Treasure Beach to pick up Lisa and Joel… then arguing with you. Wait… You went to get them, and there were speedboats… Bridget! What’s going on?”
Trevor reached out to stroke Shane’s hair. “Take it easy, she’s dead. So is most of that cartel fleet – and any that aren’t soon will be. They won’t be bothering us anymore – ever.”
Shane glanced at the blood-soaked bandage on Trevor’s side, which brought back a jarring memory. “You got hurt… shot.”
“I’ll be okay. You will too,” Trevor replied, still stroking Shane’s hair.
“Did I get shot too? Shane asked, raising his head slightly, though seeing only his bare chest.
Trevor squeezed Shane’s hand. “No, you didn’t get shot. You got… jolted by some electricity – we got hit by lightning. Joel did CPR on you, that’s why your chest hurts.”
The news that his heart had stopped wasn’t something Shane’s foggy mind wanted to deal with, so he lay back and mumbled, “It’s bloody hot in here…”
Trevor knew the reason for the heat. However, he felt it best not to mention their predicament to Shane just yet.
“It’s really hot in here,” Shane said, raising his head experimentally. The temperature in Atlantis’s salon was rising fast, and was already well past eighty degrees. Air increases in temperature when it compresses; the descending air in the eye makes the eye the hottest part of a hurricane. “I could sure use some fresh air,” he said, glancing longingly at the salon door. “I think I could get up, if I went slow.”
Trevor was about to object, but Lisa beat him to it. “Whoa, stay put, Shane. You only just came to. I’ll go get us all some orange juice.”
Captain Voorhees looked up from his communications console, whipped off his headphones, and almost smiled before he remembered the obvious problem. “That was Teal; they’ve just entered the eye at ten thousand feet on a dropsonde run, and got one hell of a surprise on their infrared set; they’ve found Atlantis! She’s in the eye and under power, westbound. They’re trying to raise her on VHF now.”
Dirk smiled as Jim hugged him, though his joy was to be short-lived. “Captain, what about a rescue? A helicopter, or maybe seaplane?”
Captain Voorhees gave Dirk a pained look. “Dean is at category four, so a ship wouldn’t be an option even if we had one handy. A helicopter can’t fly high enough to get over the eyewall, and couldn’t survive a pass through it. A seaplane can’t land in heavy swells; even in the calmest point of the eye the swells will be far in excess of a seaplane’s ability, so that option can’t work. The only thing I can think of is a V-22 Osprey tiltrotor, and they might be able to make it if Dean drops to category two, or maybe a weak category three.” He didn’t bother to mention the best option; a submarine. There wasn’t one close enough to get there in time, and Captain Voorhees, after checking with both the Navy and the State Department, was painfully aware of that fact. “I’m sorry; there just isn’t any way to get to them with anything that can get them out. All we can do is wait and see if Dean weakens enough. I’ll get the Navy trying to think of other options,” he said, though he correctly suspected that there weren’t any.
“What’s the latest forecast?” Dirk asked.
Voorhees gave it to Dirk straight and unvarnished. “According to the National Hurricane Center, Dean is expected to maintain course and speed, and strengthen.”
Aboard the fleeing speedboats of Bridget’s fleet, the end was near – and for some, it had already arrived; over a dozen boats had already succumbed to the high seas. Of those that remained, the fastest was already due south of Jamaica’s westernmost point, finding herself in suddenly worsening seas. She, like the others, would soon succumb. Of the boats at sea, only the ten that Bridget had dispatched to the southeast would survive; they were already well south of Dean’s track and racing due south.
The nineteen speedboats in the cove near the resort, now joined by four more, would fare better, though only for a while.
Frank Tittle was a very busy man. Ever since the call from Atlantis had alerted him to the battle, he’d been spending every effort to find out what was going on. Some of this information came from Trevor himself, some from the hurricane hunter via Gonzalez, and more from one of the hostages who had escaped from the resort.
Thanks to these disparate sources, Frank had a clear picture of what had transpired off Jamaica. He had not been idle, nor had he been forthcoming with Gonzalez about what he had been doing in recent days.
As a criminal attorney, Frank had defended a goodly number of unsavory clients, including the drug runner who had helped identify the photo of Sanchez. That man was not the only drug dealer Frank had defended, and Frank had, ever since the attack on the restaurant, been renewing his contacts in that world. It wasn’t hard; he had many contacts, including two top capos of the Norte Cartel that had him on permanent retainer – a fact of which Gonzalez was unaware.
Frank glanced at the disposable cell phone in his hands, and dialed a number from memory. As usual, it clicked several times before it rang, a result of the call being rerouted. When the line picked up and a gruff man with a Colombian accent answered, Frank said, “This is Frank, and I have more news…”
Orbiting within the eye ten thousand feet overhead, the C-130 hurricane hunter’s pilot surveyed the scene, lit by the first glimmers of the approaching dawn. The skies within the eye were clear, a result of the descending column of air. Below, he could see the entirety of the seventeen-mile-wide eye. At the outer edges, the seas were roiled by massive breaking waves, but in the dead center, in an area just three miles across, the wave patterns largely canceled out, creating an area of blue sea with chaotic swells, marred only by an occasional whitecap. In the center, imprisoned within the deadly fury of Dean, Atlantis, little more than a speck on the sea, was racing west, pacing Dean, waiting for a hoped-for major weakening of Dean, which was the only thing that could enable rescue or escape.
Dean, though, would not be cooperative in this regard, and would only strengthen.
ZCZC MIATCUAT4 ALL TTAA00 KNHC DDHHMM
HURRICANE DEAN TROPICAL CYCLONE UPDATE NWS TPC/NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER MIAMI FL AL042007 835 PM AST MON AUG 20 2007
DATA FROM THE AIR FORCE RESERVE HURRICANE HUNTER AIRCRAFT CURRENTLY INVESTIGATING HURRICANE DEAN INDICATE THAT MAXIMUM SUSTAINED WINDS HAVE INCREASED TO 160 MPH...MAKING DEAN A POTENTIALLY CATASTROPHIC CATEGORY FIVE HURRICANE ON THE SAFFIR-SIMPSON HURRICANE SCALE.
$$ FORECASTER KNABB NNNN
Dean was destined to become a strong category five and make landfall as the third most powerful landfalling hurricane in recorded history.
~~~~~~~~ Atlantis' Page (see what Atlantis looks like) Please let me know what you think; good, bad, or indifferent. Please give me feedback, and please don’t be shy if you want to criticize! The feedback thread for this story is in my Forum. Please stop by and say "Hi!"
Many thanks to my editor EMoe for editing and for his support, encouragement, beta reading, and suggestions. Special thanks to Graeme, for beta-reading and advice. Thanks also to Talonrider and MikeL for beta reading. A big Thank You to RedA for Beta reading and advice. Thanks also to Low Flyer, for zeta reading. Special thanks to RickMD and Kim, for some major advice and help. Any remaining errors are mine alone.