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    C James
  • Author
  • 7,607 Words

Circumnavigation - 52. Finding the Way

Chapter 52: Finding the Way


It was a breezy day in Tampa, a fact that was playing hell with Jim’s attempt to control his wig. Standing at an exposed payphone and trying to look inconspicuous just made it worse.

With relief, Jim hung up and began walking back to the condo, feeling intensely conspicuous. He was wearing a blond wig, sunglasses, and a pastel cotton sundress, and carrying a beige leather purse. He glanced down at the largest cause for his concern; his size eleven men’s tennis shoes: none of his sister’s shoes even came close to fitting him or Dirk.

It was a short walk, only ten minutes, but the tension made it seem like hours until finally Jim reached the condo.

As soon as he locked the door, he turned and gave Dirk a smile. “I’ll give you the details after I’m out of this getup, but the short version is: good news, we have ourselves a criminal attorney.”

Dirk chuckled with relief. “Is there any other kind?”

“Besmirching my profession again, are you,” Jim quipped, as he changed into a t-shirt and shorts. When he was done, he settled into an armchair. “Using one of the attorneys from my firm would have been risky, so I called Frank Tittle, who worked for my firm until three years ago, when he moved to Orlando. He has a good record, and has handled some tough murder cases. He’s also known to bend or break the rules. We reviewed some aspects of the case while we were on the phone, and he agreed to be our attorney. I didn’t tell him much, just what’s public and added that we didn’t do it. He wants to meet with us in person, both to get his retainer and hear the rest of the story.”

“You’re sure we need him?”

Jim nodded. “Very sure. We can easily counter some of the charges in a few weeks, but others, such as the bombing and the Bellevue murder, won’t be directly affected, so we’ll probably need to fight it out in court. I’m a civil attorney, so for this, I’m way out of my depth. Another reason we need Frank is because the only way a private investigator is covered by attorney-client privilege is when he’s hired by an attorney on behalf of a client. If we hired him direct, he could be compelled to testify against us.”

“Everything?” Dirk asked, frowning.

Jim sighed. “I’m not sure yet. Attorney-client privilege would apply, so we could do so with some degree of safety. At some point we’ll probably have to tell him all of it, but for right now, I’d say we could just tell him a small part of the truth: that you’re just a few weeks short of a statute of limitations deadline. The problem is that we can’t really say it’s unrelated – lying to your own attorney is usually a stupid move.”

Dirk nodded. “You’re the lawyer, so it's your call on that. Just remember it’s not just my neck on the block about the Ares: they’d destroy Trev, too. I don’t like putting him at risk, not when we’re so damn close. I’d like to delay as much as we can, to at least get closer... but I’ll go with whatever you decide. Okay, so when do we meet the lawyer, and where?”

“He’ll be coming here tomorrow.”



In Fort Pierce, Sergeant Mike Gonzalez was sitting in his small office, alternating between doodling in his notebook and fingering his car keys. Doodling was one of his ways of relaxing and letting his mind wander, and it did help pass the time.

The news Gonzalez had been waiting for arrived in the person of George Alfred, who stuck his head in the door, grinning. “Mike, I just came from the courthouse. The grand jury is hearing the prosecution’s case now.” Both men knew the procedure: the grand jury’s job was to hear the prosecution’s case, and decide whether an indictment was warranted. If they felt that it wasn’t, they would return with a verdict of ‘No True Bill’, and there would be no indictment. A finding of a true bill, on the other hand, was a declaration that the grand just found the charges warranted, and the true bill, when filed with the court, became the official criminal indictment.

“They’ve been at it a while,” Gonzalez grumbled. Patience was not his strong suit.

George shrugged. “They take special care with a capital case, but for this one, you’ve no reason to worry. They’ll come back with a true bill before the end of the day, I’m sure of it.” George glanced down the hallway, and added, “I’m late for a meeting, so I’ll see you later, but you’ll have your good news by five, I’ll bet money on it.”

George headed off, and Gonzalez sat staring at the empty doorway, twirling his pencil in his hand. His mind flashed back to the day Jim and Dirk had run, and the night he’d spent trying to figure out how they’d gotten away. It hadn’t taken Gonzalez long to learn that a procedural change had allowed Dirk and Jim to slip away, and that the change had been a higher state of watchfulness, prompted by a warning from Gonzalez’s own team. That warning had seemed innocuous at first; just a reminder that Dirk had fled before. However, that had seemed incongruous to Gonzalez, because it was something the Cocoa Beach police were already aware of; it was standard procedure to inform them.

The timing was what had stuck in the back of Gonzalez’s mind: the call to the Cocoa Beach police had come barely two hours before Jim and Dirk had made their run, and that call had come from George Alfred.

If it had been that alone, Gonzalez would have dismissed the matter, but that fact had jogged another memory: George’s mention of Bridget’s admission of a source in the department. Gonzalez had felt his instincts lighting off when George had mentioned that, but it had taken a while for Gonzalez to understand why: he had recorded the conversation with Bridget, and the fact that it had been Bridget who admitted the source was not one he’d written down. It was normal for Gonzalez to have the tapes transcribed, but he’s checked his file; that one had not yet been sent in. Therefore, Gonzalez had realized that there was no easily explainable way for George to know of Bridget’s admission, because Gonzalez could not recollect telling anyone.

The reason for Gonzalez’s angst over the grand Jury was not what George had assumed. It was because Gonzalez knew that if Dirk was indicted for Arnold Bellevue’s murder, it would close off any chance he had of attaining an indictment against Bridget.

Gonzalez had the option of appearing before the grand jury and arguing against including the Bellevue murder in the indictment. It was one he was loath to take, for it would earn him the wrath of the Assistant State Attorney.

“I don’t like coincidences, George. I really don’t,” Gonzalez whispered to the empty doorway. “And those are two goddamn big ones,” Gonzalez said, making his decision, and picking up his car keys.



Aboard the drifting pirate trawler Algol, Ali stood at the rail, fuming. He’d just received a detailed report from his mechanic, one that did not bode well for ship or crew.

The starboard engine was seized and could not be repaired. The port engine was massively damaged, but the mechanic thought that it might be returned to limited and temporary function after a complete flush and clean of its oil system, and a partial teardown and reassembly. The mechanic had begun the task, and estimated it would take up to a week. His best-case estimate was that the engine would be able to run again, but would burn a great deal of oil and might not last long. They did not have a large supply of engine oil aboard, but the mechanic believed they could extend their supply for long enough by diluting it with a mix of diesel and palm oil – which was used for cooking.

Adding to this problem was the cause the mechanic had found: abrasive grit in the engine oil of both engines, and two empty jars with residual traces of abrasive grit. Ali had had no reason to suspect that Trevor might be alive, so he drew what seemed to him to be the obvious conclusion: sabotage by one of the members of his own crew.

Ali could think of no obvious motive – the crewman would be putting himself at risk – but he could see no other possible cause for their peril.

Putting that line of thought aside for a moment, Ali considered their most immediate problem. The best he could hope for was to get underway with the remaining engine and hope that it held out long enough for the Algol to limp to the Seychelles. Failing that, Ali knew he’d have to use his satellite phone to arrange for a tow, which would be very expensive. A further expense was that Algol would need one new engine and at least a complete rebuild of the other. The fishing would not be possible, and so Algol would arrive in the Seychelles without a catch to sell, leaving Ali with insufficient funds for the repairs and any towing. He did not know how long it would take him to collect his bounty for killing Trevor, which left him with the prospect of selling some of the loot from Atlantis in the Seychelles.

Ali scowled, thinking of the risks he’d have to take, and his lost profits. His mind returned to the sabotage, and he wondered if one of his men had decided to jump ship in the Seychelles. Ali had not shared his plans to stop there after the fishing, but his men would have good reason to suppose the Algol would have to put in there – the closest port with services – if her engines were wrecked.

Ali decided to watch his men closely, looking for signs that one of his men was planning to leave in the Seychelles, so he would know whom to kill.



At the Fort Pierce courthouse, Mike Gonzalez hurried in, heading for the grand jury room, where he planned to request to testify. As he approached, he saw the court clerk and Assistant State Attorney coming down the hall.

“We got it, Mike,” the Assistant State Attorney said, gesturing towards the court clerk, who was carrying the True Bill document to the judge’s chambers.

Gonzalez nodded, forcing himself to smile. It was too late: the grand jury had already ruled, and there was no way Gonzalez could stop the filing, not without hard proof.

Five minutes later, in Bridget’s parlor, George closed his cell phone, a big grin spreading across his face. “Time for some Champagne. It’s official!” The indictment had been filed.

Bridget, in an uncharacteristic display of abandon, flew to her feet and hugged George. “At last, at long last. Thank you, my dear.”

George opened the Champagne that he’d put to chill the day before, and with a flourish, poured two glasses.

They clinked their glasses, and Bridget cleared her throat before giving a toast, “To you, George, for making this day possible.”

They shared a kiss, and then sat down together on the loveseat. For a few moments, Bridget contemplated the bubbles in her Champagne flute, and then said, in a quiet but joyous tone, “George, I think it is high time we took that little vacation you suggested. We are due for a drop off in the Bahamas in two days, and I’ve heard about a charming resort on Andres Island.”

“Sounds like a plan. I have some leave coming that I can use, and I’m sure Gonzalez can handle the manhunt without my help,” George said, raising his glass to Bridget’s again.



As Atlantis inched her way southwest through the darkness, Trevor had another troubled night. Nightmares, or sometimes just a slight noise, would jar him awake, leaving him to spend hours tossing and turning on the hard floor.

When it was at last light enough to see, Trevor headed for the deck, for a quick check of his improvised sail and a scan of the empty horizon.

Trevor returned to the salon, trying to remember what he could of the wind and weather plots. He estimated the breeze he was in to be twelve knots, bearing roughly southwest. The good news, in his opinion, was that would take him away from the pirates, who he assumed were to his east – the direction they’d been heading when they had left Atlantis. The bad news was that his current rig gave him only limited ability; he could run before the wind, but not across it. At best, he guessed, he could angle twenty degrees to either side of the wind’s course. That put the African coast out of reach, if the winds were as he believed.

With Atlantis underway and making what Trevor guessed to be two knots, his next problem was navigation. He glanced again at the ruins of his navigation station, seeing just the gaping holes and wires. His paper charts were gone as well. All except for one.

The sole exception was the map of the world that Ali had ripped from the salon’s wall, torn into large pieces, and scattered about. Trevor had gathered the pieces, finding most of them, missing only North America and part of Europe. The part he needed, the Indian Ocean, lay in three pieces, which he fitted together on the floor and joined by a few tiny pieces of marine tape. Tracing his finger from his approximate current position towards the south, Trevor saw nothing but almost empty ocean. The nearest land of any size to his current estimated course was the large French island of Réunion, four hundred fifty miles east of Madagascar and one hundred miles west of Mauritius.

There were two closer points of land. One was the Agalega Islands, his last landfall, which lay just a hundred and fifty miles away, roughly upwind, and thus impossible to reach. The other was a tiny flyspeck, which lay alluringly close to Trevor’s guesstimated course: Tromelin Island. It was only two hundred and fifty miles away, but it lay to port of his course, just beyond Atlantis’s ability to run at an angle to the wind. The other problem was that Trevor had seen the name when researching his course, and remembered that it was uninhabited. This was not quite true; the island was home to a tiny weather station. However, unless the wind changed, Trevor had no way to reach it, nor could he have negotiated the perilous reefs around it.

The wind was from the northeast, caused by the southeast trades bending around the north edge of a high-pressure cell – which rotate counter-clockwise in the Southern Hemisphere – to the southeast of Atlantis’ position.

Trevor wished that he could remember how fast that cell had been moving, and studied the map again, mulling over his dilemma. ‘If that cell moves out and the normal easterlies return, I could make the Madagascar coast. If the cell stalls or moves slowly, I’ll be heading due south, for Réunion or maybe Mauritius. But if I miss those islands...’ Trevor thought, and shuddered. The danger was grave; if he missed making a landfall and continued to the south, he’d enter the westerlies as he passed the latitude of southern Madagascar. ‘Once I’m in their grip, I’ll be pushed east,’ he thought, and glanced at the vast expanse of completely empty water: nearly four thousand miles of it, and some of the roughest seas on Earth. It was, he felt, death incarnate; in her current condition, there was no way Atlantis could survive that, and thus, neither could he.

Trevor faced a dilemma: steer for Réunion, which he felt sure was within easy reach of his potential course, or for Madagascar, which would depend on the high-pressure cell leaving the area soon. If it lingered, he knew the wind would become a southerly and push him almost due south, between Madagascar and Réunion, missing both and sealing his fate. Madagascar was tempting; with hundreds of miles of coast, he was assured of a landfall if he could reach it. Réunion, on the other hand, was less than forty miles wide. Without the ability to navigate precisely, missing the island was a very real threat, and he’d only have one chance. There could be no turning back.

The information Trevor needed in order to make his decision was the forecast speed of the high-pressure cell, and he had no way to get it.

Trevor chewed on his lip, doing the mental math. Madagascar was tempting, but reaching it depended too much on the high-pressure cell moving out quickly. His other option; releasing the bottom of his sail and waiting for the cell to pass, was little better; he had no way of knowing if another cell was behind it, or what the wind patterns would be. He knew they could be variable in that area.

That left Réunion, five hundred miles in a straight line but over six hundred on the curving course the winds would force him to follow. Six hundred miles, even if the wind held and he could maintain his current speed, meant it would take nearly two weeks to reach Réunion. ‘And even then, without a way to fix my position accurately, it’s like hitting a bull’s-eye blindfolded. I could miss it by a hundred miles or more.’

Trevor really didn’t have any choice, other than staying adrift where he was; hundreds of miles from land and out of the shipping lanes, with only the pirates nearby. He hoped that, as a major island, Réunion might have air and sea patrols, or at least traffic, and might want to check out a vessel passing by. He knew it was a long shot, but it was the best chance he felt he had: there just wasn’t any other significant land close enough to his possible course to try for, unless the wind shifted.

(Possible range shaded, planned course in red.)

After eating again, and feeling better able to think and work, Trevor began his long day, and returned to cleaning and inventorying. The breeze had freshened, and Trevor could see and feel a few whitecaps as Atlantis ran before the wind at two and a half knots.

The next task was one he dreaded, but he knew he needed more speed. Descending into the starboard bilge, he found himself knee-deep in water, which had come in before he had patched the bullet holes. There were, he knew, tons of it, weighing down Atlantis. It had to go.

The electric bilge pumps had been taken, and so had the manual ones. However, there were still pumps aboard. There were still two toilets, and those had electric pumps used to fill them with seawater. There was also a manual backup. Both remaining toilets were on the starboard side, and Trevor briefly contemplated moving one, but then he checked and saw that the cross-feed line he’d installed was still in place.

Normally, all he would need to do would be to configure some valves so that the water would be drawn from the bilges, but some of the piping, and more than a few of the valves, were missing: hacked away by the pirates. It took some effort, but he jury-rigged an intake hose and tied it into the seawater intake line, and then shut the intake seacock. The water would now be drawn up from the bilges when he worked the pump, dumped into the toilet, and then flow out the sewage overboard dump. Setting the intake to be the starboard bilge first, Trevor took a deep breath, and headed for the aft port cabin’s head.

Taking a seat on the toilet lid, Trevor grasped the pump handle and began pulling it up and down, which pulled the water, two pints at a time, out of the bilge and into the overboard dump line.

Working hard, Trevor felt his arm – still painfully sore after his ordeal – begin to tire. Ignoring the pain, he labored on, twisting around to change hands every fifteen minutes. He was soon drenched in sweat, but then he began to feel Atlantis taking on a port list.

After two hours of laboring in the heat, Trevor heard the pump suck air, and knew that his task was half done: the starboard bilge was dry.

With his naked body utterly soaked in sweat, Trevor crawled back into the salon, feeling the slope of the deck.

Trevor ate a full can of hot dogs, and decided to take it easy for a while as he recovered his strength. He sat down on the salon floor and attended to a minor but needed task; gathering writing material. His journal – along with everything else that had been in the nav desk – was gone, but a notebook that had been on the bookshelf remained, tossed aside by the pirates. Trevor leafed though it, finding an old grocery list, a few scribbled notes he’d made in the Suez, and half a page of doodles he’d made during the voyage past Somalia. What was under them was what he wanted: thirty-four pages of blank paper. It would become his new journal, as well as his source of blank paper.

Trevor rummaged around some more, and found other scraps of paper: old receipts, invoices, the instruction manual for his missing bar refrigerator, a few scraps of graph paper he’d used to draw up diving time-and-depth graphs, some bank statements, and most galling of all; the instruction book for his handheld GPS. ‘Why the hell couldn’t the fuckers have left the GPS and taken this?’ Trevor thought, but the GPS had been in his Nav desk, and was now aboard the Algol. The instruction book had been on the bookcase, and the pirates had cast it, and the paperback novels, aside.

Trevor continued gathering up writing supplies, and then, dreading it, his muscles still sore, Trevor descended into the port bilge, configured the valves so that water would be drawn from it, and returned to the head, where he again set about the two hours of grueling work, pumping the water out, two miserable pints at a time.

At last it was done, and Trevor staggered back into the salon, falling to his knees in exhaustion, feeling the now-level deck, and the sensation of a little extra speed. ‘I think we’re doing three knots now,’ he thought, and then his consciousness faded out and he fell into a brief, fitful sleep.

Feeling as though he was burning up, Trevor glanced at the sun streaming in through Atlantis’s windows – the sun covers had been taken by the pirates – and retreated to the cockpit, wishing that his beanbag were still there. He lay down flat on the deck in the shade, feeling the hot, humid wind against his sweaty bare skin. It was at least tolerable.

Laying there, resting and watching the moving shafts of sunlight, Trevor’s mind turned to his next major problem; navigation. The equinox – Spring in the Southern Hemisphere, Autumn in the Northern Hemisphere – on September 23rd was only a few days past, which as Trevor remembered, meant that the sun would be almost directly overhead at the equator at noon. ‘I think I can use that.’

Trying to order his thoughts, Trevor picked up his pencil and paper to begin his first entry in his new journal;

It’s day three since the fucking pirates. I’m underway with a jury-rigged sail but well forward, so Atlantis is kind of like a weathervane, pointing away from the wind and running before it. I’ve tried running crosswind, but when I get more then fifteen degrees off the wind’s course the sail starts spilling and luffing. I know the seasonal wind patterns but the last weather report was three days ago. I have no means to get an update or information of any kind.

I can navigate, I think, sort of. When it’s close to noon, I’ll watch the shadows. The sun should be almost vertical over the equator this time of year, so if the shadows drop to ten degrees from vertical, I’m ten degrees south of the equator. That will give me a rough estimate of my latitude. If I had a watch or a clock I’d be able to estimate longitude, but I don’t.

I look around Atlantis, my once beautiful boat that’s now a stripped hulk, and my heart aches. She’s ruined, or close to. If I can get her to port, my insurance should pay for repairs, but it would take a long time. Still, she’s protecting me, keeping me alive. I’ll find a way to restore her; she deserves it.

Now, I’m more alone than I’ve ever been, lost in the Indian Ocean. I found a couple of paperback novels in the wreckage. I guess they’ll be my only entertainment, once I have some time.

My safety harness is gone. If I fall overboard now I’ll just be completing what the pirates tried to do and damn near did.

All my safety gear is gone: every radio, ever flare, my ditch bag, my EPIRBs, everything. There isn’t one single piece of electronics still aboard. The fucking pirates took everything, even my batteries, voltage regulators, and generator. The solar panels that were on top of the cockpit hard awning are gone too, but even if they were still there, there’d be nothing for them to power.

My signal flags are gone, but I think I can make a ‘Victor’ flag. I’ve got a small square white hand towel about the right size, and can use the strips of red poplin from the shorts I was wearing when the pirates tossed me overboard. If the flag brings help, it would be the second time those shorts have saved my life.

I’m trying for Reunion, if the winds hold. It’s my best, and maybe my only, shot. It’s either that or try to hail a passing ship, but I’m out of the shipping lanes already so I don’t hold much hope.

I’m still naked. The pirates took damn near everything, including my clothes. I used up almost all the remaining bed sheets and towels making my sail. So I’m naked but I don’t really care. I’d be so glad to see anyone that I wouldn’t give a damn. I don’t think it can get cold this time of year along my course to Reunion, so I won’t freeze.

Food: I’ve got plenty to last me to Reunion. Forty cans of hotdogs, plus some pork chili and pork & beans. Water: I estimate a minimum of one hundred thirty gallons pure and forty gallons tainted remaining. Sweating like I am, I figure I need about a gallon a day, so water won’t be my problem.

Reunion is at twenty-one degrees south and fifty-five degrees east, so if I keep heading southwest and then south as the wind shifts, like I think it will, I should make it. Maybe. If the wind stays out of the northeast, I’ll just ride it all the way to Madagascar, but I think it’s already changed by a few degrees. Looks like it’s Reunion or bust!

Trevor glanced up the mast, and remembered that without her radar reflector or active transponder, Atlantis was very hard to see on radar. Making a radar reflector was no real challenge: he tore the steel lids off his dive gear lockers, and used the handle of his adjustable wrench to pound creases for bend lines. The steel was thin, and bent fairly easily, so Trevor soon had two jumbled messes, looking much like two mildly crumpled pieces of paper, which he attached to the mast’s halyard by their lock loops.

The flag was next: Trevor retrieved the strips from his red poplin shorts, and with the help of his screwdriver and fishing line, he attached them so that they formed a red X on the white hand towel, which he attached to the halyard above the two improvised radar reflectors. Then, he ran then all up to the masthead on the halyard, and stood back, watching the flag flapping in the wind. A white square with a red X was a ‘Victor’ flag: the signal for a boat in need of emergency assistance. ‘A hell of an understatement in my case,’ Trevor thought.

Trevor spent the remainder of the day cleaning Atlantis, stacking and sorting debris, keeping everything because he had no idea what he might end up needing. One task he completed was gathering up the pieces of broken mirror and placing the largest ones in the cockpit, so that if he saw a plane or ship, he could flash the mirror in the sun, signaling SOS.

As the sun dipped below the western horizon, Trevor checked the bilges again, finding a few inches of water at the starboard low point, and half a foot in the port one. ‘I guess I didn’t get all the holes, or some patches are leaking,’ he thought. He pumped them both dry, counting the strokes. ‘That works out to about ten gallons a day in the starboard side, and forty in the port side. I’ll have to pump at least once a day, but that much isn’t bad.’

The next day, Trevor sat in the cockpit, watching as the shadows – which moved due to the motion of the boat – gradually became shorter and shorter. He used a scrap of wood, moving it every few minutes, centering it on what he judged to the limit of the mast’s shadow when Atlantis appeared level.

With nothing else to use as a measure, Trevor used his own six-foot height, laying on the salon roof with his feet touching the mast, and then marking the position of the top of his head with a piece of debris. Then, he measured the rest of the way to his shadow mark by laying four twenty dollar bills – weighted with bits of debris – end to end, finding that they just fit. He knew that U.S. banknotes are almost exactly six inches long, so that gave him a baseline of eight feet. He already knew that the mast of Atlantis was sixty-nine feet tall.

Back in the salon, Trevor used one of his few sheets of graph paper, and counted from the bottom up, making a dot sixty-nine squares up. Then he counted eight across the bottom, and finally drew a line. The end result was that the left side of the paper represented the mast, the bottom the base of the shadow, and the line between the dots was the approximate angle to the sun relative to vertical.

Taking his paper, Trevor laid it over the part of his map that had contained the large stylized compass rose. Part of the design included a circle with numerous tiny indentations, three hundred and sixty of them – one per degree.


The compass rose was the size a small plate. Trevor laid his graph paper over it, aligning the left side to north and south, and the dot representing the top of the mast to the center of the compass. Then, he counted off the degrees, finding six.

He was somewhat close: the real angle, given those measurements, was twelve point seven degrees. The issue Trevor faced was that he knew he’d been at about twelve degrees south when the pirates had attacked, and that he could not have moved much more than a degree further south since, given his speed. ‘I’m way off; six degrees at least, and one degree of latitude is sixty-nine miles, so I’m about four hundred miles off,’ Trevor thought, knowing that such a large margin of error made his method nearly useless for finding an island.

Trevor scowled at the empty hole where his navigation desk had once been, wishing that he still had his sextant. ‘With that, I could measure the angle easily’ he thought.

Trevor turned to stare at the map’s compass rose, knowing that he needed far more accuracy than he’d achieved. Wishing again that he had his sextant, Trevor stared at the map, twirling his pen in his hands.

Suddenly, his eyes opened wide. “I don’t need a sextant, all I need is an astrolabe!” he said aloud, beginning to smile and plan.

His gaze fell on the pen in his hand; it was just a cheap disposable, one of three he’d found in the wreckage so far. Trevor quickly pulled it apart, which left him with a white plastic tube that had once been the pen’s body.

Putting the tube down, Trevor pictured his task in his mind.

The astrolabe, in simple terms, is nothing more than a device for sighting the sun or a star and determining their angle, in degrees, from the horizon. The pen’s plastic tube would be the sight, which he would align so that the sun shone down its length.

The next thing Trevor needed was a sheet of paper, and that part was easy; he carefully tore one out of his new journal.

Looking at the paper, Trevor knew that the hard part would be making the scale. What he needed to create was something that would allow him to measure the angles from zero to ninety degrees along an arc.

Drawing the curve proved easy. It took a few moments’ scrounging, but Trevor found a scrap of his fishing line, which was some of the leftover waste from his sail-making. Placing one end at the top right-hand corner, he pinned it in place, and then used his fingers to pinch the fishing line, a few inches down, to a pencil. Using the fishing line, he drew his arc, running the pencil back and forth at the end of the fishing line until he was satisfied.

Trevor now had the outside of his pie slice, and the edges of the page made a perfect ninety-degree corner.

The scale of degrees was next, and for that, Trevor used the compass rose from his map.

It was the size of a tea saucer, and he could have used the compass rose itself as part of the astrolabe, but he knew that larger would be better. Trevor laid it under his journal page and moved into a beam of sunlight, so he could see the compass rose through the journal paper. He aligned it carefully, with north to the top, making a dot every ten degrees. Then, using another piece of paper as a straight edge, he lined up each dot with the center hole at the top right of his page, drawing a line to the edge of the arc from each dot. Then, he labeled each one, starting at ninety and counting down by ten for each one.

When he was done, Trevor held up his handiwork and double-checked it against the compass rose.

Satisfied, Trevor removed the page from the journal and began assembling his astrolabe.

Using a few small pieces of his marine tape, he attached the plastic barrel of the pen to the top of the page, and then attached the end of the fishing line to a hole near the top right of the page, securing the line with a piece of tape on the back, and leaving a few inches.


Then, he went in search of a weight; anything small and heavy would do, and he chose a large metal washer that had once helped secure the galley counter to the hull. And with that, Trevor was done.


Taking his improvised astrolabe out on deck, he held it by the short piece of line from the top, and lined up the pen barrel on the sun, angling it so the sun shone down the length, leaving a tiny circle of sunlight in the patch of shadow on his stomach.

Trying to hold steady against the slight motion of Atlantis, Trevor watched the sighting line, and saw that it was near the twenty degree mark, which, he guessed, was about right for the time of day; a couple of hours past noon.

Satisfied with his design, Trevor took it inside for one final step: he taped the paper and tube to a scrap of plywood, which gave it both rigidity and mass, making it easier and more accurate to use.

As noon of the following day approached, Trevor took frequent sights, and found that the sun reached almost to the halfway between the ten and twenty degree marks. Grinning, he knew he’d done it; that was roughly fourteen degrees, which was what he estimated for his current latitude. He could not know it, but he’d come within in degree of his actual latitude. Trevor knew that on land, an astrolabe is accurate to about one degree, but with the moving deck of Atlantis to contend with, he couldn’t expect even that amount of precision. To be within two degrees was what he hoped for, though he had no way to determine how successful he would be.

Trevor knew that a serious problem remained; his sightings were based on the assumption that the sun was over the equator, as it had been on the equinox a few days before.

Right now, just a few days past equinox, he knew he had it easy; the sun was roughly over the equator at noon. But, it was moving south every day, and its rate of change was not linear; it's fastest near the equinoxes. So, Trevor was faced with having to estimate that, because he knew it could cause a very large navigational error – over fifteen hundred miles latitude by the December solstice, which he realized could mean as much as several hundred miles by the time he reached Réunion.

Trevor needed to find a way to calculate the rate of daily change, otherwise every passing day would degrade his latitude calculations by over fifteen additional miles. The normal method was by consulting an astronomical table for the daily azimuth adjustment, but Trevor had nothing akin to that aboard. He couldn’t think of a solution, but knew there must be one, so he set the issue aside to work on other tasks.

His next need was a compass, but that proved far easier. Trevor retrieved the old plastic toolbox from his storage compartment, and looked at the hinges, finding what he hoped for: metal hinge pins. They were slightly rusty, which told him what he needed to know; they were almost certainly capable of being magnetized.

After struggling for a few minutes to pry one of the hinge pins free, Trevor took his prise to his crew cabin, where he began stroking it lengthwise with his magnet. After forty strokes, he tested it on his stainless steel sink, finding that it was now a small magnet.

Returning to the salon, Trevor found a small shard of thin wood paneling, and trimmed it down to the size of a can lid with his screwdriver. He then scratched a shallow groove in one side, to hold the magnetized pin. He then made an X in ink at one end of the notch.

Trevor added a canfull of salt water to the lid of the little toolbox, and set it between two floor joists in the salon. He then floated the piece of paneling, groove up, and laid the pin in it. It took a few moments, but the wood slowly rotated, aligning the pin to magnetic north and south. Trevor had a compass.

The only problem he could see was that the motion of Atlantis roiled the water, making the compass float move about. After thinking for a few moments, Trevor carried the toolbox to the port engine compartment, where he unclamped a fuel line and drained a couple of ounces of diesel into the compass water.

Returning to the salon, Trevor put his compass in place and watched it for a while. The diesel oil floated on the water, acting as a motion damper, giving his compass float a much more stable base.

As a final step, Trevor checked his compass against the shadows to be sure which end was north, and saw that he’d guessed right; his ink mark was at the north end. By watching the compass’ bearing as noon approached, he would see when the sun, casting shadows southward, aligned the shadows with the compass. That would be a more accurate way of determining noon.

The problem, he knew, was that compasses don’t point to geographic north; they point to magnetic north. The north magnetic pole is located near Canada’s arctic islands, and Trevor knew that the agonic line – the line of zero deviation – ran south from it. If you were west of that line in the United States, your compass would point east of true north. If you were east of the line, your compass would point west of true north. That’s called deviation, and the further east or west you go in the U.S., the greater it is. Trevor knew that in his homeport of Fort Pierce, the deviation was five degrees west. Therefore, in Fort Pierce, true north was five degrees to the right of magnetic north.

The agonic line in the United States runs roughly north to south, at roughly ninety degrees west longitude, but Trevor had no idea of its location elsewhere in the world. Trying to find a way, he envisioned a globe, and extended the agonic line mentally around it, which would put it also at ninety degrees east, in the Indian Ocean, though far to the east of his current approximate position of fifty-six degrees east longitude.

Basing his estimate on the fact that Fort Pierce was at roughly eighty west and had a five-degree variation, Trevor guessed that for him, the variation would be around fifteen degrees west.

It was a reasonable assumption, and indeed, the variation at his location was close to fifteen degrees west. However, that was more by happenstance than deduction, for what Trevor didn’t know is the roughly north-south lines of vitiation in the United States are the exception, not the rule. Due to perturbations in Earth’s magnetic field, in many parts of the world, the lines of variation and the agonic lines can run at all angles, including east to west, and even doubling back on themselves. At Trevor’s location, unbeknownst to him, the fifteen-degree west variation line ran east to west, not north to south as he assumed. The further south he went, the greater the west variation would become.

That night, just after sunset, Trevor stood on deck, looking at the stars. He knew only the rudiments of celestial navigation, but one fact he did know was that the southern hemisphere sky, unlike the north, did not possess an easily visible pole star like Polaris. In the southern hemisphere, mariners often found celestial south mainly by looking at the most easily recognizable of the southern hemisphere’s constellations, the Southern Cross.

Finding a cross-shaped constellation, Trevor looked at the length of its long axis, knowing that it pointed south, and mentally extended it by four times that length, which he knew would give him the approximate location of the southern celestial pole, and thus true south.

Trevor was relieved to see that Atlantis was heading southwest, exactly as he wanted. Then, by starlight, he stared at his improvised compass, seeing that his estimate of fifteen degrees west variation had been accurate. ‘That means I know how to find true north and also noon, all the way to Reunion,’ he thought, wrongly.

By virtue of his astrolabe and compass, Trevor had, for the moment, a moderately accurate way to determine his heading and latitude. What he did not have was a way to determine his longitude. For that, he faced the dilemma of countless ancient mariners; he needed a way to tell time accurately, so that the actual time of local noon could tell him his longitude. ‘Too bad those fucking pirates stole my watch and clocks,’ Trevor thought, trying but failing to come up with an alternative. ‘I’ll have to go by dead reckoning for longitude, no other choice,’ he thought.

Exhausted, bathed by the golden glow of sunset, Trevor stumbled into Joel’s cabin and fell asleep.





Atlantis' Page (see what Atlantis looks like)

© 2010 C James

feedback.gifPlease 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 expert help and advice,

and to Bondwriter for final Zeta-reading and advice.
A huge "Thank you!" to Orion, for the compass design and other help!

Thanks also to Rknapp, our resident Jersey Devil, for mechanical advice.

Any remaining errors are mine alone.

Copyright © 2013 C James; All Rights Reserved.

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For a seventeen year old he has a good headbands his shoulders . How many grown men would have given up by now, yet with nothing but scraps trevor is still soldiering on and surviving

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It's agonizing to have such a solid foundation and methodology and be stymied by an incorrect input or assumption. Trevor may be clueless to a lot of things but he had a solid analytical mind and is clutch in a crisis.


Thanks for the rich detail, the wonk in me is doing a happy dance.

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