7. Two Fathoms

The boys were ensconced in the ship’s library, a cozy room with a fireplace, and two large armchairs, many books, a giant spinning globe, and atlases and maps. The boys had spread out some nautical charts before them and were gazing intently at the mass of symbols and squiggly lines with shapes in tan, blue and white patterns. Fergus explained.

“You see the white bits here,” Fergus said, gesturing to blobs on the chart, “this is the area most desirable for sailing. The blue bits are the areas of sea best avoided.”

“But that doesn’t make any sense since water is blue.”

“True. And see these tiny numbers? They indicate how deep the water is in that very spot. Sometimes in feet, but it could also be meters, or fathoms, which is another unit for measuring depth. And see these dotted lines around something? That shows a rock or other problem–something you had be sure you don’t run into. Hmmm. I don’t understand this bit, the purple colored lines–what’s a ‘Cable Area’ I wonder?”

The boys looked closer.

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6. In Rainbows

The next day, Dashiell spent the morning touring Fergus around the Friendship. Fergus’ feet were much improved and he could now walk longer distances, so he began the day doing laps around the perimeter of the vessel with his new friend, albeit slower than Dashiell, who, we can all agree, is uncannily speedy, even for a boy of 6. Both having woken early, they joined the sun as it rose, sailed through a small cloudburst, and then basked in a rainbow, which, although brief, was more brilliant than either boy had ever seen.

Dashiell could hardly wait to play all his favorite onboard games with Fergus. They began with basketball, a game only vaguely familiar to Fergus. Dashiell was an enthusiastic teacher, who gleefully demonstrated the more important aspects of the game, like running, dribbling, shooting, and most importantly, scoring. Although he was not very tall, Fergus did manage to make a few baskets, until his feet started to ache, so he sat down to watch Dashiell do lay-ups. As he watched, Fergus recalled that he did know something about this game: that it had been invented in 1891 by one James Naismith, who, though born in Canada, was of Scottish origin, and that’s why Fergus knew of him. Fergus explained to Dashiell that the early version of basketball that he knew well was a game called Duck on a Rock. Dashiell was eager to learn more about this strange and ancient game, so Fergus proceeded to elaborate.

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5. Homecoming

When it was time for Fergus to move out of the ship’s sick bay and into a cabin, there was no hesitation about where he would go to continue his recovery. He simply went with Dashiell to his family’s cabin—Mrs. Pierce’s old room.

And he went in a wheelchair.

You see, while on his longer-than-expected sea voyage to the Scottish isle of Skye, Fergus’s feet had gotten wet and stayed wet the entire time. His shoes, leather brogues, turned out to be a wholly unsuitable choice; they were quickly compromised by the salt water, the salt had eaten holes through the thin leather. He had tried to be barefoot while his socks dried, but they never did dry, and doing so only embedded splinters in his already sore feet.

The doctor had said it was “trench-foot,” and talked a bit about soldiers from the olden days being afflicted with such a condition. Fergus couldn’t understand what the poor man was on about since soldiers fought on horseback, and certainly not in the toilets. Nonetheless, he could see his feet were covered in open sores, and the clean bandages and medicine were helping matters greatly.

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4. Tea, Time

Dashiell and his family experienced quite a few mishaps while making their way from their home in the Pacific Northwest of the USA all the way across the Atlantic Ocean, to Norway, to embark on their sea voyage. So much in fact that they nearly missed the ship when it departed from Bergen.

It all started when they arrived at the airport (2 hours early), and learned their flight to Amsterdam had just been announced as delayed, due to heavy winds, and would not leave for another 4 hours. This meant they would certainly miss their connecting flight from Amsterdam to Bergen. However, this was easily remedied by the ferry ship company, who had made the flight bookings for them, and they were able to easily shift their reservations to a later flight.

This all seemed well and good, until the 3 travelers, weary from their 10-hour flight (plus 6 hours at the airport before departing), arrived in Amsterdam and were greeted by more scheduling bad news: their flight to Bergen had been canceled until tomorrow afternoon. Fighting tears, Dashiell lamented, “This has never happened to me!” and, “Don’t they know how far we’ve come?” and “Awww, will we ever be on the ship?”

They still had time to make the ferry’s sailing, but it was going to be uncomfortably close.

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3. Star Sailor

Fergus was vaguely aware of a burning sensation on the skin of his right wrist, but there was something heavy on his arm too, and whenever he tried to move this arm the burning was worse, so he kept it still. There was also a throbbing on his bum cheek and so he leaned slightly to the left in his bed, trying not to put any pressure on it.

At least he thought he was in a bed, of some kind. He knew he was laying down, and he thought that the boy, who looked like his cousin, was nearby, but couldn’t be sure.  A damp cool cloth on his forehead was replaced and he felt hot and cool at the same time. Someone covered him in a warmed blanket, which felt like it had just been in front of a blazing fire, tucking the edges around his body. He thought he had not felt this warm in years; it had been frigid on his ship, especially after he’d battled that last storm. He’d lost his only hat and gloves, and gotten soaked in sea spray and freezing rain. He could smell the sea in his nose still, feel the salt crystals stuck to his skin, sucking out the last of his body’s remaining moisture. The warmth of the blanket made him even more tired than usual, and so, being fairly certain he wasn’t at the helm of his ship, he let his eyes close.

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2. You Are Here

It was very quiet on board the Friendship since most passengers were likely still sleeping, or at the least still recovering privately from the previous night’s weather. Dashiell saw no one as he made his way quickly down the narrow carpeted corridor, away from his family’s cabin, toward the cafe. He knew this ship quite well now–he knew where all the stairways led and how to get from the library to the sauna, and where to find the pucks for shuffleboard, and if by chance he did forget a detail, he could easily consult the large framed map of the ship that stood in the lobby on an old wooden easel. He liked studying this colorful map, with its gleeful green “You are here” indicator–as if he’d forgotten he was standing in the lobby! Still, he liked having the information at hand, perfectly compact and summarized. Looking at it made what seemed previously unknowable knowable, and this allowed Dashiell to glimpse, for a moment, what it might be like to be an adult, or 9, or even 10 years old.

Now Dashiell had taken a tour of the ship’s bridge on the first day of their voyage. The bridge is where the ship’s officers navigate and sail the ship; it’s at the very front tip of the boat and it has great big pane windows, so the helmsman can see where to steer the ship, and there are large tables with maps strewn about them, and compasses, and blinking screens showing the positions of other ships and big rocks and other things you’d want to steer clear of.

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1. Gold

 

There was a great “thumph!,” then Dashiell found himself lying on something cold.

He looked around, then realized he was lieng on the smooth floor of the cabin. Had the storm tossed him out of his bunk bed?

He picked himself off the floor and gingerly stepped around his sleeping parents, then slipped out onto the balcony, clutching his flannel pajamas around his neck.

Dashiell expected to see great waves and splashing surf, but the sea was glassy and still now. A fog clung to the ship, a thick fog that made it hard to see, like he sometimes experienced at home, in the Pacific Northwest, when making the long car journey to school on cold fall mornings.  Dashiell could only just make out the faint line of the horizon, and what looked like a mountain far in the distance.

It was just approaching dawn on the MS Friendship, a ferry ship making its way north, way north, all the way up to the Arctic Circle; to the North Pole.

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