… continued from Notes in the Dark
The beach lay strewn with fallen trees, a bounty of choice from which to find three relatively straight and sturdy spars. Anna took her inspiration from the Keplerians’ own design, as she knew it was a good one. Lateen rigs had served ancient humanity well, from early days moving goods through Egyptian waters, to latter days on small boats for training young sailors. An easily handled rig, it would give them some modest upwind capacity using the materials at hand.
With plenty of climbing rope available, Anna and Laxmi soon had the mast stepped into the bottom of the raft and stayed forward and to either side. To avoid the need of a backstay, Anna rigged the port and starboard shrouds to pontoon handholds a meter aft of the mast step.
The shuttle’s emergency gear included five parachutes, just one of which provided more than enough material for a sail. Anna doubted the expedition planners at EASEA ever imagined them being put to such a use. Laxmi got to work cutting the parachute to the triangular shape Anna specified, and then they used the parachute cords to secure the sail to the boom and gaff they had chosen from among the downed trees. With some experimentation they determined the best location to secure a halyard to the gaff, and the first time they hoisted the gaff and its suspended sail up the mast, they both cheered, their dire straits momentarily forgotten in the sense of accomplishment.
More climbing rope and a block and tackle hoist became the mainsheet for controlling the sail’s angle. Artfully arranged palms fashioned both rudder and a pair of daggerboards, which they then suspended from outriggers, turning the once-utilitarian raft into a makeshift trimaran. Another parachute found new duty as a deck cover, enclosing most of the raft’s interior for protection from sun and weather, and to help keep waves from swamping the small boat.
Construction took them most of the day, and when the sun settled once again behind the crook in the shoulder of the island’s tall, green mountain, Anna looked for the flash of light that first drew her attention to the ancient caves and their crystal windows. The turquoise sky dimmed through pale viridescent shades, deepening quickly toward twilight, but the flash did not recur. What if she had not looked at just the right moment, on just the right day, when the setting sun lit up that crystal? Would she and Laxmi have explored the island as they did? Would they have discovered the caves? Or instead, would they have been here with Jaci when the Keplerian visitors arrived? And what then?
Enough what-ifs. There was still plenty of work to be done before they could sail out of the lagoon. The desalinator would require power, so Anna’s next task would be to remove and adapt a pair of solar panels from the shuttle, as well as decoupling the desalinator itself from the shuttle’s plumbing. Turning on her headlamp and grabbing a toolkit, she climbed up onto the short delta wing, where she could just about reach one of the heat-shielded hatches protecting the panels, thermal radiators, and other gear during atmospheric entry.
“Laxmi, could you go into the cockpit and extend the solar arrays? And then be sure to disengage them from the power circuits.”
There was no answer. Anna turned around and looked at the raft tied alongside the shuttle, forward of the wing, and then out into the darkness.
A headlamp shone out from the airlock, turned up toward Anna, momentarily blinding her. Anna shielded her eyes, until Laxmi turned the light away again.
“Sorry about that! Here, I’ve heated up some dinner for us. Of course, it’s not anything like what Jaci would do, but…”
“Laxmi, we don’t have time for dinner. I’ll just eat a protein bar later. We need to keep moving on this so we can get underway. Can you go extend the solar arrays? And then while I’m detaching them, we’re going to need to calibrate the inertial compass, then…”
“Anna, stop. Listen to me. The boat is basically ready, we just need to load up. We can’t leave until morning anyway, so you have time to eat a proper meal, and to get some rest as well. You need it as badly as I do.”
“We’re going to be sailing day and night, so we may as well start as soon as we can push off.”
“Yes, we are, but can you find that reef passage in the dark? We need daylight to get out of the lagoon. That is, unless you want to smash up our brand-new sailing raft on what passes for coral on this planet.”
“But they’ve got Jaci, and they’re getting farther away!”
“Anna, they’re already over the horizon. At best we know they went southeast from here, but after that… Listen, I’m not saying we shouldn’t go after them, but I am saying that they have so much lead on us already that one more night isn’t going to make much difference. We might be out there for a long time, Anna. It’s a big ocean, and they know it far better than we do. Which is why, by the way, you need to eat the local food that I’ve made here, and save the protein bars for later. We don’t know how long it might be before we find any more food, so we have to keep the bars in reserve.”
Anna deflated, all the energy draining out of her. She sat down on the wing and looked into the dark water. She took a deep breath before responding.
“Are we really doing any good here? It felt good to be doing something, building that raft into a sailing vessel, but you’re right. What hope do we have of finding a small boat on a big ocean?”
“Almost none, probably. But what hope have we had at any point in the last few weeks? We thought to use the radio to remote-pilot the lander and bring it down here, but the storm fried the radio. We thought to repair the scramjets on the shuttle so we could fly to the elevator, but the storm has done us in there, too. But Anna, each time we have a setback, we make a new plan and keep moving forward. And that’s largely you. You keep driving us forward.”
“I’m all out of ideas, Laxmi.”
“Then how about this for an idea? We don’t know where the Keplerians took Jaci. You’re right, it’s a fool’s errand to try to find them on that ocean. But we do know where the elevator is. And, you can bet the Keplerians know where it is, too, since they’ve lived with it all this time. It’s as likely a spot for them to go as any other, isn’t it? How far is it?”
“Before we crashed, I estimated we were still roughly a thousand kilometers from it. But it’s northeast from here. The Keplerians sailed to the southeast.”
“How long would it take us to sail there?”
“Well, it’s almost straight upwind, so we’d have to make a long tack to…” Anna drifted off, a thought occurring to her.
“To the southeast. Laxmi, you’re right, it is possible that’s where they were sailing! They wouldn’t be able to go straight there, so they would need to make a long reach southeast first, same as us. Of course, that doesn’t mean they’re going there, but…”
“So how many days?”
Anna looked at their raft, floating light in the water, even though it was a little rough and ungainly seeming.
“Well, she’s probably not the fastest boat ever, but if the trade wind keeps up, even beating against it, we can probably make a hundred-fifty kilometers per day. But that’s straight-line distance, not distance made good, so allowing for about a seven-hundred kilometer reach before we tack… I think we can do it in ten or twelve days.”
“Great. Well, I have some good news for you for once. Jaci was not idle while you worked on the scramjets, nor while you and I climbed that mountain. He did a lot of harvesting of fruits and veggies, and he bagged a lot of stuff. He also prepped quite a few meals, ‘ready to heat and eat,’ as I think I heard him say once. I don’t know if it will all last the entire trip, or how fast it’ll rot — that’s why we need to save the protein bars — but there’s enough here for both of us for at least ten days if we’re careful. And as for water, I don’t think you need to worry about the desalinator. The shuttle’s tanks are full. There’s far more than we can possibly carry on the raft, but I’ve rounded up whatever jugs and bladders I can find, and we should easily be able to carry fifteen days or more of drinking water. We’ll just have to pray for rain if you want to shower.”
“So we’re ready to go, then.”
“Well, we still have to pack the stuff into the boat, but yes. So come on down from there, have some dinner, and then let’s get a night’s rest before we recreate the voyage of the Kon-Tiki, ok?”
Anna laughed. “Didn’t the Kon-Tiki sink? Are you sure that’s who we want to invoke?”
“On the contrary, you who profess to know so much about sailing. It did not sink. It was wrecked on some rocks, but everyone made it ok. But the important part is not that it wrecked, but where it wrecked. Basically it washed up on the beach of the island they were trying to get to, so seems like a good omen to me for our own little sea voyage.”
… continued with Reef Passage
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