But one day, in the middle of a cloudless day, on calm seas, a rogue wave materializes out of nowhere. Before anyone has time to brace themselves, the wave strikes and the captain-navigator-activities-director-cook is swept from the deck and lost at sea.
Just as quick as that. She's Gone.
They're going to make it.
The rest of the crew pick themselves up off the dripping deck, stunned. The first-mate-engineer-janitor-clown scans the water all around in a frantic attempt to locate the captain. Maybe she's not lost. Maybe she was able to grab a life ring on her way over. Maybe if he looks hard enough he'll see the smoky trail of a flare gun.
But there's nothing. This captain, the one he has crewed alongside for all these years to get this beautiful little ship from harbor to harbor, voyage after voyage, is nowhere to be found. The sea has taken her.
The first mate assesses the situation. The cadets are both present and accounted for. This is good. He quickly grabs emergency blankets and scoops them up and gets them inside where they can rest against the bulkhead. Alarm klaxons are sounding. The vessel is listing somewhat. This is concerning. The hull could be compromised. The engines are definitely not at full power. He can tell the originally plotted course is no longer possible, not with this damage. This is not good.
It's at this moment the realization hits him so hard he almost loses his sea legs for a moment.
He's been promoted.
He steadies himself against the railing and takes several deep breaths. He somehow manages to avoid vomiting.
He takes another deep, deep breath, holds it. He stands, willing his legs to stop quivering. He stands for a moment, thinking. He nods, lets out his breath in a heavy but determined sigh, sets his jaw, and steps into the wheelhouse.
He goes down the captain's duty list. He's watched the captain steer for years, and even spent some time at the helm a few times (but mostly just when the captain was needed elsewhere onboard and the charted course was well-mapped and clear). It's been years since he worked regularly in a galley, but he's no slouch. He sees the captain's sextant resting on top of the maps. He makes a mental note to write a joke for the ship's comedy night about how funny the word "sextant" is, but has no clue how to use it.
Another deep breath. He takes stock of his resources. He has the two cadets. They are inexperienced and scared but ready for duty. They have also been watching the captain. The senior cadet has already run to the galley and started pulling recipes. This is a good sign. He steps back out on the deck and cranes his neck upwards to glimpse the radio antenna, and sees it's untouched. This is good; he can radio nearby ships for help. He checks the distress beacon and confirms it has been activated. Before he can even reach for it, the radio receiver crackles. It's another ship reaching out. They have already picked up the beacon. Then another crackle, another nearby vessel responding to his distress call. Then another. And another. He sees a sail on the horizon. Exhaust from a smokestack on the other. Before long, there is an entire armada approaching. The radio handset is almost unusable, choked with other vessels extending offers of assistance and escort to safe harbor.
The two cadets step up on either side of the new captain and each places a hand gently on his back. He nods to each of them, his shipmates. He reaches out and, cautiously at first, places his hand on the wheel. He feels the wooden handle, the shallow grooves worn ever so gently in the shape of the former captains fingers where she gripped and turned this wheel for years and years. His fingers don't line up just perfectly; the grip feels awkward and unpracticed. But the wheel turns fine. He'll get the hang of it. He carefully eases the throttle forward. The ship, with its still-shivering crew, shudders and clangs. But it starts to move. The ship motors forward, with a lot more smoke than he'd like, and leaving behind only the hint of a wake, but forward. The battered crew is short their most capable sailor. There are duties that require skills nobody on board has learned yet. But they are moving forward. The ship is surrounded now by other vessels, with tow ropes in hand if needed, and life rings at the ready.
By now the daylight has begun to darken, and the reluctant captain raises his eyes to the horizon. The tiniest imaginable little pin-prick of light appears. Then it disappears. It reappears. It disappears. Reappears again. A beacon. He takes a long, slow deep breath. He lets it out. He smiles a weary smile at his crew. It will be a long, exhausting night, but this battered, listing ship is moving towards the harbor.
They're going to make it.