The next morning I was roused from my bunk by the sound of shouted orders from above. I made my way topside to see the lines were about to be cast off. The captain spied me and after an abrupt good morning told me to heave to.
I moved to my station and we cast off and headed out to sea. When all the gear was stowed I stood at the railing and took deep breaths of the fresh salt air and admired the morning light. Once again I was out to sea and my spirits were lifted. A bit of morning chat with the other hands and then we were called to the mess for breakfast.
As we sat elbow to elbow at the mess tables the captain stood up and announced that our benefactor would come down soon to tell us what lay ahead. We were advised to keep mum until he was finished talking and he would take questions then.
The morning air and a week or so without a decent meal had given me a hearty appetite and I gave scant notice to anything else as I bent over my tray and filled my gob. There was much good-natured scuttlebutt in the air and I half listened until the galley fell silent and I noted the sound of footsteps on the steep wooden stairs.
I looked up and took note of the heavy boots and black woollen trousers I could see until he was standing at last on the final step. I let my gaze travel upward and was taken aback by the countenance of a tall imposing figure with a most distinguishing feature.
It was almost impossible not to stare and a quick glance around the galley confirmed that all other hands were looking at it too. This great swinging dick of a man had a wide scar that ran from ear to ear. He wore a collarless shirt and there was no doubt in my mind he bore the mark with no small sense of pride. He had skin like aged leather that glowed a deep reddish-brown. Hands the size of catcher’s mitts hung at his sides.
He cleared his throat and addressed us in a deep rumbling voice. “Good day mates. My name is Isaac, more than that about me you have no need to know. I have hired this ship, her captain and you good men to accompany me on a salvage operation as you’ve been told.”
He swivelled his head from side to side gauging the mood of the room. Satisfied, he continued. “We are in search of the remains of a ship called the Black Rock. Are any of you familiar with its history?”
Heads moved from side to side. “The Black Rock was a slave trading vessel out of Portsmouth that sailed between there and New Guinea from 1845 to 1881 when it disappeared. It collected gold from Indonesia and Papua New Guinea and travelled to Africa to buy slaves and bring them back to its home port.”
He stepped down into the galley and walked around the edges with his hands clasped behind his back. “No one knows what happened to the ship. It is believed that it sank in a savage storm in the Java Trench on its way to Africa.”
He turned and faced us all as a sly smile lifted the corners of his mouth. “Men, I know for certain two things. It never made it to the Java Trench in 1881 and it did not sink. We are going to find the gold that was plundered from the wreck of the Black Rock.”
He paused for effect as his smile broadened. “And men, we are all going to become very wealthy.”
Part 3 Tomorrow