A short story from the deep
Days spent at sea with nothing to do. The pain of a sailor’s life.
No surprise then that stories, mischief, and mayhem pass the time.
It was on such a day that “the old devil diver” made an appearance on the C.S Lewis.
A sturdy old longliner steaming out of Aberdeen. She was heading for the Arctic fishing grounds north of Iceland.
New to the crew was the apprentice young Davie, on his first trip at sea.
Five days into eight-day steam and the crew were looking for mischief. As so often happens with youngsters Davie was a willing victim.
Keen to make a good impression on both the skipper and crew. Between long hours spent being seasick, he had spent his time trying to learn from the crew.
Now he was finally getting his sea legs. Hanging off the skipper and crews every word he was soaking up everything around him. Savoring the sights, the sounds, and the experience.
Not everyone was quite so keen. As usual, having a kid onboard was a pain in the ass. Yes, in the end, he would become an asset. But the first trip was always the worst. A heady mix of seasickness and enthusiasm.
Enough to drive you mad thought the skipper. Still, you couldn’t ignore the boy’s enthusiasm. Maybe you could dent it though.
As the young man headed below to deal with seasickness once again, a plan was forming in the skipper’s mind.
In the galley, the skipper told the crew of his plan over tea and cigarettes.
The legend of the old devil diver was born.
Like any good ‘wind up’ as they called it. They would have to start out slowly and build up to a terrifying but hilarious ending.
The next morning over breakfast it started. Little looks amongst the crew over the table. Small pieces of information shared. Lots of shaking heads, basically anything to build the tension and get the boy hooked.
Of course, the plan worked and after much hard thought, the mate took Davie aside. He told him the tale of the “Old devil diver”. These things were all superstition and rubbish he said. But sailors being superstitious people some of the crew believed the legend.
50 or so years ago in the 1880s, a boat had needed repairs at sea. The skipper was an awful man, tough on the crew and the alcohol. He was hated but he was also a diver.
As he jumped overboard in his gear to repair the boat the crew had cut his airlines and rope. The body never was found of course. But it was said that this wicked old skipper now haunted ships in the area, looking for his crew. They called him the “Old devil diver”. There were lots of reports about the crew going missing in the night. Only to reappear talking nonsense about a diver coming to kill them all.
As the day wore on, the tension rose. They were 2 days away from the grounds with lots to do in preparation. As the skipper tried to get the crew to work they seemed more and more distracted.
Having run out of patience the skipper decided to try and use the boy Davie. He couldn’t be any more useless than the rest of the crew.
Davie delighted spent the next several hours as the skipper’s best friend. Being shown how to set the compass, mend the lines, and prepare the bait. The afternoon and early evening passed in a blur.
As darkness descended the tension rose again. Over dinner, all the talk was of the diver.
As the crew broke up and went to bed, the skipper had another job for Davie.
“Davie I need you to go into the forepeak where we keep all the fishing gear and get me out the spare shackle.”
Delighted again to be of use, Davie grabbed a paraffin lamp and went below deck. At the front of the boat in the forepeak, he found an old-line, hooks, and barrels, in fact, a real mess.
As time passed he thought he could feel a presence in the room and some noise. It couldn’t be, it must be his imagination.
s time passed he again thought he heard maybe a grunt. No couldn’t be he said to himself. Just then he felt a light pressure on this ankle. Thinking it was caught up in some line, he turned to free it.
Only the sight that met him was otherworldly. No, it couldn’t be, but as the grunting got louder and the pressure on his ankle increased it became clear.
The old devil diver was real. Not only was it real but it had a hold of him.
He kicked and kicked as the old diver grabbed him tighter. After some time he got free, smashing the paraffin lamp in the process.
Running back down the dark corridors of the ship screaming as he ran. Davie fell over tools, hit his head on beams, but nothing could stop him. He had to get away and alert the crew.
He managed with some difficulty to get to the safety of the wheelhouse. “What the bloody hell happened to you?” asked the skipper.
Out of breath Davie started to tell his story. The crew listened intently with straight faces and serious concern.
“Sounds like you had a lucky escape their young man,” said one of the crew.
“Where’s Danny the Bosun,” asked another of the crew.
“He must’ve been taken when I got away,” said Davie full of concern.
It was clear what needed to happen. The crew would have to search the boat.
As they got out onto the deck, they got their first sight of the diver. As he came closer it seemed to be shouting and taking off his helmet.
In the half-light of the evening, he looked a little like Danny thought Davie.
As he turned around he to tell the skipper, the crew were all holding onto each other howling with laughter.
Davie realized what had happened. As youngsters often do, he took great offense. Refusing to speak to the skipper for the rest of the trip.
A week later though and he was back at sea again. All previous crimes against him forgotten. Dreaming of the day when he was in the wheelhouse and that old devil diver was loose on his boat…