A Selection from Traveling Incognito


The night the Pan-Oceanic Faith went down
in a storm in the North Pacific,
we were a hundred miles south of her,
another freighter
plowing through stormy seas.

As it turned out,
she was a sister ship—SIU, like us. Two of our crew
had boarded her in Seattle, months earlier.
But something about her
spooked them,
and before she sailed they signed off.

The sea that night was wild—with waves
breaking over our bow.
I had just been relieved at the wheel
when Sparks
stepped into the wheelhouse to report to the mate
that he’d picked up
an SOS . . .

When Conrad wrote, “The sea came at us
like a madman with an axe,”
he had it right.
Ten thousand tons of welded steel plate—buckled
and smashed, by water.

Three survivors, out of a crew of forty-two—
a messman,
the chief engineer, and one AB . . .

“Why those three?” we wondered
all the rest of the way in to Newport, Oregon,
and looked around
                weighing our chances,
sizing each other up.

        -- --Clemens Starck