This mini-book is based on the author’s memories of an eye-opening, jaw-dropping, voyage on a tramp freighter that took him on a seven-week voyage half way around the world when he was yet an unworldly young man.
The first story, Bellingshausen Island, is set decades after the author first sailed through a winter storm in forty-foot seas, experiencing the excitement of sailing the same waters as a hijacked cruise ship, transit of the Panama Canal, breakdown of the tramp’s engine days out in the Pacific Ocean, a refrigerated freighter smashed up on Middleton Reef, albatross, flying fish, playful dolphins, huge sea turtles, remote coral atolls, sun-drenched tropic isles, and the ascending Southern Cross.
He decides to seek out Bellingshausen Island, a dot in the Pacific that he caught sight of in the distance from the bridge wing of the Eastern Skies. He finds, however, that there are at least three Bellingshausen Islands, but he is able to determine that his Bellingshausen in a remote spot in the outer fringes of the Society Islands. In his old-man dreams, he imagines himself flying to Tahiti, chartering a light plane to take him closer to his destination, and finally hitching a ride on a fishing boat to reach coral atolls, sandy shores, swaying palms, cirrus puffs in clear skies overhead, and beckoning island maidens.
He accepts that he is old – but not dead – and insists that although blood of adventure might not surge, it trickles gamely along through his tired old veins. The mellowed poet in his importuning soul is rapt in anticipation of South Sea wonders to puff and swagger about. He can just about taste the salt air already!
The second story, The Castaway, begins with the author and his wife enjoying a cruise on a long, sleek riverboat sliding along the storied Danube River. As they head for their last port of call, Budapest, the author is taken back more than four decades to when he met a young man, Sandy, who had escaped from the failed 1956 Hungarian uprising against Soviet oppression, failed to find the new life he had hoped for in northern Ontario, and boarded the Australia-bound m/v Eastern Skies in Saint John, New Brunswick. The two met for a few days.
The Hungarian’s second attempt at a new life – this time in Australia – is foiled when the Eastern Skies’ captain tosses the European immigrant of the ship in Corner Brook, Newfoundland, where his austral hopes and dreams dissipate in the January mist coming off the Gulf of St Lawrence.