The squall blew in as if from nowhere, filling the Surprise's sails with gale force winds that threatened to tear and shred them. Seasoned sailors climbed the rigging to dowse and furl the white canvas. Mr. Hollar barked an order for Doudle to ascend the mainmast to help them. Without being told twice, Doudle reached for the ropes and began to pull himself up. No sooner did he have his feet off the deck, a huge wave crashed over the ship, catching him off-guard. Before he realized what had happened, Doudle was caught by the force of the wave, swept across the starboard deck and over the side and into the boiling sea.
Falling head first into the dark water, he was knocked senseless for a moment. Bobbing to the surface, all he could hear was the roar of the wind and the fading cries of the men. One moment he was in the valley of monstrous waves and the next thrown high above them. Another wave crashed over him, sending him spinning under water, foam encircling his head, and he thought he had breathed his last. But the fickle sea was merciful that day, and he popped to the surface, coughing up foamy water and clinging to a barrel he knew had been tossed over to help him. It was common for the empty rum barrels to be thrown overboard whenever anyone fell into the sea with hopes it would find the unlucky man and help him float until help could find him. Just as quickly as the squall blew in, it blew itself out and Doudle found himself squinting up at a blue sky.
Lieutenant Mowett heard the cry of "MAN OVERBOARD!" and his heart sank. It was nearly impossible to recover a man once he had fallen over. In fact, it meant certain death, even if the man survived the fall in the first place.
Bonden, the coxswain, looked at him, waiting for orders. "Hard a lee!" Mowett cried out. It looked lighter back the way they had come.
"Aye sir!" Bonden answered and turned the wheel sharply. He knew the feel of the ship and was satisfied as it cut through the waves, making a wide circle as she turned and moved back the way she had come.
Doudle held onto the barrel and sighed, thankful he was alive. He shivered, feeling cold and exhausted, wondering what was to become of him. All he could do was float and wait. As he floated he bumped into a large clump of palm fronds. In the center of the fronds were three baby turtles looking curiously up at him. "I know how you feels, lads," he chuckled slightly and gave them a gentle push away.
The sky was clear now and Mowett had called for hands to search the waters. He had more volunteers than he needed for Doudle was a popular man and well loved by his shipmates. All eyes scanned in all directions.
"What do you think, Mr. Bonden?" he asked the coxswain.
"I started counting the minute we lost him, Sir. We should be roughly in the right area."
The two men looked at each other. It was a belief that if you counted the seconds back to where you needed to return that you would end up in roughly the same position you had left. They both knew how unreliable counting off seconds was but still there was the hope they would return to the point where Doudle was swept off the Surprise.
"Sir! To the starboard!" Joe Nagel sang out as he pointed.
Doudle heard the squawking of birds overhead. Looking up, he saw that they were flying to and fro from the same general direction. As he studied them, his eyes were drawn to the horizon where the peak of an island loomed above the skyline.
Frantically, he began paddling towards it, using the barrel as a float. Licking his lips he tasted salt and prayed there was fresh water on the island.
Mowett stared intently at the island. Now he had a hard choice; to set into land and hope Doudle had made his way to it or continue the search at sea.
"Mr. Hollar!" he called out to the boatswain. "I need some volunteers. Load a boat with provisions for the day and send them to that island. We'll stay at sea for another hour and return for you at nightfall. Give Mr. Blakeney command of the crew. Perhaps we can replenish our water while you're there."
"Aye sir," Hollar saluted as his voice sang across the deck, giving commands.
Doudle washed up on shore and collapsed on the white sand, exhausted. It was burning hot from the afternoon sun and shortly he sought the solitude in the shade of some trees. After catching his breath, he sat up in the dappled shade and wondered if there was fresh water somewhere on the island. If there was, he was going to have to find it and soon, and so he began to move inland through the trees when he heard a strange noise. Startled, he spun and came face to face with a buck. Sporting a magnificent pair of antlers, the deer's eyes were wide as he scented the air, trying to determine if this strange creature was friend or foe. Stamping his foot in protest, his nostrils flared wide as he decided foe, then bolted off through the woods. It was all the verification Doudle needed.
Slowly moving through the undergrowth for the better part of an hour, he heard the sound of trickling water and came upon a large pond being fed by a small waterfall as it flowed over a huge rock. Cupping his hand into the water he withdrew some and sipped it. It was sweet and fresh. Sticking his head in, he thirstily drank his fill. Finally he crawled in, allowing the salt to wash away from his skin and hair.
On the opposite side of the pond he spotted some wild grapes growing on the side of some rocks and swam over to feast on the fruit. Eating his fill, he removed his wet clothing and laid them on the rocks to dry. The ground beneath him was covered in a soft, green moss, so he laid down and, in the coolness of the trees, fell into an exhausted sleep
The empty water barrels were secured on the boat, the small crew rowed towards the island. The Surprise had unfurled its sails and moved around the island looking for Doudle. As Mowett paced the deck, his hands were clasped behind his back, a frown stretched across his face as the crew searched the water from both sides of the ship and from the masts.