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  • Grant Holt

The Sinking of the Kokovoko


Loss of HMS Victory, Peter Monamy, 18th Century


On the night of January sixth, the cargo ship Kokovoko left port under the steadfast leadership of Captain Saldo. His crew, a loyal bunch, regarded the good captain with utmost respect and devotion. The crew would never give up, not even in the face of total disaster.


On the morning of January seventh, the ship was sinking.


Everyone, save for first mate Alfie Grubbs and Captain Saldo, had abandoned the ship. All lifeboats but one had been filled and released. With a watery demise on the horizon, Grubbs and Saldo ran to the last boat. Grubbs hopped in. Saldo remained on deck.


“Captain,” Grubbs said, “Get in the boat.”


Saldo did not.


“Captain,” Grubbs said, “the ship is sinking. Fast.”


“Who am I?” Saldo said.


Grubbs did not think now was the time for philosophical musings. But Captain Saldo did. That was enough for Grubbs.


“Captain,” Grubbs said, “can we talk on the boat?”


Saldo turned, and strolled back to his quarters. Grubbs unwound a rope binding the lifeboat to the ship, then stopped. He rewound it, and hopped back on deck.


Grubbs could not abandon the man who had found him as a baby in a basket. He could not abandon the man who had put him through law school. He could not abandon the man who had supported him when he dropped out of law school. He could not abandon the man who had taught him to love the sea.


He could not abandon Saldo.


In the Captain’s Quarters, Grubbs found Saldo reclining in his favorite chair, an import from some distant land. A record was playing sea shanties.


Saldo was a sucker for sea shanties.


Grubbs stood in the doorway to the quarters. He saw the captain at peace, then walked over and slapped him across the face. Saldo barely flinched.


“Captain, the ship is gaining water,” Grubbs said, “and yet you recline in your chair as if everything is going to be fine.”


“I was once a cabin boy, you know,” Saldo said, “a long time ago. The captain back then—a man named James Becker—taught me everything I know. He was a good man. A good captain.”


Grubbs listened. Water trickled into the quarters. Saldo rose from the chair.


“I started peeling potatoes,” Saldo said, “then I was promoted to caulking. Soon I became Becker’s first mate.”


Saldo turned to his desk, took off his hat, and set it down.


“I’ve lived my whole life on this ship. She’s been there for me, and I for her.


“There are many ships, sir, you’ll find another.”


“You ought to go, Mr. Grubbs.”


“But you’ll die, Sir.”


“So be it.”


“I’ll die, Sir.”


Saldo brushed his hand through his hair.


“Mr. Grubbs,” Saldo said, “what is your job?”


“To sail as if each day,” Grubbs said, “is my last, Sir.”


“That is correct.” Saldo approached Grubbs, resting a hand on his shoulder.


“And what is mine?”


“To be the captain of this ship,” Grubbs said, “until the end.”


Saldo smiled, and turned his back. He walked across the room, and peered out the porthole window. The sea was calm.


“Mr. Grubbs,” Saldo said, “this is the end.”


And the water rushed in.