Once she sailed like a prize race horse, creating havoc on the high seas but time and the elements had been rough on the ship, and the crew weary. When the GREEN LEAF had been sighted, Semmes had his doubts on being able to capture her. The ALABAMA was a tired ship and nobody knew that better than her master. Captain Semmes, known as “Old Beeswax” to his crew, was not known as a sociable man to his crew but for some unknown reason he took a liking to the young cabin boy from the clipper ship and impressed with quick ability to learn, gave the young boy instruction on navigation and seamanship, even going so far as to offer Robert a place aboard the Confederate ship, a position which the boy regretfully declined.
Eleven days after the burning of the GREEN LEAF, the ALABAMA captured the NORTH STAR, a Yankee whaler and in order to rid his ship of the prisoners they had accumulated, Semmes bonded the ship and transferred his guests to her.
Upon leaving Robert shook hands with the ALABAMA’s Captain, “Good luck to you sir.”
The older man smiled, “When the war is over, you come and see me lad and tell me of your adventures.”
Robert grinned, “Thank you sir, I will.” That said, he climbed into the ship’s boat and left the ALABAMA for the whaler and for what he hoped would be the journey home. It didn’t take long before he was put to work. Once again, he was washing dishes and peeling potatoes to earn his keep.
Three days later the NORTH STAR met a typhoon, and it was a bad one. There was confusion, Collier, overstepping his authority, attempted to override orders given by the whaling master making it difficult for the NORTH STAR’s captain to keep control, which was failing fast. And while there were those aboard who tried working the ship, others rushed for the boats. They knew the whaling ship would soon founder, taking all aboard into the cold, dark depths.
Young Robert Wyatt, held onto a starboard backstay, tears streaming down his face that even the wind and the rain could not hide. This was where he was going to die and he was afraid. Men argued and cursed one another. The wind screamed as well as living souls trying to survive the fury of nature. When the NORTH STAR heeled over, Robert was among those thrown overboard into the boiling, unforgiving waters, into the darkness and sure death.
How long had he been in the water, one hour, two hours? He was sure it was longer. He laughed at himself for repeating his train of thought. Had he been there one day or two, one week or one month? After a period of time he didn’t know how long he’d been in the water and for him, it ceased to matter.
He was hungry and thirsty. He found some cordage and secured himself to the spar so he could rest with some relative security and while sleep was possible, it was difficult to rid himself of the desire for food and drink. Cold fresh milk, oranges and watermelons…he thought of those things and remembered how good they tasted. Cold, cold, sweet milk and fruits with juices running down his chin, these were easy things for him to imagine, so he did so. It separated him from the cruel reality he was experiencing and the more he thought about it, a fantasy world filled with comfort and food would be a much better place to die then where he was at the moment, but then again, anyplace would be better. That he was sure of.
At the fall of night, he was cold and shivered. His teeth chattered like some child’s mechanical toy. The cold seeped into his bones, his inner core becoming cooler, his strength slowly draining away. Was the cold his friend or his enemy? Why did he have so many questions?