Guest contributor: Crash Barry

Serial Sunday: Crash Barry’s “Tough Island” (Episode 14)

categories: Cocktail Hour

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“Looking straight up through the shadowy mist…”

The phone rang just after I snorted the third long line of cocaine. It was Captain Donald calling. We were supposed to have the night off, but an unforeseen ship was heading out to sea, and it was our job to pick up Cap’n Craiger, who was piloting the visiting vessel.

My job as “lee captain” was to stand on the bow of The Dotted Eye as we pulled alongside ships. I held the bottom of the ladder steady while we picked up or dropped off the pilot. When the transfer was complete, we’d turn around and head home. For this, I earned 50 bucks. Great pay for less than an hour’s work.

We usually had a day’s notice, but on this foggy and moonless mid-December night, it was a matter of minutes. Donald had telephoned earlier to let me know a freighter was headed our way, but I missed the call because I was at my buddy’s fishhouse buying an eight ball of coke. If I’d known a ship was enroute, I would’ve skipped the blow and settled for a mellow puff of reefer and a nip or two of cheap Canadian whiskey. Instead, I was soaring. The cocaine was fine and the lines I’d razor-bladed in my shack on my mahogany table were gigantic.


Donald wasn’t sober either. He’d already enjoyed his monthly tall glass of Scotch when he was notified of the surprise ship. I could hear the slur in his voice.

Aboard The Dotted Eye, both of us aglow, we headed for the rendezvous. It was windy, but warm for December. A low-lying winter fog engulfed us. Looking straight up through the shadowy mist, I saw a million stars. Engorged with cocaine, my brain absorbed the beauty, then turned paranoid. What if we had an accident? The Coasties would conduct tests and discover Donald was drunk and I was coked to the gills.

The 600-foot-long ship was hidden by the night vapor, invisible but for a large green blip on Donald’s radar screen. As we got closer, Donald motioned for me to take my place on the bow. The sea had a slight chop, maybe two or three footers. Nothing I hadn’t handled a thousand times before, but enshrouded in fog, and worried by cocaine, the ocean loomed unpredictable and dangerous.

The sky above the fog banks suddenly caught fire. Giant balls of light flared like those old camera flashcubes and blinded me, destroying my night vision. The ship’s crew seemed to have energized every lantern, lamp, klieg and searchlight – from the main deck to the bridge, up the mast and into the glowing crow’s nest – a triangle of luminosity that transformed the vessel into the world’s largest Christmas tree.

Tough Island

Instinctively, I raised my right hand to shield my eyes and, in doing so, let go of the safety rope just as the sea surged, pushing the lobster boat hard, rolling her heavily to port. My body pitched toward the churning waters between us and the ship.

Everything went into slow motion. Was this the way I was gonna die? A hundred feet astern of The Dotted Eye, a pair of larger-than-man-sized propellers were turning, spinning, ready to slice, dice or drown me. An instant later, the lobster boat rolled back. I regained my footing. My right hand grabbed the safety line and didn’t let go.

Cap’n Craiger, a salty, sprightly 75-year-old elf of a man, clamored down the 50-foot rope ladder hanging from the ship’s lowest gunwale. He skipped the last five rungs and jumped, dropping himself onto The Dotted Eye, landing with a thump. Safe and sound. Donald turned us about, headed for home.

[To read episode 13, click here][To read episode 12, click here][To read episode 11, click here][To read episode 10, click here][To read episode 9, click here][To read Episode 8, click here.][To read Episode 7 click here][To read Episode 6, click herel[To read Episode 5, click here][To read Episode 4, click here][To read Episode 3, please click here][To read Episode 2, please click here][To start at the beginning with Episode One, please click here]

Crash by Crash

Crash Barry hasn’t died yet and lives near a marijuana grove in the hills of western Maine. His column One Maniac’s Meat appears monthly in The Bollard, and details his exploits as a sailor in the U.S. Coast Guard fighting the “War on Drugs” and the “War on Haitian Refugees.” His rollicking novel Sex, Drugs and Blueberries and the complete version of Tough Island are available at Maine bookstores and libraries or via or on Amazon. His latest book Marijuana Valley, Maine: A True Story will be published this fall. Crash occasionally blogs about turning a novel into a film at



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