Monday, May 14, 2007

Dave Chalmers Obit

1945 - 2007

"I trust the process of life.
I'm on an endless journey through eternity,
and I have plenty of time!"
-- Dave Chalmers

CORONADO -- David Chalmers, known as "DC" to his friends, didn't work. He didn't have a mortgage or a credit card. He had no computer or cell phone. And typical of so many from his generation, surfing was the primary motivation in his life.

And yet, people will be talking about him for generations to come.

Dave Chalmers was half of the surfing team of "DC & Max." With his terrier mutt he surfed every major point and reef break from Long Beach to Cabo San Lucas, sharing his philosophy and homegrown wisdom with everyone in his path.

In the 1970s the story of "DC & Max" was captured on film by the crew of "Those Amazing Animals," a national television show featuring cute pet tricks. They were recognized everywhere as surfing ambassadors, and Max was voted by the show's audiences as one of their "ten favorite amazing animals."

Unexpectedly for DC and Max it meant their simple lifestyle was thrust into the public spotlight, and a form of immortality no one could have imagined would ensue.

Surfer, gardener, surfboard repairman, poet Š Dave Chalmers died peacefully May 3 following a long bout with cancer. His family was with him and he was happy. He was 62 years old.

David Gordon Chalmers was born in Montreal, Canada in 1945. Two years later his family moved to San Diego. Dave and his sister attended Hilltop High School in Chula Vista.

For a time his life could be considered "normal." He married his high school sweetheart, had a son, held down a good job at Rohr, and even ran for Coronado City Council.

But the call of the sea and a less demanding lifestyle nagged at him constantly. He left his job. He and his wife separated. He devoted his time to the beach, and then one day a scruffy mutt with a bad over bite named Max entered his life.

Max was a Terrier mix that, according to one account from DC, was a gift from his wife in 1973. During their time together, DC & Max were the subject of two Surfer Magazine Extra features ('77 and '83), they were written about in Surfing Magazine, and Wind Surf Magazine.

The duo were also featured in the National Enquirer, San Diego Magazine, Coronado Magazine, the San Diego Union, Evening Tribune, the San Diego Log, and the Coronado Journal. Their picture adorned the cover of Visitor Magazine, and they made several appearances on local television news shows.

Along the way they were featured in a half-hour Mexican film, a Fruit & Berry Punch TV commercial, and the surf film, "A Matter of Style." During their five-minute segment in the surf film the crowd howled with enjoyment!

For another decade after the release of "Those Amazing Animals," syndicated reruns would air in places like Japan, Australia, Israel, and Mexico. DC would continue to receive mail all during that time period from people who had seen the show.

DC claimed he and the dog had surfed every point and reef break from Santa Barbara to Cabo San Lucas.

They surfed Rincon on an overhead day (six-foot-plus) and traveled across the border to Mexico more than 100 times. Twice DC let Max steer his father's sailboat from San Diego to Catalina.

Being with them in the water was an amazing adventure in itself. Chalmers' timing and agility on a big wave were well respected among his peers. He had great knowledge of the sport's history, the technique, and the "old school" approach to surfing often referred to today as "soul surfing."

He would spot a peak on the horizon before anyone else, paddle into the right spot, drop to the bottom of a sizeable wave, hit the drop-knee turn, and then join Max on the nose.

Max would hang on throughout, eyes focused on the wave the whole time. If the wave started to shut down, DC somehow would have one hand for the dog's scruffy neck, and another for his board (DC never wore a board leash) as he performed one of his patented "squatting island kick-outs."

There were times DC couldn't afford to put a good meal on his own table, but he always made sure Max had food to eat. In better times DC would roll ginseng, vitamins, and bee pollen into Max's dog biscuits to keep him healthy.

DC never tired of sharing Max with the kids, whether it was one or two on the street or at the beach, or entire classrooms.

When speaking to young students in the classroom, Max would stamp his "mark" on photos of the famous surfing couple. Coronado photographer Steve Ogles captured a perfect photograph of the two surfing in Coronado, of which 15,000 postcards were made. DC and Max were always equipped with a stack of postcards for curious children.

The simple life was what Dave Chalmers craved, and he did a pretty good job of capturing that dream up until the very end. Nothing made him happier than surfing point break waves, working in his garden, or hanging with friends.

His gardens were works of art, adorned with smatterings of flotsam and jetsam he retrieved from the beach -- lobster floats, nets, old signs, pieces of broken surfboards, and the like.

Part of a poem he wrote more than 30 years ago, called "Happy Simple Life," seems to sum up his lifestyle:

"My time is not of money, but of living and giving what I have learned in life, to those good friends of mine who have the time to listen."

David Chalmers is survived by his son Scott (and Shawna) Chalmers, two grandchildren (Tyler and Summer Chalmers), his sister Stephenie (and Tom) Garrett, and ex-wife Candy Aegerter. He is pre-deceased by parents, Raymond and Dolly Chalmers.

A paddle-out will take place Saturday, May 19, 9 a.m., between Gator Beach and Shipwrecks, near the Coronado Shores. The paddle-out will be followed by a Celebration of Life from 1-3 p.m., at Tent City Restaurant, 1100 Orange Avenue, Coronado. The family invites his many friends to participate at both events, and request that all donations be made in lieu of flowers to the San Diego Hospice (4311 Third Avenue, San Diego, CA 92103) "in memory of David Chalmers."


Dave's Obituary written by and courtesy of:
Joseph Ditler
Executive Director, Coronado Historical Association
Museum of History & Art
Coronado Visitor Center
joe at

Office Phone: (619) 435-7242 x 104

Friday, May 04, 2007

Waves of Warning 20

Chapter Twenty – The Shakedown Cruise

[ 20-TheShakedownCruise.pdf ]

Charles Atkins kept a weather eye on the horizon and the incoming surf as he steered towards the point of land offering a safe anchorage. L.J. Merrill and Jack Richards sat on either side of him in the cockpit of the Tom Swift, but their eyes were on the headland known as Razorblades, its name derived from the sharp, angled rock formations jutting into the sea. They were coming into the lee of the headland and were now close enough to the waves for the surfers to see clearly into the open mouths of the rolling tunnels.

Atkins turned the Alba_Sword’s bow out to sea and made sure they were safely in deep water where no waves could break.

“Drop anchor!”

“Aye, aye, Captain!” responded Ken Bucher standing out on the bow. He released the clamps and chain rattled through the hawsepipe. The hook sank quickly to the sandy bottom below. Atkins gave the propulsion system a short burst in reverse to set the anchor, and then came ahead a touch as Bucher pulled her up snug. The Tom Swift was now at rest.

“What orders, sir?” asked Jack Richards without a trace of sarcasm in his voice now that he’d gotten his attitude out of his system the day before.

“You guys go surfing if you want. It looks pretty good out there,” answered Atkins, smiling at Richards and glad the man had come around.

“Aye, aye, sir!” responded the men in the cockpit who quickly went below to get into their wetsuits. Ken Bucher was close behind them.

“You on it too, Kenny?”

“Nope, I’ve got more important things to do than go surfing.”

No one was in the water late this Sunday afternoon when the Tom Swift arrived. Access to Razors was highly restricted to owners of land surrounding the place, most of whom didn’t surf very well given the demands of making the kind of money required to buy property in the area. They were no match for the heavy swell mixed with storm surf, and the dirt parking lot was deserted. To the trained eye of surfers with real talent, however, the waves were excellent.

“All yours, Jack!”

Jack Richards heard L.J. Merrill yell to him as a set of ten footers pulled into the bay like spokes on a wheel. He had been the first to get into his wetsuit and launch his board off the transom of the Tom Swift. For a moment he had endless perfect waves all to himself. True to form, Jack Richards took the first one he could get.

One stroke take-off into a kick stall. Down the face to set up a first power turn off the bottom right on the sweet spot. Accelerate to full speed flight down the line. A touch on the inside rail up into a drift along the pitching crest.

Last second release into mid air free-fall. Land it, then another carving arc.

He glanced at the cockpit of the Tom Swift to see if Atkins was watching his performance. He was, but now the wave demanded Richards’ full attention.

He gouged another culvert into the base of the wave, driving his board up from the flats into a concave wall peeling like a lathe shaving down the Razor’s reef.

“Nice move,” said Charles Atkins, using a spyglass to check Richards’ facial expression up close with one eye while using the other to see the entire wave unfold, “A man possessed – though not by joy, Mr. Bucher. No childlike glee for the wallet, no fun on his face.”

Below decks, Ken Bucher was examining Alba_Sword schematics displayed on a console when he heard the comment through the hatch and thought his uncle was talking to him. He looked up for a second, only to hear a voice he’d known all his life.

“He’s a millionaire on a perfect wave with his friend cheering him on.

What more could a man want? Seems like the guy doesn’t quite know how to be happy, I’d say.”

Broad-shouldered with a deep tan and a naval crew cut, Frank Bucher had paddled out to the Tom Swift after coming down to the beach from his home in the hills overlooking that deserted stretch of coast. He’d joined Charles Atkins to watch Merrill and Richards ride waves, though not to see their surfing skills so much as to look for clues to their characters like dancers trying out for a master choreographer.

Richards finished his ride with a final turn through the tail-end section of the wave. He looked at the Tom Swift, but Atkins had his spyglass raised towards the horizon. He quickly spun his board around and began paddling with short quick strokes without thinking about the fact that there were now two men in the cockpit when he saw what Atkins was watching out in the take-off zone. L.J. Merrill was facing wave number four of the same set.

The wave would have closed out the place had the tide been a foot lower.

It looked powerful and threatening, but Merrill knew he had a chance to ride it.

The liquid wall was now almost vertical. His position was absolute edge-ofdisaster, a situation he’d faced a thousand times surfing around the world. He knew he would go, no matter what.

Three strokes and quick to his feet. Elevator drop ten feet straight down to the trough. Soul arch off the bottom, relaxed and arms spread like a hood ornament on a Rolls Royce, riding through a perfect double-overhead liquid tube. He drifted slightly sideways before his fins caught, giving him critical forward momentum at the last instant. He disappeared completely inside the tunnel of the perfect wave.

Bucher and Atkins watched with not a little bit of awe.

“Now that’s the genuine article!”

“Let’s see if he makes it.”

Jack Richards had his head down and paddled hard to make it over the wave, unaware that Merrill’s trail through the tube had put them on a collision course. Though almost blinded by spray inside the wave, Merrill shifted his weight back a hair, slowing his board just enough to miss his friend by inches.

But the loss of speed had consequences. He was swallowed completely by the clam-shell collapse of the wave’s last section. Yet his determination was that of a bulldog in a wide stance so solid nothing could budge him. The energy of the wave rolled forward. He popped out the back of the wave, completely unscathed and standing on his board.

Cheers were heard from the Tom Swift, though not from Jack Richards.

There were two more waves in the set, and he wanted one real bad. And indeed he got the last one, a smaller wave marred by residual white water from the previous waves, and the ride was bumpy and frustrating. He milked it all the way to the beach, but his two waves could not match what Merrill had done with one. With no satisfaction in his heart, Jack Richards began to slowly paddle back out to sea where L.J. Merrill sat in the sunlight.

“Hmm, these guys are pretty good. But there’s something about Richards that I don’t like.”

“Well, Frank, why don’t you paddle out there and get a closer look?”

“Not a bad idea. Can your other crewman come along?”

“As of last report, he had more important things to do than go surfing,” said Charles Atkins with a grin, “So I suggest he not be disturbed.”

Frank Bucher paused, and then sighed, before giving Atkins a smile and diving off the taffrail.

Below decks, Kenneth Bucher was completely immersed in studying the muscle and brains of the Tom Swift. Years ago he had asked his dad why they were called Alba_Swords.

“Well, my boy, I want them to ride waves as effortlessly as an albatross, and I think they will with a hull copied from the curves of a swordfish.”

Now the young man was finally aboard an Alba_Sword, and he wanted to learn everything he could about his father’s incredible invention.

From watching his dad build scale models in his workshop at home, Ken Bucher knew that the hull’s strength came from the use of materials developed for the SR-71 spy plane along with bamboo veneer and an epoxy process to give the featherweight material the strength of stainless steel. His dad had also spent a lot of time researching every Polynesian sailing craft known to modern man and a variety of high tech materials for the sails and masts to allow an Alba_Sword, like the wandering albatross, to always use the wind, no matter how weak or how strong, from gentle zephyrs to full gales.

After going through the digital schematics stored on the Swift’s computer, he traced the cables and hydraulics of the control, thrust and trim systems, noting how they interfaced with the ballast transfer tanks through a central processing unit connected to sensors throughout the entire hull. He marveled at the powerful gimbals and cylinders of the forward fins and hydroplanes, positioned like the pectorals of the swordfish for maximum maneuverability.

Making his way back to the propulsion units, he developed a mental picture of the remarkably integrated systems, lightweight components, and ichthyodynamic design required to voyage through the ocean with the agility of a fast attack apex predator. And then, in a flash moment of comprehension, he finally understood how his dad had solved the problem of voyaging thousands of miles from land, in huge waves too violent to be survived, by being able to find quiet safety with the touch of a few buttons.

“Candidate Bucher! You will be the duty cook. All hands will dine at 1800 hours. Commence galley duty in thirty minutes,” said Charles Atkins, not wanting to cut short the young man’s exercise in discovery too abruptly.

“Aye-aye, sir!” came the cheerful response from below decks. For a moment Ken Bucher looked out a porthole and saw a set coming in. Two surfers were in the takeoff zone, and a third was paddling towards them. But his curiosity got the better of him and he went back to examining the ballast sensor system. He didn’t think twice about it, since he’d seen his dad surf a hundred times, but he smiled when he realized that for L.J. Merrill and Jack Richards, it would be their first.

Frank Bucher timed his arrival at the take-off zone to coincide with that of an outside set. Not missing a stroke, he kept going right past Richards and Merrill, giving them only a nod as the first wave approached. They were completely surprised by the presence of another surfer in the water. They didn’t know who he was, but when the guy just kept paddling out to sea they figured he must have been one of the landowners since they didn’t know what he was doing paddling out so far - and concluded he didn’t either.

Suddenly they saw a wide carving curve of white water arc up and around wave number three. The surfer they’d dismissed as a kook suddenly appeared coming out of the trough, arms spread gracefully, gliding like a great sea bird across the unbroken face. The rider bore down on them at full speed before leaning back and carving a cutback that drenched them with a powerful blast of cold spray.

It was quite a shock for the world-traveled legend and the wealthy connoisseur of surfing at its best. L.J. Merrill realized he had just seen something beyond anything in his experience. Jack Richards was even more shaken. Atkins had told them that their surfing abilities might be judged as part of their candidacies. Now, not only had Merrill upstaged him, but some guy they didn’t even know had almost literally sent him to the showers.

The two dazed surfers looked at each other, but before they could say anything, they suddenly realized they were seriously caught inside by the rest of the set. There was no escape. They tried to duck dive under the first collapsing wall. No sale. They were thrown backwards over the falls holding on to their boards. They came up to the surface only to be bulldozed by the white water of three more waves.

While Merrill and Richards were taking it on the bean in the impact zone, Frank Bucher was finishing his ride inside. He looked over at the Tom Swift.

Charles Atkins, snapping his fingers and dancing around the cockpit, gave a big thumbs up to Bucher, who waved and then slowly paddled back out in the deep channel, smiling at the thought of two old pros putting a couple of rookies through some serious hazing that had only just begun.

Bucher arrived at the take-off zone just as Merrill and Richards were recovering from their ordeal. Their clocks had been thoroughly cleaned by mother nature, and there was no trace of ego or resentment as the stranger paddled up to them.

“How’d you do that? That was an unreal takeoff!”

“Did you make it all the way? How’d you do that?”

Their enthusiasm violated the code of cool amongst the best surfers, but Richards and Merrill knew they had just been put in their place by a master surfer, whoever he was.

“Hi guys! Mind if I join you? My name’s Frank Bucher.” He saw the awe -struck look in their eyes and turned it to his purpose.

“Some pretty good waves out here. Say, you boys surf pretty good! Who made that board, Richards? What kind of fins you got there, Merrill? Hey, here comes another set!”

Bucher began paddling out to sea, and Merrill noticed something unusual about the deck of Bucher’s board. But he never got a chance to ask him about it as the waves became very consistent, each groomed to perfection by the wind blowing from the land. The three surfers took turns riding the long waves down the headland for set after set. The sun was bright over the islands on the horizon. Their boat rested at anchor in the bay. It was a surfer’s paradise that couldn’t get any better, until a yellow flag with a black ball went up the mast of the Tom Swift.

“What do you make of that?” exclaimed L.J. Merrill.

“Simple, L.J., the Captain’s telling us to come in! No more surfing today!” said Frank Bucher without a moment’s hesitation.

“You can’t be serious! This is perfect out here!” protested Jack Richards.

“Yeah, uh, Frank do you think we can - - -”but L.J. Merrill never finished his sentence. Frank Bucher was already paddling toward the Alba_Sword.

Merrill had thought to wait out the lull and ride a last one in, but with Bucher paddling and not looking back, he shrugged at Richards and both men reluctantly began to follow in his wake.

They were climbing aboard the Tom Swift in the gathering dusk when the next set of waves came marching in toward the deserted coast, their smooth liquid faces no longer to be marred by the slicing tracks of man. And behind them, in an endless parade across the timeless ocean, more waves were coming, as they had for ten million years, to break perfectly where an ancient accident of geology had created a small bay to shape the ocean’s energy into spirals not unlike those of nautilus shells - or interstellar galaxies.

* * *

The dinner conversation was lively, with Charles Atkins and Frank Bucher speaking of nothing but how well Merrill and Richards had surfed, how good their waves were, and on and on. They knew that surfers like nothing more than to yap interminably about their rides, and the candidates were no exception as they fell for the ego-building hook, line and sinker.

“So Mr. Merrill, my son spent a week at one of your camps in Baja. He was impressed with your knowledge of the ocean. I take it you are still working as a surf guide?”

Merrill didn’t quite know what to say. Jack Richards did.

“Yes, he’s working for me, and that’s why we’re here.”

Frank Bucher then turned to Richards and sized him up as a very rich man in very good shape. About the same height as Merrill, same weight, but when Bucher’s gaze drilled into Richards’ eyes, set deep in a head freshly shaven, and he knew the man was not about innocence. There was something like fresh air in Merrill’s quiet, though well-traveled face. Jack Richards was another man entirely.

“Well, Jack, why would you have your surf guide bring you to OSOM?”

“I’m fortunate enough to be in a position where price is no object. You have my check for two hundred grand in escrow. Mr. Merrill has put us through a rigorous training regimen for the past six weeks in preparation for not only sailing with you, but for something even more challenging, we think. So I’ve brought along what I think will cover the price of a proposal we’d like to make.”

He pulled a piece of paper out of his pocket, unfolded it, and put it on the table. It was a check, the kind used for major transactions on Wall Street, and it was made out to OSOM. It was signed and dated. The amount had been left blank. Merrill held his breath. He was well aware of Richards’ audacity when it came to money, but this was over-the-top. He fully expected Frank Bucher to tell them to shove off right then and there.

“We’re not tour guides for hire, Jack. You sail under our command, and that’s that. So what’s this about a proposal?”

He ignored the check and shot Richards with a look that demanded an immediate answer.

“Captain Bucher, you’ll find I am quite prepared to make a significant contribution to your non-profit organization.”

“Yeah, I’ll bet. In fact, you probably need every tax write off you can get. Thanks just the same, but OSOM doesn’t need your largess. Now let’s cut the crap. You want to surfsail the Roaring Forties, that much is known,” said Bucher with a cutting edge to his voice, “Now, what else do you want? What’s the deal here, Merrill?”

“We want to be the first to ride the last undiscovered perfect wave on the planet. We want to time it perfectly to be there on the biggest day imaginable. I think the only way it can be done is by sailing with you. I know you have the best data on weather in the Roaring Forties, and I’m sure you’ll be out there looking to ride in front of the most powerful storm of the winter. In fact I’ve surfed throughout the Southern Hemisphere riding waves that you were probably also surfing before they got to me. If we can charter you and an Alba_Sword and set a course for the reef I found, we’ve got a chance to be there on the biggest day of the year in July or August.”

“You want to crew on an Alba_Sword just to get a surf session, L.J.? Why don’t you get Jackie Wallet here to rent a cruise ship and belly up to the bar?”

“Because someone else wants to surf this place, too, and we want to surprise them when they get there. Kinda like what happened when Amundsen beat Scott to the South Pole.”

“So who you are trying to beat, Richards?”

“Wavelife International.”

“Oh, and I bet your former employer must be in one this, is he not, L.J.? Well, that explains your newfound independence. And Richards, you must be interested in trying to take down a big corporation. So, tell me, why hasn’t anyone surfed this place?”

“Because it’s not on any map I could find,” said L.J. Merrill, “and I’ve seen a lot of maps, Frank, believe me. But I did a lot of research, found some evidence, and now that water temperatures have risen dramatically in this one remote zone of the South Pacific, I figured there might be some reefs with some perfect waves that nobody could have surfed even a few years ago. And I found what I was looking for.”

“Well, we have our preferred routes from New Zealand to Cape Horn and I’m sure your reef is well to the north of where we do our surfing. In fact we never go near all those archipelagos near the Gambier Group. Way too dangerous. And then there’s the issue of getting a permit from the Tahitians. What about that?”

“Wavelife already has it,” said Merrill, barely able to respond after Bucher’s perfect assessment of the entire situation.

“And so you need someone who can get you there without violating maritime law, and that means OSOM,” said Bucher with a knowing smile on his face for the legendary surf scout, “Pretty smart, Merrill. And I must say your theory about warm water incursions and new reefs to ride has piqued my curiosity, not to mention all the trouble you guys are going to – a big fat blank check just to outsmart a big corporation, not to mention a little revenge on the side, right L.J.?”

L.J. Merrill could look Frank Bucher in the eye. He had him dead to rights and he knew it. That’s why Bucher blithely made a decision he knew would surprise the legendary surf scout.

“So your candidacies as able-bodied passengers will proceed for the time being. As for your surf trip, that would be a wait-see at best. So tell your client to put his check away, because you’re not anywhere near your reef, L.J.,” he said with a slight scold to his voice, “That is, of course, if you even want to keep going at all.”

“By all means, Captain Bucher,” replied Merrill.

The Captain turned to Jack Richards.

“And you Richards? What say ye?” said Frank Bucher, his wicked grin and Gregory Peck-as-Ahab imitation catching Richards off guard, as intended.

“Affirmative, sir. Count me in,” said Richards, but not before his voice betrayed an instant of doubt.

“Well, that’s settled,” said Charles Atkins changing the subject after catching a quick glance from Frank Bucher, “Candidate Kenny, if nothing else you certainly qualify as a galley slave. Nice dinner.”

“Thanks, sir. Now with your permission I’ll secure the galley area.”

“That won’t be necessary, candidate,” he said, turning to Merrill and Richards, “Gentlemen, the cook never does the dishes . OSOM tradition. Need I say more? We weigh anchor in thirty minutes. Be on deck in a timely fashion for our departure. Frank let’s run a check of all systems . Mr. Bucher, please accompany us. You might learn something.”

Despite the intensity of the conversation with Frank Bucher, L.J. Merrill and Jack Richards were in high spirits and thought the assignment to clean up was just a good-natured part of the shakedown cruise. They divided the work of busing the dirty dishes, washing and stowing them. Everything in the galley was labeled, and they finished up so fast they were left wondering what else they could do. Now alone with time on their hands, they had a chance to reflect on the events of the day.

“You know, L.J., I think this is really going to work! Bucher’s an unreal surfer, and though he grilled us pretty good, I know he saw that check, and I bet he’s already thinking about how he can help us beat Clark and Wavelife.”

But L.J. Merrill wasn’t so sure. His addiction to surfing perfection had put him in dozens of tight spots over the years, predicaments Jack Richards liked to think he understood but had never really experienced. Of course, sitting on a ultra-high tech transoceanic surfsailing craft was not the Third World by any means, but Merrill’s instincts were never wrong.

“I don’t know Jack. Listen, there’s no way this is supposed to be this easy. Good food, great waves, all that chit-chat at the table, and so far all we’ve had to do is enjoy a coastal cruise, surf our brains out and do the dishes.”

“Nah, bro. These guys aren’t all that interested in working us over, not when our passages will net them major six figures and a lot more if we surf the reef. I bet you a grand Bucher takes that blank check and fills it out for a million bucks.”

“We’re a long way from that happening right now. First let’s see if we make it through the rest of this trip.”

“Listen, L.J., what could possibly happen? When it’s our watch, well, you did a good job learning how to drive on the way up the coast, and I was watching everything you did with the propulsion jets and all that. Our surfing was good, our seamanship will be good enough, and I’m sure Bucher won’t pass up that blank check when the time comes.”

“All the same, Jack, we’d better keep our guard up.”

It was easier said than done. After a great surf session and excellent food, the motion of the Tom Swift left both Jack Richards and L.J. Merrill more relaxed than alert. Even when they heard the anchor winch crank up and the systems of the Alba_Sword come alive, neither man’s confidence was replaced by humility when the Buchers raised sail just as the last of the sunset faded to dark blue. The wind was blowing stronger down from the hills and whistling out to sea, but since offshore winds create a surfer’s perfection, neither Merrill nor Richards felt any cause for alarm. As the Tom Swift left the protection of the bay with the moon rising over the Santa Ynez range, the two surfers were unaware that the winds of their paradise near the beach were the same winds of a sailor’s hell out in the Channel.

* * *

“Take the helm, Mr. Richards!”

Charles Atkins turned away from the wheel and spewed a stomach-full of dinner all over the deck. L.J. Merrill and Jack Richards were strapped in on either side of him beneath the thick Plexiglas dome protecting the cockpit. Their knuckles were white on their handgrips as the Tom Swift crashed through yet another swell the size of a box car. For the second time during the shakedown cruise, they were shocked into paralysis, but this time from raw fear, not admiration. It was one thing to be caught inside by a few big waves near the beach on a sunny afternoon. It was quite another to be facing waves that never stopped coming out of the night, far from the coast, on an ocean getting rougher by the minute.

Merrill looked at Richards, his face white with fear. Atkins was spewing and the Alba_Sword was losing headway. Someone had to take the helm, and Jack Richards was practically catatonic. This was a moment of truth, and Merrill stepped up.

“Aye-aye, sir!”

L.J. unhitched his harness, waited for Atkins to slide away from the wheel, and then grabbed it just as the captain let go with another gush of partially digested food spewing from his mouth.

“Forgot my seasick medicine. Steady as she goes, candidate. Maintain course but do not take in sail. Thruster use at your discretion. You’ll be relieved at midnight.”

Atkins opened the floor hatch and went below. The Buchers were in their hammocks wearing alpha-wave headsets that prevented seasickness and soothed their minds to sleep. Atkins swung up into his bunk. He pulled a headset over his ears and breathed from an inhaler developed by OSOM to combat seasickness. He smiled at his planned incapacitation, knowing that leaving Merrill and Richards to deal with what seemed to be an emergency would stress them bigtime . He checked his wrist chronometer. There were forty-five minutes to go before the watch changed, and that would be enough time for the two unwitting surfers to reveal much about themselves.

L.J. Merrill was now in control of the Tom Swift. He’d done exceptionally well at the helm on the passage up from Ventura, but that was nothing more than guiding the family sedan around the parking lot for his first driving lesson. Now he was behind the wheel of a four-wheel drive with no brakes on a mountain road twisting in three dimensions simultaneously. But he was a great surfer and soon he was climbing and dropping around sections using the Tom Swift like a huge surfboard.

Richards should have been impressed with what Merrill was accomplishing and grateful to him for responding to Atkins’ order the way he did. But the millionaire was in no mood to compliment or thank his partner for anything. He knew Atkins had put him on the spot, and that Merrill was right and they had been set up. He was angry all over again, just as he’d been in the Chapel, but this time he was ready to quit completely.

L.J. Merrill was loving every second of being in command at the helm, keeping the Alba_Sword on course, and feeling up to the challenge of facing wave after wave with skill and even a little daring. Finally there was a brief lull, and with no waves to deal with, he looked over his shoulder.

“Want to give it a try, Jack?” he said sincerely, though he knew full well Richards would not take the helm. So did Richards, who took Merrill’s offer the wrong way.

“That’s ok, L.J. You got us into this, now you get us out.”

Merrill shrugged and turned around to see a black wall of water dead ahead, its crest clearly higher than the foremast. He swung the wheel hard over to bank off the white water of the breaking wave. The Tom Swift sideslipped and her lee rail went under. She was about to roll right over when Merrill turned the wheel at the last second, hit the thrusters, and brought her around to let the wave pass harmlessly under the keel. His eyes were now riveted on the prow of the Alba_Sword and the waves clearly visible ahead in the moonlight coming out of the black North Pacific. He helmed her over, around and through the swells getting bigger with each succeeding set. He was fully up to the task, and his confidence grew by the minute.

Jack Richards felt nothing of the kind, knowing he was just supercargo now, irrelevant and useless. It was a feeling he hated, a feeling he knew all too well as a husband and a father. He suppressed his frustration with a smirk at thought of Merrill being nothing more than his flunky being paid to come through with the pressure on. He regretted the thought almost immediately, but he was almost at the end of his rope.

They were now twenty nautical miles out in the channel, at sea in a window wide open to the full fury of the North Pacific. The cold winds coming down the coast pushed a steep and relentless chop across the remains of the storm surf to mix with the massive swells coming from a thousand miles away. The Tom Swift was in her element as was L.J. Merrill. Adrenaline and endorphins rushed through his veins. He had mastered the moment, and all the insecurities, fears, and self-doubts chasing him through life were left far behind. In the midst of pure power he was in complete command, fearlessly facing wave after wave on a course straight into darkness. He was so comfortable with the situation and confident in his skills that he wouldn’t have minded all that much if he’d had to stand his watch at the helm for the rest of the night.

Jack Richards was hoping their watch would soon be over. The rough seas were getting to him big time, and after a long weekend, he was burning out fast. And the more exhilarated Merrill became, the more Richards hated the whole thing. Finally he could control himself no longer.

“Hey L.J.! Fuck this ! You’re such a hot shot, you don’t need me! I’m going below!”

The tone took Merrill by surprise. Richards’ words trip-switched a delicate synapse that crashed his euphoria into the anxiety of an addict about to be abandoned by his connect, someone he thought was his friend, a feeling he knew all too well. He closed his eyes to fight it off, but he couldn’t quite do it because he did need Jack Richards. He thought of what he wanted to say in reply and opened his eyes . It was then he faced the reality of a true nightmare.

The biggest wave of the night, well over thirty feet high, was about to come down hard on the Tom Swift. Merrill thought to turn down the face to run with it. The thought came too late. A thousand tons of cold water buried the Alba_Sword. The masts laid down automatically into failsafe deck fittings as the Tom Swift was completely submerged. The cockpit went black for a few seconds that seemed like minutes until the moonlight became stronger as the Alba_Sword’s buoyancy brought her up to the surface. L.J. Merrill and Jack Richards looked at each other with wide eyes for an instant. Then they saw what was directly ahead - the angry face of King Neptune himself.

A rogue wave of immense proportions loomed high above them. Merrill was frozen at the controls . The peak of the wave pitched forward and blotted out the sky. The Alba_Sword was swallowed whole. Strapped into their cockpit positions, the two surfers were helpless, and this time the moonlight did not reappear.

Charles Atkins was awakened by a sensor attached to his wrist. He glanced at the display over his bunk. They were thirty feet down, riding at zero bubble, with all systems in run-silent mode. He heard Frank Bucher roll out of his bunk, feet landing lightly on the deck, followed by his son. Atkins smiled when he thought of the two men in the cockpit who were by now probably ready for some relief.