The Pilgrims' Voyage
A crisp autumn morning sent brilliant sun sparkles dancing off the shiny sea. The great vessel, its sails billowing in the wind, anchored in the harbor at Plymouth, England while passengers for the New World struggled along the walkway, lugging their dreams wrapped up in neat bundles along with their possessions. For these were deeply religious people who sought freedom from the Church of England to practice their faith in their own way in a new land.
Anna English and her husband, Tom, struggled with a huge black trunk as William, their boy, tagged behind. This was the last of their baggage and once stowed, Anna stopped to survey her fellow passengers, hoping to find someone familiar. She was acquainted with all, but some were more familiar than others.
"Anna, isn't it a shame about the other ship, the Speedwell?" her friend, Margaret, asked. The other boat had been declared unseaworthy, and now only the Mayflower could make the trip.
"Yes, especially since now we are squeezed in tighter than ever," Anna replied.
"At least we are getting out of England."
Yes, we are getting out of England, and we will be free. Anna's heart beat a little faster as she watched beat-up trunks and heavy boxes moving past. She studied the graceful sails bulging above, the intricate framework of the ship, the wooden deck, and the rugged contraptions used to sail the boat. Seagulls swooped across the sky, and the smell of salt water tickled her nose. Looking toward the horizon she spied the expanse of endless blue, blue that reached forever, a sultry hue that at the other end splashed against shores that would be her new home. It was September 16, 1620, a day of new beginnings. Anna could feel stabss of joy in her heart, painful in their intensity.
Suddenly, the din on the ship intensified as sailors yelled while ropes and white sails twirled in a flurry of movement. Her spouse, Tom, hugged Anna and their son, William, as the massive ship jerked and shook when the heavy anchor was hoisted out of the water and lowered onto the deck. The boat swayed as skillful seamen tugged and pulled to make the sails fill with air.
The ship inched forward slowly, then faster. Her heart pounded as Anna felt the ship's movement, propelling them away from the shore. They were heading out to open sea. The Pilgrims cheered despite their normal seriousness. Anna clutched Tom's arm tight as the vessel picked up speed. She whispered good-bye to England wistfully. Soon they were flying like the wind! The journey had begun.
That evening, the Pilgrims gathered for a meal on board the ship. Their first concern was to thank God for a good and safe beginning to the voyage. They enjoyed an elaborate feast with fruits and vegetables that would not be available later in their journey. The supper was festive, hopeful, and full of good faith. Soon conditions would change.
The going remained slow at first, as the Pilgrims adjusted to the limitations of life at sea. On the ship, 101 passengers took residence, each eking out a space by squatter's rights, and Anna felt hopelessly confined in the tight quarters she had found for herself and her family. A cubicle with enough space to spread out a blanket to sleep was provided, and nothing more. Each day turned into the next in a monotony propelled by the motion of the sea. She made the most of it at first, but after two weeks, the strain took hold. To begin with, the motion of the boat made her sick, and she couldn't get used to it. She didn't dare go to the upper deck for fear the rocking would make her feel worse. Down below, many others were sick as well, and the stench of vomit and diarrhea made her more ill. She spent most of the time confined to her miniature sleeping area, resting and eating little for fear of bringing the food back up. The confinement transformed her into a caged animal, losing touch with life and its refinements, quickly scaling down to brute survival. The only day she ventured out of her cubicle was dreadful.
"Anna, how are you?" Her friend, Margaret, was the first person she saw. Concern cast a shadow over the other woman's face.
"Yes, you look pale, Sister. Let me get you something to eat."
Anna put out a hand to stop her friend. "No, please. I can't eat." She paused and looked around the ship. "How have things been up here on deck?"
"Not good. You see those people over there," Margaret nodded toward three men clustered together across from them. "There has been some fighting as to who has the right to what and so forth, and there is talk of splitting up when we get to Virginia. We are squeezed in so tight. Tempers are short."
"Splitting up! But we came to seek freedom together! To start a new colony!"
"It appears some folks would like their freedom not so much from England as from their neighbors," Margaret said, arching one eyebrow as she spoke.
Anna glared at the men to see lines of consternation on their faces. What was this unrest about? What had happened to their dream? She caught sight of Myles Standish and John Alden standing far off, studying the other group.
Shrugging her shoulders, she murmured, "God help us," before retreating to her cubicle.
Anna continued to be sick and soon lost track of time altogether. Life as she remembered distanced itself, and now she lived in a strange, new reality. It was a new existence living in a box, always hungry, and never being happy or occupied. Her husband and son gave up on her as incorrigible and waited to see if at the journey's end, she would come back to them. She felt dirty living in the lower deck with its sickening odors. The poor woman wore the same clothes as when they started, and her hair was a tangled mat looking more like a bird's nest than a woman's properly combed tresses.
Sometimes she would look around, and everything would seem suddenly new and different, unfamiliar and frightening, although she had been staring at the same walls and people for weeks. Her mind, suffering under the strain of the voyage, frequently played such tricks on her.
At night, she heard and sensed the sea until it enveloped her with its dark magic, bringing to mind legends of monsters, ghosts, and other ghastly creatures that lurked on the water and under it. Anna became a product of her environment. Fantasies such as ghosts seemed all too real to her as she listened to the ocean splashing against the boat, remaining mesmerized and under its trance. She lay rigid on her bed and listened to every creak and groan of the old boat. With each tremor or squeak, she shivered.
One night, it was worse than ever. She was dozing when a thunderous roar awakened her. A dream of dragon monsters on the sea left its eerie residue in her mind as she woke.
The storm, the worst they had encountered, rocked the boat while thunder and rain bombarded the vessel. Terrified, Anna crawled close to her husband, Thomas, and clung to him. When lightning flashed, illuminating the deck in an instant of electric horror, she screamed in a hollow empty wail that had a life of its own. Rain and thunder went on for hours, while the Pilgrims dug their Bibles out of musty old trunks and read the Scriptures with all their hearts, offering prayer to a merciful God to see them through the storm. A moody pink dawn brought an end to the torment when the rains quit.
The people came up on the deck in small, slow steps, still frightened, but gazing around to ascertain the damage. The Mayflower had made it, but a new problem presented itself. The storm had knocked them totally off course. They had lost their way to Virginia.
The news traveled around the ship like a firestorm. Its urgency snapped Anna back to reality, a slap in the face, a clarion call that something had to be done or she would be lost in this unfathomable hell for the rest of her life. She sought out her friend, Margaret.
"Margaret, what do you know about all this?"
"It's true. We are off course. We will land in the New World, but not in Virginia."
"Not in Virginia?"
"Somewhere else, along the coast all alone and lucky to be alive!"
Anna pondered this news as she felt a new strength rolling over in her soul, growing with each breath. At least they would still land in the New World. We will just have to make the best of things and thank God we are alive, she thought. Making a life in the wilderness would not be easy.
"I must help the others," she said as she gathered up her black skirt and rushed to where the Pilgrims were assembled.
Anna spent the next weeks holding hands and talking people through their fears. She encouraged others to have faith that they could still prosper in the new land although their plans had been ruined.
"We are a self-sufficient people. We will make a good life for ourselves, with God's help," she told one and all. Many felt heartened by her words and prayers. The only area where she had little influence was in the growing schism among the Pilgrims, but Alden and Standish were preparing a Compact to bind the group together again once they reached land.
Finally, on November 21, they spotted the coast. Anna ran to the deck to gaze out, straining to catch a glimpse of the wondrous New World where they planned to start new lives.
"YES, YES! There it is! There it is!" Anna screamed as she jumped up and down and pointed. Gazing at the golden shore, her heart was filled with wonder that was quickly replaced by restlessness. She wanted to get off the boat--needed to get off the boat. Clenching her fists, she waited as the Mayflower glided quickly toward land. All 101 Pilgrims were gathered on the deck when the anchor was dropped. They scattered off the ship in a wave of crazy euphoria as the good earth felt firm under foot again. They jumped and hugged one another in torrents of emotion long kept in check. The hardships and pain of the sea journey were forgotten.
Anna picked up sand in quiet wonder and strained it through her fingers. It glittered and streamed to the ground like tiny gems. She spun around and looked back to sea, pondering the expanse of endless blue, blue that reached out forever, that at its other end splashed against the shores of a land called England.
"With God's help, freedom," she said as she bowed her head in prayer.
Copyright 2006 JO Janoski