Drinking with The Captain

Jeffrey Wiser, August 19, 2014

I was never up big like this.

In all of our card games, which I generally only participated to appease my fellow crew members, but I suppose also to pass the long hours, I was never up big like this. I couldn’t lose? Straights. Full houses. Threes of a kind. I even won high card with a nine! Like the heavy seas we had been navigating for the past two months, I couldn’t be stopped.

Then the alarm rang. At this hour, what could it be? We were way past working hours and were making our way to the cannery so as to arrive a few hours before dawn; there was no obvious reason for the alarm to sound at this late evening hour. We looked around the table and from bunk to bunk, every crewmember with a look more puzzled than the last.

“Gotta be a mistake, right?” Thompson said, breaking our panicked silence.

“Yeah, yeah has to be. That or a prank.” I replied.

“Oh man, I feel bad for the poor son of a bitch who thought sounding the alarm would be funny. Captain Ruhstaller will kill…” Turner surmised before the door to the crew’s quarters flew open with unrealized authority.

“On your feet, dammit!” Captain Ruhstaller screamed as the large, intimidating man filled our doorway. “What the hell? Is my entire crew deaf? Nelson’s gone overboard. Every man to your rafts! We have to find him within five minutes or he’s dead and you boys are trying to finish your card game? To your rafts right now!” the Captain roared.

Each crewmember grabbed the warmest piece of clothing within arm’s reach and pulled it on while running out the door, climbing the wet, slippery iron stairs and racing to one of three designated rafts. Turner and I ripped the ropes from number two and lowered it to the black ocean below, then climbed down and in. We had covered some water since the siren roared at least two minutes prior. Turner tugged the motor alive and grabbed the throttle, whipping us around recklessly, nearly tossing me into the ocean. Once we straightened out, I shot him a glare.

“Hey man, I’m not trying to go for a swim tonight!” I shouted over the roar of our engine and the cold, ripping wind. We followed the foam straight back from the ship until the trail ran out, consumed by the rough water. The true black of the ocean at night was only interrupted by the brilliance of a nearly full moon, which jumped behind intermittent clouds. The splashing mist coming off the bow of the raft was unpleasant, but I kept my eyes peeled for any sign of life.

Two minutes in and I was starting to wonder if Nelson were still alive. The Pacific is unforgiving, even in these more temperate waters, I thought. Just as the realization of pulling a dead body from the sea started to creep into my mind, an uncharacteristic splash to my right caught my attention. Nelson.

We pulled him aboard, ripped off his cold, wet clothes as he could barely move, removed our own to our skivvies and wrapped him for warmth. Turner raced back to the ship, where we were raised aboard and got Nelson situated.

“That is a dumb, dumb man right there. But I have to admit, he’s lucky, too,” Turner said as the cooks pulled carried Nelson into the warm kitchen. “He’ll live,” said the lead cook. “He’ll live.”

“Who spotted him?” asked The Captain.

“I did, sir,” I replied, still shivering from the naked ride back to the ship, now wrapped in a large overcoat.

“Come with me,” he said and as he headed to his quarters.

The Captain’s quarters were something of a legend. No one was allowed inside and we’d spent countless hours dreaming of the plush living quarters Captain Ruhstaller must have occupied. Instead, it was a small, warm, dank little room that smelled of salt water and tobacco.

“Good work, son,” said The Captain. “Have a drink on me.” He handed me a brown bottle, popping the top once it was in my hands. “This is one of my special ales. For a job well done. You saved us a lot of trouble out there, not to mention Nelson's life. He owes you some chores once he’s able.”

“Th, tha, thanks captain,” I replied. I was both intimidated by the reclusive captain and still warming from the shivering cold. The ale lifted my spirits immediately. He grabbed one for himself and lit a mangled cigar. We made small talk and drank our ales in his tiny quarters.

The Captain Black IPA, Ruhstaller Beer

  • Appearance: a solid black with a nice foam head (4)
  • Scent: strong scent of fresh hops, thanks to the local harvest, some vanilla and woodsy notes (4.5)
  • Taste: malty, roasty, very little hop presence, chocolatey (3.5)
  • Mouthfeel: medium on the palate with a solid, lingering bitter aftertaste (4)
  • Overall: a very nice, complex brew. Not overly roasted like some black IPA's, delicious and refreshing. My favorite black IPA to date, despite the fact that it's not my favorite beer style. (4)

Once our bottles were empty, his well before mine, we said goodnight and I headed back to the crew’s quarters. I walked into the room and the rest of the crew sprung to life.

“Where were you?” Thompson asked.

“Yeah, what hell happened with The Captain?” Turner asked.

“Well, he congratulated me on finding Nelson and gave me a bottle of his special ale to celebrate. He’s a nicer man than I’d imagined, not that he’d want me to share that with you,” I replied.

“Where’s my ale, dammit?” Turner barked.

“Sorry, I drank it for you, I guess. It was really good, though, if it makes you feel better” I said. “Should we finish this card game? I was way up last I recall.”

“What card game?” Thompson replied. “Sounds like you got your winnings already.”

“Oh, come on! I was killing you guys!” I said, knowing that they’d never let it resume.

“Sounds like you’ve used up your luck for tonight.” Turner said. “Besides, you never win. I don’t see why we should change that now.”

“Alright, I hardly feel like fighting you guys. Besides, I’d like to get out of this coat and into some clothes anyways.” I said.

I dressed, climbed into my bunk and the lights went out. Captain Ruhstaller wasn’t’ all that bad after all. In fact, I kind of liked the man, and I really liked his ale.