A larger wave hit the boat, showering the top deck with seawater and sending the bow high into the air. The rebound was fierce and sent the boat's carelessly fastened gangplank sailing into the ocean. For a minute, it appeared that the skipper was going to leave it behind and Nuco joined a chorus of passengers screaming for him to do just that. Ignoring their advice, the lunatic skipper started to turn the boat around in mid-sea.
"He's drunk!" Nuco yelled.
"Who?" Medio asked.
"The boat's captain! He's drunk as the crew!"
Miraculously, the besotted boat master managed the turn without capsizing the vessel. Wind at his stern, he then sped toward the bobbing gangplank. A deckhand lurched out of the pilothouse and fell against the gunwale. "Stahbahd!" the deckhand yelled. A wave pushed the boat directly at the gangplank, but as they rushed forward the boat's skipper managed to swerve and avoid hitting it. The deckhand reached out and grabbed the plank, then raised his free hand above his head, like some magnificently drunk cowboy riding a giant wooden bull.
Somehow, the ocean cowboy kept his grip for the required eight seconds, enough time for a second deckhand to stumble to his assistance. The two wrestled the gangplank on board and tied it safely to the bow, bringing the clumsily elaborate ocean rodeo to a finish. Nuco joined the changed chorus of passengers who forgot about the skipper's sea-deep stupidity long enough to cheer the deckhands' feat. Even the goatsherded onto the top deck because of their surefootednessseemed happy, loudly bleating their congratulations.
An hour later, the waves had grown larger and the sky darker. "We can't be too far from Utila," Nuco said, leaning forward as he tried to discern the elusive shape of dry land. A tingling of his calves reminded him to keep his legs away from the bare wire. He didn't want to put La Florita's skipper and crew any further in the dark than they already were. "Can you see it yet?" he yelled, peering seaward to locate the island's shape.
"No!" Medio yelled back.
A huge wave crested against the bow, sending it skyward, then crashing down. The hand rail behind them broke and the plywood boards tied to it started to slide off the boat. Several passengers and the half dozen goats jumped up as the boards carrying them slid across the deck. For a moment it looked like the whole clan would be tossed overboard, but the plywood hit the huge exhaust stack on the opposite side of La Florita and stopped dead. The passengers and goats scrambled to safety, bleating loudly.
"That was a big wave. I'm going down and check on the others," Nuco said, while the top deck passengers rearranged themselves.
Once down, Nuco moved to where Capn lay in his propane fortress, his knuckles white from the death grip he had on the rope. "Capn, you alright?" His mate nodded. "Where's the BigGuy?" Nuco asked. Capn woefully waved toward the back of the boat. Grasping the railing, Nuco made his way along the main deck to the rear of the boat, where most of the passengers sat. Inside, the BigGuy was speaking softly to a man next to him. Vomit swirled around his feet, soiling his Rockports.
"Senor, how you doin?" Nuco asked.
"I've just been discussing the meaning of life with this fellow next to me," the BigGuy said.
"It's not so bad up top," Nuco replied.
"I'm not worried about myself," the BigGuy said. "You see that nino?" He pointed to a swaddled baby nearby, who lay quietly in a shopping cart.
"Seems to be taking the voyage okay, considering," said Nuco.
"Yes, but when that last wave hit, she almost went overboard, carriage and all," the BigGuy replied.
"Nina," Nuco said.
"What?" the BigGuy asked.
"Nina. If it's a her, then it's nina," Nuco said.
"Whatever," the BigGuy replied, ignoring Nuco's annoying habit of bringing up minutiae in the middle of a crisis. "I thought perhaps if I spoke to her parents about the value of life, they might be more careful."