A very early Aylett story. No satire, just stupid stuff.



In the course of researching my unpublished novel Velvet Dogs I heard tell of an elderly gentleman who had in his possession a collection of ancient ship’s journals - first-hand records of the great days of sail - and I resolved to seek him out and ask him if he would lend me some money. The hermit-like figure which greeted me in a Bristol attic some months later was nothing if not eccentric, as he sat in a corner stroking a dry fern. ‘This is one of my few remaining pleasures,’ he explained in a whisper, and embarked upon such a rampant fit of coughing that I feared he would expire then and there; he soon recovered, however, and told me the details of his life until I could barely see. Bringing the conversation around to the subject of finance I established that he had in his possession a full eighty pounds, and offered to invest this sum in Spanish Daggers. One of the items he removed while kneeling to search through an old oak chest was a thick, leather-bound volume such as I had originally heard tell in connection with this slavering gentleman. Taking up and leafing through its autumnal pages, I immediately recognised its likely value. At my questioning its authenticity, however, the ancient man took sudden umbrage, producing an antiquated musket the size of a water buffalo. As I took my leave he blew a hole in the roof and a shaft of sunlight burst through, at which the old man hissed and threw an arm across his eyes. A month later I attempted to return the journal and to collect my eighty smackers but found the hermit’s house boarded up, and learned from a neighbour that he had been dragged to an asylum hollering that he was inflatable. Thus I inherited the text which is here entitled Captain Seb’s Log.
The log relates the events of the most undisciplined sea voyage in maritime history. Captained by a Samuel Light Sebastian in 1808 for the East India Company, it was rarely mentioned with anything less than hollering ire and stabbing daggers. An 1815 Naval Chronicle alludes to ‘Master Sebastian’ in an article entitled ‘Damnable Treachery’, but this probably refers to a later incident. The maudlin voyage of the Iguana surpassed any other for aquatic entropy - Havanans still speak of the ‘kennel’ which floated into the harbour in 1808, and their name for Sebastian cannot be translated.
It was his first log, though his second voyage as Captain - the first was that of the Phantom in 1807, which he boarded as Midshipman. When mutiny broke out and the Captain and Mate were set adrift in a barrel he took over the Captaincy in a daring stroke which apparently involved plying the crew with sixty gallons of rum and then wearing a bonnet so that everyone aboard mistook him for their mother. Bringing the ship into Blackwall Harbour he received a hero’s welcome and a commendation from the Board of Control, who in blind gratitude formally promoted him to Captain a year later.
As Captain of the Iguana his main occupation seems to be throwing empty bottles at passing Hammerheads, which he constantly asserts are ‘sneering’ at him. His term is characterised by languid indifference and a startling ignorance of seamanship - he was frequently known to give the order ‘Bows full to stern’, a manoeuvre which would entail sawing the ship into two equal halves and folding it into a sandwich. A short time into the voyage he seems uncertain as to the ship’s destination, cargo (tea probably) or name - the easygoing First Mate Leggahorn voices the opinion that ‘if we cannot remember it it cannot be important’. The crew ‘discharge pistols’ at each other, make parting remarks while leaping overboard, are attacked by cannibals and hallucinate rampantly. Most remarkable is the fact that they never thought seriously to take over command.
Many questions remain unanswered. What was the ship’s course? How could it make half the journey without ballast? What was so horrific about the native ritual performed on August 7th that it caused Sebastian and the First Mate to black out? And most intriguingly, where did Sebastian keep his log? - he seems never to be parted from it. Few clues are yielded by maritime records - Sebastian’s name seems largely to have been struck out of history. On returning to England in March 1809 he was frantically demoted to ‘man without honour abode or employment’ and it seems to have been a full two weeks before he was once again at sea, as Captain of a 54-gun store-ship which Lord Cochrane commandeered and deliberately blew up to surprise the enemy.
Steve Aylett


27th May. SSW. Sailed out of Bristol harbour with a fair wind. Introduced myself and First Mate Leggahorn to crew, who responded with mirth. One man stood peeing over rail throughout. Second Mate Forfang interrupted my speech by yelling an obscenity, at which crew erupted into laughter. Morale high.

28th May. SWW. High winds. Leggahorn lost his hat and seven men restrained him from leaping overboard to retrieve it. Remarked to young apprentice Batch that nothing excused such behaviour, at which point all eight men stumbled back and trampled us underfoot.

29th May. SSS. Heavy seas - Mr Byron continually turns his back on wheel and leans laughing at activities of crew as course deviates. Leggahorn and myself forced to separate Forfang and bosun fighting at entrance to saloon - Forfang hammered my head repeatedly against door as big sea came aboard and lifted Leggahorn and bosun on to the fore yard. Everyone swore like the devil. Mr Byron remarks that the incident will provide me with something to tell my grandchildren.

30th May. SSE. Fair sailing again - rain let up, no sea aboard, bosun died down and wind dropped. Forfang lifted me up by the leg and pushed me against the sterncastle, with a mighty yell. All’s well.

31st May. SSW. Drenching thunderstorms, big sea aboard, funeral for bosun marred by returns of body. Mizzen-boom sail blown to ribbons. Went to question cook as to hull damage, but he had the gall to say it was not his concern. Spirits raised by Forfang, who is still celebrating yesterday’s fair weather. Sent first mate aloft to look for funny clouds.

1st June. SWS. Ship snugged down, lower topsails, fore staysail, reefed fore coarse and spanker. Crew fighting on deck. Leggahorn told us at dinner an amusing story about man who was eaten by a panther. Giving bosun seven lashes for firing musket on deck but wind blew him overboard.

2nd June. NNE. Spoke to Forfang in my cabin about morale, but swinging lantern which struck head upset his mood and he pursued me about the table, until in a position to dash my head upon it, with access of loud laughter. Have determined to indulge in draughts tomorrow. Leggahorn seen hollering obscenities on the topgallant footropes.

3rd June. NNW. Trouble in galley due to lack of food. Stray barrel below burst and flooded passage with rum, at which crew fought to lie down, gurgling and yelling obscenities. Leggahorn and myself strolled deck in coats and seaboots, sat down to play draughts. Pieces vanished instantly on opening case. Struggle getting back to cabin through men in passage.

4th June. NNS. Ventured above with ship’s dog, which flew overboard on being released for exercise. John Tunny tells me through blur of waves that it is a bad start to a voyage when one cannot tell where ship ends and sea begins. Agreed with a laugh, at which he took offence and waded away.

5th June. SSN. Shortage of meat and provisions which cannot be explained. Am in process of checking cargo books. New bosun - Piper. Forfang tripped on the cathead and flew into a rage, breaking his own leg.

6th June. SWE. Provisions underloaded. Gathered crew on deck to inform them but could not make myself heard above the thunder and waves. Forfang hurled heavy barrel at my countenance. Harker continually pees over rail.

7th June. WWN? Leggahorn taught crew hornpipe dance on deck - seven overboard. Spoke to Batch in cabin about his duties as apprentice, but he was knocked out by falling ceiling. News of provisions provoked Berringer to wail ‘That’s it lads, we’re done for - damned to hell one and all’. Could not help but admire his attempts at diplomacy.

8th June. Strolled the deck today, supervised manning of crossjack braces. Parkins and others swore at me through wind and rain. Turtle blown aboard. Hit Leggahorn while laughing on starboard rail. Bad omen.

9th June. Am worried about ship’s doctor, who on boarding ship at start of voyage, was suffering from typhoid. Had to retire straightway to rest and nursing by Mate, Leggahorn. Weather still stormy. Batch joined us for dinner - turtle. Flippers had been stolen by certain members of crew, who attached them to their ears and performed demonic ritual. Had those responsible scrub deck, but were washed overboard. Memorial service held, but was washed overboard. All now fastened below save for Harker, who is peeing over rail.

10th June. A glorious morning. Calm sea. Sail repairs going ahead well. Blue skies and fair sailing. Forfang in good spirits, despite broken leg. First mate singing on deck. Ten overboard.

11th June. Fair weather continues. Mr Byron sets his features and lashes himself to the wheel. About midday Forfang punched First Mate Leggahorn, who had been standing in good humour on the poop. Forfang unrepentant. John Tunny tried to heave him overboard, but Forfang knocked him out with lower brace. All’s well.

12th June. Had the crew mending sails. Hold taking in water. Took Batch to rail and spoke of the sea. Showed him how to annoy the Hammerheads.

13th June. Spoke to Forfang about his dribbling, at which he took a fragment of plank and attempted to strike me, screaming and foaming as Leggahorn wrestled him out of cabin. Polished my chinaware.

14th June. Bosun devoured by second mate. Laughter.

15th June. Fair weather. Sails and Forfang bellying out. Position uncertain. Crew either working well, sleeping, or drowned. Exception is Harker, who seems never to cease peeing over rail.

16th June. Berringer calculates that following our present course and allowing for cross-currents our position will be ‘the death’ of him. While shaving in clear air on deck, Forfang reminded me about the mizen topgallant bunt lines which were severely damaged in storm, and gaining an unsteady grip upon my leg, tried in fits and starts to pitch me over port rail. Making headway in steady wind. Leggahorn at hold ceiling supervising repairs.

17th June. Position still uncertain. Gathered all my charts and instruments together and bundled down to the cook with them, but he was of no aid whatsoever. Stood on forecastle, watching sunset. Perhaps I am becoming a broken man.

18th June. Leggahorn told amusing joke at dinner - pig and trampoline. Will repeat it to Lord Cochrane. Hurled bottles at Hammerheads and watched them becoming annoyed. Gave rat some bread.

19th June. Spoke to sailmaker at work on the poop, and was hit by flying mackerel. Sailmaker, looking up from his work at that moment, collapsed hollering with laughter. Had finally to be carried below and given a whiff of salts.

20th June. Found tiny terrapin on deck. Laughed and laughed. Have determined to nurse it back to health. New bosun - Landis - drowned in his own snot.

21st June. Assembled crew on deck and told them joke - pig and trampoline. One man shouted an obscenity but the others laughed. Repairs still underway.

22nd June. Albatross for dinner. Bad omen.

23rd June. Forfang forced my head through porthole and wrenched at it from other side, with able help from all hands. Cried out loudly for assistance, and Leggahorn appeared in high spirits, eating grapes one by one and attempting to lighten my mood with quips. Onset of darkness put an end to their exertions. All’s well.

24th June. Heard more reports of Harker peeing over rail for long hours. Went up on deck and confronted him. He was peeing over rail. ‘Listen to me, man, all this peeing over the rail has got to stop,’ I told him. He merely looked a little pained and hurt - I went away feeling somewhat ashamed. Cast a glance back and found he was peeing over rail. Suppose he has designs on the Captaincy.

25th June. Alarmed by the change in Batch, the apprentice, who has taken to standing unrobed in entrances. Unresponsive to my offer of an orange, or indeed to anything. Confronted Berringer on deck and suggested that we consult the charts together, to which he replied that I should go below and consult ‘the devil’. Forfang turned to me today and yelled piercingly. Appointed new bosun - Parkins - who on hearing news jumped overboard.

26th June. First Mate Leggahorn informs me that crew have taken to eating their trousers. Told him joke about snail and theatre ticket. laughter.

27th June. Hearing violent shaking of canvas, went forward to see cause. Only Batch prodding it with oar. Crew in low spirits. Attempted jollity by hurling starfish in artful manner, but hit Forfang in face.

28th June. Leggahorn gave swimming lesson off forecastle to Tobias, burly cargo loader, who was taken up by waves and slammed insensible against our bows.

29th June. Went below to visit doctor, who gripped my arm and gasped something about ‘damnation’.

30th June. Ship adrift on still water - no wind at all. New bosun - White. Much perturbation caused by Batch standing at rails and grieving that he saw a rhino in the water, and called for hours that crew go to its aid, but none else aboard saw such a hapless beast. Leggahorn and myself questioned cook as to likelihood, but he seemed unable to answer.

1st July. Watched the sneering Hammerheads. Mr Byron unlashed himself from wheel and fell to deck with groan. Leggahorn and myself sat on the quarterdeck, sketching dogs from memory. Batch stood amidships and upended rum-barrel on head, standing in silence thereof a full hour. John Conk mutters about sausages.

2nd July. Bosun yelled ‘Green fields - baloo...!’ and leapt from the foremast. Memorial service disrupted by Forfang discharging musket at surfacing pilchard.

3rd July. Nobody remembers what we are carrying, and I must confess our destination eludes me. Batch says it may have been coconuts. Harker pees over rail. Leggahorn says if we cannot remember it it cannot be important. John Tunny grasps me by the arm and moves his lips without a sound.

4th July. Had to belay Forfang’s order that crew eat their own legs, though crew clearly dismayed at sudden change of plan. Still no wind. Rats uneasy.

5th July. Still no wind. John Conk entertains crew by kicking his own head. Leggahorn makes a cloth effigy of his mother. I stay below, practising mime.

6th July. Investigated hold with lamp. Found dry pickle on shelf. And book filled with pictures of swans. Several upright beams - probably part of ship. Three empty barrels - one so covered in moss that I have installed it in my cabin as a comfortable chair. Leggahorn offered to organise what he termed a ‘snot party’ in the hold, but I did not question him further.

7th July. Wind picked up. Leggahorn knocked unconscious falling from hammock. Hazlitt fired musket at surfacing blowfish - target exploded with great velocity, blinding him in one eye. New bosun - Fennel - constantly rounds on imaginary attackers and screams of a ‘conspiracy’. Crew stare at me through rigging. Rat overboard rescued by Mr Byron.

8th July. Heavy seas. Confronted Berringer on deck and commended him for his skill as a mariner - a remark which provoked him to spit into the wind and yell inaudibly through the crash of the waves, holding up a jellyfish and tearing it in half and jabbing a finger at my chest. Told him to keep up the good work, and went to supervise manning of braces.

9th July. After brief survey it seems nobody remembers name of ship. Searched cabin books unsuccessfully for reference. Batch says it may have been Coconuts. Big sea aboard. Nobody on deck save for Harker peeing over rail. Ventured above in coats and seaboots, confronted him at rail. Bellowed over the storm that he should go below. He replied that the men would not approve of his peeing down there. I suggested with a mighty yell that he might cease peeing, but his expression as he turned to me was disconcertingly blank.

10th July. Heavy seas. Lowered Forfang over side to read name of ship. Hauled up claiming to have seen a bison. Three men overboard. Forfang informs us with a gasp of exhaustion that he was never taught to read.

11th July. Damage done to navigational equipment by Leggahorn with sledgehammer during storm. Some charts soaked in cabin spillage, others eaten for dinner by Leggahorn, second mate and myself. Story about broken fruit - how we roared!

12th July. Bosun began rounding on himself and careering across the quarterdeck, punching his own nose. Leggahorn told him to simmer down but he started up again in the afternoon, juddering amidships and pitching over rail. Memorial service disrupted when Forfang hollered from the ranks that the hull was covered in edible crustacea and all hands leapt overboard.

13th July. Fair weather today. Interrupted Berringer as he was hauling on main braces. Halting his oaths in mid-volley he turned to me and spat in recognition. Asked him how long he had been a mariner, to which he replied twenty-five ‘bloodthirsty’ years, and added ‘in God’s name’ that he would not be here today were it not for the charity of my ‘black and empty’ heart. I thanked him and he struck my countenance, at which crew’s spirits were revived and they struck up a shanty, dancing lustily on deck. Twenty overboard.

14th July. Sentenced Batch to fifty lashes for tugging on lantern. Piped all hands amidships to witness punishment, but were washed overboard. Forfang and I caught in the mizen braces, where waves soon rendered us senseless. Leggahorn remained below, smoking my pipe and reading Smollett.

15th July. Hazlitt fired harpoon at surfacing anchovy - complains that loss of eye affects his aim. Became offended at my suggestion that he choose a larger target. I stayed in cabin for the rest of day, trying to remember my name.

16th July. Issued pay today, with lukewarm response from crew - many looked blankly at money without recognition, and some, after brief examination, swallowed it down. Bad omen.

17th July. Having a fair wind, set our foresail and ran aground with a sound which Leggahorn compared to ‘the shout of a moose’ - indeed he blocked the passageway for several moments laughing uproariously as I tried to go above. Found that most of crew on deck were similarly occupied, bent double and hollering with mirth despite damage to vessel. Black outcrop towered over sails and big sea spumed out of the breakers. Harker yelled while peeing over rail that the only individual capable of mending that kind of damage was the god of hellfire. Leggahorn put a comforting hand on my shoulder and was washed overboard. Consulted cook, who held up biscuit and ranted, pointing at it and himself with loud assertions. Taking on water - crew disheartened at having to sleep in rigging.

18th July. Myself, Leggahorn and John Tunny entered cargo hold and rowed across in barrels to inspect hull damage. Leggahorn held lantern under visage and contorted his countenance. Informed him of the graveness of our careers. Laughter. Outcrop intruded through gash in hull - John Tunny suggested we keep it for ballast. He and Mr Byron created powder keg ignited with muskets, setting sails alight and ship adrift. Bows full to stern. Spider in cabin!

19th July. navigating shores of this dark isle hindered by list of vessel to starboard. Concerned for crew, who are so long at sea that they seem unaware of land’s significance. Hazlitt voiced the uncertain opinion that it was some sort of pudding. Mr Byron states openly that he would like to have the wheel ‘covered in wool’. Weather calm and warm. Gave Leggahorn fifty lashes for molesting figurehead.

20th July. Came upon palmy bay and resolved to go ashore. Commanded Mr Byron to let go the anchor, but he remained unmoved. Took the efforts of eight men to wrestle it from him, provoking his tears. Told him to get a grip on himself. Left him aboard with Harker. Rowing out, saw that ship was called The Iguana. Crew disconcerted. On landing, crew ignored my instructions on unloading of provisions and ran hollering into the jungle. I camp alone this night under tree. Used lamp to signal ship that all is well.

21st July. Crew came bellowing out of the jungle covered in mud. Leggahorn reported that he had discovered something of importance, then showed me his belly and ran away. Hazlitt walked laughing down the beach, arms akimbo and a melon balanced on his head. John Conk passed by, kneeing himself in the groin. Forfang beat the life out of me with an oar and told of a crocodile encountered in jungle. Spoke alarmingly of his attempts to ‘embrace’ it, an enterprise thwarted by the depths of an interceding stream. Hazlitt repeatedly fired musket at sand and broke into hysterical laughter. Leggahorn told him to speak his mind, then showed him his belly and ran away. Forfang missing in jungle. Crew buried me and fell into drunken stupor.

22nd July. Crew amused themselves with shooting at coconuts into which were carved my own features. Excused myself and went for a brisk swim.

23rd July. Savages attacked as I attempted to entertain crew with impersonation of hen - took us prisoner and broke our spirit by pouring rum into the sea. Leggahorn screams incessantly. John Conk shakes like a patient of Bedlam. Ordered Berringer to communicate our friendly regards to the savages, at which he grasped the arm of one and began to sob openly. Hazlitt cheerily remarks upon our good fortune at not being washed into sea when we were vomiting earlier.

24th July. Savages tied us down and clubbed what Berringer translated as ‘the living bloody daylights’ out of us with branches. Batch tells us about Moses and then rouses indignation by breaking into laughter. Berringer has identified our location as ‘the devil’s own continent’ and indeed there are countless snakes.

25th July. Savages clubbed us again, wearing colourful masks today and pausing only briefly to answer my enquiries. Berringer said that their masks were ‘Gali-masks’ and that they referred to the snakes as ‘Bo-Mambas’, which are apparently capable of ‘sucking the ruddy life out of the lot of us’. Have determined to take on the responsibility of Batch’s education - informed me today that he had forgotten the meaning of the word ‘happiness’.

26th July. Savages clubbed us again today. I advised Berringer to comb his beard. His snarled, spitting response was inaudible above the screaming of his crewmates.

27th July. Savages stated today while clubbing us that it was their intention to ‘bake’ us and dine ‘laughing’ upon our scorched frames. Leggahorn stares at me. Morale low.

28th July. Expended arduous thought on how to deal with savages. Leggahorn suggests I promote them to bosun. Conferred with cook, who responded with loud access of sobbing. Savages count our limbs and draw calculations in sand, chattering with easy laughter and rupturing tree-trunks with their bare hands.

29th July. Savages scattered by crocodile which came thrashing out of the jungle and up to Berringer, biting his arm and lying beside us with a leer. Our screams rose immediately in pitch but this seemed only to increase its amusement. Forfang appeared and we begged him to loose our bonds, which he accomplished by firing among us with a musket. John Conk fainted. The rest of us screamed with such abandon that the savages ran to our aid, scattering again under Forfang’s fire. Untied, a relieved Leggahorn thanked Forfang with a gasp of exhaustion and knocked him senseless with a rock.

30th July. Surveyed ship with spyglass. Saw Harker, peeing over rail. Signalled with musket that all is well. Mr Byron fired back, wounding Hazlitt and sending crew hollering into jungle. Forfang takes crocodile on lead during exploration. Weary round-robin naming of reptile, during which I vote heartily for Jonathan - crew spat into fire and agreed on ‘Darly’. John Tunny added with a sneer that it was probably just some animal ‘made of leather’. It is good to see them taking an interest.

31st July. Instructed several of crew as to difference between ferns and coconuts, with orders to load the ship with coconuts and freshwater. Myself, Leggahorn and others penetrated deep into the jungle, exploring the area where Forfang ‘had his frenzy’, Hazlitt ‘carved a chimp’ and Leggahorn apparently ‘talked for hours about steam’. Soon, however, we were in unexplored territory and John Conk began whining and repeatedly blowing his nose. Discovered many temples dedicated to the worship of snakes, gazelle and other insects. Our guide, a savage whom Berringer refers to as ‘Death’, told us that many rituals took place here, including one during which a toad was pulverised by a heavy stone mallet, sacrificed to the infernal fury of the god Rakata, and then examined. Crew prayed before a few stone images and left earrings, trousers and such as tribute. Returned to find ship filled with ferns. Shall remain another day.

1st August. Gathered coconuts and spoke of our adventures. Berringer joked that he was a wanted man and showed us a dagger, claiming that it was ‘the very one’. Batch surprised us all by strangling a trout. Forfang tried to ride on Darly’s back but kept dismounting in a hurry. Leggahorn and I exchanged jokes about ash - how we roared!

2nd August. Crew gathered coconuts and taught Death a hornpipe dance. Results were so unnerving that everyone begged his assurance that he would not repeat it. Berringer gripped my arm and brandished a fistful of seaweed at me with sundry assertions. Told him to ‘simmer down’. Consulted cook as to sailing conditions, at which he retreated deep into jungle. Dawson entertained us with a song about bats. John Conk kept time by clubbing his own head. Hazlitt began to rant and drowned his accordion. All’s well.

3rd August. Gave John Tunny fifty lashes for raping a dove. Leggahorn said he was tired of supervising loading of coconuts and ran around camp showing everyone his belly. Forfang remarked rampantly upon my neglect in failing to converse with crocodile, and stood over me watching my initial efforts. Having knelt and bid the beast Good-day I could not establish as to whether it was well and Forfang kicked me away with a roar. Berringer told us of his time at Clerkenwell. Laughter.

4th August. Leggahorn, Hazlitt and myself went to waterfall in jungle. Hazlitt claimed a carp was smiling at him. Gathered a few coconuts. In our absence Forfang promoted Amberley to bosun and maimed him with a marlin’s nose. Funeral service disrupted when Death broke from the ranks and embarked upon a hornpipe dance.

5th August. Fogg approached me with a belt. I departed to a sandbank where crew were burning flags. Hazlitt threw in a crab which exploded with such a deafening report that the savages ran to our aid, careering back into the jungle under a volley of muskets. Crew hollered a shanty, each verse of which ended ‘Kill the Captain for his trousers’. John Conk kept time by stabbing himself repeatedly in the back and Death, though unsure at first, soon picked up a few words. All’s well.

6th August. Cook came juddering out of the jungle yelling that every animal in the world was after him - I was just telling him to have a shave when a bleak-featured panther peered through the leaves and proceeded to pounce amid the crew, who awoke and began discharging muskets at each other, tearing their trousers from the mouths of tigers and bellowing obscenities - I know not fully the number of beasts which pursued us from the beach but a dozen cats of the sneering variety swam alongside our landing-boat, from which we hurled coconuts and volleys of inventive abuse. Crew boarded ship and stumbled hollering amid coconuts, punching each other and pitching overboard. Told Harker that all was well and that we were underway. Peeing over rail, he relayed the order to Mr Byron, who unlashed himself from the wheel and collapsed with groan into coconuts. Lion conveyed aboard clasped to anchor - bit Hazlitt on the arm and stumbled amid coconuts as sails bellied out and we moved off, low in water and overrun with deadly jungle cats. Barricaded door of cabin with coconuts and settled down to pipe and Smollett. Crew say goodnight to one-another and fall asleep lashed to rigging.

7th August. We are safely escaped from the island and no man has suffered disease, save for ship’s doctor, who as a result of venturing on deck has contracted malaria. Cook still a little feverish this morning but when I sat aside his bunk and enquired as to our coordinates he suddenly revived, strangling empty air and shrieking with laughter. Gave him a coconut and told him to rest. Forfang wrestles lions on deck. John Conk apparently complains that Darly is lashed to rigging too close to him, and asks to be moved. Crew jeer. Leggahorn and myself have lunch with Death, who tries to describe native ritual and resorts to demonstration, causing Leggahorn and I to black out. Leopard in the bulkhead.

8th August. Three lions trapped in saloon- tempted in by barrel of coconut milk. Berringer locked door laughing and swallowed key, halting in mid-holler and gasping for medical assistance. Leggahorn carried doctor on deck and all hands leapt overboard.

9th August. At dinner Leggahorn made as though to expound a theory as to where we are, and breaking into laughter concluded ‘At sea’. Just then Berringer entered and, guessing at what had been discussed, drove Leggahorn’s head thirty times against the table, leaving him wild-haired and unresponsive. Saw Darly, whom I still secretly address as Jonathan, dancing today.

10th August. Forfang wrestled two lions and a leopard into landing-boat, setting them adrift. John Tunny remarked indignantly that they weren’t even rowing. Told him to simmer down. Crew unlash themselves from rigging and climb down with easy laughter and conversation. I slap Forfang on the back and awake on the wheel box. All’s well.

11th August. Heat very strong today. Leggahorn resourceful in organising network of gangplanks over coconuts on deck. Crew burn a few flags. Forfang gave Darly a kick in the belly for snagging his trousers. Darly made gurgling sounds in throat and thrashed his tail, knocking over buckets. He’s not all there, if you seek my opinion.

12th August. Hot sun. Sea calm. Batch teaches Death to foam at the mouth. Death quickly becoming one of the crew. I walk on deck, laughing about coconuts. Crew glare at me, unmoved. I remark aloud that we shall not lack for food, and go swiftly below as Berringer stands.

13th August. Hot again - no wind. Ship low in still water. Threw a few coconuts at the Hammerheads. Death joined me at rail demonstrating new skill - commended him and spoke of the sea. Showed him the sneering Hammerheads. Crew hack out strips of canvas and rig up hammocks on deck. Some make a man out of coconut shells, naming it Old Shaky. I go below and look at pictures of greyhounds.

14th August. Still no wind. Crew awoke complaining of bad dreams and visitations from the dead. I went before crew with the conviction that those who are dead remain so. John Tunny belligerently asserted that he possessed the ruddiest bum on the high seas - I retreated with the repeated assurance that I believed him.

15th August. Still no wind. Mr Byron lashed himself to wheel hollering ‘It’s a typhoon lads - biggest I’ve ever seen’ until Forfang knocked him senseless. Went and thanked him on behalf of the men and awoke near the cathead. John Conk struck up a shanty about bloody murder, keeping time by clubbing himself over the head with an oar. Batch confers aloud with his grandfather. I go below and thoughtfully devour coconuts.

16th August. No wind. Spoke to Fogg at rail, commending him for his steady service. He did not regard me but whispered urgently for silence so that he could ‘hear the actors speaking’. I looked out to sea, but could perceive nothing but green fields. Advised him to go below and rest but he pushed me aside yelling that he had paid for this balcony and ‘on t’balcony I’ll stay!’

17th August. Berringer entered cabin with cutlass today and made remarks. Told him I would give them consideration, at which he left hollering with laughter. I consult with my mother and she tells me to ‘simmer down’.

18th August. I stroll on deck, ducking under hammocks. Leggahorn reports a ‘large, angry face’ off the starboard bow and I respond with hilarity. Batch grows a mushroom in his hat. I roll up a chart and, striding, shout through it from the sterncastle that coconuts are the stuff of life. Crew strike up a shanty and dance on deck, pointing in amazement at empty air. I ascend to crow’s nest and set light to my trousers, dropping them into sea like burning bird. New bosun - Old Shaky. Forfang and Death ensnare a magistrate. I go below, laughing.

19th August. Leggahorn and I attempt to sit Darly at table but he writhes off and away. Finally achieved by tying him in chair with length of cable about belly. Seated facing away from cabin door, turned to leer at John Conk who entered heartily and fainted. Laughter.

20th August. Carved miniature pelican from coconut today. Spoke to Harker as he was peeing over rail - told me it was ‘a voyage and a half, this one’ and laughed himself scarlet. Leggahorn and I spend the afternoon hallucinating. Sun sets through tattered sails as Berringer shoots a gull. All’s well.

21st August. Leggahorn and I hallucinate all morning, and then take Death aside to teach him rules of pontoon. Crew gather round, placing bets, but to everyone’s alarm Death wins and begins dancing his joy - eight men fall unconscious and two leap overboard. Four strong men tie him to mast and forbid him to participate in any such game. He seems confused though eager to comply.

22nd August. Watched basking sharks at rail. Remarked to Mr Byron that it were good to spend one’s life doing nought but drifting around with one’s mouth agape, to which he agreed and added that he would do the same were he in my position. In the afternoon, ship overrun with pirates who fastened crew below at sabre-point and set fire to Old Shaky. Complimented the Captain on his colourful garments. Captain said his name was Murder and, inspecting with a frown the deck arrangement of planks and coconuts, asked me mine. I could not recall it and, gasping with laughter, told him so, at which he ceased his inspection and regarded me with raised eyebrows. I am to spend this night lashed to the flying jib, which Captain Murder says might refresh my memory.

23rd August. Strode the deck with Captain Murder. Offered him a coconut, which he knocked to the deck with the others. Told him I run a tight ship, at which he roared with laughter and said he admired a man with a sense of humour, and that he intended to take my ship and kill myself and the crew. Became indignant at my flushed hilarity. Murder’s mate came slamming up through the hatch snarling ‘Calenture, Captain - sunstroke - savage foamin’ at the gob’ and offered his opinion that ‘the ship’s cursed sir - all barkin’ mad as the ides o’ march - coconuts everywhere’. At that another dog of fortune burst out of the aft hatch bellowing ‘Crocodile eatin’ soup at the Captain’s table’. Captain swore that he would find a decent meal aboard if it killed him. hacked his way into saloon and was eaten by three lions. I climb rigging and watch pirates pursued overboard by lions and vessel uncoupling in alarm, moving off with man-eaters roaring on deck. I eat coconuts and watch their retreat, laughing.

24th August. Crew refuse to come above, hollering that all manner of misery occurs on deck. Leggahorn and myself attempted to negotiate but reasoning marred by sudden appearance on deck of Forfang, who fired musket into darkness - their response was one of screams and abuse. With uncommon bravery, Leggahorn prods Forfang’s arm and leaps overboard. Cook has locked himself in galley shouting about ‘persecution’ and smashing his equipment. Darly looked at me today, with his big eye.

25th August. Land sighted - crew erupt above punching each other senseless and straining at the rail. All voiced aloud their notions - ‘Cadiz! Tobago! Benidorm! The Cape! Purgatory!’ - as town and port became visible. Mr Byron lashed himself to wheel and bade the world farewell. John Tunny became frantic and wondered aloud if we should hoist a flag. Nobody could remember. Drifted near to harbour and set off hollering in landing boats. At wall crew pushed past me as I stood on steps speaking of courtesy and caution, and dashed bellowing into town. Foreigner asked me if I was English - embraced me - asked me into tavern. Told me I was in Havana, at which I took up a brace of pistols and threatened every man present. Backed out blasting away with both hands and bumped into old friend, Burdett, who greeted me with delight and invited me into tavern. Occupants shrieked and ran as I re-entered, and Burdett poured wine and told me of recent events - treaty with Spain, no more killing of Spaniards for us and so on. Told him of damage to ship, eating of charts, arrival of Darly, Death, Old Shaky and my mother, and of many other events which had occurred during the voyage, at which he was aghast. I said that stranger things happen at sea, to which he replied with uncommon emphasis that this was not the case. Forfang entered with Darly on chain and I shouted goodbye to Burdett as he left. Forfang has left me Darly to care for and I am to attempt slumber at an inn this night.

26th August. Took Darly for skitter through town this morning - looked for crew. Saw many citizens who turned and ran. Saw Harker at harbour wall, peeing over rail. Passing ladies disturbed at view. I went and spoke with him, suggesting he attend to his toilet elsewhere. ‘I would,’ he laughed, ‘if I ‘ad one!’ Continued to pee over rail, and soon seemed unaware of my presence. Entered rowdy tavern. Chained Darly to banister. Met woman who threw herself onto my lap from other side of the room. On the way upstairs thought I saw Berringer’s arm in crowd, but as I drew near it punched me senseless. This night I am indisposed in house filled with draperies.

27th August. Scarlet Bella and myself walk Darly through town - look for crew. Bella remarks on man peeing over rail. Laughter. Surprised to see Captain Murder’s mate with arm in sling - became enraged when I asked what had happened. Scarlet Bella punched him in the nose and we moved on. Taught Darly to stagger short distance on hind legs - how we roared!

28th August. Spent the day in bed, writing, carving dogs from driftwood and singing dirges. Received a visit from Murder’s mate, who made a remark and forced a scrap of paper into my hand, leaving with a slam. Unwrapped it but none the wiser - message obscured by great spot of spilt ink. Folded paper into tiny boat which sank in basin.

29th August. Walked out with Scarlet Bella - witnessed Harker being placed under arrest. Interceded on his behalf and was taken to fort in chains. Cuban officer circled me and became bellicose - criticised my ears, asked me my name. Explained to him that I could not recall this information. Slammed his fist on desk and prodded rampantly at statement, demanding a signature. Told him to find a man called Burdett who would probably know my name. Officer said he had no time to waste and told me to sign with a cross. This I did, scribbling above it a rudimentary order promoting him to bosun. As he took it wall exploded with French cannonball and buried him in rubble. I search dungeon, shooting guards and flicking spiders from my apparel. Find Harker and rest of crew, who tell me they have been arrested for witchcraft. Escape to woodland, where by light of campfire Death entertains us with impression of gasping mackerel.

30th August. Hazlitt says we should go to the harbour dressed as dogs. Rest of crew disagree, claiming that beagles would be more appropriate. Death asks ‘What are beagles’ and after startled thought, crew decline to reply. Berringer goes out to kill a bear but returns with some weeds which John Tunny adds to a stew. After eating, everyone blacks out and are finally awoken only by heavy thunderstorm. Mr Byron holds wet finger to wind and nods with a smile. John Conk begins shrieking.

31st August. We wander aboardship at four in morning. Berringer grips me by the arm and claims through clenched teeth that he is ‘exhausted’. John Conk has gone bananas and believes the world is run by a bear playing the trumpet. Sea stormy. At noon three ships appear in pursuit, bringing down our crossjack with cannonfire. I tell Berringer to change his shirt. He comes at me with axe but Leggahorn intercedes, punching my face. Fire amidships. I rush to consult with cook but he is chopping onions. We take another hit and ship water. New bosun - Glasby. Forfang attempts to wrap me in burning canvas. I tell Harker that all is well. Crew celebrate in final moments and fire Glasby from cannon, taking out mainsail of leading ship. Leggahorn remarks amid renewed jubilation that the Iguana has no cannons aboard, and that we must be aboard someone else’s ship. Crew cease cheering. Forfang makes a remark and fires cannon, sinking Iguana with all hands. Crew begin fighting on deck, vaulting over fallen masts and choking each other against the rails. Big seas aboard. I announce my plans to marry. Mr Byron leans back on wheel and chuckles at the progress of his career. John Conk staggers out of the spray holding a fern. We founder on reef and leap into the tempest. Bad omen.

1st September. Spent morning on beach chatting with crew who sit sobbing among rockpools. Announced that it seemed voyage was at an end, that they had performed admirably and I would welcome the chance to sail with them again. Berringer took his hands from his face and, after a pause, lunged at me with animal yell. A flushed Forfang interceded brandishing oar and I awoke on empty beach. Spent a few hours wandering beach looking for driftwood and colourful shells. Found urchin with black eyes. Wear it on my head in rain and start back to England, where I am to present my report.


Copyright Steve Aylett (ages ago)