The Arctic Tern

In recent years, I have traveled the world reporting on, and writing about climate change, a subject that is alternately fascinating, mind-boggling, infuriating, and above all dreadfully frightening.  

But I’ve also had a desire to tell a story about a planetary tipping point that didn’t emerge on a geological timescale, or even on a human scale, but in one day, and without warning.

This is the answer to that urge. It is a fictional tale that takes place far from land, with little contact with the rest of the world. Five sailors are in the middle of the Atlantic when something short circuits the planet and are left blind to the world, not sure what happened or what awaits them when they arrive in port.

I wrote two-thirds of this book a couple of winters back and then put it aside.  But in recent weeks, I have found myself reflecting on the circumstances on that boat and how that mirrors our world today, awash with fear and contagion.

This is a story of how they found their way home: How they struggled to survive in an instantly hostile planet. They gradually adapt, as humans do. Their adaptations and reactions have parallels on land but it is not clear to them what that means for humanity, regardless of rank or geography.

I will be publishing it here as I can’t be bothered to figure out how to go the traditional publishing route. I will post a couple of chapters at a time, give or take, after I have reviewed and polished each one. 

And I will be using life in New York City, while living on a boat, during the current coronavirus fuckery, to inform how the book ends.  (And perhaps tweak what I have already written.)

Copyright © 2020 by Maurice Tamman

Painting of the one-legged Arctic Tern by Patricia Tamman, my great mum

Chapter One

An arctic tern stood on one stumpy orange leg on the bowsprit. Above him, hundreds of terns swirled and dived. Raphael could hear the chirping and clicking. Some had small silvery fish or yellow crabs in their blood-orange beaks. Others swooped, the top of their head covered with a highway robber’s black mask, stabbing at…

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Chapter Two

Raphael scanned the skies to his left but nothing. He could hear Vashti scrambling around behind him. She kicked him in his left knee. He called out her name, impatiently. “I got it. I got it,” she said. “It’s just off the starboard aft quarter.” Raphael spun around. He found the big dipper, then the…

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Chapter Three

Raphael sat in the same spot that Vashti had taken when she came up. He watched her boney fingers and chewed fingernails as they followed the wheel spin left to right and right to left; maintaining just enough pressure to keep the boat riding up and down the waves without banging directly into the surf….

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Chapter Four

All but Isaac were agape. He pulled his top crossed-leg closer to his belly. He had never seen the aurora borealis but it was not what he expected. “What’s our latitude?” Raphael pretended not to hear. Isaac didn’t really need to know. The boat was roughly on the same latitude as New York City and,…

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Chapter Five

Vashti rushed below followed shortly by Isaac. Nils lingered topside, sipping on a refill of coffee. He didn’t want to leave Neville and Raphael alone together. Neville came back to the wheel and took the helm without a word. Raphael sat on the bench opposite Nils, turned on the sat phone and glanced at the…

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Chapter Six

The bacon fat sizzled in the pan. Raphael peeled and diced an onion and then a  pepper. He whisked eight eggs by hand and, on a whim, added two spoonfuls of ricotta. He removed the bacon and threw the onion into the smoking fat.   Steam leaped from the pan with a fizz. A small piece…

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Chapter Seven

Raphael called for Vashti and Isaac. Isaac tapped on her arm and pointed to the galley. “Can you two bring up the bacon, the coffee, and stuff. Nils? Grab the mugs and napkins and hot sauce on your way up. Thanks.” Raphael headed up first, carrying the breakfast wraps. Neville was waiting at the helm….

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Chapter Eight

It was noon by the time Isaac had laid out his explanation of their compass problems, the cockpit was cleaned up and Vashti and Nils had raised the dinghy off the foredeck and lowered it onto the glassy waters. And it was hot. Isaac had brought up a thermometer and it read 101 degrees in…

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Chapter Nine

Raphael jumped down into the dinghy and helped Nils stand. Nils’ limp arm hung over Raphael’s shoulder. Vashti reached for Nils’ free hand. “Raffi,” Isaac said. “I think we have a bigger problem. We should discuss.” Raphael sighed.  “Isaac, your timing really sucks. Let’s just get Nils on the boat. I promise, as soon as…

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Chapter Ten

Raphael stood. He needed rest. He hadn’t slept in well over 24 hours. And since Isaac had started talking he felt his mind inching beyond his grasp. “I’m going forward,” he said. “Isaac, make sandwiches for anyone who is hungry. Make sure Neville and Nils have water too, especially Nils. “After that, you have the…

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Chapter eleven

Raphael came up just as the lights faded in the western sky.  Isaac was now sleeping. Vashti was smoking behind the wheel. Neville was awake and, since Raphael had confiscated the Oxy, was feeling a tightness in his ego. He was also hungover from a cocktail of beer and narcotics. Nils too had woken up…

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Chapter twelve

“What do you think?” Isaac asked Vashti. “I don’t know. It’s not like there is a plan for things like this. What do I think? I think I would like to rest my brain.” “I wish that all the time,” Isaac said. Vashti reached for her jacket, pulled it on and rummaged around her pockets….

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