Not really sure about the time frame for this story. I'd guess 1960's or earlier.

The story centers around an alien being (humanoid) who is sailing the sea on his homeworld in his small sailboat. Said world is many times larger than Earth, and has crushing gravity (by our standards). The gravity is so high, that the atmosphere is very thick near the ocean's surface, blurring the line between liquid and gas (somewhat akin to a gas/ice giant like Saturn or Neptune, etc. though this planet is temperate in nature). The boat sometimes rises with a breeze, cresting above the water before settling back down.

The sailor in question is patrolling his area, on the look out for signs of some enemy people who share the planet. While doing so, he finds the wreckage of what is assumed to be a Terran spaceship. I believe the ship is described as silver and needle-like. It's crashed onto the planet, and has been hulled by battle damage, IIRC.

The sailor/protagonist investigates the ship. He remarks that the material of the hull is very flimsy. He thrusts his hand into the breach in the hull and rips a long tear in the hull to equalize the pressure and keep the ship from being crushed. Carefully boarding the vessel, the protagonist finds the remains of the crew. They've all been crushed by the atmospheric pressure. The protagonist also finds the ship has a powerful looking energy weapon as a broadside deck gun, and that the ship is nuclear-powered. I believe the term he uses is "atomic", which leads me to believe the story is an older one.

We learn that this is a great find for the protagonist, as his people society have not mastered nuclear technology, and that has prevented them from venturing into space. Conventional propulsion designs cannot escape the planet's extreme gravity.

The crisis in the story comes when a group of the enemy people arrive in the area in their own boat(s). Fearful that the enemy will get the starship, the protagonist (IIRC) attempts to flee and/or hide from the enemy. This crisis is resolved when the protagonist returns to the starship and figures out how to use the energy weapon on the ship. He blasts the enemy boat and they are completely annihilated, with no remains at all left.

The story ends with the protagonist heading for shore, confident that a new era is opening up for his people.

  • 3
    Not an answe to your question, but Hal Clement's excellent Mission of Gravity also has a sailing protagonist alien on a planet with much higher gravity than Earth. A highly recommended novel.
    – einpoklum
    Commented Aug 27, 2016 at 14:19

1 Answer 1


"Heavy Planet" by Milton A. Rothman, first published (as by "Lee Gregor") in Astounding Science-Fiction, August 1939, available at the Internet Archive. Also the (unaccepted) answer to this old question. Here is a quotation from the story, lifted from that old answer:

Ennis turned the prow of his boat to meet the path of the falling vessel. Curious, he thought, where were its wings? Were they retracted, or broken off? It ballooned closer, and it wasn't a glider. Far larger than any glider ever made, it was of a ridiculous shape that would not stand up for an instant. And with the sharp splash the body made as it struck the water—a splash that fell in almost the same instant it rose—a thought seemed to leap up in his mind. A thought that was more important than anything else on that planet; or was to him, at least. For if it was what he thought it was—and it had to be that—it was what Shadden had been desperately seeking for many years. What a stroke of inconceivable luck, falling from the sky before his very eyes!

The silvery shape rode the ragged waters lightly. Ennis' craft came up with a rush; he skilfully checked its speed and the two came together with a slight jar. The metal of the strange vessel dented as if it were made of rubber. Ennis stared. He put out an arm and felt the curved surface of the strange ship. His finger prodded right through the metal. What manner of people were they who made vessels of such weak materials?

He moored his little boat to the side of the larger one and climbed to an opening. The wall sagged under him. He knew he must be careful; it was frightfully weak. It would not hold together very long; he must work fast if it were to be saved. The atmospheric pressure would have flattened it out long ago, had it not been for the jagged rent above which had allowed the pressure to be equalized.

He reached the opening and lowered himself carefully into the interior of the vessel. The rent was too small; he enlarged it by taking the two edges in his hands and pulling them apart. As he went down he looked askance at the insignificant plates and beams that were like tissue paper on his world. Inside was wreckage. Nothing was left in its original shape. Crushed, mutilated machinery, shattered vacuum tubes, sagging members, all ruined by the gravity and the pressure.

There was a pulpy mess on the floor that he did not examine closely. It was like red jelly, thin and stalky, pulped under a gravity a hundred times stronger and an atmosphere ten thousand times heavier than that it had been made for.

He was in a room with many knobs and dials on the walls, apparently a control room. A table in the center with a chart on it, the chart of a solar system. It had nine planets; his had but five.

Then he knew he was right. If they came from another system, what he wanted must be there. It could be nothing else.

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