I. The missing sleigh

It was Christmas Eve at Santa's headquarters, yet something was not right. Where were the elves? Where was the sleigh? And where was Santa?

The North Pole wind blew a fine dust of snow through the cracks in the workshop windows. Inside, all was still, except for the dancing of the fire on the hearth.

Overstuffed bags full of letters, sent from children in every country, lay all about the workshop floor. High above them, filling acres of shelves, gifts of all sizes and shapes awaited delivery to children around the world.

In the Reindeer Stables next door to the Workshop, the reindeer were speaking to each other in hushed tones.

"It's never been so late. Why haven't we left yet?" Dasher asked the others.

"Something is wrong," said Dancer. "I can feel it in my antlers. I sense that Santa is having a great problem."

"If we don't leave in the next few hours, there will be no Christmas presents this year - for any of the children!" cried Comet.

"Calm down, Comet!" implored Blitzen. "There must be a simple explanation for this delay."

At that very moment, the stable door burst open, and a gust of freezing air flooded the room. In the lantern light stood Santa, surrounded by a large group of elves, all of them looking quite worried.

"Friends," began Santa. "Something terrible has happened!" The room suddenly seemed even colder, as everyone waited for Santa to tell more.

"Last night, unknown to any of us, a few of the younger elves took the sleigh out for a joy ride. Everything was fine until the polar ice broke beneath them, and the sleigh fell into the Great Northern Sea. Luckily, they escaped with their lives. But the sleigh...." he looked with his big eyes at each of the reindeer, "The sleigh is gone, and we have no time to build another!"

"What will we do? How will we get the presents to all the children?" This has never happened before!" The reindeer and elves all began talking at once.

"Be calm!" Santa called out. A hush fell upon the room. "There is a way, but it will be more dangerous, and will require everyone's help." The elves and the reindeer silently waited to hear Santa's plan.

"We will take the presents by sea - in a sailing ship."

The group was stunned. A sailing ship! They had never travelled farther than a few hundred miles in the elfin ship, "The Ocean Joy". Yet Santa was suggesting they travel around the world... in one night!

"I don't mean to be rude, Santa, but how shall we sail around the world by Christmas morning?" the chief elf, Gwendl, asked. He was the best sailor of all the elves, and knew how fast the ship could sail.

"That's a good question, Gwendl. I haven't the answer, either. All I know is that we must begin at once!"

"The ship is outfitted at the Polar Wharf, and ready to sail. I want every elf and reindeer to begin loading the presents from the Christmas Workshop into the ship immediately! We haven't a moment to spare."

Out from the Stables and into the Warehouse the reindeer and elves raced, leaving Santa to say good-bye to Mrs. Claus. She was packing a picnic basket full of goodies for Santa, the elves, and the reindeer. From the warmth of their North Pole home, she would be praying throughout the journey for the safety and success of their trip. This was certainly the most exciting Christmas Eve she could remember in a long, long time!

II. The voyage

Within the hour the elfin ship was heading out into the Great Northern Sea. The sky was lit up by a million stars and the Aurora Borealis, all giving their radiance to illuminate the midnight voyage of Santa.

Below decks, the "Ocean Joy's" enormous hold was stocked with thousands upon thousands of gifts, each one carefully wrapped individually, and also bundled into groups, according to the town and city where the children lived.

Gwendl stood near Santa on the stern, looking tensely at the waves and billowing sails. "I don't wish to cast a rueful thought upon this night, dear Santa, but we aren't moving with the speed we need," he said softly. "At this rate, we'll never reach even half the planet by the New Year!"

Santa looked out upon the shimmering sea, painted silver by the light of the winter moon, and pondered to himself. Suddenly he shouted, "I've got it! There is a way!" Elves came running from all directions at Santa's call. When they had gathered, he spoke:

“Friends, you know how important our mission is. We must reach the children with the gifts within our ship. It means so very much to each little child - we cannot let them down. Yet the wind alone cannot get us there in time.”

“If we could have help, I do believe we can sail around the world tonight. But it will mean having a lot of help - I will ask the gentle masters of the sea, the whales and dolphins, to assist us!”

Whales and dolphins! Who would have thought of such a thing! Yet certainly, they were quite fast, and perhaps enough of them could make the difference!

Santa stood near the leeward rail, facing out to sea, and cupped his hands around his snow-bearded mouth.

“Friends of the sea! O whales and dolphins! The children of the earth need your help tonight!”

The only sound in response was the cold, dark water lapping at the ship's side, and the Northern Wind flapping through the sails. He called again:

“Mighty companions of the deep! We need you now more than ever before! Please help us!”

Again, only the sound of water and wind greeted him in response. Without a hint of doubt, Santa called across the waves for a third time:

“We love you, and thank you for your kindness! The children of the earth will be forever grateful!”

A splash caught everyone's attention, as the magnificent head of an ancient humpback whale broke the surface only a few yards away from the "Ocean Joy".

"Santa, we have come. " The whale spoke in a deep, slow, and serious voice. "I am Erga, the grandfather of the Whale Kingdom, and friend of the Dolphin World. The very fastest of our kind have been summoned to help in this crisis. But tell me, why are you not in your sleigh tonight?"

"My dear friend Erga, the sleigh disappeared into the sea. We must deliver these gifts by tomorrow morning, and that is why I have called you. There are tow lines and harnesses which the elves have made, fastened to the ship, and ready for you. Tonight we shall sail around the world!"

Ever since Santa had shared his idea of contacting the sea kingdom, the elves had been very busy, crafting long ropes and harnesses. Already Santa's request had been granted, and hundreds of the sea creatures were swarming around the "Ocean Joy". Without a further word, the whales and dolphins swam into the strong, padded harnesses which the elves had made with their usual skill and swiftness. In a few moments, the ship was being pulled through the water at a fantastic pace.

As the ship came by Alaska, and the first coastal villages, the elves came running up to Santa. "How can we possibly reach all the villages, and especially those far from the sea?" asked the elves.

Santa surveyed the problem. With his reindeer sled, he could have easily flown to each home and village, but without it he needed special help. He cupped his hands once again, and called out into the salty night air:

“Dear friends of many feathers! We need your help! Come join the reindeer in bringing the gifts of Christmas!”

Suddenly the sky was filled with the sound of wings. It was the kingdom of the birds, coming to help!

"We have come, Santa." The voice came from a female eagle, perched on the yardarm above the decks of the Ocean Joy. She spoke again:

"I am Ava, Queen of the Birds. Why are you not in your sleigh tonight?"

"Dear Ava," Santa responded, "the sleigh is gone, and we need to sail around the world. The reindeer alone cannot carry all the parcels to reach the children who live inland. Will you help us?"

"Of course we will - it would be an honor to assist in this great project. Prepare the parcels in nets, and we will lift them."

The elves were busily preparing nets made of silk, with many strings to help the birds carry them.

In a very short while, the parcels were lifted from the decks of the "Ocean Joy", and were being carried inland to Alaska and the Canadian Northwest with great speed. The flying reindeer acted as guides for the birds, helping them find their way. Santa looked with a gentle smile at the procession of birds and reindeer, flying off into the night sky carrying gifts of love for all the children. "Isn't that the most beautiful sight you've ever seen?", Santa said with a sigh of appreciation.

III. Christmas morning

On and on the "Ocean Joy" sailed, as if on wings. Past the West Coast of North America, Central America, and South America. The whales and dolphins took turns to keep the incredible pace, and the birds of each country happily volunteered to assist in the joyous deliveries.

The winds and ocean currents joined in to make the trip as pleasant as possible. Even the night clouds parted, letting the moon pour its glow upon the travelling group.

Rounding Cape Horn, the ship sped up the East Coast of South America, the Caribbean, and North America. Then across the Atlantic to Europe.

The elves were untiring, selecting the parcels from below decks, each one marked very clearly for delivering to the proper continent, country, city, town and child. To keep everyone's spirits up, some of the musical elves played on their flutes, accordions, and harmonicas. What a Christmas Eve celebration!

Through the Mediterranean Sea, then back again, the "Ocean Joy" sailed. Down the West Coast of Africa, around the Cape of Good Hope, and up the East Coast. Along with the gifts, the birds carried parcels of food for those children who were hungry, who didn't have enough to eat.

Past the Middle East, past India, and Southeast Asia, the ship virtually soared through the waves, delivering gifts everywhere. Around the Indonesian Archipelago, Australia and New Zealand, past Japan, China, and Russia, the "Ocean Joy" sailed happily. The night was nearly over as the ship and crew reached the beginning of the Great North Sea, with icebergs floating all about.

What a night it had been! The elves were drowsy on the deck. The whales were beginning to slow down, and there was a feeling of peace in everyone's mind. In the eastern sky there appeared the soft glow of Christmas dawn. The sun was about to rise, and their mission was accomplished!

Suddenly, Santa shouted. "Dear me! We have forgotten something!"

Everyone woke up right away. Gwendl, who had stayed awake all night at the tiller, asked Santa, "What have we forgotten? We've just sailed around the world!"

"Yes, Gwendl - we have sailed around the world. But we missed the land at the center of the Great Pacific Ocean - the Hawaiian Islands!" The elves looked at each other in astonishment, and then called down into the hold of the ship.

"Are there any gifts left down there?" they asked.

Kimi, who was a young and energetic elf, called up from below. "Santa was right! There's still more gifts - quite a few more parcels - and they have Hawaii written all over them!"

"How could we have missed them?" the elves asked each other.

"Quick! This is no time to wonder why!" cried out Santa. "Turn the ship around to starboard! We haven't finished yet, and it’s almost Christmas morning!" A new pod of whales and dolphins swam up at that moment, asking if there was any more help needed. Santa called to them from the deck, "Friends, we again need you to help us in this final hour. Bring us to Hawaii - right away!"

The sea creatures laughed. "We'd love to - in fact, we were going that way ourselves to spend the winter - it's much warmer than the North Pole!" Without a second to waste, they entered the elf-woven harnesses.

"We're off!" said Santa the Sailor, bracing himself against the wind. Rapidly the ship sailed from the northern deep blue waters to the tropical blue-green shores of the islands. Native Hawaiian birds flew out to greet the "Ocean Joy" and pick up the special parcels of gifts.

Kauai, Oahu, Lanai, Molokai, Maui, and the Big Island of Hawaii - every island had children just about to get out of bed, and ready to see what Santa had brought them. They would not be disappointed, either - thanks to the wonderful help of the whales, the dolphins, the birds, and the reindeer.

Santa and his elves stood against the leeward rail of the "Ocean Joy", watching a fantastic Christmas Sunrise over Haleakala, Maui's great volcano.

The whales and dolphins had slipped out of their harnesses, and were playing in the warm waters. The birds had all flown back to their families to enjoy a pleasant Christmas morning. From every island Santa could begin to hear the joyful cries and shouts of children as they discovered the gifts which he had brought them, all the way from the North Pole.

He leaned over to his chief elf, and said in a soft voice, "You know, Gwendl, perhaps Mrs. Claus wouldn't mind spending this winter here in Hawaii. Would you be so kind as to sail home and bring her back here?" He winked with a jolly grin on his face.

Gwendl, who had worked with Santa for many, many years, had never known him to tell a lie. Santa must be serious!

Gwendl nodded his consent. He loved Santa more than anyone else in the world, and would do anything for him. Yet he was concerned, and expressed it. "If I leave you here, Santa, how will I ever find you again?"

"Don't worry," Santa said with a smile. "I'll be right over there, under those palm trees, eating a breakfast of mango and papaya, and remembering about this special night, about the Christmas Eve when Santa became a sailor."

And that's exactly what he did.