Good Day and thank you for stopping by once again to read another instalment of The Crossing. Things are really hotting up now as the storm begins to take hold... enjoy!
The crew of Ellentari were victims of the continuous vile weather. The sea and wind threw everything at them with a fierceness that they had never before experienced. This and the personal deep depression within the yacht’s cabin made living aboard almost unbearable. Connie refused to speak to Richard and spent most of the time lying down on the saloon settee feeling sorry for herself. She had overcome her seasickness, but steadfastly refused to assist Richard with anything to do with the boat. It was almost as if she had abandoned him as well as the yacht’s well-being. Toby made small attempts to keep the peace and offered his own limited help, which Richard gratefully accepted. He had managed to make a hot drink and a simple meal with his one good arm and was feeling less useless than before. He made small jokes about the cutting edge of his culinary skills and even managed to entice a small smile from Richard.
The yacht continued gallantly on her way toward the west, the deep-blue sea sluicing along her cabin topsides. She was a game little boat and despite the terrible conditions, was taking the battering better than most yachts would. In this Richard was right. Her hull design and build was extremely good. Despite this, the constant high winds in the rigging and relentless violent waves thrown against the hull would eventually take their toll.
The porthole above the chart table had now begun to weep seawater. Where the flailing spinnaker pole had smashed against the deck, it had caught the porthole frame and buckled the metal surround causing the Perspex to crack under the torsion. The crew noticed the broken window and stuck gaffer tape over the, as yet, minute crack. The tape proved useless and spare clothes were stuffed around to mop up the wet. The water dripped, and then became a trickle down the bulkhead, running behind the bank of the control panel which housed the navigational instruments, lights, bilge pumps and radios. The steady ingress of water caused the lights to flicker on the panel and there was a sudden silence from the main bilge pump. The second pump continued to work throwing the sea back from whence it came, but Richard knew that this pump was not as powerful as the other and it wouldn’t be long before it either shorted or burnt out. Sod’s Law of the Sea, he thought. The pumps were a continuous drain on the twenty-four-volt system and the batteries needed recharging. He didn’t need to go out on deck yet again, receiving yet another dousing in order to start the engine, all he had to do was run the generator for power.
He pressed the pre-warm button. It came on with the familiar red glow. He pressed start. There was nothing, not even a slight cough. The seawater had flooded into the control switch and shorted out the power supply. To fix the generator he would have to remove the companionway steps to get into the small space behind. The steps were large and heavy, they could be secured safely but it was a difficult task on your own in a violent seaway. There was no other choice; he would have to use the main engine.
Once again, he dragged on his damp salt-laden jacket and safety harness. Feeling thoroughly annoyed and dejected he staggered up the steps, holding tightly onto the heaving grab holds. The key was in the ignition but he had a premonition before he turned it. He couldn’t believe it. It was a fine time to become a clairvoyant. Of course nothing happened. He tried again. In rage and despair he hit the wheel binnacle and yelled to the elements in frustration. Why this now? He’d done everything right. He’d spent hours servicing the engine so that it ran smoothly and sweetly. The weather at this time of year should be good and benign for a perfect Atlantic crossing. Was World Climate Change affecting the hurricane season, allowing a late storm to hurtle across their path? He’d so wanted Connie to enjoy this voyage. He knew she hated rough weather, but he’d taken every precaution to protect her. It was so bloody unfair. No wonder she hated him at the moment. He had to get something right. True, help was on its way – 200 miles or so to the west – but they had to still be afloat when it finally did arrive.
Wearily, he clambered down from the cockpit ignoring the questioning, anxious face of Toby below. Connie remained lying on her side facing the settee cushions. He opened the engine room door and surveyed the wet scene within. Water sloshed around the compartment, the problem obvious. Water had been sucked into the air intakes and flooded the engine. Normally it would be a fairly simple but grubby job in calm conditions, but not now; there would be no chance of getting it dried out while the storm continued.
‘Ah Richard, I – think the radar’s packed up.’
Toby was moodily staring at a blank screen. Richard groaned in despair.
‘That’s all we need. I can’t get either the genny or the engine to start either.’
Without power, both men knew that soon the instruments, GPS, lights, radio and the remaining electric bilge pump would shut down. The bilge pump was vital to them. There was no way that Richard could manually pump out the seawater they had taken on board for very long. His strength would eventually give up. He knew Toby was useless and Connie little better.
Feeling bitterly disappointed and full of anger Richard had to make a quick decision. There was nothing for it now. The weather showed no sign of easing for the next few hours at least. The situation was becoming more desperate with each minute. They would all have to abandon the yacht and go aboard the ship when it arrived. Earlier, Richard had briefly thought of possibly offloading Connie and Toby and sailing on alone to Antigua. Connie could fly out and re-join him later. To go solo now with everything failing and him feeling exhausted would be suicidal.
‘Right you two. We’d better get our stuff together. We’re definitely going to have to abandon ship now. So, I think, grab your essentials and put them with the passports and credit cards already in the emergency grab bag. Put your lifejackets and harnesses back on and we’d better keep a good lookout for the ship. I’ll activate the EPIRB and its radio position will alert the UK coastguard who will relay our current position to the rescue ship. They shouldn’t miss us then.’
Both Connie and Toby looked at each other in relief. Now they were in the clear over prematurely calling for help. Better still they were getting out of this hellhole. Soon the nightmare would be all over. They smiled and each thought about the coming ship. Toby dreamed of a hot meal of bacon and eggs and a stiff drink or two. Connie dreamed of a hot shower, sitting comfortably on a loo without being thrown off and a deep, long sleep in a soft bed. Richard was more prosaic; he knew that their ordeal wasn’t over yet.
They had to somehow get onto the approaching ship.
Connie went aft to fix a support for Toby’s arm. ‘You need more strapping on that arm,’ she said more like her old self. ‘Then you’ll be able to manage a bit better.’
Toby and Richard were left together in the saloon.
Toby looked rueful as he muttered, ‘I’m sorry about all this.’
Richard frowned at him as he continued.
‘I know how you feel about her. The yacht I mean, Ellentari.’
Richard was momentarily confused before he caustically replied. ‘It’s only a boat. If human lives are at risk then that must be the first priority.’
He was trying not to think about the past few days. How everything had suddenly changed. Their dream crossing turned into this mayhem. The weather, their relationships, the uncertainty of it all was gradually wearing him down. His whole world was caving in. He had to be strong for them all.
The yacht was threshing around, skewing her way down, up, down and through the waves. Simple things like gathering their few possessions for the grab bag were difficult. Richard made Toby sit in the cockpit behind the spray hood keeping a lookout for any other boats. He eventually persuaded Connie that she too would be better off up in the fresh air, ready to get off when help arrived. Together, safely clipped on, they huddled under the spray hood, flinching whenever a particularly large wave crashed into the cockpit glass surround, and cascaded down onto them. The seas were still mountainous and the wind howled all around. Spume flew off the wave crests like treacherous frothy lace. Toby was astounded at the ferocity of it all and could only stare in horror. Being cocooned down below for the past few days he was unprepared for the sight that met his eyes. The enormity of what Richard had had to put up with finally got through to him. He cast his eyes all around him. What monstrous seas!
Suddenly, he noticed a loom on the darkening horizon. He rubbed his tired red-rimmed eyes excitedly, a pain throbbing behind his temple. It was! A ship!
‘Richard! Richard it’s here. The ship, I can see it on the starboard bow.’
He bellowed down to Richard below, straining to overcome the racket that sounded all around him. Together, he and Connie watched the ship as she battled head on to the oncoming waves.
Richard seemed to fly up the companionway steps. He opened the cockpit locker and pulled out a red plastic container. Inside was a collection of their boat safety flares. He needed to alert the captain of their position; they didn’t want to be run down by their would-be saviours. He took out a flare; a distress red-rocket and fired it into the wind.
The ship hove to their side, thereby given some protection to the comparative tiny yacht. The ship’s bulk created a slick of calmer water in which Ellentari lay, and yet, her mast was still rising and falling with each successive wave that passed beneath her. The water surged and crashed as it sucked against her side. In the dim late afternoon light they could just make out the scramble rescue-net that the ship’s crew had thrown over the side. Somehow, that had to be overcome and scaled. Richard knew he would manage it; Connie too was capable so long as she kept her head and didn’t look down. But, the injured arm would seriously impede Toby.
Then, there was the problem of the yacht. It wasn’t enough to simply abandon her. Left as she was, she would be a hazard to other shipping and could cause serious problems. Richard had to make the heart-breaking decision to scuttle her. She would slowly fill with seawater and sink forever beneath the cold, deep water of the Atlantic. His heart felt heavy and full of regret; despite everything she had been a good yacht and only an accident with a loose spinnaker pole had caused her electrical problems. Something briefly nagged at the back of his mind. A story his father had told him about his own exploits during the war. He himself had had to scuttle a boat. Richard shook away the thoughts; he didn’t have time to think about that now.
It was agreed with plenty of sign language and bellowing down from the ship’s captain that Toby would ascend first, aided by Connie. They had thrown down an additional line that Toby knotted into a bowline and tucked under his armpits. He could then half climb and be half-pulled up the scramble rescue net. Richard was to remain behind to knock out the seacocks to fully flood the boat. When this was accomplished this he would then take the grab bag on his back and climb to safety. Assured that the others understood everything, he went below to pick up his hammer.
Toby and Connie positioned themselves on the lee side waiting for a comparative lull in the yawing of the yacht. They were poised ready to leap across the yawning black space to the ship and her scramble net. The ship’s crew hung over the side above them, silently, anxiously watching. The yacht thrashed up and down, dangerously close to the steel hull of the ship. Closer, closer Connie thought; Toby leapt across the dark space and there was a howl of pain as he crashed against the hull. Steadfastly, he managed to crawl a little way up the net aided by the safety rope, until he was clinging above the height of the hull of the yacht and avoiding being crushed as they smacked back together. He clung there panting and whimpering, sea-spray blinding his eyes. He remembered Connie back on Ellentari and half-turned, yelling at her to jump as the hulls began to drift apart. She hesitated only for a moment then, survival being uppermost in her mind, she closed her eyes and jumped. There was a small thump and a terrified scream passed her lips as Connie joined him clamped to the net, just a little below him.
‘Good girl! Now climb, climb as quickly as you can.’
He gasped, and began pulling himself up by his one good arm. He slipped on the wet rope as his feet missed their foothold and he fell away from the ship. Only the restraining rope prevented him from slipping back down into the waters below. As he crashed back to the hull he shrieked with the sharp pain that streaked through him. He had to somehow block it out, in order to survive. Taking a deep breath and with renewed energy, the adrenalin surged within him as he climber higher.
Connie struggled below, but slowly and steadily she made headway up the net. Toby couldn’t believe it when he was grabbed by eager outstretched hands and unceremoniously dragged over the ship’s side to the safety of her deck. He lay there sobbing in relief, pain and exhaustion. He was safe. He’d made it.
Connie was making better progress now. She was concentrating on finding her footholds in the deepening fading light and was more than halfway up the ship’s side. She clenched her teeth and pulled herself another step upwards. She could do this.
The ship lurched and rolled. A sudden monster wave rose up between the yacht and ship and engulfed her. She screamed in sheer terror and panic, saltwater flooding her nose and mouth, choking her. Her cry was torn away on the wind.
Finishing his grisly task below, Richard scrambled as fast as he could up out of the now fast-filling yacht’s saloon. Once on deck, he saw with horror that the gap between the yacht and ship had widened. They had been parted by the monstrous wave and now the gap was eight feet or more. Ellentari went down and then rose up, the net seeming out of arms reach. He had to reach it. Once more the yacht ploughed down in a trough and Richard waited, legs braced and stooped, tightly hanging onto the coach roof. The yacht rose and he could just see the lowest rung of the scramble net…
The merchant ship spent several hours criss-crossing the ocean in a tight figure of eight pattern searching for Connie. Back and forth they searched the spume laden, frothy seas. After the ships medico had re-strapped his arm, Toby had gone up to the ship’s bridge. With his nose pressed against the rain-streaked glass he had looked out at the wave lashed deck and the sea beyond. Once Richard had regained conscious, he had refused any further medical aid for his cuts, and had stood alone against the ship’s rail hoping, just hoping for what he knew to be a miraculous chance that they might find her. After many hours under the now dark skies the captain told Richard that the search was futile. She was lost; drowned in the treacherous deep, blue-black ocean.
Richard felt numb. All the trusted clear channel markers of his life had been rearranged into chaos. He was in the dark on automatic pilot, floundering aimlessly in all directions and in constant danger of running hard aground on the rocks. He desperately needed someone he could talk to. He couldn’t talk to Toby. He felt that he had betrayed his trust. He thought with regret of his father, now recently dead. He’d lived a part of his life in the Royal Navy and he lost many friends at sea during the war. He would understand Richard’s loss and his abject misery at not feeling in control. It’s too late Dad. It’s too late to talk to you and I was too late to save her.
The ship docked in Southampton and the coroner came aboard to take witness statements. A still stunned Richard gave his account through bloodless lips, and afterwards sat silently watching the rain drizzle down the salt-encrusted windows of the wheelhouse. He’d been careless. Accidents happen, but to lose your wife was simply irresponsible beyond belief. The whole tragedy was compounded by his firm belief that she was leaving him for Toby. He’d overheard what Toby had said on that fateful day. ‘I promise I won’t let you down.’
Well, her husband had and nothing was going to change that. He was a complete and utter failure both in his marriage and in maintaining the safety of both of his crew.
One injured and one drowned.
The press were soon hounding him, once he was released from the ship and made his way through the docks. They were waiting vulture-like behind a thin veneer of solicitude.
‘Just a few words please, Mr Barker. What was it really like, on your yacht during the storm? What do you feel now? Could you have avoided the accident? What about Mr Ellis? How did he injure himself? Did you not take enough precautions? What about the relationship now between you and Mr Ellis? Does he blame you?’
And on and on it went with their scarcely-veiled accusations and insults. He had never before felt so utterly wretched, dejected and alone. His whole world had suddenly changed and collapsed around him. He had been catapulted from a life of comparative ease and uncomplicatedness to this. He’d had a happy relationship with his pretty, self-contained wife, a very successful business and a beautiful yacht in which to pursue his dreams. With one cataclysmic heave all had come tumbling down; crashing around his ears and fallen broken, torn and in complete devastation.
Why Book Titles Are Important?
I’m often surprised when I notice a fiction piece doesn’t have a book title. Or from what is there, it’s obvious the writer didn’t put much thought or energy into the title. While ultimately the publisher will select the title, if authors create an excellent title, it will stick throughout the publishing process.
Book titles are one of the key ways you can hook your reader or editor. It’s a topic to pour some considerable thought and creativity into because it might pay off for you—with a juicy book contract! Sometimes a book title will become a phrase that enters the culture. For example, if you say something is a catch-22, you know the quandary of the situation. (Joseph Heller).
How important is a book’s title?
In a word: vital. Good titles should reflect the content of the book. They should be fairly short and snappy, and they should suit the type of book you are writing. If it’s a crime novel, blood is often used in the title, in romance novels, love broadly features. The title should also reflect the theme and tone of the book. A title gives the reader a hint of what the book is all about.
Who decides on a book’s title?
Mostly this is the author. But if the sales and marketing team don’t like your chosen title, you’re in trouble. Sometimes it’s worth sticking to your guns, but often they have a point. All they care about is selling your book. They are not really interested in how much work you’ve put into coming up with a clever title. Your editor might be, but it’s the sales and marketing team’s job to squeeze as many of your books into as many bookshops as possible, and in order to do this they demand a good cover and a good title. Arguably the sentence or two at the top of your manuscript is the most important part of your book. Yes, that's right; the title. And yet, it's often an afterthought and the part of your book that you spend the least amount of time on.
There's an old saying in traditional publishing. A random reader will pick up your book if they like the cover. Once they pick it up, they'll read the title. A potential buyer will pick up the book if they like the title. If they like the title, they'll read the front copy. If they like the front copy, they'll read the back copy…and so on, until ultimately they buy the book.
But it all starts with the title. This must be a strong title or you will never have any readers!
A good title is your first hook, your way to tell the reader what the book is about. You need to touch the reader’s imagination and their emotions, with your promise of a good read.
Some Interesting Facts about Book Titles
Even bestselling authors and great classic writers can struggle with what to title their masterpiece. Here are some surprising examples.
* The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was originally titled Men who Hate Women
* Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the wind was originally titled Pansy. Other titles she considered were Tote the Weary Load and Tomorrow is Another Day.
* Tolstoy considered All’s Well That Ends Well for his novel War and Peace
* F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel This Side of Paradise was first called The Romantic Egotist
Much thought should be given to the selection of a title because it can be a deciding factor on whether or not a book will appeal to the reader. Good titles get picked up, while dull or ambiguous ones may languish on the shelf.
When I chose the title for my first book it fitted perfectly into the theme and tone of what I was writing about. ‘The Crossing’ conveyed many things; crossing The Atlantic in a yacht, crossing over into Germany during World War Two, crossing from happiness to despair and then crossing over and finding peace, and finally crossing from youth into manhood.
I never realised that my title had been used before, as it was only just before publication that I did a spot of research into the title. I was amazed to find I was among some fantastic authors – but for me ‘The Crossing’ was perfect and I needed to look no further. Among other writers who have used the title I am up with some of the best they include:
Cormac McCarthy, James Cracknell and Ben Fogle, Kathy Watson, Gilbert Morris and lastly but perhaps most illustrious of all, Sir Winston Churchill. What a fine gathering of writers to be included among.
Good reading .
My goodness, is it really a week since I posted my last blog/chapter? Since then so much has happened. We've passed from spring back into winter here, with a huge dump of snow, and as I'm off on holiday tomorrow there's no chance of exploring the skiing. Never mind South Africa, Dubai and India will do very nicely!
This week, to keep in the groove I've added Chapter 5 as this weeks blog post. A nice short chapter but with plenty of action and excitement to whet even the stalest of appetites. Here goes... and next week we'll probably try something completely different. Good reading!
Up top, Richard was having his own battle with the spinnaker pole. Its weight felt tremendous under the heaving deck and he was thankful for his safety harness. He fleetingly thought of sea horror stories in the yachting press where harness lines had parted and given way. Their owners’ bodies were often never recovered from their watery graves. He hurriedly dismissed the idea. Don’t go down that morbid path. His equipment was in top condition. He frequently checked it. He returned to his problem with the pole. His hands were cold from the constant wetness, and twice the pole had smashed down onto his knuckles, skinning them and drawing blood. He winced and swore and tried to block out the pain. It was imperative to contain the sixteen-foot heavy lump of metal. It had already swung out alongside the deck and whacked against the starboard saloon window. If it continued to do so, it could easily smash the Perspex and then they would have more trouble with the water coming directly into the boat.
After what seemed like hours, Richard got it under control and firmly secured it back in its proper position on the mast. His chest was heaving with exertion as he crawled back, his blood smearing the sopping deck, mixing with the seawater and running away through the scuppers. He rolled into the cockpit, utterly exhausted and feeling slightly nauseous with the pain and exertion. He lay there for a moment or two regaining his breath. Miraculously the autopilot was still coping with the sea. It could at least steer a better path than any one of them for a long period of time. Still, he had better check the battery state as by now they would be getting very low, and would need a recharging boost from the generator or engine.
Wincing, he climbed down the lurching steps into the saloon. Here the relative quietness and calmness had a soporific effect. He leant against the steps and closed his eyes, relief flooding through him. He could feel his pulse beating in his neck and his whole body ached. Richard opened his eyes and took in the scene before him.
Toby had moved and was now sitting on the end of the settee hanging onto the chart table for support. He was studying his broken arm and didn’t look at Richard; neither did he ask what the noise had been, or whether everything was now all right on deck. Connie remained at her earlier place at the chart table, her white-knuckled hands clenching the edges. She looked over to Toby. There was a calmness about her. She appeared more at ease, although her mouth was still set in a grim tight line. She too neither mentioned the noise or the state of their boat.
Richard shook himself, annoyed at their apparent lack of either concern or involvement. Sometimes he felt that both of them could do with a short, hard slap to help them get a grip on themselves and perhaps lend at least half a hand. He took off the wet weather gear that was steadily dripping over the cabin sole leaving small salty puddles. He wondered about the latest weather reports. He needed to look at them to decide which course to take with this new stormy weather. How long was it likely to last and what wind speeds were they likely to expect? So far they had already experienced steady fifty-five to seventy knots of wind. Please God, it must abate soon, surely?
‘I need to have a look at the weather report. Can you please move, Connie?’
He glanced at the electric panel, ready to turn the SSB radio set on to download the weather report onto his laptop. He noticed the radio microphone was lying adrift on the chart table and the SSB was already switched on. He said nothing for a moment. Had he left it on from the last time he’d used it? No, he was a stickler for power saving. He looked at Connie and then Toby. Why were they so quiet? No weeping and wailing now. Furthermore, they both looked guilty.
Connie stood up and made to push past Richard. He stopped her gently but firmly. Taking hold of her arm he looked down at her. She stole a glance up at him and immediately he knew the answer in her eyes. He didn’t want the answer. She disentangled her arm from his and moved over to join Toby on the sofa. Their close togetherness caused a jolt in Richard that he hadn’t felt before. Connie took a breath, swallowed, faltered and then stopped. She looked afraid, but then finally piped up with.
‘Help's coming. It’s on its way. A cargo ship is in the vicinity, less than 200 miles from here and it has deviated to pick us up!’ she spoke quickly. Her face was suddenly suffused with colour as if the telling had forced her blood to race round her body.
‘It’s what? What have you done? You stupid bloody woman!’ he asked quietly.
‘But, they said they could pick us up! We’re going to be alright!’
‘We’re already all right! This blow will pass and we are not in danger. How many times do I have to tell you this is a good sea-going yacht? Not a dinghy, not a surf board, but a well-found yacht. How dare you call up for help? On whose authority?’ he finally bellowed at her, utterly furious.
‘No we’re not all right, we’re going to sink and drown. And I have had enough of this and of you, you fucking power freak. I don’t want to die!’
‘I can’t believe this. Call them back and cancel it, right now!’
Furiously, Richard grabbed Connie by the arm and dragged her back over to the chart table. He pushed the microphone at her. ‘See if you can undo what you’ve done. Apart from putting another ship to trouble, we don’t need them, for Christ’s sake!’
Connie screamed an obscenity at Richard and furiously lashed out at him, hitting him across the mouth. He stepped back, shocked at her reaction. This was so totally alien to him. It was nothing like her normal controlled behaviour. He knew she hated bad weather, especially gales, but she always calmly coped and moreover trusted his judgement. This was just not in her character, and he felt that something else was underfoot. Perhaps Toby with his accident had convinced her otherwise?
Richard felt a strange unease pass through him. A strange feeling gripped at his heart. He again grabbed her arm and this time he roughly shook her.
‘Pull yourself together. We’ve been in plenty of gales before, just try and treat this as being a little worse.’
She looked at him as if he was mad and screamed. ‘No it’s not, it’s not! It’s horrible and I can’t stand it anymore. I’m so scared and so is Toby.’
She did look quite terrified. Her eyes were wild and her mouth was back to its thin white line. Richard could clearly see that nothing was going to convince her otherwise.
There was a sudden deafening crash against the hull and the yacht slew to one side as she careered down off another gigantic wave. Large pilot books cascaded heavily down from their shelf above the chart table landing with a resounding thump and hitting both Connie and Richard in their progress. Another lurch and they continued sliding across the table, catching the microphone cable still lying where it had been left, on their journey to the floor. The HF microphone was ripped from the set and joined the books in the wet.
‘Shit,’ said Richard as he dived to save it. ‘Shit. It’s too late. Now we can’t call anyone to cancel. It’s bust and I don’t have another. You really have done it now. Satisfied? For God’s sake why couldn’t you trust me? I’ve never let you or anyone else down before. We’ve always got through everything together. Was this all your bloody idea or did you have a bit of help from friend Toby here?’
Richard looked furiously at the two of them. His body, held rigid and taut with anger. He glared first at Toby and then back at Connie.
For the first time since they had been married Connie felt afraid of Richard and hesitated before replying.
Toby struggled up from his seat on the sofa, still clinging with his good arm to the handheld for support. Standing up straight, he stared Richard squarely in the eyes.
‘It was me – not Connie.’
Richard looked steadily at his wife as she took an intake of breath, her face going from white to pink after taking glancing at Toby. He turned away and looked at Toby.
‘I said it was me. Don’t blame Con; she had nothing to do with it. Blame me if you like, but I’d had enough, what with the pain from my arm and everything.’
He finished and stood there, quietly challenging Richard with his eyes.
Richard shook his head in disbelief, not sure what to believe. He dragged his arm across his face and rubbed his sore eyes resignedly. His look was sad and bleak. He then staggered from the saloon back to his cabin and closed the door. He didn’t want to see either of them at that moment. A bright salty taste was in his mouth and he realised he had bitten his tongue.
Toby looked at Connie. Neither quite knew what they felt the most. Relief at the coming rescue, or the sickening feeling that they had both lost or at the very least antagonised a good friend causing him great anguish.
‘You didn’t have to do that,’ Connie whispered. ‘He wouldn’t have hurt me. He’s not like that.’
‘Well I’m not so sure. He looked bloody murderous and he is so obsessed with his sailing skills and this boat,’ he replied shakily.
‘Yes but it’s only when we’re at sea. He becomes a different person with the responsibility of it all. It’s quite common among skippers.’
‘I’m sure it is. But, look at Captain Bligh and what happened to him!’
Connie managed a slight thin smile. ‘That was a bit different. They were hard desperate men.’
Toby passed a hand through his unruly hair and seemed hesitant for a moment. Quietly he murmured.
‘I love you. Leave him, come away with me.’
There was a pause. Connie raised her dark violet-blue eyes to his.
‘I said I love you. I don’t think I’ve misunderstood your signals lately either.’
Toby stretched out a hand to her and would have continued but, something in her eyes made him stop. He shook his head and looked away; he felt that he could hardly breathe. He again looked at her, waiting, hope in his face. Then, ‘I know it’s a huge decision but, I promise I won’t let you down, ever.’
Richard reappeared quietly in the saloon. He took in the tight, intimate little scene around the table. He gave no indication as to whether he had heard Toby’s words or not.
The storm continued to rage both outside and within.
Good Day! And a very bright and sunny day this Sunday promises to be. Around our house and village, the blossom is almost fully out and our usual spring visitors; a pair of house martins have begun rebuilding last years nest. You cannot imagine so much noise could come from such two little birds.Once again, I am inviting you to read another chapter from The Crossing. This one is not quite so long as some of the others, but very exciting as the yacht runs into some horrendous weather - not for the faint-hearted sailor! Enjoy it.
They had now been at sea for ten days and were well over half way to Antigua. Morning dawned on a dozing Connie in the cockpit around six a.m. The sun wasn’t the usual fireball rising in the east over the deep blue perfect skies that they were used to.
The complete horizon was hugged by a malevolent looking deep purple shadow. Above the horizon, the sky had amassed huge rolling clouds that were shot through with a strange pewter and copper hue. These clouds were speeding frantically across the sky in all directions. As the dawn continued to break, the air seemed to be full of charged static and a bolt of brilliant white lightning flashed ahead of the yacht and all around them. Off to the port side and far behind, there was a fierce growl of enormous thunder, cracking and rolling and gathering in volume as it travelled nearer. There was a strange up and down motion to the yacht on a sea that had now changed to an eerie colour of molten grey with steep irregular waves. The wind was rising and the sound through the rigging was alarming to listen to. Within a minute it had climbed to a nerve-jangling crescendo as the waves began bursting with a surf that crashed against the boat’s hull. Somewhere a newly loosened stay was twanging in the wind and below there were the beginnings of strange bangs and thuds. Without warning a sudden deluge of warm rain dumped on the deck making it difficult for Connie to see and breathe. She climbed below and hurried aft to wake Richard. On reaching their cabin she saw he was already up and dressed, struggling into a lifejacket and harness.
‘It looks bad,’ she said. She hated rough weather and a tremor of fear ran through her.
‘I can tell by the change in motion. It’s come up quick. Keep your lifejacket and harness on, we’re probably in for a blow.’ He pushed past her in the galley. Toby appeared from his cabin rubbing the sleep from his eyes.
‘The sound on the hull is bloody awful, it’s impossible to sleep,’ he said.
‘Get your safety gear on,’ was all Richard replied as he clipped on to the safety line in the cockpit.
Climbing up the companionway ladder, he was assaulted it seemed, from every direction by wild blasts of hot wind. The thunder and lightning continued, cracking overhead.
Richard looked at the sea in amazement; it seemed to have grown to unbelievable steepness; the waves striking the yacht with enormous force. The thunder rose in volume and filled the air with its bellowing. The roaring mass of rain hissed down on the sea’s surface. Connie appeared pale and trembling in the cockpit opening as the yacht was hit by a huge wave and she was violently thrown to one side, smashing herself against the bulkhead.
‘We’ve got to reduce sail,’ Richard yelled.
Connie was frozen to the cabin’s sole and rubbed her bruised shoulder. She didn’t attempt to stand up or move from her position on the floor.
‘You must help me,’ he continued.
She shook her head, her face devoid of colour. ‘I can’t,’ she croaked.
Toby staggered over to the companionway ladder. ‘I will!’
‘Don’t be daft, you’ve only got the use of one arm,’ argued Richard. ‘Connie! Get up here now!’
Slowly, Connie climbed the ladder and looked around her, biting her bottom lip to stop herself crying out in alarm. The scene was now terrifying. Richard put an arm around her as he explained what he wanted her to do.
‘Don’t look out there. Concentrate on what I tell you. You can do it, darling, you’ve never let me down before.’ He gave her a reassuring squeeze and made sure she was ready before releasing the sheet.
The strength of the wind was now such, that the rain and spray hit them forcibly in their faces, half choking them. Slowly, they managed to completely lower the mainsail and reduce the headsail to a mere scrap of canvas. The boat responded by calming down a little. She had less heel enabling her to remain more upright; now she gamely clawed her way on through the waves. The overhead thunder continued from one stunning thunderclap to another as the rain beat down mercilessly on the cabin roof.
‘Any washing you need doing?’ Richard said to Connie at an attempt to make her smile.
There was a sudden tremendous roar from the starboard side as a gigantic wave thundered into them. Richard and Connie were hit, and the force of the water sent them tumbling and crashing across the cockpit; their safety lines pulling them up sharply, preventing them being swept overboard.
‘You’d better get below,’ he shouted, helping Connie untangle her harness line and safely guiding her down through the hatch.
Richard remained in the cockpit, and looking at the side of the yacht he saw that part of the guard rail had disappeared. As they came up on the top of a wave he realised that it hadn’t been torn away as he’d first thought, but that the sheer weight of the water had flattened the stainless-steel stanchions. Looking further out across to the horizon he saw an enormous, heaving indigo sea laced with white streams of foam and broken water. They raced westwards. Somehow their yacht didn’t seem quite as substantial out here now as she was tossed around on the furious sea. A fleeting thought of his father passed though him as he crawled below, gasping and wet through. Barker senior had put up with some ferocious weather during his time in the Royal Navy.
Richard put the washboard in its allotted slot to prevent the water flooding down the companionway into the salon below. Connie was sitting huddled on the floor crying; huge tears mingling with the salt upon her face, wet puddles around her. A concerned Toby was attempting to console her with a one-armed hug. The noise below was no quieter than above as the bilge pumps were going like the clappers. Gallons of water were being pumped out, and gallons more were furiously being thrown right back at them.
It was obvious to Richard that they had caught the tail end of the storm and he had no idea how long it would last. The ocean heaved and the thrust of the wind drove the boat further and faster. The onslaught on the yacht continued. The wind howled in the rigging and monstrous waves crashed into the hull. White blinding spume flew horizontally all around them.
The ghastly conditions continued all that day and the following night, relentless never ending, leaving all three of them exhausted and anxious. Connie was nearly paralysed with fear and lay prostrate on the cabin sole; the narrow gap between the salon table and static seating confined her body and prevented her from hurting herself as the yacht was thrown around. Toby was sitting grim-faced, wedged behind the salon table clinging to the grab rail with his right arm. He found it especially difficult with his still painful broken arm. Richard was seated; legs sprawled at the chart table, doing his best to get an up-to-date weather report. The thunderstorm prevented good radio propagation and so far he was unable to make any contact.
Earlier, Connie had been totally freaked out, begging him to either turn back or radio for help, with Toby adding his own voice to back her up. Richard thought that both ideas were over the top; they were in no danger of sinking, and so long as conditions didn’t get any worse they would be okay. He was exhausted. The last few days had really taxed him. Dark shadows ringed his eyes and his hair was encrusted with thick salt.
He had been covering all the watches as both Toby and Connie were incapacitated with seasickness and he was desperate for a rest.
‘Toby, I have to lie down for a bit. I’ve checked the radar, there is nothing within a radius of thirty miles from us, so we shouldn’t get run down or hit anything. Give me half an hour or so and I should be OK.’ He didn’t wait for Toby to agree or disagree but stumbled back into his cabin. He dragged off his uncomfortably wet clothes and dropped them on the floor. He crawled into his bunk and lay snugly against the lee cloth, safely keeping him within his bed. Thankfully, he closed his eyes and sleep overcame him instantly.
He awoke some time later that day. It was quieter. It felt different
. He felt a swell. Now it was a new regular up and down motion. Pulling himself together, he dressed in dry clothes and entered the main cabin. The whole boat was a disgusting mess. Books, charts, and games were strewn everywhere. In the galley, the cupboard that usually contained the pots and pans was wide open; its contents disgorged. Coffee dregs were spilt onto the galley work-surface, and the sugar-bowl had dumped itself into this mess covering the surrounding work-surfaces and walls with a horrible sticky goo. Richard hurriedly put as much away as he could. Anything heavy was especially dangerous if it was sent flying. Luckily, the heavy steel-cooker was still on its sturdy gimbals. If that broke loose they would soon know it. Connie and Toby were fast asleep, still in the same positions as when he had left them earlier. Richard had a quick scout around, checking there were no other vessels around bearing down on them.
He was concerned about the weather. This could be just a lull and anything might happen. However, it was good to make the most of the respite and clear up the boat as best they could. Toby and Connie managed to force some salt biscuits and cola down themselves under Richard’s insistence. He explained that the replacement salt and sugar was necessary treatment for seasickness. He made himself some thick corned beef and pickle sandwiches, which he devoured ravenously. He thought nothing had ever tasted so good. But, they really needed something nourishing and hot. He got out a large saucepan and into it opened some tins of vegetable and chicken soup. He placed steaming mugs in front of Connie and Toby and stood over them while they slowly sipped their way through the tasty broth. He polished off two mugful’s himself with great satisfaction.
Later, Richard went on deck to survey the scene outside. The sky retained its ugly, sullen colour but the sea now possessed a heavy molten slick overlying the whitecaps that sluggishly rolled down the waves. The decks were washed clean of dust and dirt and the drying teak gleamed golden. The genoa halyards were loose and needed bringing into the cockpit for easy access. The deflated dinghy was still amazingly secured on the stern push-pit, and the life raft remained in place on its mid-deck cradle. Apart from the crushed guard-rail stanchions, there appeared little damage to the yacht and all the systems were working properly below decks. The little niggles of doubt and fear that had been with him for the past few days disappeared. They would be all right! The yacht was well built and would keep them safe, so long as they were cautious and kept their heads. He wasn’t a religious man, but Richard thanked God for keeping them safe so far.
A few hours had now passed; they’d all managed to get some decent rest. As Richard finished making another entry in the ship’s log he realised that the regular sea swell had begun to change to a strange uneasy motion. There was neither a strong pitching nor a heavy roll. Instead, every now and then, there was a quick lurch that had no real direction. The yacht creaked in the rolls and lurches, when suddenly; the wind came at them with a piercing shriek. The little scrap of genoa they were flying was torn from its foil; the boat checked and then lay heavily over on her side in a near broach.
Connie screamed, her mouth an ugly wide gape in her ashen face, ‘I want to get off! I want this to stop now!’
The weather now had a direction and a meaning with the blasts passing to the north and west of them. These winds were succeeded by a pent-up southeast gale, which blew with enormous force causing a swell that could even have rivalled the roaring forties. They were now in a hard blow, a very, very hard blow with a dangerous following sea.
A sudden deafening crash on deck had all three of them look at each other. A panic-stricken and white-faced Connie turned to Richard.
‘What do you think that was?’ Her lower lip trembled and her eyes were red-rimmed from past crying.
‘I don’t know. I only hope it’s not the life raft come adrift. That would be disastrous if it broke free. It could crash through a hatch or go overboard. I’d better go and check.’
Grabbing his wet waterproofs, he dragged them on over his dry clothes. His lifejacket and harness were lying on the floor ready to don in a hurry. He finished dressing as fast as he could; the crashing on deck was becoming more urgent. Please, God, let it not be the life raft! It was heavy enough to handle in calm conditions and would be a complete bugger during heavy weather.
Climbing out of the cockpit was difficult and quite terrifying. He tried not to notice the mountainous seas all around and crouched low on deck as he clipped his harness onto the safety line. Grim-faced and teeth clenched, he edged forward; at times waist-deep in swirling green water as a wave hit the hull and cascaded down around him. The banging up front was now relentless. He reached the mast and immediately saw the offender. The spinnaker pole had broken loose from its attachment and was banging against the mast causing the racket below. The ropes were not taut enough, and he needed some extra line to properly restrain it. He would have to retrace his footsteps and fetch some from the cockpit locker. It all took so long and so much energy. The wind buffeted and shook him as he crawled along the deck on his hand and knees, half-choking in the salty spray.
Below decks, Connie was shaking uncontrollably. She wanted to get off this boat now. If not, then she wanted to die. She had had enough. She couldn’t think straight, she felt sick, weak and horribly ill. It was just all too much. Why, oh why had she ever agreed to this? Damn Richard and his sailing! It was all his
fault. She should never have listened to his exciting, enticing tales about the Caribbean. Right now she felt that she hated him. Damn. Damn. Damn!
Toby was slumped in his usual corner behind the saloon table, nursing his arm. He too looked stricken, his eyes bruised and tired. The yacht lurched and corkscrewed off a monster wave and Connie fell hard against the chart table. She shrieked with renewed fear and then heaved herself onto the bench seat behind it, wedging herself in. The red glow from the lights on the bank of electrical switches on the control panel was beside her. She quietly sobbed to herself as she lay her head down on the damp surface. She couldn’t think about anything else except getting off the boat. As the noise calmed down above she stopped crying and sat up and glanced around her. She noticed the state of the cabin, with the wet-streaked floor and the renewed mess from their possessions being thrown around them. She glanced at the battery state on the control panel and then across at Toby.
‘How do you feel?’ she asked.
She again looked at the electrical panel overhead and her glance lingered on the high-frequency radio set. Turning her head her scared eyes met those of Toby’s. They looked at each other, the creaks and bangs going on all around them. Neither said a word. But, they knew what the other was thinking. That help could be just around the corner. Just with the flick of a switch
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