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.