Richard William Barker was hoisted a dizzy fifty-nine feet up in the air. A climbing harness cruelly encircled his loins, threatening to severely limit any last minute plans for fatherhood, whereas his chest felt decidedly crushed by the extra security rope looped tightly under his armpits.
‘Up a bit more, more, more, that’s it. Hold it!’ He shouted down to Toby on the deck below. Toby was manning the electric winches. He took an extra turn of the rope round the winch and made it fast in the jammer. Then taking up the slack on the second security line he secured it snugly onto a substantial looking cleat.
Richard could now change the tricolour bulb at the top of the mast and check the radio antenna at the same time. Toby gazed up at Richard and couldn’t repress a slight prickle of fear remembering the one and only time he had gone up the mast himself when they were anchored off the Isle of Wight. It had been a beautiful, hot sunny summer’s day in the Solent for once, with little breeze and subsequently very little movement on the water in the anchorage. That was, until the inequitable jet-ski roared past only thirty feet from the yacht, its wash creating a roll to the boat from side to side. The offending jet-ski owner laughed and jeered at his puerile jest, as in panic Toby clung to the mast, his eyes tightly closed. Toby wasn’t a coward but he vowed never to willingly volunteer to go up the mast again. Not if he could help it.
Right now he was perfectly happy to sit in the cockpit, take Richard’s shouted down orders and maintain a watch on the safety lines. Soon as this job is done it will be too late to start anything else with a bit of luck, he mused. It would be time to stop for a nice cold beer and decide where to go for dinner.
He stretched out lazily along the teak seating in the cockpit and looked around the Santa Cruz marina in Tenerife, the other sleek boats tied up alongside the pontoons. It was a large harbour and motorboats and other yachts surrounded Ellentari. They were bobbing on the slight swell. Although it had been a perfect day for a sail around the Canary Islands the majority of boats were snugly secured in their berths. The light breeze of about 8 knots ruffled the oily marina water and set the gaily coloured flags a flutter. Loose halyards tinkled against metal masts and gulls swooped noisily down to inspect debris floating in the water.
If you added up the value of all the moored boats it would run into many millions. Toby’s accountant brain thought, what a waste. At least Richard was utilising his boat to the full. Ellentari was a beautiful yacht and clearly a sound investment. Toby knew good well-built solid boats kept their value and this 45-footer was no exception. He leant back and looked up at Richard, still aloft. With a bit of luck it was only a bulb that required replacing now and the radio antenna just needed to be more securely screwed in place. Better to check it here now in the relative calm of the marina than being tossed around 60 feet up aloft when at sea.
‘OK. Can you turn on the tricolour now please?’ called down Richard. Toby’s reverie was broken as he climbed down from the cockpit into the boats saloon. The instrument panel was on the starboard side bulkhead and he reached over and pushed the appropriate labelled switch. A glowing red light indicated it was on.
‘Great! That appears to be fine now. Turn if off and then you can slowly lower me down.’
Toby climbed the companionway ladder back into the cockpit. He adjusted the two lines holding Richard’s life in his hands and slowly paid out the rope.
Richard landed safely on the deck, deftly untied the safety line bowline and eased himself out of the climbing harness, wincing as he did so.
‘Thank God I’ve got that off, it’s not exactly pleasant being trussed up like a chicken! Anyway that’s a job well done and for a change relatively simple. Thanks for your help,’ Richard said laughing, coiling and stowing the ropes away.
His thin angular face was creased in good humour. Straightening up he was a good six-foot three inches, slim build with a tanned muscular body. His straight hair was from a sun-washed blonde to light brown, flecked through with grey and cut fairly short. The tan looked good on him giving him a more youthful appearance than his forty-nine years. Women from sixteen to seventy often gave him a second glance.
Good-looking bastard, Toby thought, although he was himself attractive in his own smaller and darker way. Richard’s got the money, the time, the boat and a kitten of a wife whom he doesn’t appear to appreciate as much as he should. Aside from that though, he and Richard had been friends for 15 years now and he really didn’t begrudge him his current good fortune.
‘I think a beer or two onboard and then off to the Plaza to find a restaurant, don’t you?’ said Richard.
‘My thoughts entirely old boy, the sun must be well over by now. I expect Connie would like one too,’ he agreed raising his voice.
As expected, a tousled head appeared in the aft cabin hatch. ‘I most certainly would. Just let me finish changing and I’ll be right with you.’ She ducked down and both men grinned at each other.
‘Never misses out does she?’
‘Only when there’s dirty work to be done,’ replied Richard dryly.
‘You relax a bit. I’ll go below and get the drinks.’ Toby clattered down the companionway into the shady saloon. He was really looking forward to the sailing trip. Like the others this was his first Atlantic crossing. He was relishing the thought of blue waters, starry nights and glorious sunsets. Of course once across and established in the Caribbean he was sure that rum punches, bikini-clad beauties and reggae ‘jump ups’ would take precedence. No tedious commuting to town from his house in Esher and a break from the machinations of daily office parlance.
Richard had always had a lifelong dream of skippering his own yacht across one of the great oceans of the world and meeting all the personal challenges that would be thrown at him. He didn’t know where this deep-seated yearning came from, but for most of his life he had felt an almost overwhelming pull to go out, buy a boat and explore. Now the dream was just beginning, coming to fruition, as Richard and Connie finalised their preparations for their planned sail across the Atlantic. The huge golden orb of the sun was sinking fast, casting long deep-mauve shadows on the surrounding hills. It had been ‘another perfect day in paradise’ using the yachties’ much hackneyed but true cliché. The temperatures had been in the high seventies, with a cooling breeze and a cloudless cerulean blue sky.
Toby reappeared in the cockpit with their drinks accompanied by Connie. Richard studied Connie with a familiar deep affection. Small, dark-haired and neat, described her outward appearance. She stood about five-foot four inches in her bare feet with a slim build. Her legs were nicely shaped, rising to a firm little bottom, nipped in waist and medium-sized breasts. Handful sized Richard would say, anything bigger would be a waste. She had recently had her hair cut short, as she knew long hair would be too hot and a pain in a tropical climate, besides, water on a yacht had to be managed. Her newly shorn hair was slightly curly from the salty air and not unattractive as it framed her violet-blue eyes. Connie enjoyed a refreshing Campari and orange juice; the ice cubes tinkling against her glass when she lifted it for a sip, relishing the slight bitterness of the fortified spirit against the sweetness of the fruit. Richard preferred a long cool local beer. He sat quietly contemplating the condensation as it slowly ran down the outside of his glass forming a small wet ring onto the coaster. He wiped it away with his hand. He was both excited and yet a little bothered at the same time. His excitement was caused by their almost imminent departure from Tenerife. In a day or so – all being well – they would have completed their tasks and boat preparations they had set themselves in getting ready for a long extended cruise. They planned to leave the comparative safety of the Canary Island waters and sail across ‘The Pond.’ In other words, they had two thousand, eight hundred miles to sail across the Atlantic in a small boat. It was well known to be a vast, lonely and sometimes inhospitable sea, but it was an adventure that many an amateur sailor had undertaken without mishap, thoroughly enjoying the challenge and eventual achievement.
Richard’s long-term plans had come together nicely. They had all the necessary ingredients: time, money and a partnership that complimented each other for the majority of their time spent together. After a heady, passionate early marriage they had settled down with only the occasional stormy row to punctuate their steady relationship. He loved Connie; there was no doubt about his feelings towards her, but as Richard was fairly undemonstrative he usually kept his inner feelings much to himself.
His business he had placed in the trustworthy hands of his manager besides which, with today’s technology he could stay in daily contact if he wanted by satellite telephone and email.
Now, with almost everything in place Richard was eager to be off. There was no great hurry as the weather window stretched from now in early November to early February. The only urgency was Richard’s own excited impatience to get going, set sail and make the Caribbean in time for Christmas. He sighed and took a swallow of beer. He still had this small niggle though.
He knew Connie was not as passionate as he was about sailing, and much preferred to be within sight of land. However, she had jumped at the chance of leaving her position as a surgical ward-sister and was enjoying the newfound luxury of being her own boss. She said she actually had time for herself. Having enrolled in a dive class before they had left England she was now looking forward to exploring the coral reefs around the BritishVirgin Islands as they were supposed to be fabulous. She had also rediscovered her old schooldays’ talent for painting and looked forward to catching the colourful Caribbean on canvas. Their comfortable furnished aft cabin with its scandalously large double bunk had a whole locker dedicated to the paraphernalia that went along with her artistic inclinations. She obviously meant to enjoy herself; the sailing would mainly be Richard’s interest with her doing her bit. Richard thought back to a day or so ago when he and Connie had been alone on their boat. They had been relaxing at the end of a busy day. Connie was immersed in yet another doorstep of a book and Richard had been fidgeting on his seat before finally addressing Connie.
‘You’ve clearly got something on your mind. I know you have. OK, what is it?’ She placed her bookmark inside the book and then laid it down closed on the cockpit table barely suppressing an irritated sigh at being interrupted.
He reached over for her left hand and imprisoned it within his.
‘I do. I had a call from Toby earlier today with a request.’
‘Uh oh. Why do I have this feeling of trouble I wonder?’ She suddenly laughed, ‘You know what he’s like! Come on then. What does he want now?’
Richard took another swallow of his beer enjoying the sharp bitter taste and then proceeded to relate to Connie his telephone conversation earlier today with an excited and persuasive Toby.
In the early cool of that morning Connie had taken herself off the boat to buy some last minute provisions in the fruit and vegetable market. She particularly enjoyed the freshness of the local produce, knowing that it hadn’t yet been irradiated for sale and storage in refrigerators abroad. She had probably overbought but they would certainly eat well in the next few weeks. Toby must have rung whilst she was out. She turned her attention back to what Richard had to tell her.
He had answered the call on his mobile telephone and inwardly sighed when he recognised Toby’s clipped tones and cultured accent on the line. Toby didn’t beat about the bush. It soon transpired that he had suddenly found himself with six months leave; nothing planned and wouldn’t it be an excellent idea if he came along and gave them both a hand?
Richard had to think fast. As friends, they had spent various weekends sailing together in the Solent and occasional trips across to France, with a couple of longer voyages in the summer weeks. Although Toby was only what you would call a ‘weekend’ sailor his sailing knowledge was good; he had done a few training courses and best of all he didn’t usually suffer from the dreaded, ‘mal de mer.’ He was certainly being very persuasive and obviously knew with instinctive certainty that he had to convince Richard of his usefulness, indeed his highly significant inclusion to the party, was of paramount importance. He suggested Connie was not perhaps as strong as a man and might not relish any heavy hardships encountered on the way. Richard couldn’t of course retell this bit to Connie, as he knew she would be incensed. Instead he listened to Toby’s suggestion that he would be a valuable asset and she could also enjoy (as they both would) shorter watch hours.
‘I know she would. Three crew means that you and I, and her of course, could share the watches and we would benefit from shorter watch hours and a longer stretch of sleep. Much more civilised than with just the two of you. Don’t you think?’ Tony enthused.
‘Well I’m not sure. It’s a bit short notice and we’ll have to think about it. How about I let you know tomorrow after I’ve discussed it properly with Connie later.’
They had finished their telephone conversation leaving Richard to mull over this new idea. He was not one hundred per cent certain, but he knew that Connie would be keener than he was.
So, they now had to come to some agreement over this new proposal. They both liked Toby; it wasn’t that. They had each in their own way relished the idea of taking this challenge with just the two of them and without any other person’s influence. This was an entirely different matter. As skipper, Richard had the final say. But he did realise the added bonus of another pair of hands. What if one of them was ill or injured? It was hellishly more difficult to sail solo than with someone else helping at your side. Maybe he wasn’t being entirely fair to Connie either.
The discussion of the pros and cons continued over their dinner in the square in Santa Cruz. Connie was generally in favour and said so as they sampled the local tapas and a dozen oysters, followed by a delicious sea bream grilled simply with olive oil and herbs washed down with a crisp white Marques de Caceres; one of their favourites. They forego the coffee, preferring to stroll, hand in hand back across the cobbled square to their yacht, taking in the balmy cooling night breeze. They reached their pontoon and in the silvery moonlight Ellentari shone, her tall mast and spreaders thrusting loftily up into the blue-black sky.
They had decided. Toby could come for the crossing and, depending on how they all got along during this period, maybe, just maybe extend his stay for a short spell in the Caribbean.
Meanwhile, back in England Toby Ellis had already got out his sailing gear and was methodically sorting out which was appropriate for tropical climates and what was not. Definitely not the sea-stained heavy-duty waterproofs, better known in sailing circles as oilies. The expensive leather sailing boots could stay home too. He’d take his own lifejacket and harness as they fitted him well and he felt comfortable in them. Deck shoes only for when they cast off, then barefoot would be the order of the day. He picked out lots of short-sleeved shirts and swimming shorts. Passport. In his bathroom cupboard he found a suntan cream, factor thirty and a lighter one once he was more used to the sun. He’d need plenty of credit cards of course and some dollars for cash. Those he could pick up at the airport. Easy!
He knew that Richard would agree after talking to Connie. She had a soft spot for him and he found her pretty cute himself. But then he usually found most women pretty cute. They were one of his weaknesses. This thought led him to recall what had happened earlier that day at work and how he was now in this position, much to his satisfaction.
That grey, grim London morning before, Toby was reeling from the acid lash of the senior partner’s tongue.
‘For Christ’s sake, what the hell do you think you were doing?’ he’d stormed. ‘Michael’s got enough trouble being married to a younger woman and trying to keep her satisfied without you rubbing his nose in it,’ he jabbed a finger angrily at Toby.
‘What’s more she means everything to him and absolutely nothing to you. You only pursued her because you could and, frankly I find your behaviour disgusting!’ he thundered.
He leaned back heavily in his leather swivel office chair and regarded Toby with open contempt. This time Toby had gone too far. As senior partner in Holmes and Benton, Chartered Accountants, Tom had to ensure that Toby grasped the significance of his misconduct. He couldn’t actually force him to stop his affair with the unlucky Michael’s young wife, but he could remove Toby from the day-to-day exposure to Michael.
‘Michael’s only got six months before he retires and I want him to enjoy his last six months with us. Furthermore, I want him to enjoy his well-earned retirement. It’s not been easy for him losing his first wife to a brain tumour and I think he deserves better than this. You, as far as I know have never suffered a serious heartache in your life. You go through women at a distasteful rate and never consider the consequences. Call me old-fashioned if you like but, I have built this company up from nothing and my long-standing partner deserves more respect than this. I place Michael in high esteem.’ He paused and breathed heavily, he was clearly very irate.
Toby tried to remonstrate with Tom but the senior partner held up a heavy hand to stop his voice. ‘No, I don’t want to hear any of your protests. Michael is entirely blameless in this and has been caused enough pain already. This is what I am proposing and you have one of two choices. You either accept, or you decline and leave this company’s payroll. Your work is good but as Associate partner you are expendable. However, I hope you do accept, as normally we have a good working relationship and you have talent and work well under pressure. Also unlike Michael you have a good few years before you retire. So, my suggestion is that while Michael works out his six months you take an extended leave during this time. A sabbatical if you like. Once everything has cooled down and Michael has retired you can return and resume your career. Well? What do you say?’ he put his elbows onto his mahogany desk and continued to glare at him.
Toby was at first momentarily shocked at this proposal and wanted to argue his case but something in Tom’s steely look stopped him. He was an old windbag, and what a fuss over some little bint. He considered himself not entirely to blame; she was no delicate young virgin and although someone else’s wife had given him plenty of encouragement. But, he did like working for the firm and knew that Tom had a full partnership in mind for him later on. So, he held his tongue in check, managed to look contrite and nodded an acceptance.
Besides, he much preferred the chase and she had given in far too quickly. A piece of cake really. He fleetingly thought of how many other bored young wives there were, wealthy, spoilt and sitting alone at home. All in all he considered that he had got off lightly. What’s more he had six fantastic months all to himself! Excellent. What a bonus, what fun could be had. He already had a plan formulating in his quick devious mind.
His friend Richard was at present in Tenerife, busily preparing his yacht for his forthcoming transatlantic voyage. He had spent and enjoyed many a weekend sailing with Richard and his sexy, beautiful wife Connie. What if he could inveigle Richard into letting him come along as the third crew member? Winter in the Caribbean would be tremendous!
Richard had enjoyed the sail down to the Canaries. He and Connie had left the Hamble River in September, rather late for a Biscay crossing but they had been lucky. The Gods had looked down on them and they had had a good trip down. For once the dreaded and notorious Bay of Biscay was calm with hardly any wind and they had motored half of the way across it. The slow swell coming from the southwest had gently buffeted Ellentari as she rose on each small wave and then slipped down into the green trough on the other side. The sea chuckled down her starboard side and left behind a long sparkling foamy wake. Early each morning they had breakfasted on deck and together they had gasped with delight at the huge pods of dolphins and Minke whale that tore across the molten sea towards them. Forty, a hundred, two hundred silver and steely blue, glistening bodies turning, diving, spinning and splashing, their toothy grins leering up at them, and then lazily flipping over onto their sides and gliding down beneath the meniscus of the deep.
They had put into a few ports down the west coasts of Spain and Portugal. They had enjoyed the heady, gaudy fiesta in Bayonna, eaten delicious seafood in Cascais and loved Oporto with its gleaming terracotta roofs. Lisbon was hot and listless and they had detested the foul smelling river full of effluent that poured out from the city’s sewage system. Fewer dolphins escorted them now, nervously staying clear of the fishermens’ nets that crisscrossed the waters down to Cape St Vincent. Rounding that corner paying off the main, Ellentari had seemingly picked up her skirts and screamed along at nine knots. Richard had roared with delight while Connie had snuggled down safely in the lee of the cockpit.
Lagos on the Algarve was great fun. It had been wall to wall with other yachts preparing for the ‘ARC.’ Every year, about two hundred and fifty yachts of all sizes from about thirty to seventy feet took part in an organised voyage across the Atlantic from Gran Canaria to the Caribbean to arrive in St Lucia in time for Christmas.
Richard preferred the more muted departure from Tenerife sharing relevant information and informal drinks parties with their immediate neighbours. There was less frenzy and commercialism than in Gran Canaria.
He was calm and capable, a good dependable sailor. He considered that with careful planning there was no reason that their voyage should not be straightforward and easily accomplished. He was in short a firm believer of the old adage that a good ship would always take care of its crew. This explained why he’d spent many years studying yacht manufacturers’ brochures and specifications, visiting numerous yacht builders’ premises, checking performance versus comfort and safety, and occupied countless hours crawling in the deep recesses of potential purchases.
In his younger years, he had first learnt to sail dinghies on the Isle of Wight and then, by badgering friends and friends of friends he’d inveigled his way onto various different yachts as crew. He remembered hours spent wet and cold and sometimes seasick. But, he maintained if you could sail in the Solent and cope with everything thrown at you from lousy weather conditions, ferries, tanker ships, idiot motorboat racers, sudden wind changes, huge tidal differences and the sheer large numbers of craft afloat then you could sail anywhere. Richard had always worked hard in ventures in which he was most passionate and this presently was sailing. He had set to hone his skills diligently and with perseverance. Years ago, his father had been a sailor in the Royal Navy, but most of his experience had been gained during World War Two and he had been largely reticent about talking about his own exploits. His only advice to Richard had been ‘don’t enlist yourself boy!’ Even so maybe this was where Richard had got his first yearnings to sail at sea.
The senior William Barker – recently deceased – had been a quiet man, often lost in his own deep thoughts. He and Richard hadn’t shared a particularly close relationship to which now Richard expressed some regret. His mother had died in the seventies at a comparative young age, leaving behind Richard in his twenties and a much older sister. William had doted on both wife and daughter caring for them with a fierce love and loyalty. When Richard was born it had been a shock to the little tight knit family of three. Although he was of course loved and cared for, he occasionally found himself on the outside; looking in as it were. Perhaps this was why he had found it hard to settle down to steady employment and forge a career for himself. He had drifted from job to job with only a handful of ‘O’ levels as qualifications. Eventually, after many false starts he had ended up working for a large removal company and became involved in the machinations of a staff buy-out. He had a good hunch about this and invested every spare pound he could lay his hands on into buying shares. His hunch paid off. With a new stock-market flotation, overnight he made a small fortune. He quickly sold his shares and reinvested most of the capital in something less risky. He was now at a loose end. He didn’t particularly want to work for anyone else in some dead end job so he decided to renovate his tatty Georgian flat. He found the work satisfying and soon found himself buying another and then another rundown property to completely work over and sell for a tidy sum. He bought dozens of books on period property and taught himself how to renovate properly. And so, he suddenly found himself sitting with the title of ‘period property renovator’ around his neck. Now, some years later with some considerable funds in the bank, a row of discrete houses rented out to discerning tenants, he was able to buy his first large yacht and fulfil a long awaited dream. To cross an ocean, the mighty Atlantic!