2-15: The launching

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I

In the evening cool, her head on a grass-padded cushion in the dark hut, Geneviève compared Jean-Claude to Thierry in her head. She knew she shouldn’t but she couldn’t help it.

Thierry had always been one for the candlelight, for the ambience and for the extended foreplay. He could never just get on with it. Jean-Claude now, though he understood the efficacy of foreplay, didn’t draw it out and dwell on it like Thierry, which quite frankly she was thankful for.

Jean-Claude did actually enjoy the candlelight, the ambience, the slow build and the celebration but he noticed that Geneviève could take it or leave it and so he now usually left it, or at least reduced it to a minimum. Combined with her natural artlessness and awkwardness, there was something quite simple and raw about Geneviève.

For her part, she had to admit that Jean-Claude was a ‘keeper’ – she saw a very long life with him, stretching into the future and as the years ticked over, she would increasingly need this sort of certainty. She looked at him and decided they needed to talk. ‘Jean-Claude? May we discuss things?’

He smiled at her quaintness and confirmed to himself for the umpteenth time that he’d made the right choice. ‘Speak.’

‘Are you satisfied? Because I am,’ she added anxiously.

‘Are you truly?’

‘Oh yes.’ She detailed to him all she’d been thinking. ‘What about children?’

He looked blankly at her and blinked. ‘Er … yes … children.’

‘You haven’t thought about them?’ He went to answer but she answered for him, ‘No, I see you haven’t thought about them at all.’ He didn’t reply. ‘I shan’t force you to and I could live without them if it was a big issue … ’

‘But you’d like.’

‘Well, I’m not an old maid yet,’ she smiled.

‘It’s a question late in the day for me – you know my history, that of my wife. I’m not against it, truly I’m not. It’s just so sudden.’

‘Well, let’s think about it and talk about it in a few days if you want. Now, will you tell me about Francesca or is it too painful?’

‘Francesca. This moment always had to come, Genie, didn’t it? Once in a man’s life, he loves someone so much that when she’s taken away, nothing ever matters again for the remainder of his days. It’s a dangerous thing, a mad thing – it can only end in tragedy.

My wife had lung cancer. It took its normal course and then her suffering stopped. I went out of my mind, not knowing how to cope, never having learned how. That’s why all this killing is so upsetting. In my apartment in Paris, in our apartment, her memory was forever there and then, when you appeared in the distance, I resented you, on behalf of Francesca. That’s silly, isn’t it?’

‘Not in the least, I understand every word. Go on, if you feel you can.’

‘That’s it, Genie. Hugh came to us, he came to an understanding with you, then something went wrong with you two and I did not sympathize with him, I still don’t and I told him that I saw hope again.’

‘You then had Sophie-Fleury.’

‘Oui, oui. We had plans, big plans in fact. Your star was low on the horizon at that time, in my eyes. And then …’

‘Oui, we won’t dwell on that. And here we are and I have no regrets.’

He drew her across to him on the bed and cuddled her. She murmured something into his chest he didn’t catch. ‘Pardon? I didn’t hear what you said.’

‘I was wondering if Emma has told Hugh about her situation yet.’

‘What situation?’

‘That’s not my place to say, Jean-Claude. She’ll have to say it or not at all.’

‘D’accord. But tell me – could it change things with them?’

She looked up at him. ‘It might, it might not. It didn’t with Nikki and him but I suspect he’s fallen head over heels for Emma now – men often do. It might shatter his illusions and if it does, he’ll be looking around again.’

‘I see.’

‘I want to say to you now that our relationship, yours and mine, is not dependent on what happens between another man and woman. I can sympathize with Hugh but it doesn’t alter anything between you and me.’

‘Merci, Geneviève.’

‘I think Hugh is fair-minded enough to just accept what happens. I hope he doesn’t react that way because it would hurt her very, very much and it would unbalance everything. She’s been making her position clear to him, so she told me but never so that she’d lose him. She doesn’t know it but I know it – she’s already very dependent on him, emotionally.’

‘Maybe she shouldn’t tell him.’

‘Oh come, Jean-Claude, what relationship can survive that kind of deception?’

II

The next morning, they all went for a walk to the point and looked out over the flat sea, about half a kilometre below.

‘What’s over there?’ asked Geneviève.

‘Probably New Zealand a few thousand kilometres away,’ answered Hugh.

‘Anyone know how to sail?’

‘It’s my pastime, my sport, Genie.’

‘Really?’

‘I designed boats to fill in the time.’

‘You mean you could build us a boat?’

‘With help, yes, not a problem. Plenty of materials here, we just need the tools.’

‘What about the sail?’ asked Jean-Claude.

‘Rush matting, as the natives do. I prefer Pacific hull designs but the lug’s a nice sail for cruising – easy to handle with firm materials.’

.o0o.

About fifty metres from the point, Emma saw something in amongst the trees, found a path in and took it, nodded to herself and called the others. She pointed proudly at a very large fallen tree, one which had clearly crashed over some time ago although it was still relatively free of things growing on it.

Hugh climbed up and explored it to the end, jumped off and looked back down its length, nodded and came back to them. ‘Might do,’ he said. ‘We need at least ten metres.’

‘This is about fifteen,’ judged Jean-Claude.

‘Yes, it might just do the trick. Supposedly we’ll need the head-man’s permission.’

.o0o.

They wandered back, the girls went to Genie’s hut and the men went in search of the head-man, about half a kilometre up the track, past various huts, past curious children, past farm animals, until they found the Big Hut in the ‘centre of town’. If they’d wondered how to find him, they needn’t have bothered because he came out himself and invited them in.

Once inside, he bade them be seated and drinks were brought – the local brew. The great surprise was that his English was excellent, something Hugh now commented on.

‘I was educated at your York University, in the 70s.’ The penny clearly hadn’t dropped that three of the four were French. ‘Now, what brings you to the village so urgently?’

They told him about the tree trunk, about the plans to build a boat and the man nodded his understanding, interested that Hugh had a design in mind. He agreed to help and of course knew the men who were skilled in such things.

Then he got onto more delicate matters.

‘Gentlemen, we’re a poor village, as you can see, but we live not badly, despite that. Constructing a boat such as this is the work of only three weeks and it shall be done. However, we have more pressing problems here. You may know of unrest on other islands and we fear that this unrest is going to visit our island. We cannot defend ourselves against their western weapons.’

‘Ah,’ said Hugh.

The head-man continued. ‘We are also short of vital medicines but our central government sends nothing.’

The deal was sealed in a short space of time.

.o0o.

Geneviève and Jean-Claude were sitting on a rock at the end of the island, staring out to sea. He’d made a small cushion from bracken for her, resplendent as she was in her long linen ‘tropical’ dress, her bare feet the only giveaway. He only had the one kind of clothing with him, quite formal, so in fact they made quite a dashing couple, unlike the two other semi-natives.

‘Do you think Hugh can make this boat, Jean-Claude? Can he sail it?’

‘Yes, why not?’

‘Just asking, that’s all. I shouldn’t imagine it would be too comfortable.’

‘It won’t be comfortable, Genie because it will be small.’

‘And we’re expected to just go out in it … out there?’

‘What would you suggest?’

‘I don’t know, I just want to be back in Paris with a normal life and go down to the Lodge.’

‘Geneviève, you were one of the most pragmatic women in Paris, you know very well what’s possible and what’s not. This is the way off the island.’

‘Why can’t we fly? There’s an aerodrome on the main island.’

‘Listen to what you’re saying, Genie – you know very well we can’t show our faces over there, not yet, we have to prepare a way. And where would we fly to?’

‘Orly.’

‘From here? There’d be two changes and we could be taken at either of them. Do you seriously think the enemy will turn a blind eye and say welcome back?’

.o0o.

The afternoon was way too hot for anything, even for the natives and people were either in huts with through-breezes or somewhere under the cover of trees. Sipping water and speaking now and then was about all one could do.

It wasn’t even wise to go out for a dip, as the sunburn would be something awful later for their skin.

So they learnt to be lazy. People in the west often mention the laid back ways of natives in these places but you had to be here to understand why – there was absolutely no point trying to do anything else. Even alcohol, if they had it, would need to be kept back for the evening.

.o0o.

The breeze started coming in about 16:00, first as a wisp or two but soon as a fairly strong breeze and that brought some relief. It enabled the huts to be aired out.

.o0o.

When the evening cool came, they were fairly washed out, truth be told and knew they’d have to eat soon. One of the local women would bring a hunk of meat and various bits and pieces – it struck them that they were not hunting and gathering their own food – then again, had they ever done so in Europe?

.o0o.

It was about 22:00 when things were cool enough to think of lovemaking. Hugh and Emma went down the ladders to their spot again but this time she saw eyes some distance off and realized they might be providing the locals with entertainment, so it was back to the hut.

It certainly added challenge to the lovemaking because they couldn’t let the bodies stick together for long. They were burning up.

‘I love the island, Bebe but it does make sex difficult.’

She had a solution though. She went to the washroom and took four cloths, soaked and partly squeezed out, she lay down and he placed them where she said, they would last one round and then they’d have to do it over again.

He brought the pitcher of water and glasses.

‘We can’t spend too much time embracing, though I want,’ she said, ‘it will have to be just sex and then we’ll have to lie apart, then come and kiss, go apart, do it again, and so on.’

.o0o.

The good thing about the cloths was that they could keep the bed and themselves clean and that extended the total time they could make love. She used her muscles a lot to bring him over if it was going on a bit too long.

.o0o.

Just after midnight – maybe it had been the repeated sex, washing, new cloths, drink, sex, wash, new cloths, drink, sex, wash, new cloths, drink, sex, that she began to lose her mind and that connected to her body and that produced the most enormous convulsion in her, her body language said stop but her lips said don’t stop, force it, force it, Bebe and as he did, she came in waves – she seemed quite distressed and he wanted to stop but she said no, no, it must go on.

Then she said stop.

.o0o.

When they finally washed again, they were totally washed out, side by side on the bed. Not even conversation was possible.

III

Jean-Claude said to Hugh around midday next day, in the shade of the forest canopy, ‘It could have been worse yesterday with the head man. The medicines will be just a kindness and the weapons make sense. I’ve spoken to him again, it will have to be by a series of messages from me through him, it will take time.’

They collected the ladies and went to look at the boat.

Hugh’s design was unusual for these parts, mainly in his choice of a standing lugsail instead of the junk itself he’d originally planned, but he pointed out to the natives that the vaka/outrigger concept was not far removed from their own.

Basically, as he now explained, imagine large waves coming at them as they pressed on. A normal boat with rounded bottom would crash up and down, making the motion wearing but looking at their design, the main hull [or boat] was long and thin, with a rounded V section to make motion through the waves more comfortable. They had speed and comfort in one package.

Jean-Claude saw the concept vaguely but noted that, with more vertical height than width, the hull was unstable.

‘Totally. That’s why we have the long outrigger three metres away, to the right or starboard – to give balance. And we have a pontoon closer on the port or left to stop us going over too quickly that way.’

‘Ah.’

‘We keep all our supplies in the long ama and we have two cabins in the main hull, one fore, one aft for the two couples.’

‘Where are we going?’ asked Emma. ‘Why such a big boat?’

‘It’s to take us long distances safely, in big seas, we’ll probably need to sail in the direction of New Zealand but what we’d do then is anybody’s guess.’

Now he put his request to them. ‘In two days, it’s the fortieth day. I suppose in Catholic and atheist France it’s not remembered but maybe for our fallen colleagues and friends, we can do something.’

‘I’ll get onto it,’ said Geneviève. ‘Will you help me, Emma?’

‘Of course.’

.o0o.

Hugh wanted the local women to start making the two sails now and this was an area Emma could organize and oversee. They were also going to have to plait rope from somewhere for the running rigging and then there was the question of the two masts. He put it to the four and they all went looking for good lengths of wood for the masts.

The head-man now came down and they chatted about this and that. Jean-Claude asked if there was anything he needed in New Zealand and struck gold.

Yes there was. There was an ex-lover, girlfriend, whatever and he was keen to send a message and photo and get one in return. Hardly the type of thing to sail a thousand odd kilometres to get but there you were. Jean-Claude suspected there was a bit more to it than that.

Genevieve was showing signs of wanting to go for a walk, so they wandered off, Hugh looked at Emma and they decided to explore in the other direction.

They found a nice spot above the cliff, leaning against a clump of rushes. For once it wasn’t important to make love, just to be there together.

IV

It was one Tuesday, late afternoon, when Emma showed her outrageous side, now that they’d been making love when the air was cool enough for two weeks, interspersed with training the natives, eating and some sleeping.

She was so far into the island life that no one had had the heart to tell her, to remind her, that it all had to end, that the natives were not going to let this continue forever. She must have known it deep down [hint – think boat] but didn’t want to dwell and Hugh wasn’t prepared to make her.

This today though may have been one step too far.

Inside the hut, she’d taken to being perma-nue and now felt it was time to test the next boundaries. Not all men like other men to see their women in a state of nakedness and so she wanted to know how far this could be pushed, ready to backtrack at any moment. The native women on this island didn’t bother with tops, so it wasn’t as if there were no precedent.

She suggested they go for a wander, wrapped her cloth around her hips, slipped on her sandals and made for the vine ladder. He coughed. ‘Er, Emma.’

‘Yes?’ she asked, innocently.

He looked at her evenly, took some time to make up his mind and the way she stood, not asking him to hurry with the decision, had him sighing. ‘Do you want to take the skirt off too?’

‘No one does that.’

She knew the thought was turning him on and that, in turn, turned her on. He took his robe off, put on his one pair of long shorts and boat shoes, they slipped down the vine ladder and began to head for the shore.

Genevieve and Jean-Claude were lazing under their tree when the other two came down the ladder and immediately, Emma’s naked back was apparent. So was his but that didn’t … er … count, did it?

At the foot of the ladder, Emma turned and waved, then headed for the shore.

Genevieve was upset. ‘Hugh wasn’t comfortable with it – I saw his anxiety. This was all Emma’s doing – I know her and she’s going backwards – I’m going to have a word.’

‘Why can’t we just let them get on with it? I did see her that night you know, quite closely in fact.’

‘She has a history, Jean-Claude, which we helped her escape from – she knows what she’s doing. If he doesn’t stop this now with her, she’ll push him further and further and you’re the nearest other man.’

.o0o.

When they reached their canopy of branches they’d made their first love under, she removed the skirt and he removed the shorts.

‘Let’s lie on the sand and talk for a minute,’ she suggested. ‘I know you weren’t comfortable.’

He weighed his words. ‘It was the waving I didn’t like – that was defiant. Was it the defiance which was important, was Jean-Claude seeing your body again … or both?’

She was crestfallen. ‘Maybe both. I resent Mademoiselle controlling my body from a distance.’

‘Yes but I’m your man – how about how I feel about Jean-Claude drinking you in? When does the sex start?’

She was mortified, she didn’t even try to deny it. Then she came to a decision. ‘It … er … it doesn’t, Hugh, it doesn’t. Please keep me from those things.’

‘There’s something else, Emma. You can get away with nue because you have a girlish body, naturally nude. Someone like Genie can’t because her mammaries are quite … well yes. She moves in a more stately way which doesn’t suit topless. You’re quicker, more like l’enfant sauvage, only not un enfant.

‘I’m a sea nymph.’

‘Which one? Ione? Maera?’

‘Emma.’

‘Silly me, the 51st, yes?’

‘Yes, I’m the pretty one. Hugh?’

‘Still here.’

‘You keep looking around – is it eyes again?

‘Yes, I think so, think we’d best get back to the hut.’

They went back through the huts, under the trees and reached their vine ladder without causing any more mayhem.

V

It was one Saturday in the late afternoon, after the edge had gone out of the sun, that they got the shock of their lives. In the process of circumnavigating the shoreline for the first time, they heard a hubbub in the trees, went to find out what was going on and there, in a clearing, was a replica of their own boat.

They saw that there were some differences and one was in the accommodation. The Jensen boat had two cabins, each with its own roof and aft hatch. The natives had paddling benches all the way along and the only accommodation was a reed tarp, which could be pulled up against the wind. This made the native boat considerably faster but not as suited to long voyaging.

They backtracked to the beach again. ‘Well, what do you think of that!’ muttered Geneviève.

‘Curiouser and curiouser,’ said Hugh.

Walking on about another half kilometre, a long haul round the second point, there it was again – the same sort of hubbub. Jean-Claude came to the conclusion that they were building a fleet and so it turned out. But for what?

Emma was feeling a little tired, so they thought they’d return to their treehuts for a lie down.

VI

Sunday was the 40th day, seen by the natives as a chance to put the guests into more debt to them but Jean-Claude thought – why not? The natives had suggested the evening but Hugh remembered, from Orthodox tradition, that it had to be before midday.

He’d cobbled together a service and the native women had embellished the singing with a chorus, speeches were made and then they were invited to the head man’s hut for the wake, for want of a better term.

The man had the sense to make no new demands on this day, their tradition here was to revere the deceased and so came to an end the ceremonial part of the day.

VII

The wind picked up about 23:00; the natives had warned them during weapons training that morning but they’d put it out of mind.

Larger branches of surrounding trees began creaking and that was more frightening in itself than the risk of trees or branches coming down but gradually the wind picked up even more and by the sound of it, the upper branches of their own trees were beginning to sway up and down, sounding as if they’d crack at any moment and indeed, they’d seen just such a situation all over the island – there were trunks and branches everywhere.

The darkness was the main problem and when Hugh and Emma heard the tearing sound above their wash area as a branch seemed to be bending up and down on the hut wall, they huddled together on the bed, then came the crash of that branch, the tearing of the matting wall and it had to be assumed that the side of the wash area had been torn away.

They themselves weren’t too badly off unless the whole tree fell because they were virtually above the fork … and yet the creaking became almost unbearable.

In the other hut, Jean-Claude held Geneviève. They heard the tear above them in good time and both leapt for the washing area as a ragged series of branch ends hit the roof and made their way through, finally crashing to the bed.

The problem now was where to put their feet. Jean-Claude felt that under the branch itself was best and that’s where they huddled together, the wind outside now of such ferocity that the howling was heard through the whole forest, rising and falling.

It crossed his mind that the head man had let them have this experience when he could well have taken them to a safer place, further inland. Yes they’d been warned but hadn’t been warned about how severe it could be, especially down near the sea. He’d speak with Hugh about it tomorrow but it did seem that these people might not be all that friendly after all.

Or perhaps it was just the head man.

.o0o.

Some hours later, they felt the first signs of the storm diminishing, it did ebb away and all four were able to grab some hours of sleep around 03:00.

In the morning, amidst the night’s devastation, Emma came out with it. ‘It’s been lovely, Bebe but we have to go … don’t we?’

‘It’s getting close, Fayette. There’s a chance it could start to turn sour once we’ve outstayed our welcome – it could turn nasty.’

.o0o.

‘Time to go, Jean-Claude.’

‘Will Emma accept it?’ he asked.

‘Oh, I think she has all along, she’s a pragmatic person. So, off on the new adventure, I suppose – it would be nice if one day we could just stop moving, stop running, just have a life.’

‘That will come, Genie. Not just yet but it will certainly come.’

VIII

October 2007

The boat was ready, the vaka and ama had been tarred, the masts were true, the sails worked. Fourteen metres was just about right for this voyage.

Hugh cast a critical eye over the blocks, the running gear and the sails and knew they were as ready as they were going to be. The locals had had their training and a new load of medicines was soon to arrive. The crossroads had been reached.

.o0o.

The four were invited to the big house in the village and sat on the mats with the head-man. He confessed that they’d built other boats almost to their specifications – what a surprise.

Five boats would accompany them to New Zealand and ‘free’ the woman who was being held captive at Great Exhibition Beach [they suppressed smiles] and there was one other thing – would the four show them where to get other medicines and weapons?

Hugh wanted to ask if he meant where to find the weapons and medicines shop. He held his tongue. ‘Look … er … New Zealand is not like this island we’re on, you see – they have ports and a coast guard and you must have documents to go on shore. It’s a civi- … well, it’s a developed nation. They might not take kindly to your boys blasting in with sub-machine guns, they might take that the wrong way.’

‘Can we buy guns onshore?’

‘Perhaps. You see, your excellency, we can’t really be with you when you do that, we have enemies looking for us. We’ll help you out with some money and even which medicines to buy but the girl is your responsibility. She’s your affair.’

‘Ah, Mr. Hugh, that’s where you are wrong,’ he smiled. ‘I think the four of you are going to be most interested in what she has to tell you.’ To their non-reaction, he added, ‘We launch the boats and depart tomorrow at midday. I wish you both good day.’

.o0o.

‘You’re uneasy,’ observed Emma. ‘Tell me about it.’

‘The section of ocean we’re travelling on, the South Pacific towards New Zealand, is treacherous. In 1999, a group of boats were sailing down from Fiji, which is a fair way from us but the principle’s the same. They sailed about this time. The worst thing is if there’s a high pressure zone near New Zealand, which sits around the island and gives it good weather.

This gives us bad weather, big waves, storms. When it gets critical, there are some things you can do. Apart from reducing sail and closing up the hatches, we need to get to a nearby island and hide behind it. We have no islands on our route.’

‘I see.’

‘Next, you need to use both engine and some sail to keep the boat pointing the right way.’

‘And we have no engine.’

‘Right. Then, if things get very bad, we need to be able to send out an EPIRB, a distress call. We need an SSB radio too and we need electricity to power it.’

‘None of which we have.’

‘Not only that but we can’t afford to send out any signal to anyone. We are wanted people, remember and the head-man knows it.’

‘What actually do we have on the boat to help us?’

‘For a start, we have a very strong boat. This helps us up to a certain wind strength and sea size. The rig is the best you can have – it comes down easily and rolls, it stows well. Meaning you can tie it up or put it away. We have drogues and sea anchors – these are ropes from the boat to slow us down – important when we’re surfing off waves.

If we do flip over, we’re actually safer because we’ve designed a way into the boat from below, which would now be up. You follow? The worst thing would be if we were blown onshore. This is how the 52 foot Woody Goose broke up and the wife of the man was drowned – their boat was bigger than ours but ours is more solid.

Now, the question is – does the head-man know all this? I can’t believe he doesn’t know of the conditions between here and New Zealand and about the highs and lows. And yet he’s not told us.’

‘Maybe he assumed you knew.’

‘We can only hope so because, if he knew, then it begins to look a bit different to me, it means he was hosting us here, almost keeping us here, until the good weather was just about past and was then going to let us sail to the tip of New Zealand -’

‘A lee shore.’

‘Oui, a lee shore and then what? He might be hoping we wouldn’t survive the trip and if we did, we’d be picked up by the authorities there and handed back to Europe. Europe is completely corrupt of course and guess where we’d end up? One more thing – his girlfriend seems to be at a place called Great Exhibition Beach. I don’t believe him.’

‘Why not?’

‘That was the very beach where the Woody Goose broke up and many others before her. The local people knew exactly where to look for the wife’s body – 800 metres north of where the boat broke up. It was a famous case in that part of the world.’

‘Hugh, you frighten me.’

‘If we know this, we’re halfway to building ourselves some form of defence.’

.o0o.

Next morning was idyllic, weather wise, with a light breeze this far inshore.

The four discussed everything about the trip, about the dangers, about contingency plans. Jean-Claude said they’d just have to take it as it came. Now it was time to check over systems one last time and it was already 11:00.

They strolled over, using the jungle route they’d learnt and at least the boat was still there, perched on rollers, with other rollers at intervals down to the water. It would take about a dozen natives to launch.

.o0o.

Shortly before midday, they heard the party arriving. Everyone was in festive mood and a prayer was now said for the success of the voyage, Hugh said one of his own and Geneviève cracked a drinking cup of juice on the bow, as had been agreed.

Many native hands and theirs as well helped push and shove, breaking the inertia and the boat did the rest itself. Almost hurtling down the beach, the vaka and ama clattered and creaked until, with an enormous splash, the front half of the boat met the lapping waves.

Still they weren’t far enough in and the men and boys had to push that much harder. The tide was going out so there wasn’t all that much time.

Now the head-man and entourage appeared, the four went up the beach to meet him and profuse thanks were poured on him. He himself wasn’t making the voyage but his offsiders were and they knew where to go, Hugh and crew were to follow them.

Jean-Claude promised further medicine and weaponry, the man smiled and said thanks. They shook hands, Hugh lifted Emma and Jean Claude lifted Geneviève in their respective arms and deposited them on board.

They pushed off, none too soon for the tide and climbed on board. Jean-Claude went to the foresail, unwrapped the ties, attached the halyard and hauled up. Hugh did the same with the mainsail. The sails filled, the push down rudder now came into play, Emma went below with Genie and arranged things.

The feeling of sailing again, even into possible trouble, could not dampen Hugh’s spirits in the least. Here was the result of his design, the many man-hours of work they’d put in and the fruition of the dream. He looked up at the sails filling on a broad reach and released them a little.

Emma came up to see what was happening and was most surprised to see how far offshore they already were. Ahead was the blue-grey water and considerably higher wind strength. The boat was moving nicely, on a slight heel, a slight angle, as it should have been – in the distance, they saw five boats converge and loosen sail, waiting for them to catch up.

.o0o.

The trick with sailing is to reef or reduce sail before the strong winds hit.

They had the two sails on the second reef, meaning that about half the area was aloft and in that mode, they hit the big swells, quite quickly as it turned out, on a port tack [wind from the left]. Hugh hadn’t asked the other three about sea-sickness, reasoning that it was pointless to ask anyway.

Geneviève was showing signs, so he suggested she stay up top and work the foresail to keep her feeling secure, Jean-Claude could work the main. Sometimes the pressure of the sail through the sheets [ropes] on your hands can keep you firmly on the boat and can help stop the nausea. Focussing on the horizon is often good.

It seemed to be having some effect and Jean-Claude advised her to stay active. Hugh asked Emma to get Genie’s wind cheating top they’d woven from rushes and her hat if she would, plus her own warm gear and she complained that it was the tropics.

She went for them anyway and he looked over at Jean-Claude trimming the mainsail – the man had got the idea already. What was more impressive was the way he’d remembered the rule that whenever you left the cockpit, for whatever reason, except to go below, you wore the safety line.

Emma came bustling back with the tops and a big smile on her face. Now he taught her how to steer. Putting the tiller in her hand, he asked her to push right. She did and the boat went left. ‘Now push left.’

She did, with the opposite result. She loved it.

Now came the really heavy instruction – about points of sail for example. There is into the wind or in irons and he showed how the sails just flopped around in irons but move off that line and they filled – that was pointing or beating and the boat wanted to lean over.

But go downwind and the boat sailed flatter and faster. They each had a try at the tiller and weren’t half bad.

‘I presume we do watches,’ said Jean-Claude.

‘Initially, maybe you and I will take the night watches – one in the cockpit, one on standby, meaning he can drowse off but not actually sleep and leave the two ladies sleeping.’

‘How can we be sure to get good weather?’ asked Emma.

‘I’m not being funny but if we all pray, it might help, I believe it will.’

Turning south again where they thought the native boats might be, on half-sail and hard into the wind on port tack, Emma zipped up her jacket.

.o0o.

Night was about to fall and they finally had the other boats in sight ahead. ‘We’re faster than them under sail,’ Hugh told Jean-Claude. ‘They’ll be faster upwind with their rowers. It’s going to be delicate later.’

Jean-Claude took the first watch.

.o0o.

Hugh took over the tiller about 01:00, after a snooze – nothing much was happening. The sea was dark, the stars gave some light and the moon had disappeared. They didn’t know where the other boats had got to and that was a worry for a number of reasons.

They could still make out lights on their island far behind, the wind was true.

.o0o.

As dawn broke, Hugh unreefed the main, raised the foresail and the boat sped up, he checked the sextant. If they missed New Zealand, there was always Antarctica, he supposed.

Jean-Claude came out, stretched and took in the view, then stepped over to the loo they’d had built into the starboard ama. Emma and Geneviève poked their noses out one by one and then went back below.

Then they came up on top again and told him to go and get some sleep – they could steer and if anything happened, they’d come up into wind.

‘You take three hours now,’ said Geneviève.

‘Merci.’

Jean-Claude poked his head out of the loo and saw Emma on the tiller, with Genie trimming the sails. The boat seemed in capable hands.

.o0o.

Actually, they let him have four hours sleep and the three of them took turns at the tiller. It had been designed so that, with the lug sails set, the shoal keel not needing attention and the tiller very light, due to the increased leverage, the task was not arduous, just a little monotonous.

Before them, off the port bow near the horizon, was the first sign of difficult weather. Jean-Claude felt that it might be best if Hugh were up top now.

He came out, noted the angry line of weather and thought it would catch them in about three hours, maybe four.

They spent the next thirty minutes making sure everything which currently needed to be free was ready to lash down and all the other gear inside was lashed down.

‘When it hits, we have to keep our energy up so everyone is on call at first, then we let one person sleep at a time. We need to run man-woman-man-woman.’

‘Do you think we’re going the right way?’ asked Emma.

‘The sun says so, the sextant says we’re all right, give or take a few sea miles. After a thousand, we might miss New Zealand or be off course on the other side but we won’t be that far away, even then. I don’t fancy sailing in the Tasman Sea. By the way, we should have the sun setting on our starboard quarter.’

‘If we’re not in a storm,’ added Jean-Claude.

.o0o.

The sea began to rough up about 16:00 and the wind swung round over the next hour, so that they tacked across and then had to tack back again. Gusts hit the boat, which shuddered a bit but in Hugh’s eyes, it was nothing near as bad as a modern craft this way.

The wind now came round behind them in the next half hour and it was difficult to judge the actual state of play but the nose was burying on occasions and it was time to reef again. They could feel the foam from behind and faces appeared less happy than before.

‘Time to pray, people.’

Emma looked behind her, saw a wall of water and almost had kittens. Jean-Claude reminded her that it had been following them for the past half hour.

‘Well, don’t slow down and it won’t catch us,’ she advised.

Now into the watches and eating schedules, as ready as they could be, the wind began to gust at the bit of sail still showing on the masts. The boat was beginning to rock sideways in a more pronounced way now and Hugh looked across at Geneviève.

Emma had been on the tiller and now he slipped into her place. He explained the drogue to Jean-Claude and Geneviève, they deployed it behind, which made the craft shudder. Basically just a rope in a semi-circle behind them, it was dragging and slowing them but better, it was stabilizing the whole structure. It was going to be a bugger to take in again.

.o0o.

The night fell, the noise was deafening but not as bad as if they were heading up into it and as long as they had sea room, they might be all right.

That was always the thing – to run before the wind and the sea and let it take you where it wanted, for as long as it wanted – the moment you tried to impose your own will on the conditions, you were running great risks.

.o0o.

Even their heavy boat was now behaving like a piece of a building torn off by a gale – it would suddenly go stern up on a following wave and Hugh knew that if a gust also hit at the same time, they’d be over. The decision had to be made soon but what the other three could scarcely imagine was how all hell was going to break loose when they rounded up.

He called Jean-Claude out and shouted what they were going to do and what was likely to happen plus where everyone had to be at each stage. Jean-Claude went below and explained to the ladies, then came back up and attached himself to the lifeline, testing it out for strength. Crawling gingerly, with hardly any light to help, forward – or downhill, if you like – until he reached the parachute sea-anchor, he then held on for dear life, knowing what was coming.

Hugh had a fragment of the foresail up, he now called to them and put the tiller over. The boat slewed up to port, nearly flipped and then shot to the top of the wave, their bow clawed the air and then crashed down the other side, nearly taking Jean-Claude with it, the after-wash nearly taking Hugh as well.

All Jean-Claude could do was push the sea-anchor over the side with one hand and hope for the best, then slowly make his way back.

Meanwhile, the ladies had emerged and were winching the drogue in for all they were worth – the winch was a good one though, with more purchase for the ladies. The last part of the drogue caught under the stern and Hugh shouted to leave it and secure the line with the belaying pins. He could see they were all knackered and gasping for breath.

The increase in noise was quite deafening, compared to when they’d been running and the boat was hobbyhorsing up and down in a most uncomfortable way.

‘Inside, ladies – get ten minutes rest – we need you again after that.’ Jean-Claude now reached the cockpit and nodded. The sea anchor was doing its job but not keeping the boat in position, of course – it just slowed the movement sternwards. Hugh now lashed the tiller and hoped to goodness it wouldn’t splinter.

The boat was bucking up and down on each wave and the occasional wave broke on the deck like a ton of bricks. He was wet, cold, knackered and wanting downstairs. Looking at everything in the cockpit, he went below.

‘Who’s sailing the boat?’ asked Emma, anxiously.

‘No one.’ A bad wave crashed, the bow shot up in the air and a few seconds later, crashed down again.

‘This is a bad dream,’ muttered Geneviève and held Jean-Claude’s hand. Emma took Hugh’s.

‘It feels much worse than it is. If we have lots of sea room, hundreds of kilometres between us and land, we’ll be fine. The only danger is being close to land and I’m sure we’re not – we weren’t going fast en -’

Crash! A wave dropped right above their heads and they were sure the wood would break. The bow shot up again and then crashed again.

‘The thing is, ladies and Jean-Claude, that if it goes on like this, it will blow itself out sooner or later. We need to pray that the wind doesn’t change direction and the sea keeps rolling plus a few other things need to go right for us.’

Crash! That one had hit the cockpit and they could hear, rather than see it swirling round, trying to come in at them and then slosh out the back.

Thus it went on, into the night.

They clutched at each other every time there was a horrendous thump on the roof, they rotated their watches, they kept the hot liquid and food up.

Thus it went on, into the night.

Chapter 14 hereChapter 16 here

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