The storm eventually abated of course, during the blackness.
Hugh didn’t want to wake Jean-Claude or Emma who’d dropped off where they sat but Geneviève was wide awake and he whispered, ‘I’ll just take a look.’
It had definitely abated.
Whether the wind had turned round or not, he had no bearings but the boat was still on the sea-anchor so he thought it best to let it stay that way. They’d get the drogue back in at first light – no point being a hero at this time. Geneviève told him to sleep and she’d watch for two hours. It was all right – she felt better now, she kissed his cheek, he dropped off.
Jean-Claude now woke and went outside, Emma did the same some minutes later, came back down and lay beside Hugh on his berth. The other two were now up in the cockpit.
‘Fabulous day,’ said Geneviève. ‘Who would have thought -’
‘Oui, oui. So that’s what it’s about, this life on the ocean waves. Could you get to like it, Genie?’
‘I’m not sure, really I’m not. The boat’s so small, so cramped, there aren’t the things we need for normal living. As an exercise – yes, it’s much better than I ever thought it was going to be and when the weather’s good, I almost love this sailing, you know.’
‘Oui,’ added Jean-Claude. ‘I can see this getting into the blood – it’s a pity I missed it earlier in life. If we ever escape our troubles, I think I should like to sail for relaxation. Oui, it’s something more than just enjoying it.’
‘In which way?’
‘It’s like pitting yourself against nature, it could almost be an analogy for our current political troubles – it’s saying to the elements, ‘You’re much more powerful than I am, I’m but a little fish compared to the power you possess, the ability to squash me with one blow but I have news for you. When you try to swat me like a fly, I’ll hide behind an island or I’ll ride you out. I’ll roll with your blows and bend as a blade of grass. In the end, I’ll achieve my purpose and triumph, despite your best efforts and what’s more – I’ll have admired and respected your majesty along the way.’
‘Gosh, Jean-Claude, it has affected you,’ said Geneviève.
‘It has, it’s so close to the essence out here, to the substance of life. You feel you’re living for survival and it’s an empowering feeling.’
It was late afternoon when Hugh, thoroughly refreshed, came out of the cabin and took in the state of things. Genie was at the helm, Jean-Claude was sunbathing on the deck one side of the cabin, Emma on the other and she’d taken the liberty of removing her top. He wasn’t too enthused about Jean-Claude’s body but Emma’s was a sight for sore eyes.
The drogue had already been brought in, coiled and stowed in its place, the sea anchor was stowed, things had been untied, sails were being trimmed correctly to the wind, the sun seemed in the right place, they were heading in the right direction and the whole thing seemed ship-shape and Bristol fashion. He wondered about that expression.
‘We,’ he addressed no one in particular, ‘came through that night better than anyone could have predicted. I’m a bit in awe of the three of you because you’re new to sailing. I suppose professionalism in one area extends to all areas.’
‘Flattery will get you everywhere,’ came a light voice from Emma’s area of the planking. ‘Geneviève, Jean-Claude, would you mind if we go below for a while to discuss some private business?’ Emma picked herself up, did not put her top back on and tiptoed quickly back to the cabin, Hugh followed.
Down below, Emma had already removed her skirt, body still hot from the sun, he rapidly removed his gear and savaged her, at first anyway, then she savaged him. Somewhere along the way, he remarked on her thighs, possibly in the process of stroking and half-eating the upper reaches of one.
‘My thighs – you really like them, don’t you?’
‘I adore them – they’re the best in the world, smooth and edible.’
‘I like your neck and shoulders.’
He looked her up and down, from her crown to her toes and she went bright red. ‘Hugh,’ she said, ‘enough.’ He decided to kiss and massage her entire body, which she didn’t seem particularly averse to but then she couldn’t wait any longer.
About an hour later, she emerged from the hatch, wobbled a bit, he came up behind her and almost fell over, they took over the sailing of the boat.
Geneviève and Jean-Claude went to the for’ard cabin and soon the boat was not only moving up one wave and down another but was softly shuddering to a rhythm.
Emma glanced across and laughed, ‘Do you think they do what we do?’
‘I have absolutely no idea. Anyway, they might do other things we haven’t even thought of.’
‘Well, I’d better go up front and find out.’
‘Don’t you dare. You’re such a terror, Fayette.’ He thought for a moment, then grinned. ‘Do you think you could reach the hatch without alerting them?’ She got up to go and he took her arm. ‘Emma, no – you’re meant to be steering.’
‘Well let’s make love out here then.’
‘What is it with you today?’ But his failure to disapprove encouraged her and she undid his shorts ties and reached inside. ‘Emma, no, not here.’
She paused, pulled down the waistband and went to work. He kept an eye on the front cabin for anyone emerging.
She had his shorts off now and flung them at the hatchway. He was prepared to accept the toplessness in this company as they’d had the island experience but now she took off her own knickers and flung them after the shorts. This was too far and she knew it, she swiftly turned, facing bow’ards and backed down on him, guiding him in.
The internal fight in his brain was pretty obvious and the feeling was winning. When he went over the top, she didn’t stop as she sometimes did but kept going, then leapt off quickly and went below, leaving him staring into the eyes, at the front hatch, of Geneviève and Jean-Claude.
He couldn’t leave the helm and yet he had to. Jean-Claude realized that and was coming sternwards swiftly, Hugh went below and she was lying on her berth, staring at him.
‘Emma.’ He wanted to say so much but just didn’t know what to say and she was not going to help in the least, nor was she going to cover it with another bout of sex. She wanted to know.
‘Topless – yes, OK. The sex itself was fine if we kept an eye on the front hatch. But you let them come out and watch that, you delayed until they came out and worse, it wasn’t Genie you were showing it to.’
She just stared at him, then said. ‘You need to say no to me then, it’s a simple thing.’
‘No, you need to know the limits yourself involving another male – we had this discussion and you assured me.’
‘What are the limits?’
About an hour later, on deck, no one had mentioned any of it.
Jean-Claude said, ‘We came through last night and I’m grateful to the designer. It’s a simple boat and reduces the number of things we need to do. If we are thrown about or even if we turn over, we don’t panic and we keep our heads, each person on this boat is capable of that.’
‘Yes. If it hits,’ Hugh added, ‘we might flip, let’s be clear on that. If we do, provided we’re securely tied in, provided everything movable is lashed down, then it will do no damage. Our masts are short and don’t have a lot of rigging coming off them, they’re thicker than the average boat’s, so they’ll take bouncing down in shallow water or on a rock. If they do break, it sounds bad but it’s not the end of the world.
If we keep ourselves from injury and conserve energy – and this boat really does help with that – then we’ll survive inside the vaka, even upside down, which is what I love about this configuration.’
After some time, they noticed an increase in the wind strength and began to shuffle uncomfortably where they were sitting but already the storm seemed to be passing to the east behind them. They might have been on the edge of it.
This was borne out in about thirty minutes with no great increase in wind or sea size. The boat was sailing nicely, perhaps at a steady nine or ten knots.
Geneviève was at the helm, Jean-Claude beside her.
The next day passed, darkness fell, Jean-Claude was in the forward cabin, which was also the galley, Geneviève was at the tiller and Hugh was with her.
‘It’s not too uncomfortable,’ remarked Geneviève. ‘Hugh? About that which we saw – you and Emma -’
‘Genie, I need to talk to you very much about that and related matters. May I?’
‘Of course.’ She was intrigued.
‘Firstly, that won’t happen again,’ she inclined her head, ‘but it’s more than that. Genie, my love,’ that surprised and gratified her, ‘I was unhappy about how you kept things to yourself in Paris, I thought that that was no way for a couple to operate but now – now I’m starting to think there were many things going on in the background, things I should not know because they were operational and that continued into the safehouses -’
‘Thank you, Hugh.’
‘That gratuitous sex for Jean-Claude to see – may I speak plainly?’
‘I understand the level you speak of – that she must not slip backwards to that sexual state of Michel and Stefan, even to that of Pierre,’ she looked at him sharply, realizing he now knew, ‘I understand a girl who cannot control her sexuality, I understand that I myself goad girls by failing to stop them doing their fantasy things – Nikki for example – I understand all those things. With Emma though, I’m getting the feeling that there’s something more, something deliberate in this … she knows the protocols full well … and it makes me uneasy.’
‘I’m not sure, Hugh, if we’re speaking of the same thing but yes, I’m quite suspicious of it too. I know what she can be like if not kept on a leash but I also know there’s something more, some devil which gets into her and then sometimes, I don’t think it’s a devil but something quite planned. Is that what you were referring to?’
‘Yes. I think she’s going to try something else, even though we talked. She asked me what was offlimits, as if there was a rulebook, she said I had to say no to her.’
‘That’s her all right.’ She sighed. ‘Hugh, this is what you’ve taken on – no woman is easy and I include myself here, we all have our histories. I’m very sorry. And Hugh – why could you and I not be like this … back then? Don’t answer that because I already know.’
He touched her face. ‘Bless you.’
Next day, under full sail, they’d made excellent time.
Geneviève had insisted they thoroughly clean the boat inside out and air all the coats and bedding. The straw brush was hard at work and the thick leaves they used as plates doubled as dustpans and were then washed in the sea.
Hugh didn’t want to tell her the sea was far from clean or about the microscopic creepy crawlies. He also hadn’t told them about the squid and sharks.
The sun now beat down and it was line ball whether to soak it up or seek shade. Chores finished, the women got their bits and pieces for suntanning together and took up what had become their places – Emma on the port side of the forward cabin and Genie opposite, on the starboard, closer to their hatch. Hugh was in the aft cabin and Jean-Claude was at the helm.
The breeze was light, the air warm and Emma, facing the bow, had taken her knickers off, meaning her stern was facing Jean-Claude. She now nonchalantly parted her legs, pretending to scratch between them but actually she was pulling herself slightly apart.
And as is always the case, someone else saw it. Hugh had come up top, glanced at her, immediately swung round and saw Jean-Claude hot and bothered. He half-shouted, ‘Emma!’
Genevieve sat up, saw and instantly knew, Emma grabbed her knickers and ran for the aft cabin, scurrying down the steps. Hugh and Genevieve looked at each other but as Hugh made to go to Emma, she touched his arm and said not to. ‘Hugh, go to the helm please, I’m taking Jean-Claude to our cabin.’
Emma was below, expecting a storming partner but there was none. It had been so instant, the reaction, almost as if they’d been anticipating it, which worried her even more. She knew she was in real trouble.
The hatch was already open far enough for ventilation and she peered over the top at the helm and there he was. She understood that they didn’t buy the uncontrolled sexuality tale and both of them were highly suspicious people – in fact dissemblers who didn’t let their right hands know what their left hands were doing. They were dangerous, Mademoiselle and Hugh.
Nobody could accuse her though of lacking courage and she knew she had to confront him out there, not in the cabin. She slid the hatch down and went out, sitting on the cabin roof, looking at him. At that point, Geneviève came out, caught his look of ‘not now’, Emma swung around and Geneviève went below again. Emma swung back and he was saying not a word.
She had to speak. ‘All right, Hugh, the bad girl unable to control her sexuality won’t wash with you two. And that’s a tragedy for me because it happens to be true.’
‘We now have a breakdown in trust, maybe terminal.’
‘I know.’ She turned and went below.
Nothing more had been said on the matter and none of them had slept with their partners – the atmosphere was frosty – Emma was shocked how swiftly and completely it had all fallen apart between the four of them.
They’d completely lost the five native boats but what was not good was a seeming posse on the horizon of what looked like official boats, naval boats. Surely they weren’t there for one small boat like theirs but all four came to the same conclusion at once.
‘We have to change course, Hugh,’ said Jean-Claude, operational matters of course still being discussed by necessity.
‘Where else could we go?’ asked Genie.
‘I’m thinking either to a French speaking island or to Australia. You’d have rights on one and I’d have rights on the other but we could also continue to sail, the boat’s not leaking, we could stop at islands along the way.’
‘Along the way to where?’ Emma asked the obvious.
He sighed. ‘Probably back to Europe.’
‘Do you know anyone in Australia?’ asked Genevieve.
‘Not up that far. We can make two hundred and fifty miles or 400 km a day if we sail hard, about 300km if we cruise. We’d need three to four more days to make Australia from here but do we wish to go there if the enemy are there? There are islands before that to restock our larder from.’
Jean-Claude reminded him, ‘The enemy can be on islands too, Hugh.’
‘So we need to decide.’
‘Let’s go with that plan for Australia and Europe.’
They turned the Sophie-Fleury round and the unknown started … just like that.
They’d had the discussion about rations and felt that if they could operate at normal energy levels, they could reduce their consumption by a third. There was bait in the ama and they had lines but that meant slowing to a halt and fishing, a difficult thing to do on a sailing boat when even the masts moved you forward. The drogue could be partially deployed to stop the motion.
If they did catch fish, they could clean and fillet them, then hang them from the masts to dry.
First they had to catch some.
Jean-Claude was the adept here, he now came back and prepared three lines. With Geneviève now on the helm, he, Hugh and Emma were the fishers.
They lowered the lines and waited. Almost immediately, Emma had a bite, tugged and then hauled the line in.
The fish was about thirty centimetres long and was thrashing about on the deck. Jean-Claude thought it might be of the whiting family.
‘What do I do? What do I do?’ Jean-Claude stepped across and skewered it just behind the eyes. It stopped flopping its tail a second later.
‘That’s … horrible, Jean-Claude. That’s … beastly.’
‘Mademoiselle, do you buy fish at the supermarket?’
Emma shut up.
After a while, she put the line in again, re-baited by Jean-Claude. She caught another and then Jean-Claude caught one too. He skewered both and told her that the next one she’d have to do herself.
They caught another each, she took the knife, pointed it behind the head, looked away and shoved it in, feeling the gristle as it went in. It was awful, she threw the knife down and ran to the bow, heaving over the side.
She reached down to the sea, scooped some water to her mouth and ‘cleaned’ it, turned, saw him and ran for their cabin. Hugh went back to relieve Genie and let her try.
They had fourteen fish of varying sizes and Hugh had caught two of those only. Geneviève asked, ‘Are we going to insist people eat only what they caught or are we going to share it out equally?’
‘As you wish,’ he replied. ‘I haven’t earned my keep.’
‘I think we’ll let them eat their share, don’t you, Emma?’ who had just come back on deck.
‘Now we have to clean and gut them,’ said Jean-Claude. ‘There are two knives.’
The men got down to the task, putting the head and offal in a tub to throw overboard and laying out the fish fillets on the cabin roof, just forward of the main mast. Hugh went to the ama to get string, came back and tied it round the fillets at intervals, tied the end of the string to the mast and that was that.
It was the following morning, about 10:00, that they saw them.
‘Look, look, over there,’ cried Emma, pointing over the port quarter.
They all looked and there were three dolphins cavorting along at boat speed, enjoying the wake. Jean-Claude pushed the helm one way – the dolphins followed, he pulled the other and they changed course.
Everyone was simply delighted, it did thaw the atmosphere.
Emma sat right up at the bow, legs over the side and Hugh didn’t know which was more beautiful – the frisky, diving and leaping poetry of the dolphins or the girl who was appreciating them.
Jean-Claude knew one thing – the scene was so moving he couldn’t find words for a time.
Then, as if on cue, the dolphins dived and were not seen again for the whole day.
All of them felt let down. They looked at one another, sighed and the ladies went back to the sunbathing.
‘It’s a spiritual experience, you know,’ murmured Jean-Claude.
‘What, those two sunbathing?’ murmured Hugh.
Jean-Claude glanced across but felt it best not to comment.
Everyone knew they had to find a resolution which was not cold, all had needs, all realized they could take on no enemy in this interpersonal state, Jean-Claude needed Genie and vice-versa, Emma and Hugh needed it resolved.
Both pairs in turn went below to their cabin when not on duty. This happened to be Hugh’s and Emma’s break now.
On their respective bunks, it was a question of who would speak first. Emma did.
‘There is a word, ‘mortifiée’, it describes how I feel, not able to get anything back the way it was, not able with you, not able with anyone.’
‘Genie and I are not cold to each other.’
‘That makes it worse – Jean-Claude thinks he’s lost her … and I do too. I think I’ve lost you.’
‘You said yourself that we didn’t buy the bad girl reverted bit, we both believe there’s something else going on, we believe you have some agenda going on but we can’t work out what.’
‘What will you do – abandon me when we reach land?’
‘You can resolve this at any moment you wish by being honest about what you’re up to It’s as simple as that.’
He turned and went up on deck, Genie was on the helm and he sat with her.
The day passed, they were clearly centred in a high pressure system but knew it had to end. What they didn’t want was for it to end near land.
The dolphins returned for another bout and everybody was delighted.
Night fell, they’d caught twelve fish, twenty-four fillets, there were plenty left and they hadn’t touched the dried meat since they’d started the fishing. And all the time, the bow of the boat continued to slice the waves and the water whooshed past in that calming manner.
The wind strength increased to the point where Hugh reefed to half sail on his watch. The swell had increased in height and in the early light, sometimes they were unable to see over the trough but it was still fairly even and non-threatening.
The dolphins did not return the next morning and as if on cue, the skies clouded over a little. What they did see though was the first cargo ship in a long while and it was far enough away not to worry.
Hugh thought about this and it seemed that they were crossing shipping lanes, not running along them, thus they’d seen no one until now. This ship seemed to be headed north, probably for south-east Asia.
About lunchtime, Jean-Claude, who’d been at the bow looking hard for’ard, thought he’d seen something in the distance, possibly a boat, possibly in distress. They had no equipment – no binoculars, no telescope, no horn, no way of determining this or making contact and it came home to him that they’d really need to get some things if they made Lord Howe Island.
Well into the afternoon, it did become apparent that there was a boat – they saw it when on top of a swell, then lost it again.
Slowly it became apparent that the boat was not drifting all that much and the reason was that it was upside down – it looked to Hugh like one of those Wharrams, which he thought never capsized – this one looked to be a Pahi 42 and for that to flip was a major thing.
Naturally they had to do their bit, no matter what it did to their cover and this he now had to explain to the others. ‘At sea, quite apart from it being the law, it’s the unwritten law – we must check the boat at least.’
They set course below the craft and this resulted in a rush in speed, so that it was about ten minutes later that they came below the upturned catamaran – the first thing which struck them was how dead it seemed, there seemed no crew. The life raft was gone so they assumed these people had used that and had sent out their distress call some time back.
They had to decide and decide quickly. They went upwind before the stricken cat, threw over the sea anchor and they got talking.
‘If we go onboard, it is dangerous for us. If there is someone onboard alive, we must take that person but there’s our cover blown. I wouldn’t salvage anything from the boat, even food, even in tins because we don’t know – they might have gone off.’
‘Seems to me,’ said Geneviève, ‘that we must at least call out to them to see what there is. We must give them a chance.’
‘What if there’s a hurt pet there, like a dog? Do we take him?’
Hugh breathed out slowly. ‘Not easy questions. Yes, I agree – let’s turn about now and go back, sail under again and see what happens.’
They did just that and their sail handling had become almost expert. They came up below the cat, Jean-Claude took the helm and Hugh went to the side and hollered, ‘Anyone onboard?’
He tried it twice more, straining to hear any sound at all as they were downwind.
Nothing. No animal, no human sound.
‘Hugh,’ asked Geneviève, ‘can you get onto the boat?’
‘If I put a rode around me and you two ladies controlled it from here, I could climb onto one of the hulls and see if there’s an access hatch – cats sometimes do have these, we don’t.’
Emma brought the aft rode and he made a bowline around his waist. He was going to have to jump because the Wharram is a like a knife edge upside down and it would be tricky keeping balance on one hull. Plus the whole boat was moving up and down.
He made ready, he had enough rope, he jumped, slipping on the hull and it went between his legs, he hit the keel hard and was in pain. Jean-Claude was still on the helm and doing a good job.
It took a good five minutes for feeling to come back, nothing at least had broken and he had seen an access hatch in this hull, fortunately none in the other. Now it was a case of lying along the keel, balancing one leg out and leaning over to peer through.
It was dark inside but he could make out gear which had been stowed, there were no dead bodies so far floating about. There seemed no pets.
He made to come back and this was going to be tricky. Then he had an idea. He called out, ‘Ladies, drop the foresail and untie our spare boom. Take the halyard – the rope which pulls that up – off the foresail and attach it to -’
‘I’ve understood,’ said Emma. She got to work, Geneviève helping, the halyard was attached but she also attached a safety line to the end so that it would hang down over the cat, the spare boom was set at an angle and now Jean-Claude came forward while Geneviève took over the helm, he held the boom end to the mast base, Emma lowered the spare boom over Hugh, he grabbed for and got the harness, held on for dear life and lifted off, Emma used all her strength to swing the boom back over to their own boat, Hugh crashed to their deck.
Emma let the boom down to the deck, then rushed to him and enveloped him in kisses. ‘You all right, Hugh?’ asked Jean-Claude.
‘I need one more kiss just to be sure.’ She did not hesitate. ‘Yes, seems fine.’
‘All right, we did what we could, we’ll decide later if we need to mention it to someone,’ said Jean-Claude. ‘You need to go below now.’
Down below, he lay on the bunk and she came over, they lay side on.
‘Did I redeem myself?’
‘You didn’t need to, Fayette, you know it’s not about redemption, it’s about opening up to your man, it’s entirely in your hands. One day you might open up to me and I can become loving again.’
She was completely at a loss how to deal with this.
On deck thirty minutes later, they discussed that boat.
‘Genie thinks we needn’t say anything’ said Jean-Claude. ‘We saw nothing alive, there was nothing happening.’
‘If there is some story behind this boat, it has the potential to blow up in our faces,’ said Geneviève. ‘We’d be accused of all sorts of things.’
‘One unfortunate thing is my DNA might be on that boat now after my fall.’
‘Why? You had clothes on, you were wearing gloves. Was there blood?
‘No but my skin did touch the hull.’
Jean-Claude put in, ‘If that had gone into a crevice, yes maybe but there are waves coming over this boat the whole time. It won’t breakdown the DNA but it can wash it into the sea. I don’t think we should overly worry about that.’
Two days sailing had elapsed without further incident and things had made a shift towards the more serious.
‘We’re at the business end of our trip, folks,’ said Hugh. ‘We have to get new supplies.’
‘Where?’ asked Emma.
‘Possibly Lord Howe Island, we’re not all that far away.’
The sea settled down and the sun came out after lunchtime, when all had been washed and put away.
Seagulls appeared in the distance and a couple of the larger birds, which suggested they were near an island, probably Lord Howe thought Hugh, the shallow draft meant they might not run aground but the poor visibility was a factor.
Hugh warned everyone to be on the alert and not to walk around unattached. Geneviève and Jean-Claude took that literally and tied themselves into a berth. Emma did likewise. It was Geneviève’s turn for the helm but nobody seriously expected her to at this point.
Then Jean-Claude caught sight of it – it was land, maybe ten kilometres away. What they needed to do was get the boat to the leeward side of the island, which meant tacking south-east into the wind for some time, a tough job in these conditions and one they’d managed to largely avoid so far. The downside of ports too was that they often had narrow approach strips of water and buoys they had to keep between. Tricky in a wind and big seas.
Jean-Claude had had half an hour below, he now came out to take over the helm and saw the land. ‘Is that Lord Howe?’
‘I think so.’
They approached their first buoy and as it went past, it was written on in English – Lord Howe Island. OK, he’d never been here but imagined there’d have to be a reasonable harbour. Also, they’d have been picked up on screen now by the coastal station.
It looked like it might have been the right decision to go below the island and now they approached a rocky point, feeling that if they stayed two kilometres or so to sea of it, they should be all right.
However, seas were coming in from around the point now and lumping up the ocean where they met the swell – this was not unlike getting caught in a washing machine and the good ship Sophie-Fleury was not enjoying it. The bow was burying into breaking waves ahead, even whilst they surfed down their own wave, the ama dug in and seas piled onto their deck, attempting to sweep everything away, including Jean-Claude and Hugh.
Jean-Claude saw it first – a mongrel of a wave from the port side, which was not only coming from the wrong direction but now reared up to maybe ten metres above them, sucking them down into a trough. Even before it broke, Hugh knew they were gone and shouted for everyone to hang on tight.
It crashed onto the bow and the cabin roof, staving the latter in. At the same time, another wave from the starboard quarter caught underneath the stern, the stern stood up on end and their own swell had them stern over bow, the boat was upside down; both Hugh and Jean-Claude were caught underneath.
They pulled themselves along the cockpit into the aft cabin, the women helped them in and the top half of the hatch, now the lower, was sealed. The other part could be left just open for air. Water was up to their stomachs but no further, as the amas were supporting them, things were actually calmer upside down, despite the howling and crashing outside, many waves dashing against the keel but doing no damage.
They had no way of knowing how long they’d remained like that but they got the impression that things were now much calmer.
The waterline was pretty well at the lower side of the berth but it was manageable – they’d designed it this way. Hugh decided to swim out and see what was happening.
He exited into the cockpit and swam to the stern, through the gap and up onto the keel. It was calm, they were drifting near land and he was amazed how long it had taken anyone to detect them or for anyone on the beach to give the alarm. Maybe the lack of radio, the lack of flares and the colour of the undersides had fooled people for a long time.
However, he could make out people in little groups pointing to them and boats were making their way out.
The first got close and someone called out, ‘Youse all right there? Anyone hurt?’
‘Nah, she’s apples.’
The man spoke to his mate, then called out, ‘You an Aussie?’
‘Sort of, g’day.’
‘What you lot doin out here? There was a bloody storm, mate.’
‘Yeah, we got caught in it, we’ve come from New Zealand.’
‘Shit! That’s a bit of a sail, whad’ya want us to do? Tow you in?’
‘If you could. Can you throw us a line? If we attach it, can you try to pull us back up?’
‘Dunno mate, we’ll give it a burl.’ He motored round to the other side.
Jean-Claude now appeared, two lines were thrown, each took one and passed it across the vaka. They swam across to the ama, attached the line to the point designed for that and tied it with half hitches and slip knots.
Hugh skipped across the upturned hull to where the ladies were below and shouted to them to hang on because they were going to turn right way up in a minute. They shouted back that they’d heard.
He gave the thumbs up and bounced over to the ama. The motor boat was put into gear – it had twin Mercs – the slack was taken up, the lines went taut and slowly, slowly, the ama came up into the air. The two of them climbed up over it.
Still the motorboat pulled them, then in a rush, the whole thing went crash – right side up. The boat shuddered and sloshed in the water but they were now fine. The two of them detached the lines.
The first man called out – again, did they need to be towed? No thanks, they’d bale out and sail into the beach now and thanks a lot.
‘Watch it when you get near that buoy over there, mate. It’s a bit shallow there with your keel. You’ll need to go between the buoys.’
‘See you onshore.’
‘What language were you talking?’ asked Jean-Claude.
‘A sort of broad pidgin brogue from the land of Oz.’ Jean-Claude had not the least clue what any of that meant.
All the cockpit water had now self-drained but the cabin was obviously still awash in the non-sealed area. Jean-Claude and Hugh bucketed out, there was now mutiny onboard.
The ladies wanted off this boat [for awhile], to get some things at a shop, no matter how wanted they all were worldwide. When those two got in this mood, well …
Jean-Claude smiled, ‘That’s précisément what we’re doing, belles filles.’
About ten metres from land, they grounded and that was all they could do – this beach was not designed for keelboats to land, even if it was a shoal keel.
Hugh jumped off first, taking the anchor with him and Jean-Claude played out the line. Digging it in on the beach, he now came back to lift the ladies to shore but they’d already jumped ship and were wading hell for leather for the beach.
A largish crowd now gathered, they fielded questions, the girls naturally attracting most attention, Jean-Claude felt fewer of the coquettish smiles from Genie and Emma would have helped.
Their ‘friends’ who’d rescued them now came over and shook hands. ‘You were bloody lucky, you know – that was a bad ’un and there’s another on the way tomorrow. Steve Minchin.’
‘Hugh Jensen and these are John, Genny and Emma.’
They all shook hands. ‘Right, so you lot’ll be wanting something to eat, most like. Will you join us up at the cabin?’
‘Much appreciated,’ said Hugh.
‘You’ve got a nice boat there, you know.’
‘You don’t know how nice, it’s been great for us. This is our second storm in a few days.’
‘Yeah, the weather can get a bit tricky up this way. Your boat’ll be all right here, it’s not going anywhere but I’d take any valuables with you.’
Jean-Claude looked at Hugh, who wasn’t worried. The UMP and the other weapons were plastic wrapped and locked in the ama, they’d leave the main hull open to satisfy curiosity. The beachgoers couldn’t do much harm.
They went up to the cabin, the kids clearing a path for them on the beach. Steve’s cabin was set just back from the edge of the grassy area abutting the beach and he seemed to be either the ranger or someone of note. Hugh asked him.
‘Yeah, we look after the foreshore here, we take it in turns, Bob Mackenzie and me, we’re the ones you needed to report to. Here’s Michelle -’
‘Pleased to meet yer.’
‘- and here’s Kelly.’
‘How old is your little girl?’ asked Emma.
‘She’s four.’ Emma went all clucky and started playing with the kid.
‘We got a boy as well, Justin, he’s up the beach right now with iz mates.’
Michelle put on the kettle for starters and then out came some salad. ‘Fancy some snags?’
Jean-Claude looked at him and Hugh said, ‘Sausages.’
‘You’re not all Aussies then?’ observed Michelle.
‘Nah. These three are French.’ The French smiled sweetly.
‘Well, bugger me,’ said Steve, ‘what you doin’ with the French – blowing up the Rainbow Warrior or something?’ He liked his little joke and Hugh hoped the other three knew nothing of that incident.
‘You guys speak English?’
They all indicated that they did and lunch was a happy occasion – it might not have been Jean-Claude’s and Geneviève’s cuisine but they wolfed it down just the same.
Steve was a bit puzzled. ‘Hugh, you got the lingo all right but your accent – it sounds Pommie.’
‘At home, they think I’m an Australian spy. I get called South African now and then and in Russia, they called me American or Yugoslav.’
He thought a moment. ‘Nah, definitely Pommie.’
‘Story of my life.’
‘Well, we’ll have to get some things documented, I suppose. You got any ship’s papers or anything?’
‘Just our passports. We lost everything else in the storm, we’re island hopping – it’s the Grand Adventure.’ They handed them over.
‘Geez, you won’t get far with these,’ he said, ‘illegal immigrants, you know, big thing these days.’
‘Steve, have you ever heard of French illegal immigrants getting thrown out of Oz?’
‘Well no, now you come to mention it. Still, it’s not going to look too good.’
‘Well, we didn’t plan our boat to turn over either, it just happened.’
‘Yeah but still. Look, we’ll get this thing documented – mind if I scan these? You’ll probably want to go shopping – there’s just a kiosk here but there’s a general store down Lagoon Road, about a quarter of a mile. I suppose you’ll be staying on board overnight – you picked the best bay.’
‘We thought we’d sleep on board.’
‘Yours here says you’re a Pom. Thought their passports were blue, like ours.’
‘Will be again soon, we hope. ‘For we can still rise now and be a nation again.’ ’
‘Just a bit of wishful thinking. I met this lot in France.’
‘Each to their own, I suppose. Right.’ He copied the relevant pages and handed the passports back. ‘I suppose our sergeant will want to see you but he’s not on the island today, he’ll get back tomorrow morning, most like.’
‘Steve, you say another storm is coming tomorrow.’
‘According to the forecast, yeah.’
‘What d’you make of that lot?’ Steve asked his wife when the four of them had departed, with thanks.
‘Nice enough but I don’t believe ’em. There’s a lot they weren’t saying.’
‘Yeah, my thoughts too. We’ll stay friendly with ’em like and see what Don Richards makes of ’em. They might be OK. I think his story checks out about being half-Pommy but why would he be with those three characters? Also, look at those two birds – they have to be randy buggers, those guys, don’t they?’ He grinned.
‘We may need to get away quickly,’ mused Hugh, on the way back to the boat after their shopping detour.
‘You heard him, there’s another storm coming.’
‘Then we might have to come clean about who we are.’
The shop was a bit limited in supplies but they’d filled the cloth bags and bought some confectionery. Jean-Claude had seen a French wine cask, the women had looked around and checked all that was on offer.
‘We’ll need another trip to that shop,’ said Emma. They nodded.
Back at the boat, they had to chase some kids off but nothing seemed to have been taken, for the very good reason that there wasn’t anything worth taking. Emma spoke. ‘Did you see that cooking apparatus on sale?’
‘Over on the far wall, maybe we can buy it.’
Geneviève added, ‘I need cooked food at least once a day, we all do.’
‘Anything else, ladies?’
Geneviève now smiled. ‘Oh, we have quite a list.’
For the rest of the afternoon, they relaxed on the beach, soaking up the sunshine, sipping on cool drinks and enjoying it all.
Maddening to think of the contrast between early morning and now.