Sailing Adventure Sample
A rip roaring sailing adventure. Two teenage brothers take on the Atlantic and the Mediterranean and the Spanish authorities who have sided with the Argentinians in the Falklands War. Comedy and tragedy, played out on two of the seven seas. A study of human frailty and the triumph of hope over experience, A heart warming book that will grip everyone and particularly sailors. From adversity to sublime luxury to challenges that would strain the greatest relationships. the boys come through. This book works on all levels. Adventure, comedy, and audacity.
Here’s a sample:
I had stopped admiring the port that I thought we were heading for.
It seemed pointless to dream. It had been seen, but it had slipped past us now and there seemed nothing left to do but ignore its passing.
Both of realised we were heading towards the ship, an aggressive action if ever there was one. We were being pushed by the current.
‘There’s no wind. I can’t turn her,’ he replied.
‘You do realise that we’re heading for that ship,’ I subtly mentioned, sounding as casual as I could, assuming that he might have missed all two hundred tons of it, bristling with all manner of armaments.
‘That grey thing there?’ he responded. I could rely on him to be sarcastic.
‘What should I do?’
‘I’m not sure. I think it is best to keep still and don’t move too quickly. I’ve just noticed they have started to train their deck guns on us.’
‘How many do they have?’ I asked.
Being on the other side of the main sheet he could see more.
‘There are three anti-aircraft guns trained on us now,’ my brother continued helpfully.
‘I think I can see the rear gun turrets turning,’ I added.
‘The two in the bow are turning too. It looks like the crew are armed as well.’
‘I hope you realise these are conscripts,’ I announced.
‘The thought had crossed my mind, trigger-happy and panicky,’ he assured me.
‘I presume they have live rounds in all their guns,’ I replied nervously.
‘When we find out, it will be too late,’ he noted sagely.
‘I think the tide’s taking us past them into the next section,’ he observed calmly.
‘It is not the next section; it’s the main military area. There are two submarines there.’
‘They won’t be too anxious to let us see them, will they?’ he explained.
The Riddle of the Sands had left me shaken.
‘What’s the Spanish for no wind, no power?’
‘Wind is venta; I know that much,’ he bragged, smiling grimly.
‘Can’t we just take down the sails and hoist up a white flag?’
‘It might do some good to haul down the sails, it will help them see us more clearly.’
‘Great, we’ll be a better target then. I’ll take down the jib.’
‘I’ll lash the tiller and do the main mast,’ he offered/
We were up on deck and across to our stations within seconds.
I released the jib rope and the sail slid down the wire, I unclipped the sheet and furled the canvas.
I turned around and my brother was lashing the already furled main mast. He was much more experienced than me and so much quicker. That is why I always did the jib. It was a smaller and simpler task. I looked to our starboard bow. We had drifted to the port a bit more and we were heading for the submarine pen as my brother had said we were.
I had suggested surrender and I really meant it. The anti-aircraft guns followed our vessel as if they were connected by wire and what was more worrying, the agitated sailors, some of them our age, were even less pleased that we were heading in that direction.
For all they knew we could have been some suicidal death squad, with a boat packed with high explosives.
If that was the case and I was on board the ship, I would be relieved, if I were them, that the floating torpedo was headed elsewhere.
Military regulations always upset civilian rights of progress. By drifting into this part of the harbour we were entering a restricted area, a no-go zone.
By this stage, with our field of vision clear of canvas, I could see the bulbous snouts of two submarines, I could clearly see the marines scurrying about the Spanish boat, their yells of panic, barked orders.
The weaponry was impressive.
I counted seven rifles and twelve sub-machine guns in one glance. Suddenly everything went still. The pandemonium died down. All that could be heard was the lashing of water against our bows and their hull.
Then I heard a click, followed by seventeen others, although I admit I lost count after fourteen.
The loudspeaker on their boat was deafening, although it was most probably turned down to whisper level.
‘Halt’ or ‘halte’ or ‘halta’, in any European language can convey the word halt or stop in English especially if it is delivered loud enough.
The Europeans have learnt much from the English about communicating with people who do not share your language. Speak loudly and firmly. It worked for us, but we could not comply. This was the point where my brother and I, using our miming skills, really started to perform.
Having ourselves learnt much from communicating in foreign lands; we fell back on gesture. The two of us turned our palms heavenward and tilted our heads to the left side. We were both left-handed and shrugged our shoulders, leaving them hanging in mid-shrug. I added a final touch by pouting in a helpless way.
Hopefully, the Captain had binoculars. We hoped to convey our disappointment, as if to say, ‘if only we could comply with your request’, or ‘it is really out of our hands, there is nothing we can do’.
Trying to speak in Spanish to any of their crew could be fatal. It might result in a misheard phrase, perhaps an insult concerning his parentage or the occupation of his mother.
The man with the gun, you keep happy. We could not risk upsetting these people more than they were already. Having several guns trained at you is a worrying prospect. Several thoughts flash through your mind, such as, He is pointing that thing at me, it might go off, or He might be prepared to use it, or He might want to use it to see what happens with a live target.
Everyone has to join the services for a year or two in Spain.
We knew that, as Spanish friends of ours dodged the draft as a matter of course.
Who wanted a seriously short haircut and months of drills when you could be dancing with a girl with a long haircut promising month of thrills, parties, dances, films? The choice was stark, but we understood the sacrifice.
The big question was which service got the brainy people and which one got the troublemakers, the people no one can train, the ones no other service will have? If it was the army, we were fine. The navy in England is the ‘senior service’, but it did not follow that this would be so for Spain.
Cartagena and a term at sea could well prove to be an ideal ground for the lost causes. If that was so, then we were in trouble. I knew about guns and their safety catches. We were not close enough to see properly, but if I hoped that these sailors did not have their fingers in the trigger guard even, and therefore there was no chance they could shoot me, unless they stumbled and the gun went off, which was highly unlikely.
Maybe one of them hated all the English for their involvement in the Falklands crisis. A few bullets and he would most probably be a hero for killing two English spies. The continental nations are far more lenient on crimes of passion. We should not be there, he realised. We were English and he wanted to strike a blow for his Latin cousins.
End of story and end of our tale.
The big guns worried me. There was no safety catch on those.
The anti-aircraft gun could deliver twelve rounds in as many seconds at a touch of a button. I had seen one in Portsmouth.
The Bophors deck guns I also recognised.
‘Those Bophors and that Oerlikon are worrying me,’ I complained.
It’s amazing how knowledge can diffuse your fear in a situation.
We were going to die, but I was determined to show my brother my knowledge of naval artillery.
Not only could I recognise the manufacturer of the guns by their shape, but I could tell you the calibre and how many magazines of high-explosive shells could be pumped into our boat before anyone could say, ‘Cease firing!’
Still, we sailed on, the guns pointed at our bow as we crept towards the cruiser; the guns pointed at our amid ships as we stripped the deck of sail cloth; now the guns were trained on our aft section.
We could tell they were getting twitchy.
The reflection of sun on the lenses of binoculars on the bridge proved that we were being monitored closely.
The Captain was on the line, as we slipped past, to the Admiral asking for permission to fire. I hoped that he had enjoyed a good lunch and left orders for his siesta to be extended and for him not to be disturbed. Then I wished the Admiral at his desk having had a quick lunch, only because I felt sure that if he had been disturbed during his siesta, he might well give that permission.
‘No engine, engine kaput,’ Norman shouted as he pointed at our outboard motor. ‘No venta.’
It sounds pathetic now, but at the time it sounded pretty good to me, and I was impressed even if the crew was not. The guns trained on us seemed to say, so what?
I saw two of the sailors raise their rifles in the bow of the cruiser.
Suddenly, from inside the submarine pen, there was the sound of a diesel motor, which belonged to a whaler.
The boat reached us in minutes, relieving our tension in seconds. We caught the ropes thrown to us, fore and aft and tied their painters to our stantions.
The boarding party consisted of two young Spaniards, armed with automatic pistols in white holsters and broad smiles. They wore blue trousers and blue shirts; Number Eights as they were called in England, work wear, not dress uniform.
The acquisition of side arms looked rather sudden.
Their holsters were more in keeping with an impressive parade. I guessed that they had just come from the armoury, and I had no doubt that these weapons and all the weapons that had been trained on us that day were carrying live rounds. We were certainly lucky to be alive; not one shot had been fired.
Both of the sailors were slightly older than my brother; one was thin the other was a little bit overweight. The chubbier one spoke. I stole a glimpse of the driver of their boat, one hand rested on the big wheel in the centre of their boat. His raised foot was propped against the wheel housing, his other hand rested on the handle of his gun.
I noticed that the button that kept the holster flap closed was undone.
‘Buenos dias,’ I tried.
‘Good afternoon, you are not very popular, you have almost got yourself blown out of the water here today. What seems to be the problem?’ he exclaimed.
He had no accent to speak of and his English was delivered perfectly and fluently. How I wished I could speak Spanish that way, it was faultless.
‘Our engine is gone,’ my brother explained.
‘There is no wind for you to sail. This is a beautiful boat by the way,’ our Spanish saviour announced.
‘Gracias,’ my brother replied, ‘thank you, but without wind she is useless.’
My brother liked to impress with his linguistic ability, especially if someone could speak fluently. As if to say, ‘I know a word in a different language’.
I kept quiet, watching the thin man who seemed twitchy and the nonchalant driver who I felt was playing it cool, but was in fact nervous.
‘Where are you from?’ the sailor asked.
‘We’re Irish,’ my brother declared.
‘The boat is registered in England?’ he noted suspiciously.
‘It has to be, it was made in the Isle of Wight.’
I half expected our Spanish sailor to say, ‘I’ve been there’, but he was much less interested in knowing the geographical location of the Isle of Wight than in establishing our identity and our nationality.
Once he had checked our passports and read the boat’s papers, he was immediately more relaxed. Ireland and Spain had no quarrel. We were fellow republicans and fellow Catholics. They had Basque separatists, we had trouble in the north too; but it was we who got the cold weather.
Our interrogator and translator informed his friends of our status and they seemed instantly more at ease.
The second boarder smiled at us. The driver could not smile, it seemed, but as a token he scowled less.
‘We’ll tow you into port, the other way. You can dock at the Royal Yacht Club.’
‘No problem, but next time stay away from this part of the port, or you could be shot’’
The thin man stepped back to the bow, untied the painter from the stantion, wrapped it around the bow rail and secured it with a bowline to the anchor chain, then he smiled and leapt into the aft of the boat, standing on the bench seat at the back.
Our friends untied the forward painter from the aft stantion and leapt off the boat. He had barely regained his balance after landing when the driver slipped his gear lever into forward and eased the throttle in the same direction.
The engine had been thudding quietly, in a dull diesel sort of way, but now it came to life. Within half a minute, the motorboat had spun around, and it had taken us with it.
Finally, after an hour of heading west, northwest into danger, we were now travelling east, north east to safety.
The wake the lead boat produced along with our own wake made me feel as if we were doing five knots. If they had been doing twenty-five knots, they could not have got me away from there quick enough.
As we passed the cruiser, I noticed that the crew’s guns were pointed downwards now, trained at the deck, harmless and no longer threatening. The deck guns were trained to the sky. I had noticed the relaxation of weaponry before, just as our boarding party came on board, but my relief at speaking to someone about our situation, even if it was just listening while my brother spoke, was so overwhelming that the passing of danger had not yet registered.
I had observed the situation quickly, but my focus had been on our saviours and nothing else. Thanks to them we were rescued and still alive.
It was an incredible experience, not one I wanted to repeat.
Within the hour we were sitting in the yacht club, a glass and wooden structure built on a pontoon in the 1920s or 1930s. A beeswax smell pervaded the atmosphere.
We lounged in reclining wood and cane chairs and a waiter brought us Spanish gin and tonic on a silver salver, ready-mixed and heady-fixed; there must have been three shots of gin in the tall glass, just a taste of tonic.
Back home it was the other way around; gin passed over the glass, a splash. We asked him what cigarettes he had, and he told us he had Rothmans. We ordered those as a salute to our English existence in London and as a memory of our mundane life there with no guns trained on us. This was living.
Sadly, I let myself down in civilized circumstances. Being a philistine, I ate the lemon in the bottom of the glass.
The sailors had offered us Fortuna cigarettes as they helped us tie up on the jetty. We were the only craft tied on to the five-berth pier.
Waterwitch was made for this berth and the berth was made for Waterwitch, a low-slung dock for her low-slung deck. Those cigarettes tasted sublime. We waited until the boat was secure to light them, tying up knots with our cigarettes behind one ear. The sailors made sure that we were lit, both carrying disposable lighters.
Then, together, as one hand put the lighter back, another reached out to shake hands. It was the warmest of sentiments — saving my life twice, once from the guns and once by providing tobacco at the right moment.
After they shook our hands, they pointed in the direction of the club at the other end of the jetty, gesturing and saying we should go there.
We had followed their advice.
It was built over the water on wooden stilts and was now obviously a curiosity for social venues. We watched and waited for our escort to climb back up into their huge high-sided whaler and we waved them off like old friends.
We sat in the lounge like a couple of lounge lizards. Noel Cowards with blithe spirits. There was no ice in the drinks served here, but the tonic was cold from the fridge and the gin was kept in the pantry, a large bottle of Larios. Two stiff gin and tonics later and we were ready to curl up and go to sleep in our seats. Instead, we watched the sunset send splendid spectrums of the silver-blue sea, first yellow, then orange, red and then blue.
From another window we could see the moon waiting in the wings, ready to take up the dominant role. There was every chance that we might never raise ourselves from our seats, but hunger pangs drove us to look for food.
It was around about suppertime in England when we left the bar. The light was just fading.
We had changed our clothes before going to the club, so we walked gingerly along the bobbing jetty into town.
It seemed incredible to be eating before eight in Spain. Our navigation generally meant we arrived at the tail end of the last sitting. It was amazing to be out when it was not pitch black, but only dusk.
We found the busiest and brightest harbour-front cafe and settled in our seats. Both of us had to have a coffee before we could be capable of choosing our supper.
After a good meal with a lovely white wine, we skipped brandy and sauntered off to bed. We decided we would have an early night that night but managed to slip back into the now-dark club, its faded elegance lit by two standard lamps.
Two couples occupied leather armchairs in another room. Our sailor friends popped back to see that we were fully recovered from our ordeal, and we tried to press them for a drink. Instead, they bought us one and we offered them our fags.
Through sign language, we managed to establish that everyone was happy that the affair had concluded without injury and that it had been a close-run thing.
They bid us goodnight and we thanked them once again for saving us. They had even offered to look at the engine earlier that day, but my brother knew it was hopeless without the right parts.
The Spanish in my experience have always been courteous, kind, generous-spirited, lively, informative, intelligent, and jovial. That day however I saw another side of Spain, Spain at the end of a gun. It was ironic really because just after finishing The Riddle of the Sands, I started to read Homage to Catalonia, Orwell’s account of his experiences in the Spanish civil war.
It was not until we tried to untie the boat the next day, at sun-up, that we realised what excellent sailors they were.
It was almost impossible to untie the knots. They didn’t want us slipping off in the night. It took both of us and a yawl to get our ropes free.