Boatman's dream 2
By Parson Thru
Just beneath the ship's bridge, a small light began winking. An Aldis lamp? Where the hell had this thing come from? I listened out on Channel 16, but there was nothing from the ship. A flare went up, the crack of a gun audible a few seconds later. Very pistol? I stayed put, motoring gently against the current to keep away from Steep Holm’s rocks.
A small boat – a tender – had been lowered into the water. I tried hailing them on Channel 16. Nothing. The Aldis lamp was still flashing. I never learned Morse, so gave a friendly wave, hoping they could see me, and stayed put.
The tender got underway. As it approached, I could see the crew – it looked like four people. The boat itself was a museum piece. I wondered if it had anything to do with the bomber I’d heard earlier – maybe a commemoration. I kept an eye on the rocks over my shoulder and held position. The waves were coming beam-on buffeting me from the side. About a thirty yards out, I heard a voice – someone calling over a loud-hailer. Why didn’t they use the radio?
“Ahoy! Motor vessel. Good morning! Permission to come alongside?”
I’m not much of a seaman. Nobody has ever come alongside me at sea. I felt a slight panic.
“Morning! Yes. Of course.”
“Hold your position. We’ll come around you to seaward.”
The tender, a cutter in drab grey, came around and hove to, rocking awkwardly. A crewman threw a rope.
I caught the line, pulling in the slack and winding a figure of eight around a cleat.
The crewman, wearing a Fair Isle jumper, hauled me alongside.
I looked at the crew. Two Able Seamen in jumpers, wearing darkened hats, and an officer dressed completely in black. It was like wartime period costume. I smiled involuntarily as I took in what appeared to be a Celtic warrior standing behind them.
The officer stepped forward.
“Permission to come aboard?”
He stepped over into the cockpit and I steadied him as the boat rocked.
He introduced himself and we shook, then he examined the engine and controls.
“Trim little craft. Not seen one like it. Experimental?”
I was lost for words. The boat must be forty years old. It’s a tub.
“I know there’s a lot of hush-hush stuff around here.” He tapped the side of his nose.
“Anyway, sorry to detain you, but we picked this chap up drifting in the approaches first thing this morning. Coastal Command spotted him from the air. Lucky sod. No papers or anything but seems genuine enough. We think he’s Welsh. No Welsh speakers aboard, unfortunately. Can’t make head nor tail of him. Keeps mentioning Avalon. Glastonbury, isn’t it?”
“Yes.” I answered. “Well, it was.”
“That’s what we thought. Given him the once-over. Can’t see any harm. If anything, I’d say a little confused, and I’m not sure about the garb.”
I looked across at the Celtic warrior again. He showed no sign of self-consciousness.
“We can’t go ashore, you see. We were waiting for a fishing boat or something to come out on the tide. Chap on a yacht came through earlier, but I’m blowed if we could hail him.”
I thought of Harry. Probably still half-cut.
“Anyway, would you mind taking this fellow ashore? Perhaps you can get him back over to Wales on a steamer.”
“No. I mean, yes. Of course I can.”
“Thanks, old man. Here he is.”
The officer waved the rescued man across and steadied him onto the deck. I couldn’t work out why they hadn’t called the Coastguard at Swansea. I never thought to ask.
I looked him over again. I guessed he’d been involved in some kind of re-enactment, but he still wasn’t in the slightest bit self-conscious. Teepee village might be more like it. He looked around the boat then out across the water towards Brean, Burnham and the River Parrett.
“Look, we’re going to have to push on.” The officer shook my hand again. “Tide’s treacherous here. Thanks, awfully.”
He stepped back over into the tender, whose Aldis lamp was exchanging messages with the ship, and gave the order to cast off.
I realised he was speaking to me and untied the line, coiling it and throwing it across to one of the crewmen. The tender powered-up its engines and made off towards the ship.
I looked at the man and held out my hand.
He stared at it for a while, then held out his. I grasped it and shook it.
I told him my name. He didn’t seem to understand. I began to wonder what I’d taken on.
“You don’t speak any English?”
He watched the departing tender then turned back to me. His brown eyes were clear and thoughtful.
“My name's Kevin.” I pointed to myself. “Kevin.”
I pointed at him. “What's your name? Are you Welsh? Cymru?”
He thought for a moment, then raised his head and began speaking.
His voice was strong. To me, he sounded Welsh. I thought I heard him say “Arthur”, but I couldn’t swear.
When he finished speaking, he looked at me as though waiting for a response.
I sighed and gave him a friendly smile.
He returned the smile patiently and placed his hand on my shoulder, squeezing it, then he pointed in the direction of Burnham Bay and the Parrett.
I gestured slightly to the left, between Brean Down and Blackrock, where the mouth of the Axe leads back to the boatyard.
He stroked his beard and nodded, apparently satisfied, and seated himself in the stern.