Boatman's dream 23
By Parson Thru
Fog on the Bristol Channel is the stuff of legend.
It comes down like a curtain, seemingly from nowhere.
Merlin cut the engine and dropped anchor. A few minutes earlier, Lavernock Point had been visible just off the starboard bow. Ten minutes more and we’d have been cutting across the commercial shipping lane.
With heads still thick from a night in Cardiff, Merlin had decided discretion was the better part of valour. Eddie grumbled a little - he had a few jobs waiting back in Weston - but Merlin wasn’t in the mood to argue. He’d hit a floating tree in the Severn a few years before and had been lucky to get a distress call out. Once-bitten…
“Fucking weather. Nothing about it on the Met. It was glorious sunshine when we left Cardiff.”
“It’s the time of year, Ed. You know that.”
“I’d have risked it.” Eddie retorted. “You got a radar reflector.”
“Half them ships got no one on the bridge, Ed.” Rhys countered. “If you don’t have a transponder, they won’t even know you’re there.”
“What about your containership, Eddie?” I asked.
“Fuck me! Argolines? Aye, that was a close one.”
“What happened there, Eddie?” Dennis asked.
“Tell him, Ed.”
“Get the kettle on first. Arthur, you know your way round this galley.”
Arthur smiled and got up from the table. He filled the kettle from the electric pump and put it on the gas.
Eddie looked around the table. He looked at me. “You already know this. No barracking. Nor you, Merlin.”
Arthur busied himself with the mugs.
“Well, it was a morning like this one, I suppose. I was coming out of Newport. I know this trip with my eyes closed – I must have been about fifteen first time me and my mates come over from Bridgwater. ”
“Have we got any proper milk left?” Arthur asked.
“There’s some condensed in the cupboard, if you don’t like powdered.” Merlin answered. “At the side of the sink.”
“Anyhow.” Eddie carried on. “I made it as far as Lavernock, here, and I seen the cloud bottoming out. It didn’t look too bad at first. The fog comes in banks sometimes. By the time you’re past Flat Holm, about mid-channel, the wind starts to lift it. So I kept going. Steady away, about eight knots.”
Arthur handed the tea round.
Arthur put the bag of hardened sugar and a spoon on the table and sat down.
“So there I was in the cockpit, motoring away, just this side of Flat Holm I think it was. Or maybe t’ other.”
“It don’t matter, Ed.”
“And, bugger me, the fog started coming down. I could see clear water under the bow and I kept her going.”
“Did you have your chart-plotter running?”
“Oh, aye. GPS and all that. I knew where the Holm Islands were.”
“Home and dry, then?”
“Nearly, Dennis. Nearly. Well that fog, it really came down. Complete white-out. Never seen nothing like it.”
We sipped our tea and listened. There wasn’t a sound, except for the slap of water on the hull and the wind generator charging the batteries.
“Then I saw this bloody great ‘R’. It must have been twenty foot high. Right up in front of me, less than a hundred foot ahead.”
“Then a ‘G’. Then an ‘O’ and an ‘L’ and an ‘I’, ‘N’, ‘E’, ‘S’.”
“Argolines!” Dennis shouted.
“Argolines! It weren’t the fog at all. It was a fucking great containership!”
The cabin erupted.
Even Arthur was slapping the table and howling.
“What did you do?” Dennis asked through his tears.
“Well, I’m here to tell the tale, aren’t I? I gave her all the helm I could. Hard a-starboard, thinking it was better to aim for her stern, if anything. Twenty-odd knots, she should clear before I hit her. I didn’t fancy going under her bows.”
“Got a bit choppy, did it, Ed?” Merlin asked.
“Bloody hell, that wake was something, I’ll tell you. Those big propellers really cut the water up. Bounced us all over the spot, it did. Trashed the galley.”
“You were lucky.” Arthur observed, smiling and wiping his eyes.
“Bloody right there, Arthur.”
Arthur got up and stepped out of the hatch into the cockpit, saying he needed some air.
The rest of us stayed at the table.
“Any more stories?” Dennis asked.
Rhys seemed not to hear. “The Cardiff lot are good company, aren’t they?”
“I’ve never had a bad night in that port.” Merlin observed.
I heard Arthur’s footsteps moving forward to the bow and watched him disappear into the fog.