Boatman's dream 25
By Parson Thru
I can only take so much tea and bonhomie on zero hours’ sleep and a growing hangover. The boys continued bantering across the cabin table while I followed Arthur out through the hatch into the fog. I guessed he wanted the same as me, so I left him to his own thoughts up on the bow.
The damp chilled my bones but it was worth it for the fresh air. Nothing was visible beyond the gunwales. Forward, I couldn’t make out if it was Arthur’s outline I was seeing or the stowed foresail. I sparked a cigarette and settled back in the corner of the cockpit, lulled by the sound of the tide running fast under the boat.
The chill woke me after probably only a few minutes sleep. I felt like death – my hair wet from the fog. I heard the boys’ voices, much lower now – tired – in the cabin. Then, amongst the rippling eddies of the tide, what sounded like the steady splash of oars – momentarily distinct, then lost. I strained to listen, hoping to catch it again, but it was gone.
I quickly put the sound of oars down to imagination and tiredness. It would have required a miracle to row out from the mainland on this tide and find us anchored in the fog. There was no way of leaving Merlin’s boat by water – the tender was tied to the mooring back on the river Axe.
I made my way forward along the deck. The fog had made the surface slippery underfoot. I kept a firm hold of the handrail. A man overboard in these conditions would be a fatality.
“Arthur!” I called softly into the fog.
Then again, louder.
I found myself alone on the foredeck.
“Shit!” I whispered.
Almost a scream.
Again and again.
The voices had fallen silent in the cabin.
“Man overboard!” I cried.
I kept on shouting, not knowing how long he’d been gone, but feeling that a M.O.B. drill was already a lost cause.
For an instant, I hoped that he would come running forward with the others – that he’d gone back into the cabin whilst I was sleeping.
Merlin, Eddie and Dennis appeared, bleary-eyed, on the foredeck.
We looked at one another.
“Fuck me.” Merlin looked into the black water surging under the hull. “Keep looking. One on the port-bow, one to starboard, one astern. Listen for a shout. I’ll raise the coastguard.”
“Merlin." I agonised. "I thought I heard oars earlier.”
He looked at me momentarily.
“I’m the skipper. It’s a man overboard.”