St. Malo bound
By Parson Thru
“Hurry up with the hatch, Pat!”
“Keep your hair on. Your watch in an hour.”
Mick hunkered down into his waterproofs and blew warm air into his hands.
“How’s the wind?”
“About thirty knots. Gusting up to fifty. Sea state about four or five, I’d say. Hard to peg it in the dark.”
“Come and sit down. I can’t hold two whiskies for this long and remember which is which.”
“Plenty more stowed, Mick. Worry not.”
Pat made the hatch fast and slid into the galley table opposite Mick.
“It’s a bit wilder than forecast.”
“Caught everyone out, I think. See any shipping?”
“Can’t see a thing in this, Mick. Down to less than half a mile, I reckon.”
“Busy stretch. A lot of commercial shipping going through here.”
“We’ve done St Malo twenty times, if we’ve done it once.”
“True. I honestly can’t remember which is yours.”
“I’ve been topsides.”
“Benefit of the doubt.”
Mick handed Pat the fullest glass.
Pat took a sip. “I stopped paying for Highland malts.”
“Are you complaining?”
“Noo. Noo. Noo. Just an observation. Bourbon?”
“Plain old JD. Job done.”
“It’s harmless enough. Are we still on track?”
“Didn’t you check the plotter while I was on deck?”
“Trying to maintain body heat, old salt. I’m still drying out.”
Pat leaned across the cabin to look at the chart plotter screen.
“Yeah. The autohelm’s holding. We should make St. Malo in less than six hours.
“Crossing the shipping lanes, then.”
“There's shipping all the way, more or less.”
“Doesn’t it worry you, Pat?”
“We’ve got the AIS transponder. There’s often no one on the bridge of commercial ships anyway. They go by AIS. It should alarm. They’ll have us plotted.”
“Wish I had your confidence.”
Pat slid back in and located the bottle where it was wedged in the corner of the seat.
“Aye aye, sir!”
Mick drained his glass and pushed it across the table.
Neither man seemed to notice the rolling of the boat from just short of perpendicular to almost flat. The rise and fall of the bow amounted to headway – progress. Channel Islands, which they’d pass off to starboard in the grey dawn light, then St. Malo.
Pat pushed the replenished glass back.
“Sea’s a woman. It’s why we come. It’s why we keep coming.”
“Sea’s a bitch.”
“Hey, hey. Have some respect.”
“Remember last summer, Pat? Scilly Isles cruise?”
“You lost your transom.”
“Transom, rudder, spare engine. Nearly lost the bloody boat and crew.”
“That was tackle. A fishing net. Can’t blame the sea for that.”
“The sea’s a bitch, Pat. You treat her with care. Never trust her.”
“It’s respect, Mick. She demands respect. The bottom’s a long way down.”
“I’ll be glad when we make Malo in this.”
“Nothing’s a given, Mick. You’ve spent enough time out here.”
“What about Keith?”
“What about him?”
“The sea took him. Wife. Three bloody kids.”
“You respect that?”
“Then why are you out here?”
“Nothing better to do. You needed crew.”
“Come on, Mick. You could have been tucked up in bed pulling your pudding.”
“I fancied a trip to Malo. A bottle of Bordeaux. Moules.”
“You could have got easyJet.”
“Bar prices are cheaper on here.”
Pat raised his glass, tipping it towards Mick.
“Face it, Mick. You’re hooked. You’re one of the old lags. You, me, Harry, Peter. The club wouldn’t function without us.”
Mick sucked his teeth.
“Get some shut-eye, Pat. I’ll go up in half an hour. You look bushed.”
“Are you sure?”
“I wouldn’t have offered.”
“Ok. We’ll do four about after that. Check the helm’s secure when you go up.”
“Don’t teach your old mucker to suck eggs.”
Pat smiled through his raised glass, enjoying the amber glow against the bulkhead light.
The freighter was doing twenty-four knots when it struck, roughly midships. Sure enough, there was no one on the bridge. The crew were watching live cricket from Bangladesh.
It was twelve hours before Sea Mist II was reported missing. Bad weather hampered the search.