Chapter 16 here ... Chapter 18 here
The boat was ready, the vaka and ama had been tarred, the masts were true, the sails worked.
Fourteen metres was just about right for this voyage. Hugh cast a critical eye over the blocks, the running gear and the sails and knew they were as ready as they were going to be. The locals had had their training and a new load of medicines was soon to arrive. The crossroads had been reached.
The four were invited to the big house in the village and sat on the mats with the head-man. He confessed that they'd built other boats to their specifications - what a surprise.
Five boats would accompany them to New Zealand and ‘free’ the woman who was being held captive at Great Exhibition Beach [they suppressed smiles] and there was one other thing. Would the four show them where to get other medicines and weapons?
Hugh wanted to ask if he meant where to find the weapons and medicines shop. He held his tongue. ‘Look … er … New Zealand is not like this island we’re on, you see. They have ports and a coast guard and you must have documents to go on shore. It’s a civi- … well, it’s a developed nation. They might not take kindly to your boys blasting in with sub-machine guns; they might take that the wrong way.’
‘Can we buy guns onshore?’
‘Perhaps. You see, your excellency, we can’t really be with you when you do that. We have enemies looking for us. We’ll help you out with some money and even which medicines to buy but the girl is your responsibility. She’s your affair.’
‘Ah, Mr. Hugh, that’s where you are wrong,’ he smiled. ‘I think the four of you are going to be most interested in what she has to tell you.’
When he had no more response, he concluded, ‘We launch the boats and depart tomorrow at midday. I wish you both good day.’
‘You’re uneasy,' observed Emma. 'Tell me about it.’
‘The section of ocean we’re travelling on, the South Pacific towards New Zealand, is treacherous. In 1999, a group of boats were sailing down from Fiji, which is a fair way from us but the principle’s the same. They sailed about this time. The worst thing is for there to be a high pressure zone near New Zealand, which sits around the island and gives it good weather.
This gives us bad weather, big waves, storms. When it gets critical, there are some things you can do. Apart from reducing sail and closing up the hatches, we need to get to a nearby island and hide behind it. We have no islands on our route.’
‘Next, you need to use both engine and some sail to keep the boat pointing the right way.’
‘And we have no engine.’
‘Right. Then, if things get very bad, we need to be able to send out an EPIRB, a distress call. We need an SSB radio to do that and we need electricity to power it.’
‘None of which we have.’
‘Not only that but we can’t afford to send out any signal to anyone. We are wanted people, remember and the head-man knows it.’
‘What actually do we have on the boat to help us?’
‘For a start, we have a very strong boat. This helps us up to a certain wind strength and sea size. The rig is the best you can have - it comes down easily and stows well. Meaning you can tie it up or put it away. We have drogues and sea anchors – these are ropes from the boat to slow us down – important when we're surfing off waves.
If we do flip over, we’re actually safer because we’ve designed a way into the boat from below, which would now be up. You follow? The worst thing would be if we were blown onshore. This is how the 52 foot Woody Goose broke up and the wife of the man was drowned. Their boat was bigger than ours but ours is more solid.
Now, the question is – does the head-man know all this? I can’t believe he doesn't know of the conditions between here and New Zealand and about the highs and lows. And yet he's not told us.’
‘Maybe he assumed you knew.’
‘We can only hope so. Because, if he knew, then it begins to look a bit different, to me. It means he was hosting us here, almost keeping us here, until the good weather was almost past and then was going to let us go to the tip of New Zealand -’
‘A lee shore.’
‘Oui, a lee shore and then what? He might be hoping we wouldn’t survive the trip and if we did, we’d be picked up by the authorities there and handed back to Europe. Europe is completely corrupted, of course and guess where we’d end up? One more thing - his girlfriend seems to be at a place called Great Exhibition Beach. I don’t believe him.’
‘That was the very beach where the Woody Goose broke up and many others before her. The local people knew exactly where to look for the wife’s body – 800 metres north of where the boat broke up. It was a famous case in that part of the world.’
‘Hugh, you frighten me.’
‘If we know this, we’re halfway to building ourselves some form of defence.’
Next morning was idyllic, weather wise, with a light breeze this far inshore.
The four discussed everything about the trip, about the dangers, about contingency plans. Jean-Claude said they’d just have to take it as it came. Now it was time to check over systems one last time and it was already 11:00.
They strolled over, using the jungle route they’d learnt and at least the boat was still there, perched on rollers, with other rollers at intervals down to the water. It would take about two dozen natives to launch.
Shortly before midday, they heard the party arriving. Everyone was in festive mood and a prayer was now said for the success of the voyage. Hugh said one of his own and Geneviève cracked a drinking cup of juice on the bow, as she’d been instructed to.
Many native hands and theirs as well helped push and shove, breaking the inertia and the boat did the rest itself. Almost hurtling down the beach, the vaka and ama clattered and creaked until, with an enormous splash, the front half of the boat met the lapping waves.
Still they weren’t far enough in and the men and boys had to push that much harder. The tide was going out so there wasn’t all that much time.
Now the head-man and entourage appeared, the four went up the beach to meet him and profuse thanks were poured on him. He himself was not making the voyage but his offsiders were and they knew where to go. Hugh and crew were to follow them.
Jean-Claude promised further medicine and weaponry and the man smiled and said thanks. They shook hands, Hugh lifted Emma and Jean Claude lifted Geneviève in their respective arms and deposited the women on board.
They pushed off, none too soon for the tide and climbed on board. Jean-Claude went to the foresail, unwrapped the ties, attached the halyard and hauled up. Hugh did the same with the mainsail. The sails filled, the underslung rudder now came into play, Emma went below with Genie and arranged things.
The feeling of sailing again, even into possible trouble, could not dampen Hugh’s spirits in the least. Here was the result of his design, the many man-hours of work they'd put in and the fruition of the dream. He looked up at the sails filling on a broad reach and released them a little.
Emma came up to see what was happening and was most surprised to see how far offshore they already were. Ahead was the blue-grey water and considerably higher wind strength. The boat was moving nicely, on a slight heel, a slight angle, as it should have been. In the distance, they saw five boats converge and loosen sail, waiting for them to catch up.
The trick with sailing is to reef or reduce sail before the strong winds hit.
They had the two sails on the second reef, meaning that about half the area was aloft and in that mode, they hit the big swells, quite quickly as it turned out, on a port tack [wind from the left]. Hugh hadn’t asked the other three about sea-sickness, reasoning that it was pointless to ask anyway.
Geneviève was showing signs, so he suggested she stay up top and work the foresail to keep her feeling secure, Jean-Claude could work the main. Sometimes the pressure of the sail through the sheets [ropes] on your hands can keep you firmly on the boat and can help stop the nausea. Cleaning the ears and focussing on the horizon are good.
It seemed to be having some effect and Jean-Claude advised her to stay active. Hugh asked Emma to get Genie’s wind cheating top they’d woven from rushes and her hat, if she would plus her own warm gear and she complained – it’s the tropics, Hugh.
She went for them anyway and he looked over at Jean-Claude trimming the mainsail – the man had got the idea already. What was more impressive was the way he’d remembered the rule that whenever you left the cockpit, for whatever reason, except to go below, you wore the safety line.
Emma came bustling back with the tops and a big smile on her face. Now he taught her how to steer. Putting the tiller in her hand, he asked her to push right. She did and the boat went left. ‘Now push left.’ She did, with the opposite result.
She loved it.
Jean-Claude was sitting on the cross planking attached to the right or starboard aka and Hugh was on the left, port aka, leading to the float. Genie was in the hatchway, working the foresail from there.
‘Now, people,' Hugh trying not to drop into his teaching manner, 'you see where we’re headed and which way the sails are facing, OK? Where do you think the wind is coming from?’
Jean-Claude pointed 45 degrees front left.
‘We’ll take that as our zero point. It’s called ‘into the wind’. Imagine we're at the centre of a large circle, 360 degrees clockwise. Emma, please push the rudder away to your right – the thing you’re steering with -’
‘You called it a tiller a few moments ago.’
‘Well spotted. The tiller’s the bit of wood in your hand. The rudder is the thing below the boat, in the water. Push it away to the right about 45 degrees.’ She did and the boat rounded up until it stopped and the sails just flapped front and back. 'Now put the tiller straight up and down the centre line of the boat and try to keep the boat there.'
He told them that the front of the boat was the ‘bow’, as in ‘cow’; the rear was the stern. They were now ‘in irons’, pointing directly into the wind and soon to start going backwards.
‘Watch your head above, people. Emma, pull the tiller 45 degrees towards you again.’ As the head fell away off the wind, the sails began to fill and the boat picked up speed. 'We've left our safety position and are now heading for our excitement position. We're not there yet. Don't go too far downwind, Emma. Keep the boat headed this way.
You'll notice, everyone, that we're leaning over and this is the point of sailing where we do - about 45 degrees off the wind. That's why Jean-Claude's ama is down and mine is up.' Emma was delighted with what her own hands had done.
‘This is the slowest point of sailing for us. On a western yacht, this is the second fastest unless you go downwind with a huge spinnaker.’
Geneviève pointed out that the others were about a kilometre away.
‘We’ll catch them soon. OK folks, Emma's about to ‘bear off’ or go away further from the eye of the wind. When she does, the boat will flatten a bit but the speed will vastly increase. Emma?'
The boat rapidly increased speed. ‘We’re now flat across the wind, which we call a ‘flat reach’, sails set at 45 degrees but we're actually 90 degrees. On a western boat, this is the fastest point but ours hasn't arrived yet. So if you're ready for the fun part, Geneviève and Jean-Claude -please let the sails even further out and Emma, pull the tiller towards you again, so that we're 135 degrees to the wind.’
They did and the boat went even faster, building up to a blistering speed and surfing down the backs of waves.
‘Wee – ee- ee,’ shouted Emma. Jean-Claude hung on and he was smiling.
Hugh shouted, above the noise, ‘Do you know how fast we’re going?’
‘Tell us,’ shouted back Geneviève.
‘About 12 to 15 knots – about 25 kilometres per hour – my maths aren’t too good. Somewhere around there. This is about as fast as we get, sadly.’
‘It’s enough,’ called out Jean-Claude.
‘All right, Emma, tiller towards you again.’
She did and the boat slowed right down, everything became calmer and flatter onboard. ‘Let the sails right out now. Completely.’
They did but they were stopped by the vines holding the mast up.
‘That’s as far as we can go. Jean-Claude, see if you can pull this rear sail, the mainsail, right in ...' he did '... push it over to the other side and let it out again.' He did.
'We have a sail either side and though it seems calm, it's a bit dangerous because the boat can roll on waves - see it's doing it a bit now. Genie, when we go further, let your sail come across the boat in its own and keep your head out of the way. OK, Emma, 45 more degrees.'
They were now on starboard tack and as they came upwind, the boat tried to lie over but then steadied itself. 'Sails in about 45 degrees, people.'
They began shooting off the waves again and he nodded to Emma who brought it up another 45 degrees to flat across the wind on the reach and then up into wind again.
‘Hey, I like this,’ said Emma.
‘May I have a go?’ asked Geneviève.
Emma vacated the bench, handed over and asked, ‘Why didn’t you teach us that back on the island?’
‘Theory's boring and not that easy to grasp either. Better to see it in practice.’
‘You know,’ admitted Geneviève, holding on to the tiller studiously, ‘it really is quite fun. I love the sound of the water past the boat.’
‘That’s the nice part. There’s a nasty part too.’
‘When you’re cold and wet after a day’s sailing, you’ve not eaten properly or slept properly, it’s night time and the wind is howling, that’s the difficult part. We have to all help each other then. Genie, perhaps we'd better not do the 360 degrees again - we have to find the others. Just sail the boat and if you're going to shift the tiller, always warn us so we can adjust, all right?’
‘I presume we do watches,’ said Jean-Claude.
‘Initially, maybe you and I will take the night watches - one in the cockpit, one on standby, meaning he can drowse off but not actually sleep and the two ladies sleeping.’
‘How can we be sure to get good weather?’ asked Emma.
‘I’m not being funny but if we all pray, it might help. I believe it will.’
Turning south again where they thought the native boats might be, on half-sail and hard into the wind on port tack, Emma zipped up her jacket.
Night was soon to fall and they finally had the other boats in sight ahead. ‘We’re actually faster than them,’ Hugh told Jean-Claude. ‘They’ll be faster upwind with their rowers. We have to not be between them and the shore, with the wind behind them.’
‘Alternatively,’ said Jean-Claude, ‘we don’t wish the wind to be coming offshore and we are between them and shore. They’ll out-row us.’
‘Oui. So it's going to be delicate later.’
‘By my reckoning, we’ll take four days to get there, providing nothing goes wrong.’
‘Fancy some juice?’
Jean-Claude took the first watch.
Hugh took over the tiller about 01:00, after a snooze - nothing much was happening. The sea was dark, the stars gave some light and the moon had disappeared. There was no way to know where the other boats were now, with their own sails and therefore speed so much reduced.
He immediately liked the feel of the helm and made some adjustments. Yep, it sailed well. It would need to later.
They could still make out lights on their island far behind, the wind was true and as long as he steered by the set of the sails, they’d make the dawn and use the crude sextant then. There was a fair swell but it was even.
As dawn broke, he unreefed and raised the foresail and the boat sped up, he checked the sextant. If they missed New Zealand, there was always Antarctica, he supposed.
Jean-Claude came out, stretched and took in the view, then stepped over to the loo they’d had built into the starboard ama. Emma and Geneviève poked their noses out one by one and then went back below.
Then they came up on top again and told him to go and get some sleep - they could steer and if anything happened, they'd come up into wind.
‘You take three hours now,' said Geneviève.
Jean-Claude poked his head out of the loo and saw Emma on the tiller, with Genie trimming the sails. The boat seemed in capable hands.
Actually, they let him have four hours sleep and the three of them took turns at the tiller. It had been designed so that, with the lug sails set, the shoal keel not needing attention and the tiller very light, due to the increased leverage, the task was not arduous, just a little monotonous.
Before them, off the port bow near the horizon, was the first sign of difficult weather. Jean-Claude felt that it might be best if Hugh were up top now.
He came out, noted the angry line of weather and thought it would catch them in about three hours, maybe four.
They spent the next thirty minutes making sure everything which currently needed to be free was ready to lash down and all the other gear inside was lashed down.
‘When it hits, we have to keep our energy up so everyone is on call at first, then we let one person sleep at a time. We need to run man-woman-man-woman.’
‘Do you think that we’re going the right way?’ asked Emma.
‘The sun says so, the sextant says we’re all right, give or take a few sea miles. After a thousand, we might miss New Zealand or be off course on the other side but we won’t be that far away, even then. I don’t fancy sailing in the Tasman Sea. By the way, we should have the sun setting on our starboard quarter.’
‘If we’re not in a storm,’ added Jean-Claude.
The sea began to rough up about 16:00 and the wind swung round over the next hour, so that they tacked across and then had to tack back again. Gusts hit the boat, which shuddered a bit but in Hugh's eyes, it was nothing near as bad as a modern craft this way.
The wind now came round behind them in the next half hour and it was difficult to judge the actual state of play but the nose was burying on occasions and it was time to reef again. They could feel the foam from behind and faces appeared less happy than before.
‘Time to pray, people.’
Emma looked behind her, saw a wall of water and almost had kittens. Jean-Claude reminded her that it had been following them for the past half hour.
‘Well, don’t slow down and it won’t catch us,’ she advised. That brought smiles all round but it was no smiling matter ahead of them.
Now into the watches and eating schedules, as ready as they could be, the wind began to gust at the bit of sail still showing on the masts. The boat was beginning to rock sideways in a more pronounced way now and Hugh looked across at Geneviève.
Emma had been on the tiller and now Hugh now slipped into her place. He explained the drogue to Jean-Claude and Geneviève, they deployed it behind, making the craft shudder as it reached its limit. Basically just a rope in a semi-circle behind them, it was dragging and slowing them but better, it was stabilizing the whole structure. It was going to be a bugger to take in again.
The night fell, the noise was deafening but not as bad as if they were heading up into it and as long as they had searoom, they might be all right.
That was always the thing – to run before the wind and the sea and let it take you where it wanted, for as long as it wanted. The moment you tried to impose your own will on the conditions, you were running great risks.
Even their heavy boat was behaving like a piece of a building torn off by a gale now – it would suddenly go stern up on a following wave and Hugh knew that if a gust also hit at the same time, they’d be over. The decision had to be made soon but what the other three could scarcely imagine was how all hell was going to break loose when they rounded up.
He called Jean-Claude out and shouted what they were going to do and what was likely to happen plus where everyone had to be at each stage. Jean-Claude went below and explained to the ladies, then came back up and attached himself to the lifeline, testing it out for strength. Crawling gingerly, with hardly any light to help, forward - or downhill, if you like - until he reached the parachute sea-anchor, he then held on for dear life, knowing what was coming.
Hugh had a fragment of the foresail up, he now called to them and put the tiller over. The boat slewed up to port, nearly flipped and then shot to the top of the wave, their bow clawed the air and then crashed down the other side, nearly taking Jean-Claude with it, the after-wash nearly taking Hugh as well.
All Jean-Claude could do was push the sea-anchor over the side with one hand and hope for the best, then slowly make his way back.
Meanwhile, the ladies had emerged and were winching the drogue in for all they were worth. The last part caught under the stern and Hugh shouted to leave it and secure the line with the belaying pins. He could see they were all knackered and gasping for breath.
The increase in noise was quite deafening, compared to when they'd been running and the boat was hobbyhorsing up and down in a most uncomfortable way.
‘Inside, ladies - get ten minutes rest - we need you again after that.’ Jean-Claude now reached the cockpit and nodded. The sea anchor was doing its job but not keeping the boat in position, of course - it just slowed the movement sternwards. Hugh now lashed the tiller and hoped to G-d it wouldn't splinter.
The boat was bucking up and down on each wave and the occasional wave broke on the deck like a ton of bricks. He was wet, cold, knackered and wanting downstairs. Looking at everything in the cockpit, he went below.
‘Who’s sailing the boat?’ asked Emma, anxiously.
‘No one.’ A bad wave crashed, the bow shot up in the air and a few seconds later, crashed down again.
‘This is a bad dream,’ muttered Geneviève and held Jean-Claude’s hand. Emma took Hugh’s.
‘It feels much worse than it is. If we have lots of sea room, hundreds of kilometres between us and land, we'll be fine. The only danger is being close to land and I'm sure we're not - we weren't going fast en -'
Crash! A wave dropped right above their heads and they were sure the wood would break. The bow shot up again and then crashed again. ‘The thing is, ladies and Jean-Claude, that if it goes on like this, it will blow itself out sooner or later. We need to pray that the wind doesn’t change direction and the sea keep rolling plus a few other things need to go right for us.’
Crash! That one had hit the cockpit and they could hear, rather than see it swirling round, trying to come in at them and then slosh out the back.
Thus it went on, into the night.
It eventually abated, of course, during the blackness.
Hugh didn’t want to wake Jean-Claude or Emma who’d dropped off where they sat but Geneviève was wide awake and he whispered, ‘I’ll just take a look.’
It had definitely abated.
Whether the wind had turned round or not, he had no bearings but the boat was still on the sea-anchor so he thought it best to let it stay that way. They’d get the drogue back in at first light – no point being a hero at this time. Geneviève told him to sleep and she’d watch for two hours. It was all right – she felt better now. She kissed his cheek, Hugh said thanks to G-d and dropped off.
Jean-Claude now woke and went outside. Emma did the same some minutes later, came back down and lay beside Hugh on his berth. The other two were now up in the cockpit.
‘Fabulous day,’ said Geneviève. ‘Who would have thought -’
‘Oui, oui. So that’s what it’s about, this life on the ocean waves. Could you get to like it, Genie?’
‘I’m not sure, really I’m not. The boat’s so small, so cramped, there aren’t the things we need for normal living. As an exercise – yes, it’s much better than I ever thought it was going to be and when the weather’s good, I almost love this sailing, you know.’
‘I really do love it,' said Emma.
'Oui,' added Jean-Claude. 'I can see this getting into the blood - it’s a pity I missed it earlier in life. If we ever escape our troubles, I think I should like to sail for relaxation. Oui, it’s something more than just enjoying it.’
‘In which way?’
‘It’s like pitting yourself against nature; it could almost be an analogy for our current political troubles - it’s saying to the elements, ‘You’re much more powerful than me, I’m but an ant compared to the power you possess, the ability to squash me with one blow but I have news for you. When you try to swat me like a fly, I’ll hide behind an island or I’ll ride you out. I’ll roll with your blows and bend as a blade of grass. In the end, I’ll achieve my purpose and triumph, despite your best efforts and what’s more – I’ll have admired and respected your majesty along the way.’
‘Gosh, Jean-Claude, it has affected you.’
‘It has. It’s so close to the essence out here, to the substance of life. You feel you’re living for survival and it’s an empowering feeling.’
It was late afternoon when Hugh, thoroughly refreshed, came out of the cabin and took in the state of things. Genie was at the helm, Jean-Claude was sunbathing on the deck one side of the cabin, Emma on the other and she'd taken the liberty to remove her top. He wasn’t too enthused about Jean-Claude’s body but Emma’s was a sight for sore eyes.
The drogue had already been brought in, coiled and stowed in its pace, the sea anchor was stowed, things had been untied, sails were being trimmed correctly to the wind, the sun seemed in the right place, they were heading in the right direction and the whole thing seemed ship-shape and Bristol fashion. He wondered about that expression.
‘We,’ he addressed no one in particular, ‘came through that night better than anyone could have predicted. I'm a bit in awe of the three of you because you're new to sailing. I suppose professionalism in one area extends to all areas.’
‘Flattery will get you everywhere,’ came a light voice from Emma's area of the planking. ‘Geneviève, Jean-Claude, would you mind if we go below for a while to discuss some private business?’ Emma picked herself up, did not put her top back on and tiptoed quickly back to the cabin. Hugh followed.
Down below, Emma had already removed her skirt, body still hot from the sun, he rapidly removed his gear and savaged her, at first anyway, then she savaged him. Somewhere along the way, he remarked on her thighs, possibly in the process of stroking and half-eating the upper reaches of one of them.
‘My thighs - you really like them, don't you?’
‘I adore them - they’re the best in the world, smooth and edible.’
‘I like your neck and shoulders.’
He looked her up and down, from her crown to her toes and she went bright red. ‘Hugh,' she said, ‘enough.’ He decided to kiss and massage her entire body, which she didn’t seem particularly averse to but then she couldn’t wait any longer.
About an hour later, she emerged from the hatch, wobbled a bit, he came up behind her and almost fell over; they took over the sailing of the boat.
Geneviève and Jean-Claude went to the for’ard cabin and soon the boat was not only moving up one wave and down another but was softly shuddering to a rhythm.
Emma glanced across and laughed, ‘Do you think they do what we do?’
‘I have absolutely no idea. By the sound of it, no. Anyway, they might do other things we haven’t even thought of.’
‘Well, I’d better go up front and find out.’
‘Don’t you dare. You’re such a terror, Fayette.’ He thought for a moment, then grinned. ‘Do you think you could reach the hatch without alerting them?’ She got up to go and he took her arm. ‘Emma, no – you’re meant to be steering.’
‘Well let’s make love out here then.’
‘What is it with you today?’ But his failure to disapprove encouraged her and she undid his short ties and reached inside. 'Emma, no. Not here.'
She paused, pulled down the waistband and went to work. He kept an eye on the front cabin for anyone emerging.
She had the shorts off now and flung them at the hatchway. He was prepared to accept the toplessness in this company as they'd had the island experience but now she took off her own knickers and flung them after the shorts. This was too far and she knew it, she swiftly turned, facing bow'ards and straddled him, guiding him in.
The internal fight in his brain was pretty obvious and the feeling was winning. When he went over the top, she didn't stop as she usually did but kept going, then leapt off quickly and went below, leaving him staring into the eyes, at the front hatch, of Geneviève and Jean-Claude.
He couldn't leave the helm and yet he had to. Jean-Claude realized it and was coming sternwards swiftly, Hugh went below and she was lying on her berth, staring at him.
'Emma.' He wanted to say so much and just didn't know what to say. She was not going to help in the least. Nor was she going to cover it with another bout of sex. She wanted to know.
'Topless - yes, OK. The sex itself was fine if we kept an eye on the front hatch. You let them come out and watch that.' He saw her mouth move to disagree, then she thought better of it and said nothing. He tumbled to what had really gone on.
He looked straight into her eyes. 'Jean-Claude was first out of their cabin. It was only when Genie came out you ran. You knew how she'd see it as the girl she'd brought out of this sort of thing.'
She just continued to stare at him, then said. 'You need to say no to me. It's a simple thing.'
He was silent, stroking her cheek with the back of his hand. Then: 'OK but you also need to know the limits.'
He slowly let out his pent-up breath and didn't know what to say.
About an hour later, on deck, no one had mentioned any of it.
Jean-Claude said, ‘We came through last night and I'm grateful to the designer. It's a simple boat and reduces the number of things we need to do. If we are thrown about or even if we turn over, we don’t panic and we keep our heads. Every person on board this boat is capable of that.’
‘If it hits,' said Hugh, 'we might flip. Let’s be clear on that. If we do, provided we're securely tied in, provided everything movable is lashed down, then it will do no damage. Our masts are short and don’t have a lot of rigging coming off them. They’re thicker than the average boat’s, so they'll take bouncing down in shallow water or on a rock. If they do break, it sounds bad but it’s not the end of the world.
If we keep ourselves from injury and conserve energy – and this boat really does help with that – then we’ll survive inside the vaka, even upside down, which is what I love about this configuration. Make no mistake, people, we have a really fine boat here – it’s proved that already.’
After some time, they noticed an increase in the wind strength and began to shuffle uncomfortably where they were sitting but already the storm seemed to be passing to the east behind them. They might have been on the edge of it.
This was borne out in about thirty minutes with no great increase in wind or sea size. The boat was sailing nicely, perhaps a steady nine or ten knots.
Geneviève was at the helm, Jean-Claude beside her; the other two went into the cabin but neither wished to refer to that earlier matter.
Neither did they make love.
The day passed, darkness fell, Jean-Claude was in the forward cabin, which was also the galley; Geneviève was at the tiller and Hugh was with her.
‘It’s not too uncomfortable,’ remarked Geneviève.
‘Do you like it, the sailing and being at sea and all of this?’
‘Oui. When we … you know … make a life, perhaps we can go overnight on some trips. Hugh? About that which we saw - you and Emma -'
'Genie, I had no idea you saw it - I thought you were still in the cabin. It won't happen again. Sorry.'
'Thank you ... but it's not just the act. I'm worried about how far Emma will go. I said to Jean-Claude that he can't know but we brought Emma out of such things all that time ago.'
'I know, I know. Emma's well aware of that too -'
'And yet she did that for Jean-Claude. She put on a show for my man.'
'Yes, she did. She said I had to say no to her.'
'And can you?'
'I can say that now but then she does things and it is ... difficult.'
'You're now in my role.'
'Yes Genie, I know.'
Jean-Claude's rest time finished and he came out to the helm. There were lights on their left or port bow, way over by the horizon. ‘Know what they are?’ he asked.
‘Not a clue. Couldn’t be New Zealand yet. I should think they were some sort of island or a whole lot of boats. Could be anything – naval exercise, whatever.’
‘Should we be going towards them?’
‘Let’s think it through. Could they be of any advantage to us? What are the chances? If they’re military or a welcoming party, it might not be wise to get close.’
‘We’ve forgotten our friends from the island. I don’t like the look of it.’
‘Well, you know, they had access to a telephone on the island. The head-man didn’t need to stay in the village – he could well have gone across to the main island a few times. My thoughts are not to go anywhere near the lights, Jean-Claude. We can reduce sail to almost nothing, just rolling along with the swell and with a little sail to keep the bow moving forward. It would make for a comfortable night for all of us and we’d be fresh to face them tomorrow.’
‘Should we not alter course?’
‘Our chart's very rough. I fear if we alter course, we’ll lose our position and end up in the Tasman Sea or in the Southern Ocean and that we do not want to do. Let’s do this for now and see if there’s any change.’
At the agreed time, Emma came out and sat with him, Jean-Claude joining Genevieve up front.
‘What are those lights over there?’
‘They might be a nasty reception committee for us.’
‘They might. We discussed it earlier.’
‘They’re moving, aren’t they?’
‘Yes they are. Either we’ve shifted position or they have and they’re going sideways, across our line of vision. They don’t seem to be coming our way at all. Interesting.’
‘You know, they might be friendly, Hugh. What if the islanders were worried about losing us? We didn’t catch up with them because we were practising sailing and they thought about it and gave us time to catch up. When we didn’t, there was no point looking for us because where do you look in the wide ocean?’
‘That fits, Emma. So they pressed on, reached their destination and alerted the authorities who then sent out a search party.’
‘You may just be right. Either way, it’s best, I think, if we don’t go to that part of New Zealand but just around the corner, so to speak. We’ll set down at night somewhere else and make our way overland to this Grand Exhibition Beach. It means losing our boat but that can’t be helped.’
‘The other thing is not to go to New Zealand at all. Isn’t there somewhere else we could go?’
‘I was thinking either to a French speaking island or to Australia. You’d have rights on one and I’d have rights on the other but I do like the idea of continuing to sail. Looking at the chart, we’ve probably drifted more towards Australia now and I’d guess, from our progress, that we might be somewhere level with New South Wales but a long way in terms of sea distance.’
‘Do you know anyone in Australia?’
‘Not up that far. We can make two hundred and fifty miles or 400 km a day if we sail hard, about 300km if we cruise. We need three to four more days to make Australia. There are islands before that to restock our larder from.'
About 10:30, everyone was up on deck, Emma was at the helm, Hugh was beside her and the other two were suntanning on the aka planks.
They’d had the discussion and had agreed to try for Australia or close to it. They’d looked at the rations and felt that if they could operate at normal energy levels, they could reduce their consumption by a third. There was bait in the ama and they had lines but that meant slowing to a halt and fishing, a difficult thing to do on a sailing boat when even the masts moved you forward. The drogue could be partially deployed to stop the motion.
That was one thing. They did have a couple of cigarette lighters on board but no stove. If they did catch a fish, they might have to eat it raw. The alternative was to put the cleaned and filleted fish on the deck and let the sun dry them out.
First they had to catch some.
Jean-Claude was the adept here and he prepared three lines. With Geneviève now on the helm, he, Hugh and Emma were the fishers. They lowered the lines and waited. Almost immediately, Emma had a bite, tugged and then hauled the line in.
The fish was about thirty centimetres long and was thrashing about on the deck. Jean-Claude thought it might be of the whiting family.
‘What do I do? What do I do?’ Jean-Claude stepped across and skewered it just behind the eyes. It stopped flopping its tail a few seconds later.
‘That’s … horrible, Jean-Claude. That’s … beastly.’
‘Mademoiselle, do you buy fish at the supermarket?’
Emma shut up. After a while, she put the line in again, re-baited by Jean-Claude. She caught another and then Jean-Claude caught one too. He skewered both and told her that the next one she’d have to do herself.
They caught another each, she took the knife, pointed it behind the head, looked away and shoved it in, feeling the gristle as it went in. It was awful; she threw the knife down and ran to the bow, heaving over the side. Hugh moved to within a couple of metres, near the foremast.
She reached down to the sea, scooped some water to her mouth and 'cleaned' it, turned, saw him and came to his arms. ‘I didn’t like that, Hugh.’
‘I know. I don’t like it either. We’re a couple of wimps.’
‘We don’t like killing, that’s all.’
‘You know we must though. To survive, I mean.’
‘Anyway,’ she suddenly thought, ‘you’re not getting any fish, are you?’
‘Never was much good at fishing.’
They went back and Jean-Claude had caught four more but he said the school seemed to have passed now.
They put in their lines again and she had a bite almost straight away. Jean-Claude asked to see Hugh’s line and it seemed to be fine.
He couldn’t understand it.
By the end of Geneviève’s shift, they had fourteen fish of varying sizes and Hugh had two of those only. She asked, ‘Are we going to be capitalist and eat only what we caught or are we going to be socialist and share it out equally?’
Hugh and Jean-Claude, the two conservatives on the boat, were caught. ‘As you wish, Mademoiselle,' answered the former.
‘I think we’ll let them eat their share, don’t you, Emma?’
‘Now we have to clean and gut them,' said Jean-Claude. 'We’ve two knives, Hugh.’
They got down to the task, putting the head and offal in a tub to throw overboard and laying out the fish fillets on the cabin roof, just forward of the main mast. Hugh went to the ama to get a string, came back and tied it round the fillets at intervals, tied the end of the string to the mast and that was that.
They had plenty of grain which they only needed to soak and the pots of lime pickle were down near the keel where it was cool. They weren’t sure how long the limes would last so best they used them in the next few days. They also had tomatoes in pots and a certain amount of greenery which also needed eating.
The dried meat did not need to be touched for some time, the water supply was still fine. No one was ill at this point and that was interesting – none of them really seemed the type, if there was a type who usually got ill.
There was always work to do on the boat – checking, tightening, adjusting, cleaning, making love.
Chapter 16 here ... Chapter 18 here