Copyright © 2020 by Alexander Travell
First Edition March 2020
All Rights Reserved
This is a work of fiction. The people, events and some of the places in this story are the product of my imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead is purely coincidental.
This publication is distributed or sold subject to the condition that it shall not by way of trade or otherwise be lent, resold, hired out or otherwise circulated or reproduced in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical including photocopying, recording, or any information browsing, storage or retrieval system without the permission in writing from the author.
The right of Alexander Travell to be recognised as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with section 77 of the Copyright Design and Patents Act 1988
As usual I must thank my good lady wife Lesley not only for being the wonderful person she is and for being my wife and my life but also for her forbearance to my hours absorbed in the series of writing tools, through typewriters to the modern means of my MacBook. I aslo thank the Ancient Mariner, Jon Marten-Hale for correcting my nautical bloopers.
Also by Alexander Travell
An Afghan Affair
An African Assignation
An Unusual Profession
A Law Unto Herself
A Pittsburgh Pirate
A Greater Game
An Accident Waiting
An Idea in Development
There and Back
A Campaign of Violence
If only. A very small sentence with a very big consequence. For Hugh Dawson one of the if only’s was if only his lookout had not been thinking of the girl he’d been with the night before they sailed. If only the lookout had seen the b***y yacht a bit earlier. If only the navigating officer had stayed on the bridge that bit longer. If only they weren’t running so fast, if only there hadn’t been the stupidity in Portsmouth and the incentive to get out of territorial waters.
The English Channel has never been a warm sea even in early June. The weather had been balmy, light winds and warm sunshine that led the crew of ‘Destinies Child’ to be lightly clad. Sir John Fitzwarren was in just shorts and sailing jacket and fortunately as he insisted for all his crew, wearing a life vest. Even in balmy conditions sailing a 40ft yacht in the English Channel could still spring surprises, and this day was really a surprise. The boat was always moored in Poole harbour and Sir John had motored down on the Wednesday afternoon with the intention of getting the crew back in trim and some sea practice well before Cowes week in August. His crew had already been there a week. The yacht had been pulled from the water and the hull completely cleaned in May, now with it back at its mooring the crew had been checking the rigging, unfolding the sails, revalidating safety gear, cleaning the galley and cabins, stowing linen and re-victualling.
It felt good to be under sail again, out on the open sea with the sun on your face, the cares of the city left behind. There had of course been the usual to-ing and fro-ing to avoid the ferries exiting past Sandbanks, but once out in open water both the crew and the boat settled down to a comfortable south westerly passage. They would run down to the lizard and overnight in Penzance before a return on the Friday. The week-end would be spent entertaining, maybe a short run across to the island but that would be it, then back to the office on Monday while the crew worked the flaws that were bound to come up.
With plenty of shipping about and the occasional yacht Sir John had to be mindful of his course.
Running toward a high, the wind was not a help, a west-northwesterly five knots meant that once past Studland the change to a south westerly course they were having to tack regularly and as the afternoon wore on Sir John was beginning to have doubts they would get to the lizard in daylight.
A long southerly tack worked the boat out toward the shipping lanes and some twelve nautical miles off of Start Point when in concurrence with his sailing master, Sir John decided it was time to tack north west again.
They had seen the freighter approaching from the east and considered that their tack would have them turned well clear of its path. Even as in their preparations for tacking the big sail effectively blocked their view of the approaching vessel. It would not be an issue, the freighter had room and power on its side.
The sail flapped as he put the tiller over, the yard arm lurched across the deck and the sail caught again and billowed. A perfect tack. A quick check around again and… By all that was holy! The damn ship was right there!
Sir John threw the wheel hard a port and the sail died. Maybe they would miss, pray god they would miss. Destinies Child pulled around even with negligible way and the freighter still bore down. It wasn’t going slow, maybe twenty knots, which doesn’t sound fast but with a couple of thousand tons behind you is fast enough.
On the bridge of the Stromia, only the helmsman and lookout were present, Hardy Smith, the navigator for the voyage and supposed to be on the bridge was down in the heads. Hardy had seen the yacht and before going down to the toilet had concluded that on its present course provided he put the ship five points to starboard there would be no conflict. Dutifully, Hardeep Singh, the second helmsman put the wheel over and maintained that course, nudging the wheel a little just to keep the binnacle on the mark. He and Hardy had exchanged words on the first part of their voyage after Singh had let the course slip by a few degrees and Hardy had torn him off a real strip.
Lookout was a boring job and Dolman Slavič was genuinely bored. The sea and sky were all but empty save the one yacht they had already altered course for. There was a trace of smoke way down on the southern horizon but other than that, nothing. No container ships, no warships, no icebergs, nothing. His mind slipped back to the previous evening and the girl. Of course she was a whore. Who else in Southampton would have eyed up a man who was obviously a sailor. It did not matter, she had been magnificent. Sophisticated, good looking with a flawless body and she was accomplished, not at all like the scrawny awkward girls back home. She had stayed all night and he had paid her well.
Hugh Dawson came onto the bridge just as the yacht tacked right in front of them. “Jesus Christ!” He expleted, running the two paces to the wheel and spinning it out of Singhs’ hands even as his shout had jerked Slavič out of his reverie to stare aghast as the top of the yachts’ mast slid down the port side to drop out of view.
Dawson had put the wheel hard over and missed cutting the yacht in two but he’d still managed to capsize it in his wake.
The touch, if indeed it was a touch was so subtle as to be negligible. The major contributor was the wash. The bow wave and side wash. The bow wash tended to push the front of the yacht away even as it flooded the deck, the side wash pulled it under. The single thing that prevented the yacht being dragged beneath the freighter was its mast.
As it was the yacht went underwater, the sea pouring into the scuppers and open hatches. It was only seconds but no-one on the yacht was in any doubt, they were going down. Mass abandonment was the order of the day, Sir John included. The reality was that anyone in the sea could be dragged down along with the boat.
“You bloody mindless idiots!” Dawson raged. “Did neither of you see that? Were you both asleep? We just ran down a boat.”
At the embarrassed silence Dawson continued. “Just how do you think that’s going to go down eh? Did it not cross your minds that we are trying to avoid attention? What do you think running down a private yacht is going to do eh? I’ll tell you what, round here, the coastguard, the navy and the rescue people will be all over us, and then it’s the bloody police. And where the f**k is Smith?”