BY NED EGAN
Now, suddenly, he shouted – “tranny off”. His order was – as it has to be on a boat – complied with: immediately.
We knew he’d picked up something on the Emergency Band – he always kept one ear tuned to it. But on a day like this – who would be out and about? We thought our boat was the only one out on “The Deep”.
It was quiet in the wheelhouse, apart from the big ones whacking into the beam, like very large heavy slapping steel-mill hammers. But the steady rumble of the Cat motor under our feet was reassuring.
Ted held the fingers up, for continued silence. Whatever he’d heard, it was faint. He’d shoved on the earpiece – we could hear only tiny distant, fading, electronic chatter. He still had the fingers up. Then he said: “It sounds like Dutchy. In big strife, down off Cervantes. I just caught him – he’s gone now – battery must be stuffed”. He didn’t actually say “stuffed.”
Nobody said a word. But thoughts motored between brainboxes: ‘Dutchy – the effing stupid bastard. Must’ve been him that followed us out the Passage in the dark of the morning. Dickhead.
The dork. What the hell was he doing down there, at this time of day? Why didn’t he pull into Cervantes, and tie up to a safe mooring – even the stern-rail of another hitched boat – and sit things out? Jesus.’
“What do you reckon, lads”? Riggsy asked.
“What the bloody hell’s wrong with the mongrel, anyway”? Culver snarled – knowing well the danger we would all be in, trying to rescue the mug. Four men, wives and children, all at risk because of a clown. Yes, reader – you could say we weren’t best pleased.
“Rope round the prop, I think”, replied Riggsy, and, grimly – “drifting on to the rocks; anchor dragging, no flares. Cervantes boats’ll be all tied up; so nobody’s listening, down that way. All our boats are in too – they’d never get out against the weather now anyway, even if they knew. He’s been calling for an hour. It’s us – or he’s a goner. And his deckie.”
In this case, tradition dictated that Ted ask the crew – we hadn’t signed up as lifesavers. Especially for thickoes.
But before he could put the question, Gary and Jim said “we’re in”. I was the junior on the boat. But I gave the nod before I was asked. I knew I was out-voted, anyway. So it was easy to play the hero.
Truth to be told, I’d have left Dutchy to take his chances with the elements that he’d so stupidly taunted. I’d’ve let the dunce sink or swim. Truly. Out in a ‘coffin box’ – fishing just off the rocks – in the big seas running! No flares – not even a proper radio. But his deckie seemed a sound bloke – although I hadn’t actually spoken to him. So maybe I’d’ve gone, anyway. Maybe.
So, Riggsy said, “OK – hold hard, fellas” – and spun the big wheel, turning us square into the heavy swell coming up the coast from the Southern Ocean. It was only about a thirty degree turn, to take us clear of the rocks behind the island, so we were OK.
Now we were pitching fore and aft, instead of the twisting pin-wheeling we’d been putting up with before. Once the boat was turned into the weather, it wasn’t too bad. Cervantes here we come. Heroes all. Shite.
It wasn’t the greatest day for visibility, a bit of a smoky mist about, and pitch darkness was only an hour and a half away. So the skipper gave the mighty Cat D6 Marine the big shoe, and we were on our way, bashing through the heavy seas, rather than over them.
Makes our Maniki sound real big, doesn’t it? It was all of forty nine feet. A twenty yards free in football would have been eleven feet longer than it. Not exactly the Queen Mary. Not the Titanic, either, I hoped.
No surface radar on the boats, back then. And radio contact gone. The only position the skipper thought he’d picked up was “north of Cervantes”. At least it wasn’t far to go.
Now we were all staring out the wheelhouse windows, trying to pick out a very small boat in a very big ocean. White horses were charging, spindrift was flying, and we were all thinking of safer ways to make a shilling. These are normal thoughts for those who feel that the termination of their already-short-enough lives could suddenly be drastically brought forward – by circumstances way out of their control.
Riggsy wasn’t over-familiar with the area, as rival boats used to stay out of each other’s territory. So we were more than hoping that there was no innocent-looking ‘stuffed waves’ in our vicinity. Rocks, that is.
Then Snookie gave a shout: “Ten o’clock”! We all immediately focussed on that direction – and Gary was right! There was the mighty canoe, with Dutchy hanging on for dear life to that tiny toy mast of his – and waving his shirt – frantically. As well he might.
The big sharp buck teeth of Western Australia were only a hundred yards away, waiting for him. We didn’t have to see those limestone knives to know they were there: the spray and spume told their own lethal story. Broadcast it, actually.
Now a dodgy part: Riggsy had to get between Dutchy and the weather. As I said, fair big seas were running. We had to approach from the stern of his boat, in order to get up beside it, and slightly for’ard of it.
Then the skipper would have to use the power of the big Cat, and his skill with the rudder, in order to maintain a stationary position, while Jim Culver assessed the situation, and made a the call. Steely nerves were called for: one wrong move, and we would be back on top of Dutchie, his matchbox sunk, and our prop and rudder stuffed. Then we’d all be in the soup: literally. Goners.
And what about the rope around Dutchy’s prop? Did it still have a tangle of knots flowering sweetly under the water – waiting to snag our prop?
We all knew those risks. They were taken.
We approached, very slowly; just enough revs to keep us under way, and keep “feel” on the rudder. The Dutchy was still shouting and panicking. Not that we could hear him, what with the wind, the sea breaking over our bow, the growling of the Cat, and the very nasty very adjacent roaring surf.
But we could see Dutchy’s big daft cake-hole opening and shutting like that of a snapper turtle. And that great big red nose, like a traffic bollard.
Now we were in position, about twenty feet to windward. Skip was juggling the motor and the rudder. Deathly pressure – and him as cool as ice. I was calling the estimated feet between the boats. Snookie was fashioning a bowline and a rope-rescue chair-knot.
And Culver was yelling to Dutchy. We could see the deckie now. He was green, sick as a dog, and no use to anybody. Jim managed to find out that there really was a rope round the prop.
Then he made a decision that nobody else in the world would make……..
To be Continued
The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by the author do not reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of The Kilkenny Observer.