“READY ABOUT!” Julie didn’t wait for a reply. The posture of the others was enough to tell her they were ready. She judged her moment as they all stared ahead into the darkness. The howling roar of the wind was momentarily quietened as the unseen wall of water blocked the noise and passage of the wind. A big one was coming.
They had tacked the boat through the eye of the wind a thousand times together, there was almost a sixth sense of communication developing. They knew that Julie knew, the time was nearly upon them to tack again. The 42ft yacht clawed its way up the enormous wall of moving dark water. The bow lost contact with the surface of the sea like a breaching whale, then, was quickly driven back down by gravity and the push of the wind on the tiny storm sails. Vervain smacked down hard, sending curtains of spray up into the air, only for it to be instantly snatched away in the maelstrom of wind.
“LEE HOE!” Julie shouted and spun the wheel, the yacht whipped round on the back side of the wave. The gale tore at the sails and the main boom whipped across the cockpit with a thwack. The team wound furiously on the winches to tighten the sails, and what a team they were. Part of the wave rolled up the deck, smashed into the coach roof and slammed into Julie’s face. She spat the salt water away and grinned at Red. She was looking back at Julie like she was some sort of goddess of the sea. She could really handle a big boat; she had proved it again, much to the boy’s disgust.
"HARVEY! Where's Harvey?" shouted Julie, as she blinked and wiped the salt water from her eyes. The team peered forwards into the gloom. He was gone. He had been on the for’ard deck checking a frayed line. He had been there as they had crested the huge wave, Julie had seen him.
"Woody …!” But Woody was already on the move, scrambling for’ard on his hands and knees toHarvey’s last known position. Red searched astern, but if he’d gone with that last wave …. please … not Harvey she thought anyone but Harv. Woody frantically waved both arms above his head and pointed over the side. “HE’S GOT HIM!” shouted Red with relief, her words almost snatched away in the ferocious night.
Harveywas hanging over the side of the boat on his safety harness getting periodically dunked and dragged choking through the water. The safety strap holding him was stretched bar taught. He was spinning as he dangled from the line like a wet puppet on a string.
Julie immediately shouted, “Right, standby to heave too!”
She spun the wheel over again and settled the boat so the wind hit the wrong side of the for’ard sail and the motion settled, immediately calmer, quieter and less spray coming in board. She lashed the wheel over and staggered forward with Red. Harvey weighed a lot for a twelve year old. He was 5ft of limp wet clothing, dragging water and they were already nearing exhaustion. His head hung back, eyes closed and long blonde hair matted across his face. Another wave slammed him into the side of the boat which seemed to bring him round. He grimaced, wretched salt water, then looked up dazed and tried to reach for the desperate hands stretched out to him.
Woody leant out under the lowest guard rail grabbed a piece of Harvey’s foul weather jacket, and heaved him into a sitting position in his harness. Vervain clawed its way up another huge wall of dark tumbling water. A reverberation warned them it was coming, it sounded like rumbling thunder. They looked forward into the darkness to see the white crest caught in the moons light come racing down on them. Harvey had the sense to take a deep breath as the bow of the yacht punched through the wall of white water. Red lay on Woody's legs to pin him down and Julie had a hold of Red’s harness. The snaking team of friends lay on the dark deck as the wave broke over them.
Julie had the crook of her elbow wrapped around one of the wire stays that supported the mast and her feet were jammed against ─ God knows what. She was what kept the whole exhausted line from tumbling over the side after their stricken friend. As the water streamed off of them, Julie looked up to see Red coughing up water over Woody’s back, but she hadn't let go. Woody grabbed a handful ofHarvey's harness and leaned backward straining and pulling with all his limited strength reserves. Harvey opened his eyes to see his chin was level with the edge of the boat. He grabbed one of the stanchions and pulled.
He made it onto the deck, his feet still stuck out over the ocean as Vervain buried her nose in the bottom of yet another deep trough. As the big yacht fought the weight of the sea, she wrestled her way to the surface, shaking the water off like a wet dog. The team dragged, crawled and pulled their way on their bellies, aft towards the safety of the steering cockpit. They slithered over the edge like seals entering the water from the ice and lay panting, exhausted, on the seats and floor. There they stayed for what seemed like an age. Red held Harvey’s head in her lap and looked down at him. He was still gasping and his lips had turned blue.
Harvey coughed and said, “I took off! Did you see me? I took off. If I hadn’t of had this ─ this harness on, I’d be swimming with the fishes.” Water came out of his nose and he spat up a string of phlegm onto the deck.
“So you won't be moaning next time I ask you to put it on when you go up front then?” said Julie sarcastically.
"I've told you, I'm not wearing it if it's calm, there’s no need, it's a waste of time. And anyway, how many times have I got to tell you? It’s for’ard, not up front, we are seamen."
"I'm not a seaman, I'm a sea-woman," said Red, always ready to stand up for girls rights, as long as it didn't upset anyone too much.
Julie peered ahead into the pitch black night and shook her head, why did boys always have to argue? She only knew two and they drove her crazy half the time. Not that she'd really want to lose Harvey, or Woody for that matter. Harvey was strong, and the best fisherman, amongst other things and Woody was a pretty good mechanic. The ongoing battle of wits she had with Harvey would go on as long as they were together. She was the best helmsman, or helms-girl as Red would make her say, but he saw himself as skipper. It was his boat, but that wasn’t good enough. The way she saw it, she let him think he was skipper but she made all the important decisions. Like when to tack, when to change sail, and tonight she’d decided it was time to heave too and ride out the storm. Not time to push on into the gale asHarveyhad insisted. He wasn’t arguing now ─ lying in the bottom of the boat getting pampered by Red.
Julie stood at the wheel and wondered how he’d made it to Granada on his own. But he had and she was glad of it, otherwise ─ otherwise, she’d be either dead or would’ve spent the rest of her life with only Red for company. She made the next decision, “I think we’ll remain heaved too for the rest of the night. We’re all exhausted anyway, there's no point pushing on through …” She ducked as another sheet of water flew across the boat. “Well through this. Not if we have to risk losing someone over the side," she said looking accusingly at Harvey. "Imagine how much more difficult this would be if there was only three of us? Anyway, what's the rush? There won't be anyone there ─ there never is.”
“I found you didn’t I?”Harvey snapped back, “And Red and Woody! We’ll find others too, I know we will!” Then he closed his eyes and lay back into Red’s lap. They were all quiet and thoughtful, as the gale ravaged around them, eventually he said, “We’ve hardly started searching yet, not even this tiny bit of the Caribbean. There are hundreds more Islands we can try. We might even find a …” he never finished.
It was true enough thought Julie, if Harvey hadn’t made the momentous decision to strike out on this big yacht and explore, they would never have met. The soaking wet bedraggled friends made their way below just as another huge wave crashed over the yacht to give them a final drenching.
* * *
The next morning, Harvey awoke with a crushing headache and ravishing thirst. The salt water from last night's dunking seemed to glue his eyes shut. He wriggled in the sleeping bag to stop the salt itching his skin, which reminded him how he ached all over. He lay, blinking and staring at the small chart he had pinned on the underside of Woody's bunk above. It was a chart of the Caribbean. He willed it to give him more information. Where was everyone?
He could tell by the rolling, easier motion of the yacht that the storm had passed. The sea was still lumpy but had lost its anger. The wind was no longer howling and ripping through the rigging on the deck. Today would be a better day, he felt it in his blood. His mind wandered to his lucky escape only the night before. That was stupid, he thought, stupid and I won't ever do it again. Julie was right; he couldn't tell her of course, she thought she knew everything as it was.
He had scraped and fought, and simply refused to die. There were times when he was very young, maybe five or six years ago, when he had nearly given up. But he hadn't, he'd found a way to feed himself, to find decent water, to search and scurry and invent and use his brain to keep going. His early years were blurry, maybe that was because he didn't allow himself to think about it.
Woody turned over in the bunk above him letting out a sigh. They had been through some torrid times, all four of them. But it could have all been a complete waste of time had he flown over the side last night and drowned. Julie had proved herself to be a worthy helmsman, but it was his job,Harvey's job to bring them to safety, to find others, to find answers. He didn't know why it was his job, he just knew it was.
He became aware of someone moving about in the galley, leant out of his bunk and looked aft, there was Red. He knocked twice on the side of his bunk, she turned to look at him had beamed her indomitable smile. She held up four flying fish, so that was breakfast sorted, one each for a change. She hadn't got them sailing again though, he could tell, he could feel the press of the wind on the wrong side of the jib. The noise of the water over the hull was a slap, slap sound, not the sound of cruising headlong. Red was not a sailor but she did her bit. Whatever they caught she could cook she was like ─ like ─ he couldn't even think the word Mother. No one ever said Mother or Father, Mum or Dad, it was too painful to think about. He caught himself just in time, before he fell over the edge, into the pit of despair and worry and those never-ending questions to which there were no answers.
Harvey swung his feet onto the deck and had to stop himself, his ears were ringing and he had to scrunch up his eyes to stop the pain in his head. When he opened them Red was stood there with a mug of water and two small white tablets. How she knew he had a headache, he had no idea.
To avoid waking the others she whispered, "You are twelve, so … it says on the bottle here, you can have …” There was a long pause as she moved the bottle to within and inch of her nose. Harvey snatched the bottle off of her and read the small writing. “Two.”
“I can see it; yes it says two of these thingy’s. But seeing as they are five years out of date anyway, I don't suppose it really matters." She stood and watched him take them, took the mug and walked back to the galley.
Harvey followed her, hitching up his shorts, "How are we for gas?"
"Good for a few more days yet, and then we've always got those disposable barbecues." He nodded and walked past her, up the steps and into the cockpit. The wheel was still tied over, and the yacht was barely making any headway as she crabbed along almost sideways.
The suns rays sent arrows of painful white light, bounced it from the deep blue Caribbean, and attacked his eyes like tiny slithers of broken glass.
He put his hand up to create a shade and saw it. "LAND AHOY!" He shouted, and grimaced through the pain. Shouting was out. Then he leant back down into the yachts interior and said, "Red, while you've been on watch, and collecting fish, you didn't by any chance notice a huge great big island just to starboard did you?"
“Which side is that again ─ left?”
“No it’s right!” said Harvey angrily.
Red went on the defensive, "Oh, oh that, I thought it was a cloud thing-a-me."
"A cloud … ! It's green …and it's got, its got high mountains, beaches and surf smashing all around it!"
"Not when I was up there it didn't. Do you want beans with your fish?"
Harvey didn't answer, he was flabbergasted, how could she not see that? That settled it for him, she needed glasses, but what sort? He’d hunt around when he got to what he hoped was St Lucia. They needed gas, batteries, they always needed batteries, food, water, more charts, and a multitude of other stores. Woody arrived up on deck looking sleepy. He would’ve once been officially described as Afro Caribbean. To them, he was just Woody, a good looking, clever and quiet black boy. His bushy black curly hair never seemed to change, straight out of bed or straight out of the sea, it looked the same.
Harvey pointed to his right, "Land Woody, St Lucia ─ at least I hope its St Lucia.”
The rest of them all considered the gentle lad they called Woody to be a close friend. But the incredible thing about him was, he had never spoken a word to them. Nothing, not a yes, a no, a please or thank you, nothing. Once, in the dead of night, Harvey thought he had heard him whisper in his dreams, but he couldn't be certain. He asked the girls in the morning if they had heard it, they hadn't.
"Have you ever been to St Lucia Woody?" tried Harvey. Woody just dropped the edges of his mouth as though not quite sure, shook his head and shrugged his shoulders. Julie appeared from below with a tooth brush stuck in her mouth, poked her head out and peered at the distant island. Harvey continued, "Well, be sure to tell us all about it if we do ever go somewhere you've been won’t you?"
Julie sent Harvey a threatening look behind Woody’s back. She shook her head, warning him to lay off. Woody didn’t seem bothered, he just stared at theIslandand nodded, as if you say, ‘Of course I’d tell you!’
Harvey said to Woody, “He knows I don’t mean it, I’m just pulling his leg. You know that don’t ya Woody?” He slapped him warmly on the shoulder. “Have we got much battery power for the VHF and later the engine?”
Woody reached down to switch the radio on. He dialled the emergency channel 16 on the yachts radio. They all listened in for a minute. There was nothing, they had never heard a thing on it. It hissed and crackled a bit, but there were no voices, how they all hoped one day they would hear the sound of voices. Someone with authority would be nice, a good sailor perhaps, man or woman, just someone ….
Harvey picked up the mike, sighed, and called over the airwaves. “St Lucia, St Lucia,St Lucia. Calling anyone on this frequency. Yacht Vervain approaching St Lucia from the south. Anyone answer. Over.”
Hissssssss went the radio.Harveyhad to move away, he had heard that noise for years, and it cut through him like cold sharp steel. He deliberately ignored the radio after the call, in a vain hope it would crackle into life. He made himself busy and undid the line holding the wheel over. Woody was already on the jib sail lines.
“Ready about Woods? ─ Lee hoe!”
He spun the wheel to starboard and the yacht leaned hard over on her side, the wind pressing on the large white triangles, forcing Vervain towards, what they hoped was the chance of a new beginning. The chance of more humans, in any form would be nice. There was a crash below as what sounded like a plastic plate of food went flying and Red bellowed her most hideous swear word, “Arrggh BOTHER!”
Julie and Harvey shouted together, “Baggs it’s not mine!”
Woody pointed at himself and shook his head.
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