epublication uk By epublication uk, 17th Sep 2013 | Follow this author | RSS Feed | Short URL http://nut.bz/b8a5_xf9/
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A sailing adventure set on the South-East coast of England.

Chapter 2.

The Lad strolled along the path that skirted the upper reaches of the Blackwater Estuary, past the mud-births that adorned the river bank, and on towards Downs Road and the boatyard, which was his intended destination. The Essex riverside town of Maldon had been his stomping ground now for the past three years. Most of his young life had been spent in Council care and he had little recollection of family and friends prior to that. Upon reaching his fifteenth year, Joe Masters had offered him an apprenticeship at the yard. He had been accepted by the men and given a sense of purpose and belonging. River life suited him, and he was to be found most off-times crewing on the Thames barges that lay-to at the town quay. These few years had left him with a strong sense of craft and seamanship, and a physical ability belied by his small stature.

He turned left and entered the yard. “The governor wants you,” said Mac the rigger, “he’s up top,”. “OK Mac, thanks,” he replied and bounded up the wooden staircase two steps at a time, and entered the office which was in the loft above the main workshop. “You come up them stairs like that, you’ll have the whole bloody building down round me ears.” Joe Masters sat at his desk grinning, amused by the younger man’s enthusiasm. “You and me are delivering Easterly to Wivenhoe this evening. She’s been registered at Lloyd’s so you’ll need to work this number into a deck beam just aft of the mast. About two and a quarter inches high should do. Then collect your gear and meet me back here this evening to catch the tide. Bring plenty of clothes as you’ll be away for a bit.” He handed over a slip of paper containing the number and settled back to his own tasks. The lad descended the steps more slowly. What did he mean, ‘be away for a bit’. He shrugged, collected a selection of small chisels and a mallet from his toolbox, and crossed the yard towards the slipway.

Easterly sat in her cradle awaiting the return of the tide. She was a Seaway class 28 foot gaff cutter, built on the south coast in 1930. The hull had been recovered from a mud birth further down river and towed to the yard to be restored for an owner in the City. She sat there now complete in all of her glory. Varnished bright-work, a black shear-stake, light-grey topsides and a dark-red anti-fouled bottom. She looked a picture in the midday sun. He had been involved in her reconstruction from the start, and had an intimate knowledge of every plank, beam and fastening of her.

“Hello there!” A young woman had entered the yard, walked quietly to the slipway and now stood beside him. She was dressed in brown paint stained dungaree overalls. She was his equal in height and wore a bright cheerful blue-eyed countenance under a mop of blond curly hair. “Hello yourself!” he replied. Patricia, or Pat, as she preferred to be known, was the daughter of his land lady. They had become close friends, some would have said, inseparable. The men in the yard pondered upon the mater. “What’s up with the lad? Wish he’d get a move on, the suspense is killing me.” He had taken it all in good part, but was not quite sure what was expected of him. “You’ll be away for a bit then?”. “Yes! sorry,” he replied, “I’ve only just heard myself.” He looked across at her. Her eyes were still smiling, but there was a slight tremor in her voice. “You take care then. See you when you get back.” She turned and was gone as quickly as she had arrived. He climbed the ladder, lent-to against Easterly’s topsides, stepped onto the deck, and stood there considering his situation. Their friendship meant a lot to him and he was worried that he should hurt her feeling in some way that he did not yet understand. He walked aft, along the deck stepped into the cockpit and went below to complete his task.

Easterly lay to her anchor in the Pyefleet Channel on the mouth of the River Colne, about four nautical miles from her final destination. They had started their journey around 5pm that evening and with the assistance of receding tide, had navigated the upper reaches of the river and preceded onward towards Osea Island and the open waters that lay beyond. This first journey was to be taken up by the tasks necessary to ensure that Easterly was properly prepared for the rigors that lay ahead of her. The new marine diesel engine propelled the little vessel at a very satisfactory rate and also supplied the electrical power required for her safe navigation and comfort aboard. Gone were the oil lamps that would have served this purpose in the past and gone also was the small coke stove that would have adorned and heated the main cabin. In its place was a modern heater fueled by diesel from the main tank. Joe was not sure that he approved of the changes, but had to admit to the comfort, extra space and convenience that they bestowed.

They interrupted their passage and lay to anchor off of the Osea Island foreshore to make a brew of tea, do a final check of the rigging and ground gear, before setting all plain sail and proceeding under a warm south westerly breeze towards the open sea. The conditions were ideal. Easterly set-to at a great pace, shouldering aside the small seas with ease and leaving a smooth straight wake in her path. This was what she had been designed to do. She was well fitted to her task and in her element. The lad was grinning from ear to ear, and Joe had to admit to a deep feeling of satisfaction in a job well done. They hugged the southern bank of the river, where the deeper water was to be found and let Easterly have her head.

Mrs M had prepared one of her beef and dumpling stews and this now stood bubbling on the stove in Easterly’s galley. The lad sat reclining in the main cabin charged with great anticipation of the feast to come. Things didn’t get any better than this. They had arrived in the channel around sunset and had secure the yacht and washed and tidied themselves in readiness for the evening meal. That final passage in the soft light and warmth balmy conditions, had been superb and had left him feeling relaxed and mellow, helped no doubt by the small glass of navy rum stood on the table beside him. Joe appeared from the galley bearing two large bowls of steaming stew. “You quite comfy there?” “Yes Joe!” “You’ll be doing the washing up then?” “Yes Joe!” He grinned and deposited the bowls to their allotted places upon the table, sat, and settle to his meal with great gusto. The lad grinned in reply and did likewise.

Easterly tugged gently at her anchor cable as she rode to the slight swell entering the channel from the sea beyond. The breeze had died and the banks of the surrounding area were shrouded in a light mist. There was a chill in the air and the two men sitting in Easterly’s cockpit found comfort in their steaming mugs of coffee. The remains of the meal had been cleared away and all gear stowed for the night. The ridding light cast a soft beam across the fore-deck and surrounding area as if upon a stage. The lad stood up, stretched long and hard and nodded. “That’s me for some shut-eye, Night Joe!” The other nodded back. “Just before you go, we will be meeting a Miss Bethany Holden tomorrow. She’s the new owner. I want you to stay with her for a few days and teach her the rudiments of handling Easterly.” The lad grinned, “So that was what all of the secrecy was about then.” “Yes I want you to stay aboard. Move your gear into the fore peek and leave her the main cabin. She’ll be staying ashore at night of course. Any way that’s for another day. Just thought I’d let you know. I’ll just finish this coffee. and I won’t be far behind you.” The Lad nodded again, as he entered the hatch and stepped below, leaving the older man to savor the last remnants of the day. Joseph Masters sat in the silence of the evening, a very contented man.

Life had not always been so kind. The war years had taken their toll. As a child of four he had been evacuated from The City and the security of home life, into the then strange, but kindly world of the Masters household; a Jewish family involved in the tailoring of gentlemen’s attire, in the county town of Ipswich, Suffolk. There as a boy his interest in the sea had blossomed with the close proximity of the river and the many commercial and private vessels that were to be found there. In the winter of 1944 tragic news from home had left him destitute at a very young age. In later years he had taken the family name to himself but not alas the faith. Having completed his education to a proficient standard, he had entered the Royal Navy as an apprentice shipwright.

Rowing, sailing and maintaining the Navy Whalers and other small auxiliary craft had developed the skills that were to be so essential to his future career. It was while on a cycling holiday around East Anglia that he discovered the pleasures of the market town of Maldon and was introduced to his wife-to-be Margaret, now known to all affectionately as Mrs M. Meeting Margaret had been the catalyst in his life. Upon leaving the navy he had moved to the town and set up shop as a boat builder repairer. There was a great demand for his services, which had enabled the business to expand and move to the present premises at Downs Road. He and Margaret were married shortly after this event and set up home in the town, and the rest as they say is history .

He left the security of the cockpit and moved forward to make a final check of the yacht before turning in. As he stepped onto the foredeck something caught his eye in the half light. A small wave was traveling along the channel from the seaward direction. It was not part of the swell which had now subsided, but seamed to move independently of it, as if some large fish were making its way upstream. It passed him and disappeared into the mist. There followed a period of silence, perhaps a couple of minutes, before he was aware of the sound of diesel engines starting and a shadowy bulk in the mist, that had not caught his attention previously, slowly withdrew to seawards and became lost in the night. No lights were visible and the engines were muffled and running slowly. Puzzled by the strange occurrence, he finished his inspection, returned to the cockpit and stepped below into the warmth and security of the cabin. He changed into his night attire, slid between the sheets and was asleep almost before his head hit the pillow. Tomorrow was another day.

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Adventure, East-Coast, Sailing

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