Potkin and the Barge Match

Tufty Morgan SI shall recount, in serial form, the tale of a former comrade of my Dad’s.

POTKIN

and the

BARGE MATCH

Being an account of

Potkin the cat

And how he saved the sailing barge

CENTAUR

from certain destruction.

Rick was packing, slowly filling a capacious black sail-bag with his sailing gear of waders, guernsey knit-frock, oilskins, sou’wester and other nautical sundries.

Potkin was sulking. (Potkin was a black and white cat – not as big or colourful as me, of course, but with quite long shaggy fur and a magnificent bushy tail.) He was sulking because he hated it when Rick went away. He hated being left behind.

“Can I come with you?” he asked, trying to appear hopeful.

Rick looked somewhat dubious, but Potkin explained that he was sure to make a good sailor because his great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather had been Tufty Morgan the infamous pirate and scourge of the Spanish Maine. Although scourging maines was now quite out of fashion Potkin was convinced he had inherited salt water in his blood. Rick was still a little doubtful, but after giving the matter some thought, said OK he could come along.

A very excited Potkin quickly packed his best kitbag with wellies, hammock and an emergency tin of smoked salmon. The pair feasted on a fish and chip supper before setting out (Potkin preferred codfish to coleyfish, but there is no accounting for taste) and were soon on the road towards the sailortown of Maldon in the dour, dangerous and ancient county of Essex.

It was a dark and stormy night in Maldon. The cobblestones of the steep narrow lanes shone damply from a fine drizzle that was visible only where it sparkled around the Edwardian street-lamps. Windows in tiny terraced fishermen’s cottages glowed warmly against the weather and in the church-yard, gravestones without graves remembered lost seafarers; Zachariah Gypps, lost at sea; Vigilance Thurogood, lost at sea; Reuben Saych, drowned; Bartimeus Godsave, lost at sea; Westward Ho Smy, consumed by a whale, “His body ingested, his spirit flying free.”

At the quayside Potkin stopped in his tracks, gob smacked, as some would say. Untidy groups of sailors jostled purposefully beneath a forest of tall masts. Huge black hulls were made fast along the length of the quay, and stacked four or five deep. This weekend there was to be a barge match, which is sailor-speak for a boat race. Rick and Potkin had berths on one of these mighty craft, if only they could identify her, and squeezed amongst the crowding fishermen and bargemen attempting to make out the names carved and gilded upon the vessels’ transoms. At length they found themselves standing beneath the looming and garishly painted figure of a full-bodied, if incautiously underdressed harridan whose ornately carved torso terminated in the forelegs of a galloping horse. Potkin had never seen anyone quite like her around his home territory in the East End of London. The figurehead projected from the high bow of the sailing barge Centaur of Harwich. Their search was over and diligence rewarded, this sturdy craft was to be their home for the duration of the coming voyage.

With barely a pause and hefting their luggage onto their shoulders the pair marched boldly up the rickety gangplank.

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