Arriving on the scuffed pine deck of the sailing barge Centaur Rick and Potkin were met, close to the head of the gangway, by a rotund figure somewhat wider than he was tall, wearing a grease stained, woollen tea-cosy on his head and a leather apron with assorted boning, filleting and skinning knives stuffed into the waist. He had a black, cardboard eye-patch and a peg leg made from the curved and richly French polished limb of a Queen Anne chair, more ornately rococo than practical considerations required, but it did have a beautifully carved ball and claw foot. He explained that he had lost his own leg at the battle of Jutland. Potkin thought that he must have been very careless to mislay an entire leg, but perhaps in the heat of battle it was possible to do that sort of thing. This fellow it turned out was cook aboard Centaur and revealed his name to be Ebenhaezer Coleye, plain Eben to his shipmates. Carefully steering them around the clutter of rigging scattered about the deck he led the pair below. He showed them where to sling their hammocks and then introduced them to the saloon, a large, low deckheaded*, heavy timbered space inconveniently divided in two by the vessel’s sturdy keelson, dimly lit by hissing Tilly lamps and with a black-leaded pot-belly stove at its heart. Here they met some of the crew, huddled close to the stove.
First was the skipper, name of Absalom Rowbottom, unnaturally tall with stooped shoulders; a man brooding and lonely, weighed down by the responsibility of command. A jagged white scar ran across his brow, behind the patent leather eye patch and over one cheek to disappear into one of his bushy, greying sideburns. He wore a towering tarred, black stovepipe hat tied under his chin by beeswaxed string and a black oilskin long coat over a pair of similarly coloured rubber thigh-boots. The mate was a muscular, shaven headed, heavily tattooed native of the distant island of Mersea. His scant clothing implied a disregard for our east coast chill, and his one good, black hole of an eye sucked in the world around with all its suffering and woe and let not a glimmer escape from within.
“Moses Smith’s my name,” he said to Potkin, proffering a calloused hand. He and Rick seemed to be old shipmates and they instantly began chatting of previous voyages and adventures. There were, it transpired, to be no further introductions as the skipper announced it was half past opening time and the entire ship’s company rushed ashore to the pub.
*(I’m going to insert a note here for my unnautical readers. The ‘deckhead’, or underside of the deck is like the ceiling in a room ashore. The ‘ceiling’ in a ship is the floor. Try not to get confused.)