Under Way

Tailing SNext morning the crew rose early and grumpily. It was still dark with the faintest hint of a dawn along the eastern horizon. Emerging sleepily on deck Potkin listened for the sound of birds breaking wind, but heard nothing but the lapping of the tide against the hull and the cook’s curses.

Ebenhaezer Coleye had cooked up a satisfyingly filling Full English for the crew, to be followed by toast and preserves whilst for Potkin he prepared pan fried Portuguese sardines topped with a Kean’s Farm vintage cheddar cheese melt, lightly browned under the grill. The moment breakfast was over and still clutching steaming mugs of tea, the crew turned to on deck and Moses Smith descended into the engine room with a blowtorch. After roughly twenty seven minutes of pumping and hammering, coaxing and cursing in his native tongue and something technical with the blowlamp, the engine gave a wheezy mechanical cough followed by the easy, hollow donk donk donk of a gently idling single cylinder Bolinder marine diesel which made the stern bounce and blew smoke rings from a nine inch diameter exhaust pipe in the mizzen rigging. Potkin tried to keep out of the way as everyone pulled on ropes and the skipper shouted orders.

The mooring lines were cast off and the Centaur chugged a slow gamelan away from the quay, into the main river channel and down stream. With the tops’l catching the lightest airs up above the treetops and the heavy foresail set and drawing, the ageing Bolinder was silenced and the majestic barge ghosted down river in company with more of her ilk. The morning grew lighter despite the glowering blanket of cloud.

“Get the mains’l hauled out,” ordered the mate.

The mainsheet block was dragged out, hooked to an iron ring on the horse and moused securely in place. Four burly mariners heaved on the sheet until the sail was taught and filled with wind.

(For those of you who, like me, are finding this a bit technical: a sheet is a rope what controls a sail and a horse isn’t a horse it’s a big beam of wood going from one side of the boat to the other so as the sail can flap and clank along it; and I have no idea what the mouse was doing. Or… if you are still confused, imagine a lot of fluttering sails and slapping ropes and people jumping about and a bit of shouting followed, mostly, by a period of calm and everything looking like it’s supposed to.)

A stays’l thrashed it’s way slowly skywards and was brought under control.   The mizzen sail was set and trimmed. Rick offered to teach Potkin to ‘tail’. The stalwart cat was not sure what he was doing, exactly, but he gripped a rope firmly in his teeth and pulled backwards, when instructed, as hard as he could while Rick and the mate heaved and grunted. Eventually all the sails were billowing out and the barge heeled to le’ward, straining in the freshening breeze. It started to rain.



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