HIGHLAND FLUNG…

8 Jun

 

 

“This is the maritime shipping forecast from the BBC at 0600. In southwest, southeasterly 4 or 5. In northeast, variable becoming southwesterly, 3 or 4. Sea State Slight or moderate. Weather Rain.Visibility In southwest, moderate or good. In northeast, moderate or poor.”

Water guttered off the wheel-house window, the useless arm of the single wiper hanging limp. John gripped the wheel, straining his eyes to see through the sheeting water. He could feel the pressure of the sea pushing against the fishing boat, the waves beat against the hull, the throb of the diesel in his feet, as he fought to steer the boat home.

“Come on ye bugger. Don’t let me down now.” The Scotsman snarled.

The voice of the BBC boomed through the speakers once again. A radio announcer in a warm, dry, studio at Broadcasting House telling him what he already knew.

“Northwesterly 6 to 7, occasionally gale 8 in north at first, decreasing 7 or 6 later. Sea State Very rough, becoming rougher.Weather storm to gale.Visibility none.” 

“You think I don’t bloody know that, ye friggin English idiot?” Frustration was creeping in.  After fishing in near perfect conditions for the past two days John and his mate had caught their quota, plus a little extra, and were ready to celebrate their good fortune upon their return to the tiny Scottish village of Ullapool. A settlement that for centuries was dependent upon men like John to supplement the economy, and the sea for survival to support the families who lived there.

Fishing was a mugs game but it was all John knew. Leaving school at fourteen he’d been straight onto the boats. He’d started out with old man McLeod, who shown him the ropes and taught him the sea. Over the years he’d jumped from boat to boat until he finally managed to set enough money aside to invest in something for himself.

*

Dressed in his only suit, wearing his father’s tie and polished shoes, John had waited patiently for Mr Ogilvy, the bank manager, to make his decision. He’d explained his situation. With a new wife and a baby on the way he needed to something to call his own. Jumping crews had been ideal as a younger man, always chasing the elusive pennies, but now he needed foundation, a little stability. A boat would provide that.

*

Ogilvy had signed a thousand such contracts over the years for the fisherman of Ullapool. Return of investment was guaranteed by the insurance policy placed at Lloyds of London, the maritime insurance company, financed by the borrower. There was no danger to the bank and the interest payments were high enough to make it good business. He waivered over the loan document. Took his time, before finally placing his fountain-penned scrawl at the bottom of the page. He loved the moment. Even a bank manager in a back-water like Ullapool deserved a little respect, and that’s exactly what these decisions gave him

“Congratulations Mr. McGinty. You’r now the proud owner of the BIG BLUE. He reached for McGinty’s offered hand and shook it enthusiastically. There was a sucker born every minute. The fisherman would either default or sink. It didn’t matter to him, the bank would get their money either way.

*

A huge wave broke over the bow, carrying with it one of the cross-trees and the winch.

A head appeared from the hatch-way. “John. What the fuck’s going on? We’re never going to make it.”

John turned and screamed at his mate. “Get the fuck below and make sure that diesel doesn’t stop. If we lose power we’re as good as dead.”

“God in heaven John, it isn’t worth it!” The mate scurried below deck.

John had heard the earlier broadcast. The crisp syllables of the B.B.C. stating the obvious. He should have hove-too, and waited out the storm, but he knew the waters, better than they did. What the hell did the English poofters know anyway? He’d fished the Atlantic since he was a boy. Once around the headland they’d be within sight of the harbour. A few measly miles and they’d be home and dry. At the time it’d seemed worth the risk, now he wasn’t so sure.

Suddenly the wheel stopped responding. The bow shifted in the water and began to turn broadside into the wind.

“Bob? Bob? What in Jesus name is happening?” The wind was howling around the wheel-house. He could barely hear himself think as he screamed down into the engine compartment. He looked through the window, quickly made his decision, jumped through the hatch and clambered down the ladder.

*

The engine room was silent apart from the creek of the hull and the clatter of his feet on the deck plates. Sprawled over the now silent diesel was Bob, blood pouring from a head wound. It wasn’t good. John had seen enough injuries to recognize the signs. He shook the first mate who didn’t respond. Pulled him off the engine, and rolled him on to the floor.

“Lay still you fat bastard. I’ve got to get this bloody thing started.” John pressed the red button on the control-box and the starter-motor whirred. He tried again. Nothing!

Shit! If he couldn’t get the boat started they’d both be dead.

Images of his wife and new born baby washed through his mind – happier days in a much happier place. The boat tilted and he grabbed for a hand hold. Water rushed down the steps into the engine room. He had to get to the wheel-house and turn the boat into the wind. He needed to send a Mayday before they lost the radio as well.

*

As he climbed back into the wheel house the radio squawked once more.

“Gale warning Ullapool. Northwesterly gale force 8 continuing. Wind Northerly becoming cyclonic mainly westerly or northwesterly, 7 to gale 8. Sea State Rough or very rough. Weather Rain.Visibility Moderate or poor.”

“Shut the fuck up!” He didn’t need telling. He grabbed the microphone hanging from the radio and screamed into the handset.

“Mayday, Mayday this is the fishing vessel BIG BLUE. We’ve lost all power. I repeat we have lost all power!” He let go and listened. The radio fuzzed.

He tried again. “Mayday, Mayday this is………Can anybody bloody here me?”

The radio crackled. ‘Fishing vessel BIG BLUE we hear you. Please state your exact location and emergency.”

Well thank God for that, he thought. “Aye we’re off the point by Ullapool I have a man down and me engines dead. I need somebody out here yesterday!”

*

Water smashed through the glass, the wave wiping out the wheel house, sending the skipper flooding down the hatch and into the engine compartment below. John tried to hold his breath, felt the force of the water as he was flushed into the belly of the ship. His arm snapped. He couldn’t scream. The boat capsized.

It was over. This was it. Choking on fuel-filled water, death was the fisherman’s constant companion. Davy Jones was knocking, and there was nothing John could bloody do about it.

*

He gasped for air as his head shot above the water. Floating in darkness, freezing in the Northern Atlantic water he’d somehow come up into an air-pocket. The water that had rushed in to destroy the fishing vessel had crammed air into a life sustaining bubble. John’s feet touched the floor, his arm hanging uselessly at his side. In pitch blackness he could feel detritus floating around him, the overpowering stench of diesel filling his nostrils.

He laughed out loud. They couldn’t bloody kill him. There was enough air to keep him going for hours. He’d sent off the emergency message. The search and rescue helicopter would already be out there looking for him. All he had to do was hang on. And by God he was going to hang on.

*

In a green-lit room, surrounded by computer screens, an operator leant over to the Chief of the watch.

“Sir. Just received a Mayday out of Ullapool. The rest of the message is garbled.”

The Chief put down his coffee, took the paper from the radioman and looked out of the window. There was no way the chopper could take off in this, even if they knew where the boat was. Bloody fisherman, would they never learn?

 Didn’t they listen to the B.B.C.?

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