Monday, 15 June 2015

All At Sea - 2

Fortunately, the rain didn't come to much. Once it has peppered the deck with tiny shiny dots it decided to call the whole thing off and not proceed to join them together. There were palpable sighs of relief all round. 

Whilst I attempted to explain to the guests that, as an escort who's done this excursion many times, I wasn't in the habit of throwing up over the side, but that I was overcome by diesel fumes, I found it a bit alarming that my British guest (the one with his two lady friends) gave me one of those "Oh yeah, pull the other one" looks as he cracked another beer can. I admit to the fact that I began to take a dislike to him. While I locked eyes with him Smarmy was a word not far from my thoughts, which also included various phrases that I'd like to have been able to say to him but was restrained by the responsibility that my position thrust upon me from doing so. "Git" would have been another word that may have tagged on to the end of "smarmy" if I'm being honest, which I always am, to be honest.

I struck up a chat with my group of French guests, one of whom, a forty-something bloke who looked a bit like Sacha Distilled or whatever, told me that, for his crust, he was in fact a Mercedes diesel fitter back in France.

"Would you like me to go below and see what I can do about ze problem?" he asked in that sexy voice that so many French men seem to be able to produce with no effort whatsoever.

"Can't do any harm," I replied, thinking that desperate times call for desperate measures, we'd been stranded there for so long now. Anyway, this wasn't really a desperate measure, it was more likely an inspired one when you think about it. In no time at all he'd sprinted back to the cabin dressed only in his chic speedos and Ray-Bans and disappeared inside. I'd say that not three minutes had passed before the engine spluttered to life and began gently throbbing below the deck, purring like the proverbial Cheshire Cat. My French friend, nay, by this time undisputed favourite hero, emerged triumphant, shaking his joined fists first left and then right of his head. The entire party of guests on deck erupted into applause and - as if to add to the general euphoria of the moment - the sun emerged from behind the cloud and all of a sudden it felt hot. This was more like it. Surely from now on things would be fine. The day was saved.

Oops. 

He trotted up to me and I asked him what he'd done. Now, I don't pretend to be an expert in such matters, but the essence of his reply was something like this:

"Ah, yes, well, I know theess engine, it's a type seventeen 1957 twin sprocket whipshaft overhead crank flippetygibbet forward thrust marine model. Ze one with ze depressed cam overhead shibelly belt. Quite rare these days, but I know what can happen with zeess model. There eez a split pin on the thrust action lever that can come out sometimes. Eef it does then nothing you do weel start ze bastard. Ze captain didn't notice that theess pin was missing. I took one look and saw it was not where it should have been and so I poot my fingairs through the pools of diesel fuel on the floor and, sure enough, I found eet! All I had to do was to replace it in the lever and - voila!! She goes!!"

I may have some of the fine details slightly wrong there.

I have to confess that this technical explanation didn't inspire in me a great deal of confidence in either our captain, the boat's owner of many years, or his first mate Hass, the Belgian who for the rest of the time I worked with him couldn't restrain himself from telling me how in his previous career he used to have sex behind glass in a seedy Berlin club, where people would pay to watch him. No matter how much disinterest I exhibited, he couldn't hold back from telling me all the sordid details about how tired he'd be after an eight hour shift. Looking at him I found it hard to imagine how the women he reputedly "worked" with could have fancied the idea, but then, it takes all sorts eh? And how on earth did he go from that to working on an old Greek boat doing coastal cruises up and down the coast of Rhodes?

No sooner had the engine started up and begun sweetly ticking over than another crisis hit us. Yes the sun had come out, yes the temperature had risen by quite a few degrees, yes the prospect of a pleasant day cruising along the Aegean coast loomed enticingly before us. But you probably noticed the "oops" above, right? Right.

Within a minute or two of the engine bursting into life and the French diesel fitter emerging back on deck, there was a huge (and I mean HUGE) thumping sound coming from somewhere near the stern. It sounded to me like someone had taken a lump hammer to the wooden hull in an attempt to scupper the old lady with all hands and passengers. What the hell was happening NOW?

I f you've ever been on a boat like this in the Med then you'll be aware that most of them tow a launch along behind them on a rope. This is used to ferry the passengers from shore to ship and back again at the end of the day. It's also the way that the crew get ashore once they've anchored the boat in a safe, protected harbour or bay for the night. They drop anchor, secure the ship, slip overboard into the launch and head for the shore. Standard practice in these parts.

Well, see, the thing is, while we'd been languishing without power for over two hours for what ought to have been a half-hour swim-stop, the launch had drifted toward the mother-ship and tucked itself up under the stern, its connecting rope having dropped into the water, become saturated and sunk for most of its length. It had sunk in fact, very, very near to the ship's propeller, or, to give it its correct name, screw. Once the engine was up and running again, the Captain, in his newfound euphoria, had ascended to the wheelhouse and engaged the gears to get the screw turning. The screw had immediatedly pulled the launch's line into its blades and the launch was doing it's damndest to thrust its nose into the water right under our stern, with the bow hammering against the ship's hull, all the while throwing out great shards of fibreglass and carving great gouges out of the newly-painted blue hull of the ship.

How that launch didn't break up or at least simply sink before the crew realised what was happening and stopped the screw from turning is a mystery to me, but fortunately, for all of our sakes, they did. The launch had sustained major damage to its top edge near the front (sorry - bow), you know, where there are a couple of steel gunwhales (or ought that to be rollocks?), one of which had now been consigned to the deep. Now we faced a further delay whilst Hass the stud went overboard in his wetsuit to free-dive to the screw and untangle the several meters of rope that had now become twisted around it - tightly.

I was just beginning to think that to have got out of bed that particular morning may just have been the wrong choice. I had no inkling, in fact no one aboard did, of what else was to come. 

Part three will arrive soon.

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