south – the rescue. story 15
‘ Perhaps you could aim a little more for the shore. ‘ Had suggested Fontana. Her politely voiced observation from the bow was punctuated at its beginning by a loud slap of brown choppy water against the dinghy’s side – and at its end by a very descriptive oath from Manton as he strove to maintain some headway in the face of the forty knot wind that threatened to flip the wretched craft onto its beam.
‘ It may be a little more sheltered in the lee of this breeze. ‘
Tom grunted with massive frustration as an oar skipped off the top of a large piece of chop and caught him with its scoop of cold brown water.
‘ We don’t seem to be making much progress out here in the middle. ‘
Then the port rollick slipped out of its iron notch again, leaving him almost sobbing with fury as he lost all the gains of the last five minutes painful toiling labour.
Toil that commenced thirty minutes previously when the rented craft’s outboard had not answered any of his thirty-nine pulls of the starter rope. Labour that had been exacerbated by the arrival of a cold and hard northerly at the precise moment Manton had optimistically slipped the oars and pulled away (northwards) from the Fisherman’s Point jetty and the small honeymoon cottage they had occupied for the last ten days.
Pain occasioned by the splintered wood of the mismatched oars on hands blistered by the thirty-nine vain attempts with the starter rope.
Destination: Brooklyn, an epical five miles distant and all of them into the wind.
Jack Teague (R.A.N. Ret.) had lived in his Long Nose Point cottage for all of his eighty-five years – excepting active WW2 service in the Mediterranean – and long ago had pushed his armchair away from in front of the television and over to the large window that overlooked the wide waters of Broad Reach.
Jack liked to keep the phone and his old navy issue binoculars handy as well, and from time to time he felt obliged to call the River Patrol and alert them of certain instances that he thought might be of particular interest. Such as this one.
‘ River Patrol. ‘
‘ Jack Teague here, could yez stick us onto Ted at Rescue son? ’
‘ Certainly Jack, how ya goin? Hang on a minute will you. ‘
Teague picked up his binoculars and focused them again on the dinghy in the middle of the reach. The two occupants were battling against what looked like an evil combination of wind and tide and that they were using the oars and not the outboard was enough to alert him that some assistance may be required.
‘ Jack! How yez goin’.‘
‘ G’day Ted, got one for you.’
‘ Fair enough mate, we’re doin’ bugger all at the moment. Where’s the drama? ‘
Mrs Teague came in with a cup of tea for her husband and placed it on the windowsill. She looked out of the window just as Fontana’s hat went sailing.
‘ OH NO! ‘
‘ What? ’
‘ MY HAT! ’
‘ Where? ‘
‘ OVER THERE! ‘
‘ Oh. ‘
And the crimson beribboned raffia sunhat,
– worn new, just today.
Sailed upright and lively,
and brightly away.
‘ She’s lookin’ a little serious here mate. ’ Teague R.A.N. (ret) slowly supped his tea.
‘ Haven’t gone over have they? ‘
‘ No, the sheila’s in the bow just lost her hat! ‘
A noted geophysical attribute of winds in steep-hilled waterways is that their direction cannot be forecast. And in this particular part of the Hawkesbury river system the hard winter Northerlies are called the Mother in Laws.
– in that they follow you everywhere.
– and as Manton reached the end of the reach and managed to turn the craft into what he hoped was a sheltered passage between Milson Island and the shore he found the devil of a wind behind him. The forty-knot gusts were now driving the boat towards shore and the crusted pilons of a commuter jetty that protruded from the rocky shoreline.
Where the two small boys sitting in a wooden shed at the jetty’s end watched with fascination as the boat was swept smartly underneath them, stopping only when it became firmly wedged between two concrete pylons deep under the pier.
– And here Manton rested a moment, then with the help of a local gentleman who chanced by, assisted Fontana off the boat and into the shelter of the commuter shed.
With this done he returned to the boat and to attend to the water that had invaded it.
‘ Hey Mistah! ‘
The voice came down through the rough timbers of the jetty and mingled with the hassling slop of water against the dark pilons.
‘ Mistah. ‘
Despite the erratic tossing about of his boat and the fact that had the cover off the outboard and was generally handsfull and feetwet, Manton looked up and saw a pair of eyes looking down at him through a gap in the jetty plankings.
‘ Can I help you? ‘ he answered, sarcasm rampant.
‘ Can ya git me float? ‘
Manton pondered on the meaning of ‘Kanya gitme flote’ for a moment.
‘ Mistah!! ‘
‘ WHAT? ‘
‘ Me float, it’s hangin’ off the pier just above ya. Can yez reach over and get it for us? ‘
A small black and yellow fishing float flapped at the end of a yard of line above his head.
‘ Just poke it up through here, OK? ‘
Tom resisted the temptation to poke it up and into the little larrikan’s eye as a river patrol boat idled its powerful way to the side of the jetty and was made fast. A young man came ashore and joined Fontana in the shed.
Manton, listening hard, heard:
‘ Good day to you Missus, me name’s Ted and I’m from from Rescue and I’m told that you and your husband (?) were in a bit of strife around the corner there, a little while back. ’
‘ He’s stuck! ‘ Fontana offered sweetly, and wetly.
‘ Where would that be Missus? ‘
‘ Underneath us, just down there. ‘
‘ Right, ‘ said Ted. ‘I see. ‘
Tom heard the man named Ted take a measured walk over to the small stepway that lead down to the water surface. He descended, squatted on the lowermost step and squinted into the dark wet cavern that was the space beneath the jetty. All jostling with water chop and foul with the smell of wet and exposed mud. He whistled slowly.
‘ Anyone home? ‘
‘ What a lovely man. ‘ said Fontana as she sat back and warmed herself against the sunny beergarden wall of the Brooklyn Hotel. Her eyes closed, her raffia hat drying nicely on a spare seat beside her, a large cold glass of foaming Pilsner at her elbow next to a plate of freshly caught, freshly grilled local black bream. Cutlery agleam on whitened linen.
Caesar salad, a plate of olives and fresh baked bread on the way.
‘ Delightful. ‘
Safe. Warm. Hungry.
Ted had retrieved her hat, extracted the boat and had started the engine. Ted had hot coffee aboard and an engineer’s way with the recalcitrant motor. Ted had the tanned face and wintry squint of a lifetime riverman and the corded hands and arms of stonemason. Ted had the clear grey eyes of a seaman and the slight upward twist to his mouth that widened into a hard and flinty smile.
Ted was the one who unnecessarily assisted Fontana to her seat in the rented dinghy.
– Then followed them for a short distance (in his powerful boat) to be sure all was well.
And Manton was very happy to see the last of him.
this fiction is based on an account of two people taking a trip to the outward bound school – where some difficulties played their part.