“Somerby,” the portmaster said as the sailor entered the small, messy office that overlooked the port. “Would you care for a drink?”
That was out of the ordinary. Taking silence for affirmation, the portmaster took two small glasses and a bottle of single malt from the lowest drawer of his desk. He carefully poured an equal serving in each glass and then corked the bottle and checked that it was sealed.
“Cheers,” he said.
“Your health,” Somerby replied, joining him in a sip. Somewhere on the coast of a different ocean, a fine hand had bottled what the angels had left behind.
“Somerby, I’ve heard it said that you weigh anchor tomorrow to sail to the Campania Islands. True?”
“Yes. This place is too much like New York for me.”
“There’s a man who wants to get there, and he doesn’t want to wait. I was wondering if you might take him with you?”
Somerby took another sip.
“He’s willing to work for the passage, and pay his way on top.”
Somerby looked over the brim of the glass. “Do you know this man? Will you vouch for him?”
The portmaster hesitated. He drank his whiskey down with one quick practised toss and replied, “I know him, and can vouch that he’s as good a hand as you’ll find for your boat. I know that he’s serious about getting to that island.”
Does he know the waters around there?”
“Aye, he knows every reef and every bar, and every jagged hunk of stone that ever tore the bottom out of a good ship.”
“Then send him to me before seven. I’ll be leaving on the tide, and I wait for no man.” Somerby tossed back the drink and headed to the door. Then he turned and asked, “What’s his name?”
When Fletcher Anderson came aboard the ketch named Emily, he brought with him two duffel bags, a couple of cardboard boxes, and an antique sailor's trunk. Now a 40-foot Ketch doesn’t have the storage space of a freighter, so Somerby gave him a hand moving his stuff down the companionway and into the forward berth.
Fletcher was a short trim man in his thirties with the broad shoulders of a sailor, and the hands to match. His hair had faded to iron grey and he needed a haircut about two months back. Still his eyes were clear, and his breath didn’t stink of funny cigarettes or drink.
He thanked Somerby for the help. He thanked Somerby for the transportation, and he offered to pay Somerby at the outset, and then counted out seven greasy twenty-dollar bills.
“Enough,” Somerby said as he started to add another one.
“Are you sure?” he asked in a gentle voice.
“As you wish.”
Somerby showed him the boat, and he admired her as a trim solid craft. Then he looked to the sea, and offered to help weigh anchor. The man was in a hurry. If he was in such a rush, with money in his pocket why hadn’t he chartered another boat, or taken a bush plane? On the other hand, he was as handy about the boat as the harbour master had said. He was familiar enough with sails to help, and the type of listening man that you didn’t have to say things to a second time.
Once clear of the port, Somerby set course on the GPS, and trimmed the sails to match. All the time he was wondering, who was Fletcher Anderson?
There’s no privacy on a small boat. Your world is circumscribed by the water around you. Privacy becomes a matter of manners and mindset. Although Somerby was curious about Fletcher Anderson, he also realised that too many questions would too easily become prying.
They naturally fell into 4-hour shifts. With autohelm and GPS, each watch was concerned with checking for other ships ploughing the inner waterways, freighters from Hong Kong, Singapore, China, or Malaysia with tired crews who didn’t check their radar. The other danger, and the harder one to detect, was any container lost overboard by those ships, and now floating just below the waves, waiting like modern mines to sink a boat.
Then there was always the chance of a sudden white water squall that could race as fast as the wind, and knock the ketch over before a sailor could react. However, the most dangerous threats that Somerby saw on the first watch were the scrap-scavenging sea gulls pooping on the deck.
Around noon, Fletcher figured out the tricks of the propane stove and cooked up spaghetti with tinned sauce. Not exactly haught cuisine, but still good enough to kill the hunger, especially when steaming coffee followed. He passed Somerby a plate, and filled the thermos.