Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Off The Grid
Chapter 4
Arms of the Saint
“15 August 1115 the log for the 37th commercial voyage of the Saint Augustine is hereby set down on an incoming tide, moored and readied”  Matthew types on the verandah of Theo’s house. He looks up from the carved metal table over the collection of classical statues which have been randomly set down by removalists and are scattered across the vast lawn, looking toward the vessel which is moored at the far end of the garden. Behind her a blue stretch of water winds away and is a deep channel between mangroves, and in the distance the flickering white horses where the channel meets the sea.
Mick and Toby emerge from the house carrying a large wooden table between them. Matthew smiles politely as they struggle past wearing their new red t-shirts and black flared trousers. The big table has scrolls and boxes, and the men carry it across the lawn and set it down in the distance next to the Saint Augustine. The walkway is hidden by the swell of the lawn, and the vessel and the table look as though they are part of the eccentric and random lawn sculptures.
“1132” he types,  “preparation to receive passengers”.  And then Matthew rises, folds the computer into it’s case and walks across the lawn, through the statues, without noticing them, to the walkway, along the walkway past the table, and without a glance for Toby and Mick, up the gangway onto the deck of the Saint Augustine. He allows himself a flicker of smile as the giant wooden Cutter tries to yaw slightly under his feet as the incoming tide rises to it’s task. He feels the eagerness to be underway and the vessel strains against the ropes and rubs the fenders impatiently at the mooring pylons.
Mick and Toby go and bring chairs and are followed on their final trip by old Theo who is dressed in a pale pink suit with grey shirt and white shoes.  Then behind Theo comes the floating grace of Theo’s wife Kyriaki. Kiryaki is dressed in a drawer-full of colourful silks with a white shalwar kameez beneath, and the breeze ripples against her as she glides along behind the men, the breeze making the silks float out from her like so many flags of nations, and her skin radiates the colour of first press Kalamata olives.  Her long grey hair is gathered tight across her forehead in a black mourning band.
They all sit at the table and Matthew unclips his binoculars from his belt and holds them aloft. He waits until Kiryaki looks up and when she does he waves them high and calls to her “Thank you Pizza they are the best” She smiles her white teeth at him and with her hand motions ‘it is nothing’ and ‘you are most welcome’
The party at the table look toward the sound of a motor car arriving. Matthew turns and goes down the companionway with his laptop and plugs it into the docking station. Then he climbs back onto deck and flips open the mini-station “1148 passengers arrive preparing to embark”
He watches as Maria leads the group of passengers from the vehicle onto and along the walkway and Kopu walks behind.
Two women walk together behind Maria. They are both dressed in expensive camping shop gear and the older of the two women has a broad straw hat. The younger of the women has a baseball cap turned back to front. Between them, walking stiffly and formally is a young boy. Matthew notices his awkwardness and determination to walk properly and guesses 10 to 12 years old. The older of the two women reaches to touch his hand and he holds her hand briefly then returns to his ordered march between them.
Behind the two women and the boy, is another woman, very tall and elegant in her walk, very European. She has both a rucksack on her back, and a woven cane bag on her arm. Matthew notices the shock of curly hair bursting out from her overly large tennis visor cap. She is very tall. At the back of the group is a man with a shaven head and dressed in long trousers and colourful shirt of the style Matthew likes. The man seems relaxed in his walk and looks around a lot seeming to ask questions of Kopu who smiles back at him but says little. Behind the whole party are two men with trolleys of luggage.
 As the passengers arrive at the table and chairs Maria introduces Toby and Mick who in turn introduce Theo and Kyriaki, and then refreshments are offered. The passengers sit to listen to Kopu deliver the safety on board address. Matthew hears the voice of the young boy interrupting Kopu “what size is the motor? What size is the motor?”
The older woman leans forward and touches the boy’s shoulder to hush him, and then sternly tells him to be quiet and listen. The boy stands and shrugs his shoulders away from her and steps closer to Kopu “I want to know what size the motor is” he says more angrily. The women are apologetic and both rise from their chairs but the boy now turns and backs away then turns to run across the lawn. Toby steps from beside one of the statues and strongly picks the boy up in his arms. The boy stiffens himself and tries to push away and Toby says “I will show you the motor – on board – when we get on board” The boy remains as stiff as a board in Toby’s arms, his sailor jacket rumpled up to his armpits and his face reddened, and he looks hard at Toby and says straight at his face “what size is the motor?”

“It’s a Volvo Penta D2 72 horsepower 2.2 litre diesel – alright!?” says Toby looking straight back at the boy. Their faces are close, and the boy suddenly relaxes completely and still held, puts his hand on Toby’s shoulder and grins back over his shoulder to the women. “Alright” says the boy. Toby lowers him to the ground and he runs back to his seat and says “I am sorry Mr Kopu I missed the part about when the sails swing across the top”


After Kopu’s talk has finished Maria, Theo, and Kyriaki lead the passengers to the boarding gangway, and cross onto the deck. Matthew stands hands behind his back at the top of the rope rail. He offers a hand to each of the passengers as they are introduced. In the background Matthew spots Mick and Toby carrying the table, boxes and chairs back across the lawn.


“Alysha DuMaurice” says Maria as a tall blond woman steps onto the gangway. Her rucksack is squarely balanced against her back and she is wearing a loose pale blue smock over deep blue knee-length bicycle shorts that have white stars scattered over the front of the legs, and stripes at the hem above the knee.

Matthew feels her strong handshake – she has long fingers and warm hands. “Welcome aboard” he says looking for softness in the bright blue eyes “always a pleasure to welcome a marine biologist along on one of our voyages” She has hung onto the rucksack Matthew notices, but the cane basket is on the luggage trolley “I have your whiteboard installed”

Alysha pauses with the handshake, and looks at Matthew Cabot. She notices that his eyes are like her own, and his face has something of the Dutch mouth lines of her own father. She lingers and allows Matthew to end the handshake, and steps onto the deck, wobbling slightly under her rucksack which Theo steps forward to help her with, and she nestles it amongst some ropes by the mast.

“Tanya Pellegrini” Maria announces next, and the more senior of the two women who have the young boy with them, steps onto the gangway. Matthew looks at her strong, lined face, and admires her casual smiling demeanour as she pauses and looks at him, before accepting his handshake and embarkation assistance to land on deck. Tanya has long flowing hair which she allows to cascade from under a broad straw hat, and as she shakes Matthew’s hand she takes the hat off for her hair to unfurl around her. The hair is grey and white but alive and shining and she tosses it away to allow their gaze to meet. She is wearing a kahki shirt and trousers with lots of pockets everywhere, and a red silk scarf flows from her left breast pocket. “Mr Cabot” she says in a way that reveals a hint of her Italian heritage “it is such a pleasure to meet you. I read of your Banded Fruit-Dove story and it was an inspiration for this visit” Matthew looks into her green open eyes with the speckled cornea. He wonders what her eyes might have been as a young woman flashing that open smile and speckled eyes like pale green birds eggs. She steps across the deck, avoiding a coil of ropes without needing to look, and moves to stand beside Kyriaki, who indicates with a nod the Steiner Commander binoculars on Matthew’s hip. They grin to each other and then Tanya winds her hair back up into the straw hat and retires beneath it.

“Master Raphael  Pellegrini” announces Maria. The boy stands hesitant at the gangway and Maria gestures with a soft downward motion of her hand and the boy steps onto the gangway. “I never been on a boat” he says and stops like a horse unwilling to board the float, feet dug into the gangway and hands gripping the ropes “I want to get on last” he says.

“That will be fine” says Matthew nodding and motioning for the boy to step back, which he does meekly.

“Gwenda Caldwell” announces Maria next. A slender woman in her early thirties steps onto the gangway, her brown legs still decorated with youthful vigour and her hands confidently gripping the rope rails. She is wearing loose kahki shorts and a camping shirt in the same fashion as Tanya Pellegrini, however she seems almost lost amongst the folds of her garments. Matthew holds his knotty hand out toward her and for a moment suddenly feels very old as this woman approaches him. She uses the ropes and does not take his hand of assistance to step onto the deck. Matthew gives her his smiling frown, as if looking down over a pair of glasses, and she smiles back nervously, flickering black eyes away toward Raphael, and then around the rigging and fittings on deck and back to Matthew. The vessel has begun to rock slightly as the tide hits it’s peaks and Gwenda’s hand appears from a sleeve and grips Matthew’s hand suddenly and briefly. She glances into his eyes then looks away and nods. “Welcome aboard the Saint Augustine Ms Caldwell” and looking across to Kiryaki he cannot hide a grin “welcome indeed and I hope we can add some sightings to your impressive CV”. Gwenda nods and recedes back into her shirt as she quietly moves to stand next to Tanya.

“Lester Winters” Maria reads as a tall slender man with a shaven head and a white scarf knotted around his throat, steps onto the planks. Matthew notices the faint shadow around his temples and decides the head shave is to compensate for early baldness. Lester is wearing long white trousers and a purple silk shirt that flutters slightly in the long sleeves which are rolled twice at the wrists. He has a hat hanging from a pouched knife on a crocodile skin belt. Matthew watches the veined arms reach for a double-handed handshake which is confident and bold, and greets Matthew’s hand without hesitation. “Welcome aboard Mr Winters” Matthew says, watching Lester’s carved heart-shaped mouth with the lips so red they are purple. Lester smiles and looks directly into Matthew “the pleasure is mine I assure you Mr Cabot, and please sir you can call me Brain – that is what everyone calls me” Matthew nods still holding the handshake as if uncertain to let go “Brain, well ok Brain, you can call me skipper, while we are afloat” Lester nods and as his hand is released he steps back slightly as if he had been too forward. Matthew puts his hand on Lester’s shoulder and points toward the others on deck. Lester smiles and moves.

“Raphael  Pellegrini for the second time” announces Maria as Raphael steps onto the planks with Toby and Mick behind. He walks confidently up to Matthew and shakes his hand. “Mr Captain sir” he says formally “this is Mr Toby”. The huge frame of Toby Armstrong grins sheepishly as he fills the gangway behind the small boy.

“Thank you master Raphael the second – it is most helpful of you to bring the crew on board as we will be needing them”

Raphael seems not to really hear but shuffles awkwardly looking for a place to stand while waiting for Toby.

“Did you hear all of the safety briefing young man? Mr Kopu’s talk” asks Theo stepping forward and bending down to be at Raphael’s height.

“Mr Toby is going to show me the engine” Raphael replies.

“I’m sorry” says Gwenda kneeling next to Theo and putting a hand out toward Raphael “I will make sure that all is safe with Raffie wont we Raff eh?”

Raphael backs away slightly and half sits awkwardly on Alysha’s large rucksack, and he looks away toward the channel between the mangroves.


“No need to be sorry for anything Miss Gwenda”, says Matthew helping Toby and Mick lift the luggage onto the deck from the gangway. “Let’s get all this stuff stowed and everyone settled below and get away onto the water while we still can, then we can have a nice supper out at Garruma Rock for sunset”


Theo, Maria and Kiryaki farewell the party and watch from the walkway as the gangplank is hauled away behind them. The giant Bristol Cutter eases gracefully off the mooring as the tide nudges her out into the channel under a the faint humming power of the diesel, and the wooden shape takes it’s rightful space first out between the mangrove then further into the reaches in the deep channel, and at last through the foaming horses at the river mouth which part under the Saint Augustine prow which is underway again.


Kopu has the tiller and Matthew notes on his log terminal “1423 exit Grinter channel bound for Milingimbi – first port Tiwis”


file said...

... and so, vivid characters assemble. This chapter reads a little like the beginning of a whodunnit, I wonder...

DoctorShoot said...

thanks for looking and comments File - yes it has the premise of a whodunnit indeed but things develop - will keep posting the chaps as they come to hand

file said...

Merry Chris, Doc!