There are some characters you meet in real life that just have to go into a book. Last year my wife and I took a ten day Caribbean cruise. On this trip we met two of the loveliest people of our life. David and Jane, they sat at our dining table. Jane was a gorgeous fun loving gal of 92 and David was a smidgeon older. I cannot even begin to describe this couple. Jane couldn’t weigh much more then the dining chair she sat on, and David was upright and had a full head of hair.
Apparently Dave was a retired ship designer. We had several quite exciting and interesting conversations about the ships he’s designed. He has my full admiration. Jane on the other hand was a 92 year old play girl. Her favourite drink was Canadian Club Whisky. She was so delicate that the waiter had to cut her meals into tiny pieces for her.
On the island of St Kits they have a narrow gauge railway train that chugs something like half way round the island, fabulous view, magnificent scenery. Who did we meet on the train, of course David and Jane. It took three strong men to get frail little Jane off the train but she enjoyed every minute, and the attention.
Occasionally the pair would get lost on the ship and miss a meal. Sometimes we looked out for them and guided them to the huge dining room. It’s not that difficult to get lost. I found myself in the wrong dining room on one occasion. Our ship was over a thousand feet long and there were 2400 passengers. One day when I think I can do them justice I will model a pair of characters on those two lovely people.
I thought it would be exciting to visit as many British Islands as possible, without being silly of course. As a family we sat down and examined the map of Britain. Hmm, quite a daunting task as the islands are scattered and very numerous, and how does one get from one island to another? Having been to Scotland several time before I knew that P&O supply just about all the ferry ships in that part of the world. Not knowing where P&O were based – I assumed London. I wrote a nice little request for travel information and mailed it to P&O London England.
I figured the postman would know the exact address. Surprisingly some three weeks later I received a large manila envelope and in it were timetables, suggested routes and everything you would ever want to know about travel between the Scottish islands. Oh yes and the P&O headquarters is in Lerwick Shetland Islands, not London. We landed at Heathrow in London and took a hire car. Our first island was St Michael’s Mount – excellent, a beautiful castle on a rock just off the coast. Next we took a helicopter ride to St Mary’s Scilly Islands, and then a boat to Tresco Island. This is not a travel guide so suffice it to say it was interesting and exciting. You can look the places up in any good travel guide. The big plunge, so-to-speak, was when we arrived in Scotland. The Isle of Sky is not a place that can easily be seen in one day. There are castles, soddies, (Turf houses.) and beaches, cliffs and very interesting locals – both pubs and people. The next part of our trip was definitely the most dramatic. A ferry ship took us to the Orkney Islands, where we stayed several nights and visited many of the adjoining islands. History abounds there and goes back to the Stone Age. The idea of a story came to me, the islands and the island people would make a perfect backdrop. The power and ruggedness of the coast was quite intimidating. We found one area where ships had been deliberately sunk to block the channels between islands. Some of the ships you can actually walk on if the tide is out. The trip to the Shetland Islands was long and the sea quite rough. One of our party succumbed to seasickness. Personally I’ve never been travel sick on anything, and on one occasion I was at sea for 25 days. The Shetlands are fabulous and I highly recommend them. Oh yes, we actually visited P&O headquarters, which is right on the harbour front. We hired a fisherman to take us out to Mousa Island where I have never seen so many seals in my life before and been so dangerously close to them. That island also has a brock (Stone fort) which is in excellent condition and it predates Christ by a couple of thousand years. Having had such an exciting tour I couldn’t wait to write about it in some form or other. I created another adventure for Bill Reyner. In my story The Secret of Castle Duncan I called Mousa, Percies Island. In Edinburgh Cuckoos I changed the names of places and castles, not wishing to upset any real people.
The trick is to be there and make sure you don’t miss any of the action. I have always been “lucky,” and managed to be on time for the main event. For example:-
I took all three of my boys on a touring holiday of the British Isles and on this particular day we were at a place called Wells Next the Sea. Wells is a small port that takes fishing boats and some coastal tramps. On this occasion I had just stopped the car near the quayside which is also the main street of the town. The river is at a right angle to the main street and dock. I happened to look up and there was a ship speeding down the river towards the town.
Jokingly I said to the boys,” Wow! Look at that, at his speed he’s going to finish up on the highway.”
It certainly looked as though he would never make the 90 degree turn at the end of the river. We watched intently as this quite large ship came rushing down the river at a good thirty-five miles an hour. He did make the turn, but as he was running with the incoming tide he could not stop at the quayside. At the far end of the harbour is what the locals call the pool, a large open expanse of water where they are able to turn ships round and it also happens to be the place where hundreds of privately owned pleasure boats were parked and anchored. The ship dropped anchor and put the engine into full astern. Needless to say it could not stop and ploughed into the crowd of private boats. Most moved aside but two or three were damaged by the impact and one began sinking.
A woman standing beside me suddenly yelled, “I’m going to kill someone.”
The ship stopped and the engine was still at full throttle in reverse. She backed up dragging her anchor. Almost cartoon like one 30 foot private cruiser suddenly upended and then in seconds dived below the water. The ship’s anchor must have caught her mooring chain and pulled the thing to its doom. The private vessel vanished from sight.
“That’s my boat,” yelled the woman beside me.
The fiasco was not quite at it’s conclusion. A sailor coiled a rope and on the instructions of a very agitated dock worker attempted to throw it. His puny effort resulted in the rope dropping into the water as the ship ploughed helplessly into a reed bank on the far side of the harbour, there to remain for several days. That was an exciting demonstration of incompetence I would have happily paid to watch.
Later I spoke with a dock worker and he told me that the ship came in without the aid of a pilot and also came in with the running tide, apparently that’s a no, no.