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Easterly - A Coastal Sailing Adventure Brian L Bennett

ISBN 978-09562335-0-9 Copyright Š by Brian L Bennett. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced by any mechanical, photographic, or electronic process, or in the form of phonographical recording, nor may it be stored in a retrieval system, transmitted, or otherwise copied for public or private use, without written permission from the publisher. Brian L Bennett 18 Market Street Wells Somerset BA5 2DS brianb@epubuk.net

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Prologue The Lad ( Jamie ) orphaned from an early age. Works under the wing of Joe Masters, boat builder, repairer, in the market town of Maldon, Essex. The river Blackwater is the centre of their working lives and provides a backdrop to the events that follow, which will have a lasting effect on all of their lives. Patricia Hodge ( Pat ) to her fiends. Lives with her Mum and brother David. She is a free spirit, and very much a person of the waterfront. She can turn her hand to most jobs in the marine environment, and works freelance, attending to the many tasks that require casual labour that come her way. She has a soft-spot for the Lad, but is not sure that she will be able to land her catch. A competent young lady in many ways; she is finding this quest challenging and frustrating. Bethany Holden ( Beth ) a successful young law partner in the City of London. With a failed marriage behind her from her student days, she has avoided becoming deeply involved emotionally until the Lad stirs something within her, and the sleeping tiger awakens. This is a beginning for him, unexpected, and all consuming in its intensity. John Francis, late husband of Beth. Recently resigned his flying commission with the Royal Air Force. By chance becomes involved in a police enquiry, leading to the discovery of terrorist agents, plotting to corrupt the entire water supply of the United Kingdom. The plot is foiled, and those involved are arrested. The case is considered closed, but sinister events lead to a final showdown, where loyalties are tested to the full, and relationships reveal their true identity.

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Chapter 1. The waters, fleets and marshes of the Blackwater Estuary, extending Easterly toward the North Sea, looked strange and unreal in the early morning light. John Francis had known the area from early childhood and now surveyed the scene with mixed feelings of familiarity and excitement at the prospect of his homecoming. He banked the Cessna to port, steadying on a bearing of 30 degrees magnetic, Just ahead he could see the outline of Osea Island, his final destination. There was just two miles now to his objective. This would not be an easy landing. A steep descent, full flaps, flaring-out just above the sea wall that bordered the Southern end of the small grass field. It had been ten years now since he had sailed these waters with his wife Beth. Long, lonely years that he still bitterly regretted. They had met as students and married in the Spring of the following year, 1975. Both were in their late teens and perhaps somewhat over optimistic in their endeavours. The summer of that year had been idyllic. They had rented living space in an old sail loft close to the river, and sailed regularly in the evenings and at week ends throughout the season. In the August Beth had fallen for his child, but as summer turned to winter the loft no longer offered the haven of comfort that it had previously afforded them. Then in the Christmas week Beth had slipped on the loft stairs, fallen badly and miscarried. An angry obsessive mother had insisted that her daughter should return to the family home, and he was hardly in a position to argue, having realised that his prospects were at the very least non existent. After that they had somehow drifted apart and he had not contested the divorce that followed. A ten year flying commission in the Royal Air Force had helped to alleviate the deep feelings of lose and failure after the event. Having completed his flying training he was appointed to transport command. There had been a point when feeling more complete and secure with his situation, he had tried to contact Beth, only to find that the family had moved abroad. His attention was drawn to a small flashing light on the island. This was his landing beacon as promised. He set his fuel mixture to rich, fully extended the flaps and started to let-down towards this point in the half-light. This landing was to be one of so many that he had experience, but still difficult in these conditions. He remembered Harry his instructor saying “They are all easy when your feet are on the ground.� This advise had stood him in good stead through out his career. 4


Harry Tenant, Aitch to his friends, had really put him through the mill during his in-flight training, For which he was eternally grateful. It had eradicated many of the mistakes and bad habits that young pilots could succumb to, and allowed him to gain the wealth of experience that he now had under his belt, so to speak. They had become firm friends over the years, and were always please to see each other when their paths crossed as they often did. In fact their last meeting had occurred in the City only a month earlier. “Hello chum!” he had always called him chum. “Didn’t fly the desk then?” Aitch continued, “not likely!” he replied. His involvement with transport command had ended after an ear infection had landed him in doc for a while. They had offered the desk job, but he decided to resign his commission and try his luck elsewhere. “Got just the thing for you,” said Aitch, handing him a small neatly printed business card. “Chap I know, out on this island in the Essex marshes. God knows what he is doing there. Wants a pilot! urgent! Give you a start! got to rush! good luck!” and he was gone, lost in the evening commuter rush. The meeting with the agent in his Holborne offices had been brief, perhaps a little too brief. Upon inspection of his CV, documentation and logs he had been commissioned to collect the Cessna from the dealership and deliver it to the island at an allotted time, He had also been given two thousand pounds for expenses and offered a rather large monthly salary, for which he promptly signed on the dotted line. The next two weeks had passed quickly, as he put his affairs in order, transferred his bank accounts and gathered the gear and resources that this new endeavour would require. His approach was almost complete, He was down to 200ft and could clearly see the extent of the landing field. The beacon was still flashing at the far end, and he estimated that the sea wall stood no more than 5 to 6ft above the level of the field. The waters of the estuary slid by beneath him. He throttled back the engine, pulled back on the control column, and the Cessna crossed the sea wall boundary and settled softly but firmly onto the grassland beyond. He surveyed the field as he taxied to a parking area which fronted a large shed. He manoeuvred the aircraft onto this hard-standing and switched off the engine. He sat in the silence for a moment and then opened the door and stepped to the ground. He removed four large travel bags from the rear of the aircraft, and stood there surveying his surroundings. He was a James Stuart look-alike, No wonder Beth Holden had fallen so helplessly for him. He was tall and slim with quite grey eyes and a generous smile. “Mr Francis?” A large figure of a man had arrived at the field. “Hello Sir, my name is Johnson. The Governor has asked me to meet you and escort you to the house. I see 5


that you have luggage. Please allow me.” He lifted the heavy bags placing one under each arm, and one in each hand, as if they were rag dolls. “This way please Sir! it’s only a short distance.” They walked along a narrow path that ran parallel to the side of the shed and came to a small road running to left and right of it. A golf trolley was park by the end of the path. “Sorry about about the transport, best we can do I’m afraid.” “That’s OK !” he answered. “I’ve had worst.” The bags were deposited in the back and they turned right onto the road which led them towards the river, at which point the it turned left and ran parallel to the frontage a large manor house, before turning left again to give access to the rear of the property. He had noticed the building during his approach. An elegant structure with a large dormer window and twin towers topped by spires. “Have to use the back entrance Sir, the front is locked for security. This place is up for sale. We only have it for a month, just for this operation.” Having offered the information he wrapped himself round the bags again, like a crab carrying eggs and proceeded to enter the building through the back door, which gave access to a kitchen and a small dinning area. Three men sat at the table sharing the first meal of the day, whilst a fourth, moved silently around them attending to their needs. The elder of the three stood up as he entered the room, offering his hand in welcome. “Hello! I’m Graham Spencer. For my sins, I’m in charge of this little lot. Have a seat.” He nodded to Johnson. “Take the bags up will you. I’ll show Mr Francis to his room later.” “Yes Sir! right away,” came the reply and he withdrew to attend to the request. There was no doubt that this man commanded respect. He was tall and slim, with dark hair combed back from his temples and a pencil thin moustache. “Let me introduce you. Tim Western and David Cox.” he said, referring to his two companions. “Tim is your flight engineer and David will be installing the camera and handling the photo-graphical side of things.” They both nodded and smiled in recognition. Tim Weston arose from the table. “Please excuse us for now, we have lots to do if we are to be ready in time.” They took their leave, and went about their business. Graham Spencer looked at his watch. “Good Lord is that the time?” He beckoned to the house keeper. “See that Mr Francis gets a good breakfast and then show him to his room, will you?” “Of course Sir, one breakfast coming up” the man replied and busied himself at the stove. His attention returned to his guest, “I’ll see you back here for launch, at 12.30hrs. Do make yourself at home and have a look around the grounds if you wish,” and then he was gone. Moments later a very large plate of bacon and eggs appeared upon the table and John Francis realised that he was ready for every scrap of it. It had been a very full day. His room on the upper floor looked out across the river. 6


The furniture and decoration had seen better days, but it was adequate and he had spent an hour stowing his gear and settling in. He had to admit that his situation gave him some concern. They had lunched together, and on the surface it had been friendly enough and he was pleased to be working in a team again. After lunch, they had attended a briefing at the large shed. A camera pod had been attached to the underside of the Cessna. A monitor screen in the cockpit displayed the camera view, plus navigational information to the operator. A small hand-held unit enabled control of the camera. They discuses the flight procedures and camera operations in great detail. The level of knowledge present at the meeting impressed him. It was early evening before they returned to the house, and he was now sitting in his room by the window considering the events of the day. The project involved an aerial survey of the island and surrounding area for the new owners. But why assemble such a specialist team, when an aerial survey company could have completed the task at a fraction of the cost. He put the mater from his mind and turned his attention to the view from the window. A small sailing cutter had anchored some distance from the shore. The crew had been busy attending to the rig and were now seated in the cockpit enjoying a hot drink. The scene evoked distant memories of happier times, and he sat silently recalling them for a while. When he looked again, the cutter had hoisted tan colours sails, weighed anchor and was dancing across the small waves, her sails full in the breeze, heading for open water and the sea beyond.

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Chapter 2. The Lad strolled along the path that skirted the upper reaches of the Blackwater Estuary, past the mud-births that adorned the river bank, and on towards Downs Road and the boatyard, which was his intended destination. The Essex riverside town of Maldon had been his stomping ground now for the past three years. Most of his young life had been spent in Council care and he had little recollection of family and friends prior to that. Upon reaching his fifteenth year, Joe Masters had offered him an apprenticeship at the yard. He had been accepted by the men and given a sense of purpose and belonging. River life suited him, and he was to be found most off-times crewing on the Thames barges that lay-to at the town quay. These few years had left him with a strong sense of craft and seamanship, and a physical ability belied by his small stature. He turned left and entered the yard. “The governor wants you,” said Mac the rigger, “he’s up top,”. “OK Mac, thanks,” he replied and bounded up the wooden staircase two steps at a time, and entered the office which was in the loft above the main workshop. “You come up them stairs like that, you’ll have the whole bloody building down round me ears.” Joe Masters sat at his desk grinning, amused by the younger man’s enthusiasm. “You and me are delivering Easterly to Wivenhoe this evening. She’s been registered at Lloyd’s so you’ll need to work this number into a deck beam just aft of the mast. About two and a quarter inches high should do. Then collect your gear and meet me back here this evening to catch the tide. Bring plenty of clothes as you’ll be away for a bit.” He handed over a slip of paper containing the number and settled back to his own tasks. The lad descended the steps more slowly. What did he mean, ‘be away for a bit’. He shrugged, collected a selection of small chisels and a mallet from his toolbox, and crossed the yard towards the slipway. Easterly sat in her cradle awaiting the return of the tide. She was a Seaway class 28 foot gaff cutter, built on the south coast in 1930. The hull had been recovered from a mud birth further down river and towed to the yard to be restored for an owner in the City. She sat there now complete in all of her glory. Varnished bright-work, a black shear-strake, light-grey topsides and a dark-red anti-fouled bottom. She looked a picture in the midday sun. He had been involved in her reconstruction from the start, and had an intimate knowledge of every plank, beam and fastening of her. “Hello there!” A young woman had entered the yard, walked quietly to the slipway and now stood beside him. She was dressed in brown paint stained dungaree overalls. 8


She was his equal in height and wore a bright cheerful blue-eyed countenance under a mop of blond curly hair. “Hello yourself!” he replied. Patricia, or Pat, as she preferred to be known, was the daughter of his land lady. They had become close friends, some would have said, inseparable. The men in the yard pondered upon the mater. “What’s up with the lad? Wish he’d get a move on, the suspense is killing me.” He had taken it all in good part, but was not quite sure what was expected of him. “You’ll be away for a bit then?”. “Yes! sorry,” he replied, “I’ve only just heard myself.” He looked across at her. Her eyes were still smiling, but there was a slight tremor in her voice. “You take care then. See you when you get back.” She turned and was gone as quickly as she had arrived. He climbed the ladder, lent-to against Easterly’s topsides, stepped onto the deck, and stood there considering his situation. Their friendship meant a lot to him and he was worried that he should hurt her feeling in some way that he did not yet understand. He walked aft, along the deck stepped into the cockpit and went below to complete his task. Easterly lay to her anchor in the Pyefleet Channel on the mouth of the River Colne, about four nautical miles from her final destination. They had started their journey around 5pm that evening and with the assistance of receding tide, had navigated the upper reaches of the river and preceded onward towards Osea Island and the open waters that lay beyond. This first journey was to be taken up by the tasks necessary to ensure that Easterly was properly prepared for the rigours that lay ahead of her. The new marine diesel engine propelled the little vessel at a very satisfactory rate and also supplied the electrical power required for her safe navigation and comfort aboard. Gone were the oil lamps that would have served this purpose in the past and gone also was the small coke stove that would have adorned and heated the main cabin. In its place was a modern heater fuelled by diesel from the main tank. Joe was not sure that he approved of the changes, but had to admit to the comfort, extra space and convenience that they bestowed. They interrupted their passage and lay to anchor off of the Osea Island foreshore to make a brew of tea, do a final check of the rigging and ground gear, before setting all plain sail and proceeding under a warm south westerly breeze towards the open sea. The conditions were ideal. Easterly set-to at a great pace, shouldering aside the small seas with ease and leaving a smooth straight wake in her path. This was what she had been designed to do. She was well fitted to her task and in her element. The lad was grinning from ear to ear, and Joe had to admit to a deep feeling of satisfaction in a job well done. They hugged the southern bank of the river, where the deeper water was to be found and let Easterly have her head 9


Mrs M had prepared one of her beef and dumpling stews and this now stood bubbling on the stove in Easterly’s galley. The lad sat reclining in the main cabin charged with great anticipation of the feast to come. Things didn’t get any better than this. They had arrived in the channel around sunset and had secure the yacht and washed and tidied themselves in readiness for the evening meal. That final passage in the soft light and warmth balmy conditions, had been superb and had left him feeling relaxed and mellow, helped no doubt by the small glass of navy rum stood on the table beside him. Joe appeared from the galley bearing two large bowls of steaming stew. “You quite comfy there?” “Yes Joe!” “You’ll be doing the washing up then?” “Yes Joe!” He grinned and deposited the bowls to their allotted places upon the table, sat, and settle to his meal with great gusto. The lad grinned in reply and did likewise. Easterly tugged gently at her anchor cable as she rode to the slight swell entering the channel from the sea beyond. The breeze had died and the banks of the surrounding area were shrouded in a light mist. There was a chill in the air and the two men sitting in Easterly’s cockpit found comfort in their steaming mugs of coffee. The remains of the meal had been cleared away and all gear stowed for the night. The ridding light cast a soft beam across the fore-deck and surrounding area as if upon a stage. The lad stood up, stretched long and hard and nodded. “That’s me for some shut-eye, Night Joe!” The other nodded back. “Just before you go, we will be meeting a Miss Bethany Holden tomorrow. She’s the new owner. I want you to stay with her for a few days and teach her the rudiments of handling Easterly.” The lad grinned, “So that was what all of the secrecy was about then.” “Yes I want you to stay aboard. Move your gear into the fore peek and leave her the main cabin. She’ll be staying ashore at night of course. Any way that’s for another day. Just thought I’d let you know. I’ll just finish this coffee. and I won’t be far behind you.” The Lad nodded again, as he entered the hatch and stepped below, leaving the older man to savour the last remnants of the day. Joseph Masters sat in the silence of the evening, a very contented man. Life had not always been so kind. The war years had taken their toll. As a child of four he had been evacuated from The City and the security of home life, into the then strange, but kindly world of the Masters household; a Jewish family involved in the tailoring of gentlemen’s attire, in the county town of Ipswich, Suffolk. There as a boy his interest in the sea had blossomed with the close proximity of the river and the many commercial and private vessels that were to be found there. In the winter of 1944 tragic news from home had left him destitute at a very young age. In later years he had taken the family name to himself but not alas the faith. Having completed his education to a proficient standard, he had entered the Royal Navy as an apprentice 10


shipwright. Rowing, sailing and maintaining the Navy Whalers and other small auxiliary craft had developed the skills that were to be so essential to his future career. It was while on a cycling holiday around East Anglia that he discovered the pleasures of the market town of Maldon and was introduced to his wife-to-be Margaret, now known to all affectionately as Mrs M. Meeting Margaret had been the catalyst in his life. Upon leaving the navy he had moved to the town and set up shop as a boat builder repairer. There was a great demand for his services, which had enabled the business to expand and move to the present premises at Downs Road. He and Margaret were married shortly after this event and set up home in the town, and the rest as they say is history . He left the security of the cockpit and moved forward to make a final check of the yacht before turning in. As he stepped onto the foredeck something caught his eye in the half light. A small wave was travelling along the channel from the seaward direction. It was not part of the swell which had now subsided, but seamed to move independently of it, as if some large fish were making its way upstream. It passed him and disappeared into the mist. There followed a period of silence, perhaps a couple of minutes, before he was aware of the sound of diesel engines starting and a shadowy bulk in the mist, that had not caught his attention previously, slowly withdrew to seawards and became lost in the night. No lights were visible and the engines were muffled and running slowly. Puzzled by the strange occurrence, he finished his inspection, returned to the cockpit and stepped below into the warmth and security of the cabin. He changed into his night attire, slid between the sheets and was asleep almost before his head hit the pillow. Tomorrow was another day.

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Chapter 3 Beth Holden entered Liverpool Street station from the taxi rank and boarded the train bound for the East Coast. She would have to change at Colchester and then travel on by the local service to her final destination, the small Essex town of Wivenhoe, situated on the banks of the river Colne. This was to be a new start, a fresh chapter in her life. Recovery from her failed marriage had been slow at first. A move to France with her mother had provided a diversion from the immediate situation. However, there followed a year of abject boredom, punctuated by various social introductions, intended, in her best interest, to offer prospects for the future. Inevitably, the call of home became too strong and she had departed, amidst floods of tears, to a new life in the City of London and prospects of her own making. She had been offered the post of assistant in a law practice in Lincoln’s Inn, and over the years had progressed to the position of junior partner. Life was rewarding. She was secure financially, and fulfilled, both in her working and private life. Moreen Connelly, had joined the firm on the same day as herself and an immediate bond had been established between them. They had shared a small flat, close to the office during the intervening years, and became known to one and all as the twins. Living with Moreen had been a blessing. She was a bright-light and spread her enthusiasm for life to all around her, and thus, in her care, she had recovered her sense of contentment and well-being. And so it had been. A friendship that had lasted over the years. There had been the odd romantic interlude for them both, but nothing that had really rocked the boat, so to speak. And then Moreen had form an attachment to John Kemp. At first he was just a casual acquaintance, but as the months passed it became clear to her that they were both deeply in love with each other “Love you Beth!” “Love you too. Be happy!” and floods of tears again, as the car drew away, carrying the couple on the start of their new life together. It had all happened so quickly, leaving her little time to accept the inevitable. The flat felt empty and became a place just to sleep. She had taken to going away at weekends, which were the worst times. It was during one of these trips that she had come across the hull of the gaff cutter nestled in a mud berth at the seaward end of the Wivenhoe water front. The notice tied to the mast had read “For Sale any offers considered”. There was a number, which she rang, and within a couple of hours she was the new owner. It was a completely mad thing to do, but she needed a diversion, anything to combat the 12


chilling loneliness which had descended upon her. “She’s as solid as a rock” said the small man in the overalls. “I’ll need her away soon though, developing the site you see. There’s a yard up at Maldon that’ll get her in shape for you. Give em a ring shall I?” And so it was, that she returned to the City that weekend the owner of a yacht of dubious condition and contracted to a yard owner whom she had yet to meet. As to the cost of all this, well that was anybodies guess. That had been over a year ago now. She had recovered from the shock of loosing her friend and confident, and her life was more or less back on track Then a senior position had become available in the firm’s Colchester office. She had been recommended for the post and had accepted gratefully, as it offered the chance of a new start. The restoration of the cutter was almost completed. There had been several visits to the yard in this period and many letters had exchanged hands concerning the detail involved in the reconstruction. Joseph Masters had set her mind at rest and assured her that the project was sound, and had quoted a price that was fair and within her budget. And so it was that Easterly had been reborn and was nearly ready for delivery. She left the train at Colchester and settled on a bench to await her connection. It was sunny and the air was cool and crisp on her face. A feeling of confidence and pleasure stirred within her as she contemplated her new beginnings. Wivenhoe had been a natural choice as a base. She had frequented the town regularly and felt secure and at-home there. A small cottage had come on the market in Dentons Terrace not far from the shops and river. She had put in an offer which had been accepted. Thus the stage had been set, and she could hardly contain her excitement at the thought of the prospects that lay before her. There was still the problem of finding a suitable berth for Easterly. She was due for delivery in about a week’s time. Not long, but she lived in hope. The firm had given her a month to settle in, before she was due to take up her new position and she was sure that she would need every minute of it. The local service had arrived and she boarded and settled herself in a window seat, anxious not to miss her first glimpse of the sea and the surrounding countryside which was to be her new home. “Hello Miss!” She was startled by the voice which had come from the opposite side of the carriage. At first she could not place the speaker. Then it came to her. It was the small man in the overalls, except he was now wearing a sports jacket and grey trousers. “Been to town shopping” He offered the explanation, and then continued, “The name’s Robert. Robert Prentice, but my friends call me Bob.” She was not sure that she welcomed the intrusion, but smiled in reply. “Bethany Holden, hello! it’s nice to see you again.” “How’s the yacht progressing?” he asked. 13


“She’s nearly completed. Due to launch next week.” “Make a good job of her, did they?” “Yes, I’m very pleased with the work and the price was reasonable too. I’m calling her Easterly.” “Good name that” He beamed at her across the carriage, and she began to feel more at ease in his presence. She paused in thought for a moment and then asked “You wouldn’t know where there’s a berth for her, would you?” “Got just the thing” he replied. “I purchased the lease on that piece of foreshore, last year. The wife and I needed a bit of extra income for our retirement. Could fit you in there.” “Thank you very much” she replied. “You have no idea what a relief that would be to me.” Their conversation lapsed for a while as her attention was drawn by the view from the window. The river lay in all of its splendour to her right hand, wending its way through the Essex countryside, and glinting in the sunlight. The beauty of it took her breath away. “Lovely, isn’t it?” His voice interrupted her thoughts. “Yes it is, very lovely” she replied. “Gets to me every time, and I’ve’ only lived here all me years” he continued. She laughed, realising as she did so, how absent the sound had been from her life. They completed the journey in silence, content with their own thoughts. At the station they took leave of each other as friends. She walk the short distance to the terrace of cottages, turned the key in the lock and was home .

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Chapter 4. Easterly lay to her anchor in the shallow waters off of Mersea Stone. The lad sat relaxed in the cockpit, whilst Beth Holden busied herself below with the preparation of their lunch. It was a brilliant day and he had been watching the various small craft navigating the stretch of water that lay before him. A large motor yacht had anchored some distance inshore of them. It seamed strange to him that nobody was to be seen on deck on such a pleasant day. It just lay there, as if deserted and yet he had seen no one leave the vessel. He watched it for a while longer, then turned his attention his present situation. He was pleased to have such an agreeable sailing companion, and had begun to realise that the next few days could be a pleasure, rather than the arduous task that he had expected. She had taken to Easterly like a duck to water, and he had been pleased to help her in any way that he could. The previous morning, they had left Pyefleet very early, being anxious to catch the last of the flood tide up river. Their arrival had to coincided with a good depth of water to enable the safe delivery of the yacht into her berth on the foreshore. After breakfast, Joe packed his gear ready to go ashore. Margaret was meeting him with the car for the return journey to Maldon. In the meantime he had to call upon the owner and deliver the final documentation for the rebuild. “Now you behave yourself, remember the young lady’s from the City.” “Yes Joe!” Right then! I’ll leave you to look after things here,” and he was gone. The Lad was not quite sure that he welcomed this intrusion into his everyday routine, but it seamed that he had little choice in the mater. He was just beginning to feel restless, when a voice hailed him from the river bank. “Hello there! Easterly! Permission to come aboard?” She was young, probably in her late twenties. Her figure was slim and pert, displayed to perfection by a white short sleeved blouse and fitted jeans. A bob of brown hair framed her features, which were warm and generous, with eyes to die for. All of this and more, became apparent to him, as she descended the bank and drew closer. His heart skipped a beat. She was not at all what he had expected. “A penny for them!” She had returned to the cockpit bearing bowls of steaming soup and a large plate of sandwiches. “There, I think that should keep us going until tea-time,” He grinned in reply, and they both tucked into the fare that lay before them. After a while, she asked, “what do I call you? We can’t be friends you know, unless we have names.” He thought for a moment. It had never occurred to him before. He had always been called the Lad, but he liked the idea. “I know,” she continued, “how about 15


Jamie?” He thought for a moment longer and then said, “yes, why not, Jamie suits me just fine.” She smiled, “hello Jamie!” “hello Beth!” he replied, and they settled to the rest of their lunch, content with their solution to the problem. The horizon over the Thames Estuary had become dark and foreboding. It had happened without their noticing it. A wind was rising from the North East and there was a definite chill in the air. “We had best be moving, I don’t want to be caught here in that.” He gestured towards the ever blackening squall that was descending upon them. Let’s get some water under her keel.” And so saying he set about rigging the storm jib and try-sail. “They look very small?” she ventured. “You wait until this wind builds, that’s all she”ll need. I’ll shorten the anchor cable. When I give the signal, sail her out will you?” ” Yes of course,” she replied, taking charge of the tiller in readiness. He went forward to recover the anchor. When he had shortened the scope of the cable sufficiently, he waved his hand. Beth hardened the sheets and eased the tiller to lee-ward. Easterly responded by surging forward driven by the raising wind, and then turned and headed away from the shore, into the deeper water beyond, lifting the anchor free from the seabed as she did so. He completed his task and secured it in its housing on the foredeck. He had just re-joined her in the cockpit when it hit them full blast. Easterly heeled to the onslaught, steadied, then marched staunchly across the short seas that had been whipped up by the gale-force wind. With the wind came the rain, ice-cold, torrents of it. It took their breath away. It lasted perhaps two or three minutes at the most, before moving on. There had been little time to prepare, and they were both soaked and extremely cold. He started the motor and headed inshore towards the Pyefleet Channel. It was the closest point to offer any shelter and he knew that they needed to regain their body heat as soon as possible. On arrival, they anchored and secured the yacht, and went below to recover. Easterly’s cabin offered them little comfort at first. The main hatchway had been partly open and a considerable amount of water had found its way below decks. He started the heater and set about pumping the bilges. He became aware that Beth was shaking uncontrollably with the cold. She looked almost blue and it was obvious that she was unable to fend for herself. He realised that he must get her warm as soon as possible. She looked at him in desperation. “Jamie, please do this for me. Its fine, really!” Her voice was no more than a whisper. He seated her on the edge of the bunk-bed and proceeded gently to attend to her needs. They sat opposite to each other, wrapped in blankets. The heater had done its work, and the cabin was habitable again. She had the colour back in her cheeks once more. “I must look a mess?” “You look fine to me,” he replied. “I’m sorry! Have I 16


embarrassed you?” she asked. “Well a little,” he replied. “You’re so beautiful.” She flushed and lowered her eyes from his view. “Oh Jamie! I can’t remember the last time that anyone said that to me.” She reached over, took his hand and drew him to her. Her mouth was soft and warm as it sought his. She reclined backwards upon the bed, opened her thighs and accepted him, thrusting forward desperately in her search for completion. Their desire for each other seamed insatiable, but was eventually rewarded, and they lay in each others arms, lost to the world in repose. He had been awake for some time, laying there, watching her sleep, her breasts raising and falling gently to the rhythm of her breathing. He was completely mesmerised by her. He could never have imagined meeting some one like her, and to be as close as this was beyond his wildest dreams. She stirred, “Hello there!” her voice was low and lyrical. Their eyes met, and just for that moment time stood still. They were in another world and neither wished for the spell to be broken. They consummated there relationship again, gently, lovingly, deeply, then slumbered on content in the moment and with each other.

17


Chapter 5. The Cessna was above the squall, having climbed to avoid it. John Francis and Tim Western surveyed the scene from their lofty vantage point. They could see the small yacht clawing its way into deeper water, and then all was obliterated from their view. “Hope they make it OK.” “Yes so do I.” John Francis had experienced similar conditions in the past and he did not make the comment lightly. He thought that he had recognised the yacht, as it bore a strong resemblance to the Cutter that he had seen anchored the previous evening, but he was not sure. They turned their attention to the job in hand. This was their first day working together as a crew and they were getting along just fine. This flight was mainly for calibration of the instruments and camera. The weather had delayed them slightly, but already the horizon was showing signs of clearer conditions to come. He was still unsure of the exact purpose of their mission. His job was to fly the aircraft accurately. Tim had control of the camera and directed the operation. So far, most of their time had been spent out in the estuary far from their intended location. He made a mental note to mention this at the next meeting. “There they are. We’ll have them on camera in a minute.” Tim had re-discovered the yacht. She was heading inshore now, seeking shelter closer to the land. “There you see, look.” He adjusted the zoom and the yacht appeared, on the screen, small but very distinct. It was only an image on a monitor screen, but for John Francis something stirred within him and he knew instinctively the identity of the young woman in the cockpit. It was completely illogical that the feeling should be so strong, and yet it was there. The image of the yacht had faded from their view and the spell was broken. They completed a further hour of their allotted task, flying on various heading and checking the accuracy of the equipment. Eventually Tim nodded, satisfied with results. “Right! That should do. Let’s head back, I could kill for a cup of tea.” He was a great tea-man and seamed to consume gallons of the stuff. “Yes! by all means, let’s do just that. I could do with a stretch myself.” he replied and set course for the return leg of their journey. It was late afternoon. They had just completed their tea break, when Johnson had requested that he should attend a meeting with the Governor. He had directed him to one of the rooms, situated on the ground floor at the front of the building, which was being used as a temporary office. Graham Spencer sat at a large desk by the window, sorting through a pile of papers. He looked up as he entered. “Hello John! do take a seat. Be with you in a minute.” He gestured to a large armchair placed adjacent to the desk. John Francis settled himself, grateful for the comfort that it offered. His 18


attention was drawn to the window He tried to recall this same view when the Cutter had been anchored there previously, but he was still positive that there had been two male figures and no other. “You all right? You’re looking a bit worried.” Graham Spencer had completed his deliberations and was watching him attentively. “Yes I’m fine.” he replied, “just something or nothing”. “Good! Let’s get on then.” He picked up a large folder from the desk. “I must confess to you that we have made extensive enquiries regarding your past. I am pleased to say the that you have a clean bill of health in this respect, and I am now able to explain the real purpose of this operation to you. I’m sure that you must have been wondering.” He swivelled his chair to face the window and looked out upon the view, deep in thought. Then without waiting for an affirmation he continued. “It has come to our attention that certain sensitive materials are being bought into this country by a foreign power. I am at liberty to tell you that should these be used for their intended purpose, the results would be catastrophic.” He paused for a moment, then returned to his position facing the desk and looked long and hard into the eyes of his audience. “Look John, these people are bloody dangerous. I want you to be clear about this, before you commit any further. My team are all from the MET Special Operations branch. We are used to this, it’s part of our job. You will be branded as one of us by association, and should push come to shove you’ll not be given any special dispensation. It’s dog eat dog in this business I’m afraid.” He lent back in the chair and relaxed, having imparted his message. He was keen to elicit a positive response, but years of experience guided his hand in the mater, and he could only hope that his initial impression of the young man seated before him, had been correct. So there it was, the truth at last. A little late, but better late then never, he thought. Upon consideration, his previous occupation had not been without its dangers. One had to be constantly aware of them, as complacency could lead to dire consequences. The question was, should he become further involved in this particular situation. He was sorely tempted to take the opportunity offered to him and withdraw there and then. However, his curiosity had been aroused, and he had to admit that the demanding nature of the task had provided an outlet for his natural ability as an aviator. Something that had been missing, since his retirement from his former career. He was part of a team again, and he found complete satisfaction in this. It had been the pattern of his life over the past ten years, and it was good to be back. Without further consideration, he affirmed his commitment to the project, and the two of them shook hand. “Good to have you on board.” Graham Spencer looked pleased and relieved. “Let’s have a drink on it. Whisky?” Two glasses and a bottle had appeared 19


upon the desk. “I like a small nip occasionally. Double malt! Hope you like it!” They sat together for a while longer, discussing various aspects of the operation. Some considerable time had been spent on the ground in a fruitless search, using conventional methods, but so far they had drawn a blank. There was no doubt that the the materials were arriving by sea. Several vessel had been boarded and searched, but had proven to be clean. Time was of the essence, and it had been decided to set up a base on the island and carry out an aerial survey in a last attempt to penetrate the cloak of secrecy surrounding the problem. The intent was to concentrate upon the many small creaks and inlets to be found in the area. These were less obvious, and yet would provided ample opportunity for clandestine intruders to come and go unobserved. This task was to commence at dawn the following day, and promised to be thorough, both in it’s extent and detail. David Cox had entered the room whilst they had been chatting. “Something here that I thought you should see right away Gov.” He placed a large photo image on the desk before them. “This one is from from today’s’ survey. We have an interesting situation here, just at the entrance to the Pyfleet Channel.” He pointed to the area of interest, and upon further inspection it became apparent that there was an unusual pattern visible on the sea bed. There appeared to be two parallel tracks, extending from the seaward end of the channel, and terminating in the shallows at the source. They were very feint, disappearing occasionally, is if buried, only to appear again a short distance further on. “Also notice the large motor yacht anchored just off-shore,” he continued. “This may just be a coincidence, but I have a suspicion that the two features are somehow connected.” “Yes so have I.” Graham Spencer prodded the image with his finger. There was a steely glint in his eyes. “Gentlemen I think that we have them at last,” he said. There had been much speculation as they sat talking after their evening meal. Graham Spencer had remained in the office, and the phone had been busy for several hours. He had eventually sent a message inviting them to join him. The atmosphere in the room was tense. The briefing was short and to the point. A police presence had been established in the area to monitor, movements overnight. Until a transfer of materials was suspected, things would be kept low key. The coastguard had been alerted and would deploy a vessel if required. A Police Special Forces Group had been assembled to head the main arresting body. They were due to arrive early the next morning. In the event, the Cessna would be deployed to monitor the situation from the air, and supply direction to the ground operation, by radio. The meeting completed, they retired early in preparation for the events of the coming new day, though whether 20


sleep would come easily was questionable. Probably not!

21


Chapter 6. Patricia Hodge dropped the mooring buoy, hardened the sheets, and lay the dinghy on course, leaving the anchorage at St. Lawrence Bay quickly astern of her. Ahead she could see the outline of the Power Station, set gaunt against a darkening sky. She had taken the precaution of setting her storm sails, in preparation for the approaching squall. She adjusted her bearing until the foot of the fore-stay aligned with the tip of the Bradwell breakwater, and held steady, secure in the knowledge that she would achieve a safe passage to her intended destination. ‘Kitten’ was a GP-14 hard-chine dinghy; not the fastest, but solid and reliable, and a very good sea boat. There were not many places in this stretch of water that she had not visited in her, and over the years she had become a very accomplished sailor. She had helped her brother David build the dinghy while they were still at school, and they had had many an adventure in her together. Then David had joined the Navy as a cadet, and she was left as officer in-charge so to speak. A last hug, for a while at least. “Look after Mum! guess you are the captain now!” and he had departed, excited with the prospects of his new career. They had both missed him terribly. Her Father had deserted them when she was but a child, and the three of them, Mum, David and herself, had weathered the storms of life together ever since. Upon leaving school, a short term of employment as an office junior, had convinced her that there were better things to be doing in this life. She had donned the garb of the working man and found casual labour amongst the yards and vessels that constituted the commercial life of the Maldon water front. Her natural ability to attend successfully to the various tasks presented to her, and her cheerful disposition, had found favour with the working folk, and her services were always in demand. A dab of paint here, or a trip to the top of the mast, to fix an errant portion of the rigging. It was all within her daily routine. The wind had increased in force and backed to the North-East. She raised the centre board until just the tip was gripping the water, and went about onto a starboard tack, surfing across the face of the squall as a surfer rides a wave. She had the whole width of the river at this point and had drawn away from the dangers of the shallow water to the lee of her. The rain came down in buckets, ice cold, reducing visibility and taking her breath away. Kitten skipped across the waves at a great pace, and the opposite shore line was soon upon her, prompting a further change of course. The wind was now free and from her port hand. She settled the dinghy on a broad reach, which 22


would eventually bring her within the shelter of the Bradwell foreshore. Though well prepared, she had still been chilled by the passing downpour, and aimed to rest there for a while, and replenish her bodily resources. And all of this, just for that silly Lad, she thought. Life had been uncomplicated till then. She had been confident and able to look after herself. Mum had said that she was too independent, and yet family life and her daily routine had provided ample opportunity to socialise, and she had felt happy and content in this. The Lad had changed all of that, and she was not sure that she welcomed the intrusion into her inner sanctum. He had come to their home as a lodger, and they had taken to him straight away. David had just departed for the Navy, and it was good to have the company, as the house had been feeling very empty. At first they were just mates, but so alike. They spoke the same language, thought the same thoughts. It was uncanny. They shared the same love of the river, and found a deep satisfaction in each others company. Then slowly, without her really realising, something deep within her had stirred. A yearning, over and above all of this, and it challenged her each day to seek completion. Her body had changed, she knew that, and Mum had guided her in the management of this. That had been the easy bit. It was her feelings for the Lad that she found so challenging. He had remained oblivious to her re-birth as a woman, choosing to live in a world of his own, amerced in his boats and the river. And now she was on this fools errand, perusing him to goodness knows where, in a desperate attempt not to feel rejected. If she were honest, the whole affair was driving her nuts. The sun had emerged from behind the retreating clouds, and her mood changed, soothed by the warmth of its rays. The wind deceased to a fair breeze, escorting her little vessel on its final passage into the lee of the breakwater at the entrance to Bradwell Creak. She anchored the dinghy close to the shore, where the best shelter was to be found, and recovered her Thermos-flask and sandwiches from the security of the locker, set under the foredeck. The warm soup replenished her, body and soul, followed by Mum’s beef and chutney sandwiches, and she settle upon the bottom boards of the dinghy, for the moment, content, and at peace with the world. How long she had lain there, she was not sure, but she came to with a start, realising that time was of the essence if she was to reach her final destination before nightfall. She had planned to lay-up for the night in the Pyfleet Channel. It was sheltered and secure and she had often enjoyed the peace and tranquillity that it offered in the past. She completed her preparations and and made her departure. The wind and weather were set fair, but she had a hard six mile sail ahead of her, before reaching the entrance to the Colne estuary, and her intended landfall. The incoming tide would set against her 23


soon, and it was essential that she should gain the shallow waters of the Mersea Flats, before it was able to hampered her progress. The Flats bordered the southern shore of Mersea Island, and extended to Mersea Stone, situated at it’s Eastern tip. Kitten had the bit between her teeth, and was really steaming along, and she achieved her objective, in record time. The motion over the shallows was smother and she was now out of the main tidal stream, and able to make progress unimpeded. She knew the area like the back of her hand. No place to take a larger craft, but a dinghy on a rising tide presented little problem. It was 4.30 pm as she rounded the point at Mersea Stone. It had been an exhilarating sail. The wind had served her well, and although tired, she felt mentally refreshed, and optimistic. More like her old self. She urged the dinghy forwards on a failing wind and eventually entered the channel. Her heart missed a beat. Easterly lay anchored close to the shore a short distance ahead of her. She could not believe her luck. There he was at last with nowhere to run. Her heart was pounding, with excitement, at the prospect of an imminent gratification of the desire within her. She bought the dinghy alongside, and silently climbed aboard. She slid open the hatch and peered within. It was a while before her eyes became accustomed to the dark, then she uttered a sob, as her whole world collapsed around her.

24


Chapter 7. Police Constable Bob Marly shifted his position to ease the the cramp that was developing in his left leg. The grass bank to the rear of the sea wall at Mersea Stone was not the most comfortable of locations. Normally his shift would have ended by now and after a swift pint at the Bell, the pleasures of home , supper and the loving attentions of his wife Megan, would have completed his day. On this occasion, however, this was not to be and he tied to put these thoughts from his mind and concentrate on the task at hand. It had been a strange evening. He had been put on extended duty around 6pm in order to observe any activity on the waters off of Stone Point. At first, all had been quite, apart from a small dinghy making its way into the estuary . It passed close by and the sound of sobbing drifted across the waters; which was strange, as sailing was usually looked upon as a pleasurable activity. The small vessel disappeared from his view leaving him perplexed. His attention returned to the scene before him, and there it was; a motor cruiser, a giant compare with most craft on the river. It had appeared as if by magic, while his attentions had strayed. No sound was to be heard, and it lay there, still in the waters, like a bird of prey, awaiting to pounce. He reported the situation by radio and then awaited further instructions. Several hours had passed and it was now nearly dark and a mist had settled upon the surrounding area. He was about to request further instructions, when the cruiser began to move. Slowly at first, then gradually gaining momentum. There was no sound emitted by the engines and he assumed that there must be some form of electrical drive propelling the vessel. It backed away from the shore line, then turned and headed into the main Pyfleet channel. The mist was obscuring his view and he crept stealthily in pursuit, keeping below the top level of the sea wall, in an endeavour to remain un-observed. He arrived at his new vantage point, out of breath and out of sorts. This was not the usual pursuit of the average village Bobby. The cruiser had stopped with her stern towards the entrance to the channel and again just lay there, still in the water. It was becoming difficult in the half-light to see exactly what was occurring. Then it happened, taking him completely by surprise. 25


A star shell burst in the sky, just above the cruiser, exposing her in every detail. On the extreme of its mantel he could just make out the out-line of a very fast vessel approaching, a vast wave creaming from her bows. Probably the custom's cutter, he thought, as he observed the situation un-folding before him. The cruiser's main engines burst into life, and as she accelerated to escape from the danger that threatened her, a dark, torpedo shaped object became detached from her stern. It bust into life and proceeded to travel obliquely across the entrance to the channel. It had submerged, but he could see the wave that marked its progress. It appeared to just miss a small sailing vessel at anchor and then became lost from his view. The star shell extinguished as suddenly as it had appeared, leaving him in darkness. Shortly afterwards he received instruction to return to base, his part in the operation having been completed successfully.

26


Chapter 8. All was peace within the cabin as the loving couple dreamed on. Then it happened. The was a crunching sound as something very heavy crashed into the side of the hull below the water-line.

27


Easterly