Search for a Ghost Ship

This story is dedicated to the beachcomber three good friends met on Osea Island one hot and lazy summer day. His curious tale of a lost and haunted sailing ship led them on an adventure that they have never forgotten.

Tony Crowley

The Crowsnest. 30 Mandeville Road, Hertford, Herts. SG13 8JG


1. The telephone call
Ben wasn’t clumsy; he was just enthusiastic. And that’s why on a summer evening, just as the crew of Shimmering prepared to cast off from the jetty and set sail for adventure, he fell overboard and slid into the mud. Not the stuff you find in the garden or a football pitch, but the real thing; a sticky mixture of thick slime and black grease. He lay face down on the riverbed and, somewhere above, a girl was laughing. Ben floundered around and tried to lift himself up but slid deeper into the mud. To his relief, he could still breathe but for how long? It is said that people who are drowning see their lives flash before them. All he could remember was a favourite uncle who, overcome by the heat of a crowded restaurant, had fainted into a large plate of spaghetti. Fortunately, uncle was saved by an alert waiter who was checking the tablecloth for tips. Eventually, his journey downwards stopped but then the panic started. How could anyone rescue him without ending up in the mud as well? Was he still visible? But help was at hand and he felt a rope tightening around his ankles. There was a sharp tug and he started to slide in the opposite direction. At last, looking like the nasty end of a suction pump, he returned from the underworld to the sound of applause.


The day had started like so many others. It was the holidays and Ben was bored. He wandered from room to room in search of things to do and decided to get something to eat. He sneaked into the kitchen, but his hand paused on the handle of the fridge for he knew what what would come next. ‘Keep out of there! Stop pinching food!’ It really puzzled him. No matter how quietly he entered the kitchen, and regardless of where they were, they always seemed to know. Did they have a sixth sense? Was it a gift of some kind? Ben retreated and continued with his search for ideas. Just then the telephone rang. The caller was Jake, a school friend from the other side of the town. ‘Are you doing anything special this week?’ ‘Nothing much,’ replied Ben, suddenly realising that the first week of the holidays was nearly over. Jake explained that he and his younger sister, Emma, were planning a trip on their dad's old sailing boat and wondered if he would like to join them. Ben didn't think twice about accepting the offer even though he wasn't that keen on sailing. He could remember visiting the boat when it was laid-up for winter in a muddy canal on the East Coast. The three of them had helped Jake’s dad to remove sleeping bags, sails, life jackets, and even the wooden mast for scraping and varnishing. The boat could sleep four people, but having seen it in this damp and sorry state, Ben could think of better ways of spending a holiday. He had tried to learn to sail at a club in a local quarry, but spent

most of the time in the water clinging to an upturned dinghy. The sharp-tongued instructor who ran the course had two methods of teaching: shouting loudly and shouting even louder. ‘Pull the sheet tight! Not the sail you idiot, the sheet. That’s the rope from the sail. Pull it tight.’ Ben longed to pull it tight around the instructor's neck. This loathsome bully, and capsizing into filthy cold water, were the first things that came to mind when anyone mentioned sailing. But here was an opportunity to escape from the house and Ben wasn't going to let it slip. All he had to do was pack some clothes in a bag and take enough food to keep him going for a few days. Jake's dad would drive them to where the boat was moored at a boatyard on the River Blackwater and then they would be on their own. Suddenly, the world seemed a much better place. Later that afternoon, Ben's mum switched on the radio for the weather report. It was a special one for mariners. 'Humber, Thames, Dover,’ droned the announcer, ‘Wind westerly, force 3 to 4, visibility good, seas moderate.' She wondered if he might need to take some tablets for seasickness, but his sister just laughed, ‘They're only going to the River Blackwater, not the Bay of Biscay!’ Little did Ben know that the journey he was about to make would lead him, in a rather special way, to the islands of the South Pacific, on a search for lost treasure and a haunted sailing ship.

2. A rising tide
The van rattled along a winding road passing tree-lined cornfields and winding villages on its way to the Essex coast. Thatched farmhouses, old churches and farms flashed by. The journey lasted over an hour but time passed very quickly. At the wheel, Jake’s dad told rather stale jokes, or burst into song with lines like 'For those in peril on the sea'. In the back of the van, Jake and Emma tried to drown him out with the chorus of The Drunken Sailor. Way-hay and up she rises, Way-hay and up she rises, Patent blocks of different sizes, Early in the morning ‘Why patent blocks?’ asked Emma suddenly. ‘Silly words to an old song. They’re ship's pulleys,’ replied her father. ‘I know that but what's patent got to do with it?’ ‘Er ... I’m not too sure. I think it has something to do with their being specially designed.’ ‘For what purpose?’ persisted Emma ‘Oh, for lots of different things. If you’re interested, there’s a large basket of blocks on one of those fishing boats beached near the boatyard.’ At this point, he explained to Ben that he had borrowed one of the blocks to help someone lift out a heavy engine from a boat. ‘Find that basket of blocks and you may find the answer.’


Both Jake and Emma were good sailors. At home, her bedroom wall was covered with pictures of rock bands and school certificates for things like swimming twenty lengths of a freezing pool. The pride of her collection, however, was a simple handwritten certificate mounted in a glass frame. It was several years old and was starting to fade.

TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN This is to certify that Emma served as deck boy aboard the good ship SHIMMERING Reg'd number 309091 Reg'd tonnage 3.5 on an epic voyage from Maldon to Pin Mill. She behaved in a trustworthy and sober manner and carried out her duties to my entire satisfaction. She was particularly skilful at rowing the ship's dinghy. Signed: The Captain

In the days that followed, Ben discovered that not only was Emma skilful at rowing the ship's dinghy, but at many other shipboard tasks too. Climbing a mast, splicing rope, or chipping rust off the anchor, no task was beyond her, except one. But more of this later.


The van climbed a hill through the small town of Danbury and, after a mile or so, the River Blackwater came into view. The evening was clear and they could see as far as the entrance of the estuary where several large cargo ships were anchored. In the centre of this scene lay Osea Island and a handful of small boats with their sails reflecting the last rays of the setting sun. Soon, they entered the town of Maldon and, turning left, crossed the bridge at the head of the river. Within minutes, they drew up outside Arthur James’ boatyard and started to unload their bags and stores. ‘We may have difficulty in getting away tonight as it’s not a spring tide.’ said Jake standing on the sea wall. The other two scrambled up to join him and looked down at the river creeping slowly across the mud flats and lapping the edge of the boatyard's small jetty. The mention of a spring tide puzzled Ben, but he was to learn later that this kind of tide occurred every two weeks with either the full or the new moon, and brought a lot more water into the river. Many of the boats in the yard spent much of their time sitting on the mud and were only afloat for an hour or two at high tide. Some of the heavier ones could hardly float at the top of any kind of tide which explained Jake's concern. Having checked that they had everything for the voyage, they returned to the van to wave their driver off on his journey home. ‘Here are the keys to the boat, so don’t drop them in the mud. And don’t forget to give the bottom a scrub.’


Jake caught the keys but showed little enthusiasm for this particular task. Then the van's engine burst into life and off went their father, pausing at a bend in the lane to give a final wave. The three stood on the sea wall for several minutes listening to the sounds of the river. The water gurgled as it swirled around the sides of boats trapped in the mud whilst. flicked on by the breeze, halyards and lines slapped noisily against a dozen masts. Somewhere out in the gathering darkness, an anchor chain was being hauled aboard a barge, and a small power-driven launch motored away in the direction of the shore. Eventually, they picked up their bags and hurried along the wooden jetty to where the boats were moored: their footsteps echoing around the deserted boatyard. Shimmering was lying in the mud at the far end of the jetty with her sharp end facing the yard. She was leaning over at an awkward angle and, from what Ben could remember, had very little standing room inside. In this condition, she would be very uncomfortable and he hoped that the tide would soon be high enough to lift her upright. Jake scrambled aboard from the jetty and unlocked the entrance to the cabin. Ben attempted to join him. ‘Use the bowsprit as a gangplank,’ suggested Jake, ‘And hang on tight to the forestay.’ Eager to get aboard, Ben stepped out onto a long wooden spar or pole pointing from the bows and grasped at what he thought to be the forestay - a stout piece of wire leading

down from the mast. Instead, his fingers clutched at a loose line and, within seconds, he had lost his footing and plunged headlong into the mud. Emma stood laughing on the jetty whilst Jake rescued the bags with a long boat hook. A wash from a nearby tap and a change of clothes put Ben in a better mood. Jake was most apologetic and presented Ben with a pair of odd socks, red for his left foot and green for his right. ‘I’ll explain about those later,’ he said. Emma was still laughing, ‘Now you know why they call it the Blackwater.’ If Ben had worried about sitting at an angle while waiting for the tide, he needn't have bothered; there was so much to do to get the boat ready for sea. The cover on the large sail had to be removed and a smaller sail attached to the forestay; he certainly knew where that was after his 'trip' ashore. A small outboard engine was fitted to help the yacht get clear of the moorings, and the anchor placed ready for use in case of an emergency. Then Jake handed Ben the red, green and white navigation lights to display. ‘The white one goes at the blunt end,’ explained Jake, ‘The other two are sidelights. Use your socks to work out which side they go on.’ Having so many tasks, they almost forgot to fill the fresh water tanks from a tap in the yard. Then came a moment of panic. Emma discovered that the dinghy was missing and thought it must have come adrift during a recent storm. It had and was lying on a beach close to the yard, but with no signs of damage. She explained that the dinghy was a

nuisance to tow behind the boat, but would come in handy for getting ashore at various places in the river. With all the preparations, no one had noticed that the tide had crept in and had lifted the boat off the mud. They were ready to leave. With a final look around to see that nothing was left behind, they released the mooring lines and motored away from the jetty. It was just after ten o'clock when, with the moon rising over the mudflats, Shimmering pointed her bows downstream and set off on her journey. ‘Do you know,’ said Emma, ‘If we had the time and enough supplies aboard, we could sail straight out of this river and go right around the world.’ Ashore, close to the jetty, someone watched their departure for several minutes. Then he turned away and disappeared into the shadows of the boatyard.


3. The Doctor
One thousand years ago, an army of Danish warriors sailed up the Blackwater and camped on a marshy island near Maldon. The island, Northey, is joined to the mainland by a causeway or path that is covered by the sea at high tide. Shortly after their arrival, a Saxon leader called Brithnoth appeared on the opposite shore with an army ready to repel the invaders. Like football supporters, the two sides jeered and abused each other: Come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough! They remained separated, however, because of the state of the tide. At last, the tide started to ebb and Brithnoth invited the Danes to cross the causeway and join him in battle. Being a good sportsman, he waited until the other army had cleared the watery causeway and had prepared itself for the contest. Unfortunately, poor Brithnoth had underestimated the strength of the opposition and one by one his Saxon warriors were slain. The defeat was total. Shimmering glided past Northey and the ghosts of that long lost battle. At the northern point of the island, Emma edged the tiller gently and the boat sailed out of Colliers Reach. The tide was starting to ebb, and with a freshening breeze on the beam, they were moving along at a good speed. In the distance, Osea island gradually took shape: low brown cliffs, clusters of bushes, and tall trees. Emma explained that, at low tide, most of the channel behind Osea dried out leaving just a small road from the mainland.


‘It’s called a causeway,’ added Jake, ‘Occasionally, cars get stranded on it and are swamped by the flood tide.’ Then pointing at a dark object in the water, he yelled, ‘Watch that buoy ahead!’ Within seconds a large red can came racing past and just missed the bows. ‘Its easy to spot them when there’s a moon. If not, they just appear from nowhere.’ Presumably the Danish invaders were not too concerned about unlit buoys on their night trip up the river. Alert to the risk of a collision, Ben stared anxiously into the darkness ahead. The moonlight danced across the surface of the water creating a pattern in which all sorts of dangers might lurk. There were no further near misses, but a mile or two further on, another large shape loomed ahead of them. ‘That's the Doctor.’ explained Emma, ‘It’s a green buoy close to Osea Island. I’m afraid you'll have to drink a glass of sea water when you pass it.’ ‘Why?’ asked Ben. ‘It’s an old custom.’ came the reply, ‘First-trippers on the river have to drink to the Doctor's health.’ ‘Well you can count me out. I've swallowed enough of the Blackwater for one night.’ To Ben's relief, the matter was dropped and they began to discuss the best place to anchor for the night. The first choice was to lie off the south beach at Osea, but the boat wouldn’t be comfortable if the wind increased. The alternative, and the one they chose, was to anchor out of the wind on the north side of the island.


They continued skirting Osea and picked their way carefully past several boats that were moored by a pier. From the shore came the smell of a charcoal fire, possibly from a barbecue earlier in the evening. There were no other lights or signs of life on the island, just a large deserted house which overlooked the pier. Along this southern shore, the current was quite strong and Ben wondered how they would cope when they turned to face the tide on the other side of the island. Standing in the entrance to the cabin, Jake called, ‘We're going to gybe in a few moments, so keep your head down.’ ‘What's a gybe?’ asked Ben but Emma's reply was not too encouraging, ‘Just stay where you are right now, we don't want to have to fish you out of the river again.’ The next few seconds were quite eventful. Jake yelled something nautical as the back of the boat swung through the wind. Suddenly, the boom, a long wooden spar at the foot of the mainsail, swung over with a violent crack as the other side of the sail filled with wind. This, Ben guessed, was the 'gybe' that Jake had announced. One minute they had been gliding silently and gracefully past the edge of the island; the next they were heeled over at a steep angle and forcing their way across the river in a wind that was screeching through the rigging. At the bows, the jib sail flapped angrily and Emma moved quickly to settle it. Ben just kept out of the way with his head well clear of the boom; the odd socks would be of little help here.


Despite the tide, the little yacht made good speed past the eastern tip of the island. With only a few lights on the northern shore of the river to guide him, Jake steered the boat carefully towards an anchorage. The small yacht turned to face the wind and the anchor splashed down to the riverbed. The sails flapped and shivered until they were lowered and made secure. Jake put up a light to show they were at anchor and Emma went around tying up anything that was loose and rattling in the wind. Having checked that the boat was holding steady against the tide, they blew out the remaining lights and went below. After a drink and a sandwich, the three companions were ready for sleep. Emma took the small cabin in the bows; Jake and Ben took the bunks in the main cabin close to the hatchway. Crawling into their sleeping bags, they exchanged a few thoughts and plans for the morning. ‘We'll go fishing in Goldhanger creek.’ ‘Sunbathing on Osea.’ ‘Sheltering from the rain on Shimmering.’ The boat rocked gently at her anchor and in no time at all they were fast asleep.


4. A mishap
The crew of Shimmering awoke to a beautiful sunny day. A light mist was lifting and the river was as calm as a millpond. Looking out of the hatchway, Ben saw a small blue yacht moored closer to the island; there was no sign of anyone aboard. Emma was dressed and cooking breakfast in the small galley between their two cabins. Ben looked around at his new surroundings and thought he was in paradise! Within a few minutes, however, the cabin was filled with black smoke from burnt toast. With a groan, Jake leapt out of his bunk and snatched the grill pan from the cooker. ‘Well, I can't think of everything,’ protested Emma ‘I'm trying to put out cereal, make the tea, and then this rotten water pump leaks everywhere. It's your turn tomorrow, let's see how you cope.’ Not wishing to appear ungrateful, Ben assured her that he liked his toast well done. ‘You won't say that when you've tasted her porridge,’ said Jake beating a hasty retreat up to the deck closely followed by a well-aimed dishcloth. After breakfast, they decided to go fishing behind Osea Island. Jake suggested that they might explore some old oyster beds on the Stumble. The name made Ben shudder; it reminded him of his fall into the mud. Emma went forward to weigh the anchor and Jake started to raise the mainsail and then something unexpected happened. The top


of Shimmering’s mainsail was attached to a long wooden pole and hauling up this pole or ‘gaff’ raised the sail. As the sail was being raised, the mast gave a shudder and the top of the gaff crashed down to the deck. Fortunately, it didn't do any damage, but a close inspection revealed the cause to be a rusted and snapped bolt at the masthead. This bolt supported the sails that now lay strewn across the deck. Ben looked at them and thought that their sailing trip was over, but Jake was very cool about it. ‘No problem. The mast will have to come down so we can replace the eyebolt.’ They made a thorough search of the lockers around the boat, but there was nothing the shape or size of the original bolt. Emma suggested that one of them went ashore to get a replacement while the other two lowered the mast. Not wanting to be in the way, Ben offered to go back to the boatyard and leave the other two to clear away the rigging. This was agreed and, with the help of its small outboard motor, Shimmering motored gently in the direction of the northern shore. They anchored close to Decoy Point and, clutching the broken bolt, Ben climbed down into the dinghy and rowed away to the beach. ‘Try to get the exact size as we don't have a wood drill aboard,’ yelled Jake. A few minutes later, the dinghy ran aground on the shingle and Ben stepped ashore. As he walked along the coastal path in the direction of the boatyard, he looked back and saw Jake and Emma busy freeing the tangled rigging

ready for lowering the mast. Though it had been a disappointing start to the day, their confidence and enthusiasm at tackling the awkward job ahead cheered him up considerably.


5. A bag of bolts
Mr Arthur James sat on the steps of the office enjoying the morning sun and a large mug of tea. In front of him lay his kingdom - a dozen or so cruising yachts berthed against a jetty, several motor launches, a couple of disused fishing boats, and a small barge hauled up on the slipway for repairs. Behind him were the chandlery and workshops; guarded, or so it seemed, by a tall crane from which hung an enormous steel hook. Above his head, a metal sign swung lazily in the breeze: Arthur James. Boat Builder and Chandler. A chunky bald man with a drooping moustache wandered around the yard looking at boats that were stored ashore. ‘Any of these for sale, Arthur?’ he asked. ‘They're all for sale,’ replied Arthur, and pointing with his pipe towards the river added, ‘You show me a boat out there that isn't for sale. They're all for sale if the time and the price are right.’ Ben puzzled over this remark for a few seconds and then approached Arthur with the two halves of the bolt. ‘This is from our masthead,’ he explained, ‘Have you got one the exact size?’ Arthur clung to his pipe with yellow teeth and, after studying the broken bolt, smiled sympathetically. ‘I bet you moved like greased lightning when that snapped.’ He took the two pieces and disappeared into the chandlery, returning a few minutes later shaking his head. ‘We've got


plenty of bolts in stock, but nothing quite like this. Take a look in the storeroom at the back of the office.’ Ben wandered around the building and saw a concrete store with a steel door. Sliding the bolt, he pulled the heavy door open and peered inside. The light switch didn’t work, but there was enough daylight from the doorway for him to inspect the shelves and lockers inside. He could see sacks of waste, empty paint drums and other things waiting to be taken to the dump, but no bolts. Seeing him return emptyhanded, Arthur suggested that he looked around the boatyard. ‘There are loads of unused bolts on some of the older boats stored here. I'm sure you'll find one that fits.’ For the next fifteen or twenty minutes Ben explored the cabins and lockers of several sailing boats, most of which had seen better days. Some of the boats still had souvenirs of earlier voyages: faded tide tables, worn charts or dogeared pilot books. Most contained brass oil lamps, clocks and barometers that were rusting and forgotten; the same kind of equipment that was on display in the chandlery window and costing a small fortune. It was clear that without care or attention nothing lasted very long aboard a small boat. Curtains became stained with mildew, paint or varnish peeled away, and rain leaked through the deck planking. He particularly enjoyed reading the names of the boats and wondered why the owners had chosen them. Could the owner of Pitcairn possibly be descended from the Bounty mutineers? What kind of a reception would a

visitor to Knot Yours have received? One boat was even named Osmosis - a rotting condition dreaded by the owners of plastic boats. The owner must have had an odd sense of humour, as it would be quite difficult to sell a boat with that name. ‘No luck yet?’ Arthur crossed the yard carrying several tins of paint; Ben shook his head. ‘Then try the fishing boats by the beach. I think there's a bag of bolts somewhere on one of them.’ Two fishing boats, Ariel and Paradox, lay high and dry on the muddy beach just beyond the slipway and close to the coastal path. Beyond them lay the burnt out shell of a third boat. Their decks were still cluttered with all kinds of gear: ropes, nets, boards, and buoys. Proud old workboats huddled together on the shore; still ready for work but abandoned because they could no longer earn a living. The first boat Ben searched had several rusty bolts but nothing worth carrying back to Shimmering. The second boat, with its long green hull and large wheelhouse, looked more promising. Inside the wheelhouse, a flight of stairs led to a gloomy hold in which strong smells of tar and fish still lingered. The hold was crammed with all kinds of gear: large canvas covers or tarpaulins, coils of rope, and racks of shackles. Encouraged, Ben lit a lamp from the cabin and, taking a deep breath of fresh air, commenced his search. After ten minutes he had enough; the hold was hot and stuffy and he had nothing to show for his efforts. Then something odd happened. Whilst he was rummaging

around the hold, he heard someone climb aboard; it was the man with the walrus moustache who had been wandering around the yard. The man descended the steps leading to the hold. Ben watched him carefully as he walked around inspecting the inside of the hold. Then, taking a screwdriver from his pocket, he started to unscrew a metal plate containing some numbers from a wooden beam. All this time, Ben kept out of sight behind a large wooden pillar; it was the lower part of the mast. The man, who was having difficulty removing the screws, cursed loudly and began to wrench the plate off using the screwdriver. Then, moving to get a better view, Ben tripped over something lying at his feet. Disturbed by the noise, the man came over to investigate and saw him in the shadows. ‘What the hell are you doing down here?’ he demanded angrily. Ben felt like asking him the same question, but before he could reply, the walrus pocketed his screwdriver and hurried out of the hold. When he had gone, Ben saw that he had tripped over a canvas bag containing several steel bolts. Out in the daylight, he soon found one the right size and dropped the bag back into the hold. Arthur refused any payment and Ben returned with his prize along the path in the direction of Decoy Point. He passed the walrus sitting on the sea wall but gave him a wide berth. Shimmering lay quietly at anchor facing down the estuary; her mast was lowered and his two companions were sunbathing on the deck. He rowed out to join them.

6. Smoke rising
Although Shimmering’s mast was quite short, when lowered to the deck, it hung over the stern by a metre. Tan coloured sails, ropes and lines filled every inch of space and restricted movement around the decks. Balancing in the dinghy, Jake edged himself around the stern and carefully inserted the eyebolt into the head of the mast. Emma watched with some apprehension; one false move and the bolt with which Ben had proudly returned would have been swallowed by the mud several feet below. If they had tied a line to the bolt, they could have dropped it several times without worrying. There were no further mishaps and, after tidying up the rigging, they were ready to raise the mast. Jake and Ben pushed it upright and Emma connected the forestay to the bows. A few more adjustments and they were ready to sail again. As they rested for a few minutes in the cockpit, Ben gazed up at the mast and realised that he had learnt a lot about boats and their rigging in a short time. To a casual onlooker, the lines and halyards that surround masts were usually a bit of a mystery, but he now realised that everything served a purpose. He was also impressed by the strength and quality of the materials used in the various fittings - even on a small sailing boat. On a later voyage, when they caught in a gale whilst crossing the Thames Estuary, he was to appreciate the boat's ability to withstand the awesome power of strong winds and heavy seas as they


fought to keep her from the clutches of the Maplin Sands. But as they sat peacefully in the sun that morning, there were no thoughts of storms or gales. There was nothing but a gentle lapping of the water along the white-painted hull and the occasional splashing of fish breaking the surface. He started to tell the other two about his trip ashore: the helpful Arthur, the forlorn and abandoned boats, and, of course, the strange man in the hold. Jake thought that he might have been a souvenir hunter. Ben pointed out that he had enquired about boats for sale and spoke to Arthur by name. ‘He definitely sounds like a souvenir hunter to me,’ agreed Emma, ‘After all, Arthur's name is on the yard's board and your mystery man probably used it to sound friendly as he hunted around for something to pinch.’ Ben remembered that the man hadn't looked particularly suspicious as he wandered around the yard, and decided that Emma's hunch was probably correct. But why had be been so unpleasant and abandoned his task so suddenly? ‘While you were gone,’ said Jake, ‘We found a small mystery of our own.’ ‘Yes,’ agreed Emma, handing Ben the binoculars, ‘Take a look at the far end of Osea Island - close to that small blue yacht.’ Ben looked in the direction she was pointing. He could see only the sea wall above the beach and some dead elm trees. ‘What am I to look for?’


‘Look to the right of the blue yacht - just above that old jetty.’ ‘There's some smoke rising, but what's so strange about that?’ ‘Well it's unusual,’ replied Jake, ‘Osea island is up for sale and is completely deserted. Even when people land on it from boats, they avoid that part of the shore because its very wild and muddy.' ‘At first,’ added Emma, ‘We thought there might be a fire in the field behind the dyke, but it would be raging by now. The smoke's been rising from that same spot for over an hour.’ Ben suggested that they sailed over to have a closer look. The tide was ebbing quickly, and they would soon be high and dry on the mud or stranded on the causeway leading to the island. So, for the second time that day, they set off across the Stumble and were soon approaching the small yacht lying at anchor. Smoke was still rising from behind the dyke, but there was no sign of anyone around. They sailed towards a disused jetty, but as the tide was falling, they thought they might not get close enough to land and turned back. They continued sailing around the eastern tip of the island and turned into the main river where they faced the oncoming ebb stream. Ben remembered the dramatic ‘gybe’ from the night before, but this time the boat turned quite gracefully and edged her way slowly upriver towards a shingle beach.


7. Flotsam or Jetsam?
'Let go!' The anchor splashed into the water and the chain snaked after it. Having lowered the sails, Jake went below to fix some lunch whilst the other two stayed on deck to check that the tide didn't drag the boat away from its anchorage. Emma showed Ben that by lining up several objects on the shore, they were able to check that the yacht held her ground at anchor. This part of the beach had firm sand and shingle on which the boat’s two keels could rest, and when the tide dropped, they could start to scrub the sides of the hull. This was a new experience for Ben and he quite looked forward to it. Unfortunately, he hadn't bargained for the amount of work involved. Within twenty minutes or so, the boat stopped rocking and started to settle on the beach. She thumped around several times and pots and pans rattled inside the cabin. Then, she gradually settled as her weight took over and felt rather heavy and solid. Water slopped around noisily between the two keels and this was the signal that Jake had been waiting for. With a groan, he grabbed a couple of deck scrubbers, passed one to Ben, and slipped over the side. Standing in about a metre of water, he started to scrub one side of the boat vigorously. Below the waterline, barnacles and weeds had formed on the hull and needed removing. They had to work quickly as the tide was falling rapidly. The worst part was directly underneath the hull. There was


very little room to work and they were soon covered in loose barnacles and mud. ‘I hate this job!’ exclaimed Jake. Ben couldn't have agreed more. The task left them both wet and hungry. Any thoughts of exploring the island were forgotten while they had a meal and a long rest in the sun. Black and white birds with orange bills and long pink legs swooped across the beach with penetrating piping calls. These probed around the sand and mud looking for worms and crabs, or chased the receding waves to snatch up any creatures left behind on the shore. ‘They're oystercatchers,’ explained Emma. ‘I wondered when the biology lecture would start,’ groaned Jake who seemed more interested in flicking pebbles in their direction. ‘What do you think of her now?’ he asked, nodding towards the stranded boat. Ben looked at Shimmering standing upright on her two keels and said he thought she reminded him of a duck about to lay an egg. Emma looked at them scornfully. ‘I would have said a gannet, but perhaps that's because I've just been watching you guys eat.’ Later that afternoon, they set off down the beach and climbed up the sea wall that circled the island. Ben spotted something round and white hidden in a cluster of salt marsh plants. It turned out to be a football that had probably been washed ashore from a passing yacht. ‘Lets have a kick around later,’ suggested Jake so they hid it in the bushes ready for their return.


They wandered along inspecting the high water mark for further treasure, but found nothing more exciting than a length of mooring line and a broken oar. ‘What's the difference between flotsam and jetsam?’ asked Emma. The two boys looked at each other and shrugged their shoulders. ‘Go on,’ said Jake ‘You’re dying to tell us.’ ‘Well, flotsam is wreckage but jetsam is something that's been deliberately thrown overboard.’ They trudged along and couldn't decide whether the football was flotsam or jetsam, or neither. Then, skirting the edge of an embankment, they scrambled up through brambles on to a footpath to get a better view of the island. To the left of the path, a large field extended to the middle of the island and was bordered by trees and a few buildings. To the right, the sea had withdrawn leaving dozens of small islands threaded by creeks. Ahead, however, there was no sign of the smoke they had seen earlier. ‘Never mind,’ said Emma, ‘Lets go and have a look at that old jetty we saw earlier. Perhaps we can reach it from the beach?’ They continued along the edge of the embankment until the path turned along the northern shore of the island. In the mud to the right lay the remains of several old boats and, just beyond them, the old jetty. The two boys ran down from the path across the mudflats to explore it. They had just reached it when they heard a cry from the embankment


behind them. Emma was waving at them and pointing down behind the embankment. ‘Come and have a look at this!’ Retracing their steps, they scrambled up to join her. There in the long grass, completely hidden from the beach, was a small hut. It was an old wooden hide from which visitors to the island could study sea birds on the shore. A canvas tarpaulin had been stretched across the roof and was held in place by several large stones. It completely covered the entrance to the hide. Lifting the tarpaulin, they peered inside.

The hide on Osea today


8. The beachcomber
Today, a visitor to the island will still find the wooden hide tucked into the embankment on the northern shore overlooking the Stumble. The wooden structure is decaying and the roof has long since collapsed. Gorse bushes conceal it from the footpath and wild roses cling to the rotten timbers. There are certainly no clues left to show that anyone would have used it as a shelter or refuge. When the three companions lifted up the tarpaulin, however, there were plenty: a bedroll, several books, a small supply of food, and some clothing. Behind the hide, the remains of a small fire were still smouldering, and two pairs of woollen socks were draped over a nearby bush and drying in the sun. Of the occupant there was no trace. ‘Who could be living here?’ ‘A very tidy hermit?’ ‘Or an escaped convict who likes reading.’ They stood around the shelter wondering who the owner of these belongings might be. Ben stepped inside and peered out through the gap overlooking the top of the embankment. Even through the long grass outside, the view of the mudflats and the river was excellent. Someone could have seen them sail up to the disused jetty, listened to their conversation, and watched their retreat. It was the perfect hiding place. Then he spotted a man walking along the beach in their direction. He told the others and they quickly replaced the tarpaulin.


‘If we keep walking along the footpath behind the embankment, he won't see us,’ suggested Emma, and they set off along the path. A short distance from the hide, they were suddenly confronted by their hermit, or escaped convict, who had taken a short cut over the embankment. He had grey hair and a short beard, and he walked with a limp. His face was well tanned and he had remarkably blue eyes. On his head was a small cloth cap and he was dressed in a blue fisherman's smock and sea boots. In his hand he carried an enormous colourful and furled umbrella; similar to those used by golfers. They couldn’t imagine why anyone would need to carry an umbrella on such a nice day, but guessed it was something to do with his limp as he held it like a walking stick. Their first reaction was to greet him pleasantly and continue down the path. To their surprise, however, he stood barring their escape and raised his hand in a salute. ‘Welcome to my summer residence!’ he announced. Startled by this greeting, no one knew what to say, but Jake was the first to recover. ‘Is that your camp back there in the bushes?’ he asked. ‘It certainly is,’ the man replied, ‘Would you like to see it?’ They didn't want to admit to having recently invaded his home so they just nodded. ‘Come along then, it's my secret hideaway. I discovered it years ago. In fact, I was quite surprised to see you on the path as no one ever comes to this part of the island.’


Though no longer young, he was very agile and clambered up the grassy slope with ease. ‘That's my boat out there in the channel.’ He pointed with the umbrella to the small blue yacht that they had seen several times during the day. ‘You don't live here, then?’ asked Emma. 'Goodness me, no. I come to the island each year for a week or two, just to look around and do some fishing. You can get very cooped up in a small boat, so I spread myself around a little and do some beachcombing. I like to think of this place as my summer retreat. How about a nice mug of tea?’ The three sat down outside the hide and watched him kindle a small fire inside a square of bricks. From inside the hide, he produced some tin mugs and a tea caddy. ‘How do you manage for stores?' asked Ben. ‘Well, sometimes I catch a few fish, though they're hard to find in this part of the river: the catches are better off Bradwell. I usually sail down to the shop at Stone, or else I walk across the causeway at low tide and stroll up to Heybridge. In fact, I’ve just come back across the causeway and was overtaken by a car. Not many drivers risk using the causeway; it must be someone thinking of buying the island. I hope they leave before the tide rises! Anyway, what brings you to this part of the world?’ Jake explained that they were sailing around the river for a few days, and that they had spotted smoke rising from the fire and came to investigate.


‘Then you’re the crew of the small cutter that came up the creek this morning. Were you trying to moor at the old jetty out there? I was about to warn you of some sharp iron spikes that are hidden in the mud, but, fortunately, you turned away just in time.’ The three exchanged uncomfortable glances as they thought of Shimmering impaled on those rusty spikes. ‘You have to know these creeks quite well, especially at high water. It's much easier at low water because you can see the banks and shallows, and any obstructions on the river bed.’ He then described a trip he had made up a narrow creek near Tollesbury, where 18th century smugglers used to hide barrels of brandy. It had been so easy to work around the bends and shallows on the rising tide, but returning down the creek at high tide, he had slammed into something that holed the boat, and it wasn’t a barrel of brandy! Whatever the cause, it left him stranded a long way from any help. They chatted on about similar matters and, gradually, the conversation came round to the different sailing boats that could be seen on the river. With Ben's limited knowledge of sailing, much of this talk concerning yawls, ketches, spritsail barges, and so on, was beyond him. He agreed, however, that the traditional boats were a lot more interesting to look at than many modern yachts. ‘The boats nowadays are so dull. Some look like two bathtubs glued together; others are more like space capsules with masts.' complained their host and pointed with his pipe in the direction of the blue yacht anchored off the beach.

‘Mine’s no better. Its easy to manage, and sails closer to the wind, but there is something missing.’ ‘Then you'd like our boat Shimmering,’ suggested Emma. ‘Oh yes, she is pretty. I had a boat just like her once but much larger. Some said she was ugly but I thought she was beautiful. In fact, I went halfway around the world in her. What an adventure we had…’ he paused, ‘Until the day I lost her and I never found another one quite like her.’ ‘You lost her?’ queried Emma. ‘Do you mean she was stolen or wrecked?’ ‘No, she wasn't lost at sea in a storm or anything like that, but I did lose her. It's a long story, and a long time ago; I wouldn't want to bore you with it.’ ‘You must tell us,’ said Jake, ‘We've plenty of time, at least until the tide rises, and I can't imagine how anyone could lose a boat especially a large one.’ The man knocked his pipe against one of the firebricks and started to refill the bowl. He leaned back against the wall of the hide and looked out across the estuary. For a few moments he appeared to be deep in thought, then lighting his pipe, he turned to where they were sitting. ‘Well, as I said, it was many years ago, but I can remember it all as if it were yesterday.’


9. The dream
When I was much younger, I was falsely accused of a crime that I hadn’t committed. I ended up in court and the judge - they were really harsh in those days – dismissed my pleas of innocence and sent me to prison. Being stuck in a cell for hours on end gave me plenty of time to think about the future. I was angry at losing my freedom, but I knew I was innocent and I was determined to use the time profitably. Each day, I would visit the prison library to read about sailing ships and the sea. In the evenings, my cellmates and I would talk about our lives back home and make plans for when we were released. My dream, however, was not about a new job or a girl friend, but of a ship; one that was tall and sturdy enough to take me half way around the world to the islands of the South Pacific. To explore these islands was something I had dreamed about ever since I was a boy. Once, it had distracted me from my schoolwork; in prison it distracted me from hours of boredom. I spent every spare minute I could drawing up plans for a voyage. Eventually, the real culprit was caught; he confessed to the crime and I was released. With the help of a small amount of compensation for wrongful imprisonment, I made my way to the coast and started my search for a boat. I found her on the East Coast, a pilot cutter about forty feet long and built in Norway around 1930. During the war, she had been used as a fishing boat in the North Sea and


had dragged up a mine in her nets. While the crew struggled to release it, an enemy patrol boat appeared out of the mist and fired on them. The skipper and crew took cover on deck, but, after the attack, they went below to find that the skipper’s wife had been shot by a bullet that had ricocheted through one of the skylights. They placed her in a bunk and set sail urgently for the English coast. That night, however, she mysteriously disappeared from the cabin and was never seen again. In fact, that is not exactly true because, on later voyages, some members of the crew claimed to have seen her crossing the deck at night or standing in the shadows of the wheelhouse. Anyway, the catches got smaller and smaller and eventually the boat was abandoned. Having been neglected for some time and needing quite a lot of work, she was put up for sale at a bargain price and I bought her. My sister Kate, and an old friend Simon, volunteered to join me as crew and we spent several months raising money for our trip, and making repairs. Finding the money was our main problem, so while the other two found temporary jobs, I took her back to sea as a fishing boat to catch anything that would fetch a good price in the local markets. My first day at sea as a fisherman was a complete disaster! Not only did I fail to catch any fish, but also whilst returning to port, the mast started groaning and then collapsed with a crash the full length of the ship. Nearly a month was to pass before I got back to sea again, but this time I made sure that the new mast was built of the best timber and extended well below the main deck. For two

weeks I caught nothing but mud, shells or weeds, but gradually my luck changed and we started to haul in tons of fish. With the ship paying for herself, and some money saved, the three of us began making plans for our voyage. First, we had to convert the ship from a scruffy fishing smack to an elegant cruising yacht. While we were fitting her out, all kinds of things kept disappearing. It was a mystery and very frustrating, so Kate suggested we called the boat Ghost Ship. We were keen to learn about the noble art and science of navigation, but that had to wait until the wooden bottom had been sheathed in copper as a protection against attack from tropical water worms. Several tons of rusty pig iron had to be transferred to the bilges for ballast to stop the ship from capsizing in heavy weather. Old varnish needed scraping away and repainting. Huge fresh water tanks were fitted and filled; provisions were bought and stored. I never fail to be amazed at the number of useless things that people can be persuaded to buy for their boats. Sometimes, we were just as foolish. The tasks seemed endless, but learning to navigate was a real challenge. How our heads spun with mathematical formulas and calculations. Fortunately, we found a retired and very patient ship's captain who helped us to unlock the secrets of how not to get lost at sea. The kitchen table of his small cottage became the setting for many nautical emergencies or potential disasters. Spoons became storm tossed yachts; salt and pepper pots became jagged rocks. 'How would you cope with that then?' he would cry, and we

would stare at the table in confusion. Gales, shipwrecks and collisions occurred daily in that kitchen, and we soon learned that successful navigation relied not only on maths and tables but on good seamanship too. As we became more confident at handling these problems, our pleasure at studying charts of the voyage increased. The evenings passed in long and enjoyable discussions on the routes we might take and the ports we might visit. Our pencil-lined track touched Madeira and the Canary Islands, crossed the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean, passed through the Panama Canal, and came to rest amidst the islands of the Pacific. It was going to be a long journey, but we had the right ship and the right crew. At least, we thought we had. At long last, the day arrived when we were ready to start our voyage. With heads held high, we rowed out to our ghost ship and hoisted sail. Several friends and a number of local fishermen had come to watch our departure from the town quay; they were in for an entertaining half hour. With an ebb tide running, we dropped down the river and, to the amusement of several bait diggers, ran aground on a mud bank. Once free of its clutches, we got under way on the wrong tack and sailed, with great accuracy, into an anchored fishing smack and damaged our bowsprit. I offered apologies mixed with excuses to the skipper while he helped us free the tangle of lines. ‘The current is quite tricky along here and the wind is so changeable,’ I explained meekly. ‘I've been wondering if your lack of success is related in any way to a lack of skill?’ he commented dryly.

For the next twenty minutes, while I struggled to start the engine, our good ship continued to bump into other boats at their moorings to the ever-increasing jeers and cheers of the assembled audience. Our chances of reaching the main river, let alone the South Seas, seemed very slim. But we eventually entered Colliers Reach and headed down river. Our friend, the ship's captain, was in a rowing boat just off the same beach that we are sitting on here. ‘Turn right when you get to Bradwell,’ he shouted, ‘And you might reach the English Channel. After that, you've only got twelve thousand miles to go!’ ‘Come along with us!’ we shouted. ‘No fear,’ was his reply, ‘I'd rather be here wishing I was out there than out there wishing I was here.’ And off he rowed laughing.


10. Madeira
The journey down the Channel was uneventful but the Bay of Biscay lived up to its awesome reputation. We were swept across its wild seas during the middle of a gale. The ship lurched on her beam-ends and we were all extremely seasick. Things came adrift from every part of the boat and littered the decks. A large drum of porridge oats toppled over and burst open in the main cabin where it mixed with water seeping from one of the tanks. It took hours to clear up the sticky mess and taught us all a harsh lesson in making things secure before a change in the weather. We also had another mishap when the rest of the bowsprit snapped off during a sudden squall. But one evening, lights from the coast of Madeira loomed over the horizon and we headed for Funchal, our first foreign port of call. As we were anchoring in the harbour, dozens of fireworks and star shells burst over our heads, but this was no special welcome for our benefit; we had arrived at the start of the annual fiesta. For the next few days, we enjoyed the fun and festivities going on around us and took many trips ashore. We dived into the harbour from the newly repaired bowsprit and watched people dancing in the streets. If visitors turned up, Simon played the mouth organ accompanied by my sister on the banjo. It was the only entertainment we could offer and if our visitors were less than impressed, they certainly


didn't show it. With the repairs completed, we said farewell to that pleasant port and set off for the Canary Islands. At sea, our watches were arranged so that we each spent four hours on lookout and steering, then eight hours resting. We each hated being roused from sleep to take a turn at the tiller and reacted in different ways to our human alarm clock. Indeed, at one stage, we used a real alarm clock, but this woke everyone up and ended up being hurled over the side. You certainly learn a lot about yourself and others on a small ship with a crew of three. Fortunately, thanks to fair winds, there was rarely any need for more then one of us on deck during the watch. We also took turns at cooking and Simon was the worst cook, but he never gave up trying. Several times, he set fire to the galley and sent us all in a panic for buckets of water! If the ghost ship is still in one piece, I am sure that she carries the scars of her battles with Simon to this very day. Having left Madeira, we were feeling pretty pleased with our navigation skills. But pride goes before a fall! A careless error in our calculations brought us as close to disaster as we ever came during the voyage. At one o'clock on a pitch black night, while we were cruising along at seven knots, a rock suddenly appeared in the sea just a hundred or so yards to starboard. We gazed at it in horror and then hurried below to consult our chart. It was the most western point of a group of uninhabited islands that we had planned to miss by at least twenty miles. After that, we double-checked every calculation.

A few days later, we anxiously scanned the horizon for any sign of the Canary Islands, but the hours passed and they failed to appear. Our main fear was that we might have missed the islands completely and were heading for a part of the African coast known to be frequented by Riff pirates. These villains operated from all kinds of craft in the region of Cape Bojador and would often attack becalmed sailing ships. Our anxiety increased that evening when a large fishing boat appeared against the setting sun and gradually bore down upon us. The crew, a most unsavoury looking bunch, beckoned us to draw near. Perhaps they were entirely innocent fishermen and they may have needed medical assistance, but we couldn't be too sure and were reluctant to take any chances. There were no distress signals flying from the yards and they persisted in waving and jeering at us. Simon altered course to put the ghost ship running across the wind; this increased our speed but the fishing boat continued to gain on us. If attacked, we had no means of protecting ourselves apart from a small hand pistol that I had brought up from the cabin at the first sign of danger. Then, to my astonishment, Kate grabbed a large oar from the dinghy and walked forward to the bows. She raised the blade to her shoulder and pointed the oar in the direction of our pursuers. 'Fire the pistol' she hissed and, as I did so, she rocked backwards as if her 'gun' had recoiled from the blast! Were they pirates? We never discovered, for the fishing boat dropped slowly astern just as a dense fog started to roll

towards us. Despite the danger, we sailed headlong into its silent embrace and continued at full speed. At dawn, the mist cleared and towering above the clouds like the Pyramids were the mountains of Gran Canaria. Gaping crowds welcomed us to Las Palmas and a fleet of floating shops or bumboats headed our way. Their owners jostled for our attention and were a persistent nuisance as they scrambled aboard and cluttered our decks with all kinds of unwanted goods: dolls, clocks, carpets and so on. Fortunately, shortly after our arrival, two large passenger liners entered the harbour to refuel and the gang of hawkers set off in pursuit of richer pickings. I can't say that we enjoyed our stay in the Canary Islands very much. It was always hot and dusty, and the port was a hive of activity with ships coming and going all hours of the day and night. But I remember two things that still make me smile. Shortly after our arrival, we hired a local cook; food drenched in olive oil seemed preferable to Simon's disasters. One evening, to our delight, the man promised and delivered Yorkshire pudding from our steamfilled galley. This was not a pile of fussy little cakes, but the real thing, a large pudding to satisfy the hungriest coalminer in South Yorkshire. ‘And now for the sauce,’ he announced proudly and ladled a large quantity of thick yellow sludge over his magnificent creation. ‘Bravo!’ he cried, ‘Yorkshire pudding and custard!’


A couple of days later, Simon was lying in his bunk for an afternoon siesta. It was a very warm day and the skylights were wide open to catch any small breeze from the harbour. He had just dozed off when he felt something brush lightly against his nose. It was a long bamboo pole with a coat hanger tied at one end and it had mysteriously entered the cabin through one of the skylights. For several moments, he watched this device with much curiosity as it swept vaguely around the cabin knocking books of the table and prodding into shelves. Then, to his dismay, it hooked itself into the handle of his favourite mug, a present from the sea captain in Maldon, and started to retreat through the skylight. Jumping up in anguish from his bunk, Simon seized the bamboo pole and gave it a short tug. From the quayside above, he heard a cry and then a splash as the 'fisherman' tumbled into the water between the dock and the ship.


11. Through the Panama Canal
Now our great adventure had really begun. Three thousand miles of Atlantic Ocean stretched before us all the way to the Caribbean. As the ghost ship glided along with the trade winds, our main problem was in coping with boredom. I found that the best way of tackling this was to have a routine and to make every small job last: splicing ropes, filling and trimming lamps. washing down the decks, or just cleaning the pans and dishes. At night, our worst enemy was the desire to sleep whilst on watch. The fourhour watches we had set ourselves were far too long, but there was no other solution. It was so easy for the helmsman to become hypnotised by the sound of water swirling and hissing past the hull and let heavy eyelids surrender to the joy of sleep. The others recited poetry or sang to keep themselves awake: my solution, a rather painful one, was to keep a spike handy and prod myself with it. Do you know, on a few nights, I thought I saw someone sitting in the bows just as if they were keeping a lookout as well? Occasionally I even heard them singing. The others also experienced this, but I can only imagine it was the moonlight on the sails or the wind in the shrouds. We were often becalmed, but didn’t bother to use the engine. What is the point of motoring for four hundred miles in a stretch of three thousand? Also, we had no radio to entertain us; to break the monotony, we would have an occasional sing-along. The banjo was pleasant enough but


Simon's mouth organ could set my teeth on edge. He always kept it above his bunk in a small wooden pocket that was a perfect fit. Oh, how I was tempted to sling this fearsome instrument over the side in pursuit of the alarm clock. He was so much better at card tricks. After sailing for a month, we worked out that we were approaching the island of Curacao. Once again, our lack of navigation skills meant that we spent many hours scanning an empty horizon. In desperation, we decided to head south knowing that if we missed Curacao we couldn't fail to miss South America. Indeed, we were heading towards Venezuela and polishing up our Spanish when land appeared on the horizon and it was Curacao. All I can remember of our stay there was lying at anchor in the shadow of an old fort used by Henry Morgan, the Welsh pirate, and swimming in the clear blue waters of the bay. While we were there, however, we took the opportunity to have our chronometer or clock checked as we were sure that this was the cause of our poor navigation. You see, latitude, your position north or south of the equator, is fairly easy to measure using the height of the sun at noon. Finding longitude, your position east or west of Greenwich, requires an accurate time check. It’s calculated from the time the sun takes to reach you from when it passed over Greenwich. Well, that’s the general idea. From Curacao, we continued towards Panama and, swept along by huge following seas, covered six hundred miles in four days. At this time our lives seemed full of small

mishaps. Simon cut his leg when he tripped over a skylight, Kate developed toothache, and I fell overboard! I had gone for’d one night to check the repair to the bowsprit as it seemed to be lifting more than usual under the pressure of the jib sail. There's an old seafaring saying 'one hand for yourself and one hand for the ship', but I ignored it at my peril. While I was sitting out on the bowsprit with my hands fully occupied, a freak sea struck the bows and, before I could grasp anything, had swept me overboard. By the time I struggled to reach the surface, the ghost ship was sailing away and the distance between us was increasing with every second. Then, to my great relief, I felt something dragging against my shoulder. It was the log; a line with a rotator that we towed behind the ship and which turned a clock on the rail to record the distance we had sailed. I just grabbed it and held on for dear life. The spinning line burnt the flesh on my palms but I wouldn't let go for all the pain it caused. There I clung, dragged along in the wake of the ghost ship, hoping and praying that the line wouldn't break. Thankfully, the others must have heard my frantic cries and were soon out on deck. Simon brought the boat head to wind whilst Kate threw me a lifebelt. After what seemed an eternity, I was dragged aboard dripping wet, exhausted and bleeding, but very glad to be alive. As I sat huddled in blankets and drinking hot cocoa, Simon asked Kate how she knew that I had fallen into the sea. Kate said that she didn’t; she had been fast asleep. Simon, however, insisted that he heard her calling 'Man overboard!' It was definitely a woman's voice from inside

the boat and who else could it have been but Kate? Thereafter, I insisted that we trailed a large length of rope behind the ship in case anyone else decided to take an accidental swim. Despite repairs to the chronometer, we still doubted its accuracy and blamed it for our failure to calculate an accurate position. Consequently, we made yet another uncertain landfall. Late, one afternoon, a mistenshrouded and sinister coast appeared on our port bow, and there was nothing for it but to creep along this coast until we met a procession of cargo ships and liners making for the Panama Canal. Our main concern, at this stage of the journey, was that we wouldn't have enough money to pay the canal fees. This would mean retracing our steps and taking the longer, and more dangerous, route around Cape Horn, or having to abandon the voyage and return home. Fortunately, the fee was well within our budget. So began an incredible journey through seven locks and forty miles of channels and lakes with the help of a pilot in a smart uniform. This was a journey that would normally take only seven hours. I say normally because our's was a little unusual. The speed at which the locks operated was unbelievable, and by some miracle, our engine carried us from one efficient lock to the next until we reached Gatun Lake. It was here that our engine decided to pack up completely, and the rain started to bucket down. Our pilot's uniform was reduced to a wet rag, yet to our delight he suggested that we used the sails. I think he really enjoyed himself; he

threw off his jacket, hauled on the halyards and treated us to a selection of sea shanties. We tacked across the fresh water lakes, and scudded before rainsqualls along the channels. Becalmed, we took afternoon tea, watched pelicans swooping and diving into the water, and entertained our pilot to a musical concert. Towards evening, Simon jumped overboard into the shallows and tied the ghost ship to a small buoy. Climbing back aboard, he noticed a log on the nearby shore roll over, flick a long tail and slide gracefully into the water. For once, he was totally at a loss for words. We sailed into Balboa at the far end of the canal with no more than a few pounds left to our name. Several fundraising suggestion were put forward at a cabin conference, including the possibility of using the ghost ship to catch fish again. We wondered, however, how the local fishermen would react to us when we set up stall in the local market. It seemed as if we would have to search for any kind of work that might be available. That evening, without a word to anyone, Simon slipped ashore and with him went our few remaining pounds. For several awful moments we thought that he had deserted us, then Kate noticed that the pack of cards was missing too. We spent several anxious hours wondering whether we would see him or our money again. In the early hours of the morning, a cheerful face appeared in the hatchway. He had risked the money on a game of cards and proudly spread his winnings on the cabin table. It was a small fortune and we didn't ask


too many questions, but I often wondered what might have happened to us if had he lost. I should never have doubted his loyalty for one second; we couldn't have asked for a better shipmate. Anyway, the next stage of our journey was guaranteed; the ship received a fresh coat of paint, a new jib sail, one hundred gallons of oil and enough provisions for three months. The Pacific Ocean beckoned and we prepared for the final hurdle of our voyage. I will never forget the pilot who took us through the Canal and out of Balboa. When we reached the last fairway buoy, he looked around the ghost ship, shook his head sadly, and clambered reluctantly down into the pilot boat. If he had asked to continue with us, we would have agreed willingly. He was such a cheerful fellow and had really enjoyed his sail with us. During our voyage, we met many people like him; they longed to break away in search of adventure, but they were hopelessly trapped in the responsibilities of life and could never escape.


12. A secret in the Galapagos
There are hundreds of volcanoes in the Galapagos Islands and, within one week of leaving Balboa, we were completely lost and surrounded by dozens of them. A shark had eaten our remaining log rotator, and you know about our attempts at navigation, so things were looking rather bleak. To add to our problems, we were becalmed. Occasionally, sailing vessels were becalmed in this region for over six months. In the crystal clear depths below the ghost ship, sharks, dolphins, turtles and devilfish hovered constantly. After only four days, we started to look anxiously at each other and made plans to ration our drinking water. A few people have survived by drinking seawater, but most die. Fortunately, a trade wind arose and we continued our search for Cristobal, the only inhabited island of the group. Several landings were made on various islands, but these were just ash heaps with no signs of civilisation. Then, to the south, we saw a large island with several volcanoes and broad green valleys. Closer in, low cliffs of lava and brown sandy beaches became visible and surf could be heard beating against the outer reef. By climbing up the shrouds on the mast, Simon was able to direct us through a gap in the reef and we entered a large bay which was just over a mile wide. It seemed a good place to anchor and replenish our dwindling water supply.


There was a derelict house on the shore and, close by, a track led inland to the mountains. After cutting our way through dense undergrowth and thick scrub, a large grassy plain lay before us. In the distance, green hills rose upwards to proud peaks and the fragrance of wild flowers was quite overpowering. Here, we saw all kinds of animals: pigs, goats, horses and dogs. Though they appeared harmless enough and uninterested in the new visitors to their island, we were careful not to disturb them. I remember seeing two of the giant tortoises for which these islands are famous and watching huge lizards scrambling among the lava boulders. These were ferocious-looking but harmless iguanas. Returning from the water spring, Kate spotted a small bird about the size of a sparrow, which was using a cactus spine to poke insects out the cracks in trees. It must have been one of the few animal species on Earth to go hunting with a weapon. We also saw papayas, oranges, lemons and limes growing wild, yet the island appeared uninhabited. Then, close to the hut on the beach, I noticed a large wooden barrel mounted on a pole surrounded by a pile of small wooden boards and remembered a description of this barrel in a guide to the islands. We were on Floreana and our ship lay in Post Office Bay. And the Post Office? That was the barrel on the pole in which outward-bound whalers once left letters to be collected by homeward-bound ships, which called at the island. Many of the ships had left their names painted or carved on scraps of wood and we added the name of the ghost ship to the pile. We also left a message

of greeting to the next ship that might call. I believe that the barrel is still there today and is still in use. Having found our position, and encouraged by our first landing in the Galapagos, we sailed for Cristobal. Within a day, we entered Wreck Bay and anchored off a rickety landing stage. A crowd assembled to watch our arrival and a several men in a boat rowed out to greet us. These included the owner of the island and a little wrinkled man with a long white beard whom we nicknamed Santa. After the usual greetings had been exchanged, and the ship's papers cleared, we sat in the main cabin with a cool drink and exchanged information in our clumsy French. Now, although we had a good time on the island and were made very welcome, I really want to tell you about the character we called Santa. He was originally from County Mayo in Ireland but hadn't spoken much English for over fifty years. He had run away to sea at the age of fifteen and, after working all around the Pacific, settled in the Galapagos where he worked as a carpenter. He lived with his wife in a bamboo house on the beach, but had no children. He must have been nearly eighty years of age. We always enjoyed his company for he had so many amusing tales to tell about people he had met in the islands. Evenings at his beach hut were lively affairs and were generally brought to an end by everyone singing rousing choruses of The Wild Colonial Boy. Juanita, his wife, was an excellent cook and was clearly delighted at our enthusiasm for the dishes she prepared; they were simply

delicious. One morning, she went searching for a particular herb on the cliffs above the beach. Though nearly as old as her husband, she was very nimble and scrambled up to a clump of plants in some rocks overlooking a sheer drop into the bay. For some reason, she missed her footing, slipped off the rocks and fell into the sea. By good fortune, Kate, who was swimming nearby, saw her fall and went to her rescue. Juanita had been knocked unconscious and was badly grazed, but with medical attention and a few days rest, recovered from her injuries. Santa was particularly grateful and was anxious to repay us in some way for saving his wife's life. To be honest, it may have been our appetites that caused her accident, but we were glad to accept the offer of his carpentry skills and he made several repairs to the ghost ship. A week or so after the accident, he took me through the scrub behind the beach to where the crumbling skeleton of a large sailing boat lay. We sat down on a nearby rock and he told me an astonishing tale. He explained that for several years he had been trying to finish the boat in order to return to a small deserted coral island or atoll near Tahiti. Many years earlier, Santa had sought refuge on the island during a storm and took shelter in a small cave near the beach. Deep inside the cave, he found a man clutching a rusty rifle and guarding a pile of boxes. Well, to be more accurate, he found what was left of him. After that, he was reluctant to stay there, especially with night falling, but he remained long enough to open one of the boxes and find a bag of gold coins. Later, he discovered that some South American

pirates were known to have landed on one of the islands in order to hide their loot, but no one knew the exact island. With no fresh water to be found, they must have sailed off to search for some and left this man behind as a guard. For some unknown reason, they never came back, and the man had died of thirst. Having buried the poor man and his boxes, Santa eventually returned to the Galapagos, but entering Wreck Bay, his boat was thrown against the coral reef and was reduced to splinters. Diving down into the razor sharp coral he managed to salvage some of the coins. For years, he made plans to return to the island, but a serious injury had thwarted his attempts to complete a second boat. He told me that no one else knew of his find; he was sure that the coins he had saved were still buried below a large rock near the beach. Then he confessed that ever since the ghost ship and its crew had arrived, he had been thinking about asking us to take him back to his treasure island. He knew exactly which one it was from the hundreds of islands in the group. He also knew the site of an excellent landing place - always an important consideration in the Pacific. Well, I was quite astonished by what he had revealed and didn't know what to say. All I could do was promise to discuss it with my travelling companions, and left him sitting there. That evening we held a meeting aboard the ghost ship to discuss the matter. The beachcomber suddenly got to his feet. He looked over the top of the embankment and noticed that the tide

was rising again over the mudflats. Having sat in complete silence, his listeners were not sitting on an island in the Blackwater, but around that table aboard the ghost ship. They were reluctant to leave and wanted him to continue. ‘Did you go in search of the treasure?' asked Emma. ‘I think I'll keep you in suspense until tomorrow. Come back about the same time and I'll tell you the rest of the story.’ They marched back in single file along the embankment path and discussed the beachcomber’s story. ‘We still don’t know how he lost the ghost ship,’ observed Ben, ‘Though I’m more interested in that lost treasure.’ ‘Perhaps they went with Santa and found it, and I bet someone stole the ghost ship while they were away.’ ‘Well, we'll find out tomorrow, if he's still there.’ They walked on in silence until they reached the other side of the island. Shimmering appeared to have tugged her anchor from the mud and was moving away quite slowly with the floodtide. A few minutes later and she would have been drifting up the river towards Maldon. They waded out quickly and scrambled aboard dripping wet and shivering. ‘How did that happen?’ puzzled Jake, ‘There was plenty of anchor cable out when we moored earlier. Could someone have pulled the anchor from the mud? They anchored further out into the river for the night. It was Ben’s turn to cook the evening meal; he thought of Simon on the ghost ship and lit the galley cooker very carefully.

13. The decision
A slight drizzle and a cool breeze signalled a change in the weather. After breakfast, Jake suggested they sailed down to Stone to pick up some stores from the shop by the beach. The anchor was weighed and in no time Shimmering was cutting cleanly through the water, but their progress to Stone was slow as they were sailing directly against the incoming tide. Once clear of the island, they passed a line of yachts moored close to the south shore and then headed to a cluster of houses a mile or so further along. Here, at Stone, they anchored and prepared to go ashore. For several minutes, Ben could hear a low-pitched growling sound coming from beneath the boat. This was the anchor chain dragging around on the shingle as the boat swung in the wind to face the tide. Jake explained that if the boat started to vibrate or shudder, it was a warning that the anchor may have broken loose and was dragging along the ground. In a strong onshore breeze, Stone was not a good anchorage and there was always a chance of the anchor dragging and wrapping its chain around one of the many mooring buoys. It was best to moor at a vacant buoy and hope that the owner didn't return too soon. On Shimmering, a long line was tied to a post on the foredeck; the other end was passed over the bows, along one side of the hull, and back to the cockpit. Spliced to the end of this line was a large hook. When approaching a


mooring, the helmsman could steer alongside the buoy, lean out and attach the hook to the metal ring at the top of the buoy. The buoy could then be hauled up to the bows and made fast. This simple homemade gadget saved a great deal of time and fuss. Ben watched another boat approach the moorings. Someone at the sharp end armed with a boathook guided the helmsman. 'A bit more to port. Yes, that's right. No, I didn’t mean go right! Go left! That's too much! Now we've missed it. Well, let's go round again. Third time lucky eh?' Shimmering’s hook saved a lot of confusion and bad temper too. It was to prove invaluable a few days later. Amongst their purchases from the shop was a mackerel spinner. This was to be trawled behind Shimmering on runs across the river. The red and silver spinner would rotate in the wake and attract the attention of the mackerel that would mistake it for a small fish. They had visions of fresh fish tumbling aboard by the dozen, but by the end of the morning had caught only drifting seaweed and a few shells dredged up from the mud. Jake had a little more luck with his rod and line; a puffer fish, which looked so disgusting that he released it to splash away to freedom in the murky depths below the keel. They never caught a single fish with the spinner, and they finally lost it when it snagged against a wreck some weeks later. There were no mackerel to be caught in the Blackwater anyway. At high tide, they returned to Osea and were relieved to see the beachcomber's small yacht still snug at anchor

across the river. The rain had cleared and patches of sunlight were appearing on the distant hills. As they packed a picnic, Emma remarked on the similarities between the ghost ship and Shimmering. Both involved three travelling companions and a chance meeting with a stranger who had an unusual story to tell. Having anchored carefully, they rowed ashore and set off along the beach to meet their stranger and to hear the rest of his story. The beachcomber was sitting by his enormous multicoloured umbrella and stitching a torn sail. He seemed surprised to see them. ‘I didn't think you’d be back, but you're very welcome.’ Once again, mugs of tea were produced, and they shared out their supplies. The small group sat on some oilskins along the embankment and munched buttered teacakes whilst gulls screeched overhead and hovered in the breeze in the hope of cadging some crumbs. ‘Some say that gulls are the souls of drowned mariners, but I think they're just greedy devils.’ He hurled some crusts down the embankment and the gulls swooped to snatch them from the mud and wheeled away. ‘Now where did I leave off yesterday?’ ‘You were having a meeting on board the ghost ship with your sister and Simon.’ ‘And you had to decide whether or not to go in search of Santa's treasure island.’ The beachcomber smiled at their eager replies and continued his story.

‘Well, we discussed the idea from every angle. We talked about the ghost ship's unreliable engine and the dangerous reefs surrounding small islands or atolls. We weighed the chances of finding something with the risk of losing the ship. In the end, a vote was taken and it went two to one against making a search. I suppose that we had already planned our voyage and decided to get on with it before more distractions got in the way. I felt sad for the old man as he had waited all those years for someone he could really trust. We had turned up out of the blue, shared his great secret, and then turned it down. The following day, we held a farewell party on the boat for all the friends we had made during the visit to Cristobal. What a feast we had: real turtle soup, delicious tropical fish, boiled fowl and roast pork, sweet potatoes, taro root, coconut pudding and rum. Santa received our decision with disappointment, but cheered up after a while; perhaps the rum helped. He said that he and Juanita were happy living there, and that if he left the island, he might never return. What would they do with all that money anyway? They had no children to leave it to. It was his opinion that he was never meant to have that treasure. Now among the items that Santa had taken from the ghost ship to repair was a large wicker basket. This was used for transferring stores from the shore and for storing fruit during the voyage. It rested on four short stumps but the flat wooden base had started to crack so he had screwed an extra piece of wood across it. On the morning of our

departure, Santa returned the basket with the help of two young men in a canoe. After we had hauled it up to the deck, he climbed aboard and tipped it upside down. Engraved in the wooden base was a rough map of an island, some figures, and some directions. ‘This is just in case you should change your mind,’ he said, ‘but if you ever leave your ship make sure you remove it and take it with you. Not a copy, but this very map.’ He then shook hands with each one of us and stepped down into the canoe. ‘I hope you'll come back to us again some day,’ he called as the canoe pulled away from the ship. Of course, we promised to return but never did. An hour later, we set sail on the last leg of our journey. The Galapagos Islands became a dim outline against the blue sky and then disappeared over the horizon. For several days, I occasionally stood at the ghost ship's rail looking back at the wake and wondering if we had made the right decision. But time passed, the treasure island and the wooden map were gradually forgotten.


14. An end to the dream
We sailed before a steady southeast trade wind for twentytwo days until we reached our goal, the South Sea Islands. At the sight of the Marquesas Islands gliding towards us, we toasted the health of the good ship that had carried us slowly but safely over all those thousands of miles. There is so much that I could tell you about these and the other islands we visited; goat hunting on Nukuhiva, pearl diving in the Tuamotos; the curious lizard men on Moorea. But above all, it was the magnificent scenery that I recall: waterfalls cascading three thousand feet down to the sea, deep bays with coral beaches, the fairy rings of atolls, lagoons surrounded by graceful palms, dark green ferns and velvet mossy banks. Mind you, for all the beauty we discovered, the South Seas is a place of tragedy and sadness too. There was hardly an island we visited which had not had its share of disaster or disease. The coral reefs surrounding many islands were littered with the wrecks of ships, which had come to grief during gales or had misjudged the narrow entrances to atolls. One beautiful island, which was originally discovered by Captain Bligh of the Bounty, held a grim secret. A small passenger ship had gone aground on the jagged coral of its outer reef. The passengers and crew had taken to the boats but one capsized in the surf and its occupants survived for less than two minutes in the shark-


infested waters. The other boat reached the shore but the survivors were killed and eaten by the locals. In their haste to leave the doomed ship, the crew had forgotten to release a convict who was being taken to a prison settlement. This wretched man watched the whole horrifying spectacle through a skylight in the sloping deck as the ship settled on the reef. He spent three days and nights trapped in the wreck wondering which of the cruel deaths he had witnessed would be his. In the event, he was rescued by a passing schooner and lived to tell the tale, but had gone completely mad. On we sailed until we reached the Tuamotus. I had always looked forward to visiting these islands as I had read about them as a boy, and one writer had claimed that they were as near to paradise as anywhere else on earth. Before our departure from England, I read of a man from Cornwall who spent seventeen years digging up a beach on a deserted atoll. He was searching for some buried treasure, but it was the wrong atoll. I sometimes wondered if we had been given the map of the right one. It was evening when we arrived off one of the islands and, entering a lagoon, had difficulty locating the anchorage. Simon spotted a thin spiral of smoke across the lagoon, so we motored gently in its direction expecting the usual friendly welcome from the locals. There was a house near the beach but, of its occupants, there was no sign. After we anchored, we lowered the ship's dinghy and got ready for a trip ashore. Suddenly, Kate noticed two figures

emerge from the palm trees and walk down the beach to the water’s edge. A lone voice pierced the silence and carried a note of urgency across the still water. ‘Go away! Please don’t land! There are lepers here.’ We were later to discover that this small island's sole inhabitants were a brother and sister. We had experienced the tragic touch of the South Seas and were left with a memory that continued to haunt us for a long time. After that, our journey lost some of its magic. We were caught in a number of violent storms and just missed the tail of a hurricane as it swept across the Tuamotus causing untold havoc. On many of the islands, crops were completely destroyed and hundreds were made homeless. Exhausted by this ordeal, we sought refuge in the port of Papeete on Tahiti. I can only remember this part of our voyage with sadness for it was here that I lost the ghost ship. One afternoon, whilst we were resting after a long walk around the town, I was invited by a man on the quayside to join him and his two friends for a drink in a nearby bar. They seemed pleasant enough and knew a lot about sailing boats. While we were chatting, one of the men asked me if I wanted to sell the ghost ship and to name my price. For a joke, I suggested a ridiculously high figure, but he did not laugh. He asked me if I would take any less and I shook my head. ‘Then I'll take her.’ he said. I had sold the ghost ship. Of course, I could have withdrawn from the bargain, but I didn't, and to this day I don't know why. Later, I sat alone in the bar wondering

how I would break the news to my two companions. I had a bagful of money, but no ship. I had never been so miserable in my life. After an hour's aimless wandering around the dusty streets of Papeete, I summoned the courage to tell the others. I had devised a number of excuses to hide my shame. Wasn't it best to quit while we were enjoying the voyage? We were getting short of money again. Now we could sail on in the comfort of a liner and visit New Zealand or Australia. We would invest our newfound wealth in a far more magnificent craft than the plodding ghost ship. Or we could .... I can only tell you that for the rest of that day they hated me, but no more than I hated myself. I believe they were heartbroken. So we packed our few personal belongings and left the island by a smoke-belching steamship. Our fellow passengers gave us some very funny looks as we clambered up the gangway with our scruffy sea bags and matching brown-paper parcels. The stewards fussed around tidying up our cabins whilst we, a once carefree band of savages, prepared to dress correctly for dinner. I was cursing and struggling with a collar and tie when, through the porthole, I caught a brief glimpse of the ghost ship. She was rocking up and down in the swell caused by the steamer’s departure; she may have been waving farewell, but I think she was just mocking at me. That night, disturbed by the sound of the engines, I awoke and for a few moments I thought it was my turn at the tiller.

Simon and Kate left us Tonga. They had decided to get married and to live as far away from civilisation as possible, but promised to sign on again as crew if I ever found a replacement for the ghost ship. Over the next few months, I searched a hundred or more ports for a boat to replace her, but in the end had to admit defeat. My money was running low and I was forced to return home. Sometimes, I used to think about that treasure map which we had left behind. We had all been too busy packing to give it a second thought. But that wasn't the end of the story. I kept in touch with Simon and Kate for many years. Then, one day, they wrote to say that they had met someone who knew about our ship. She had exchanged hands a few times and, after a period as an island trader, had returned to England. A little later, I discovered this photograph in a yachting magazine; I'm sure that's her passing a line of moored sailing barges. Unfortunately, the magazine gave no information about the photograph except that it had been taken somewhere on the East Coast. Over the years, I've searched for her in all the rivers and havens in this part of England. I've worked my way from Norfolk right down to the Medway. There are miles of rivers and creeks and she could be anywhere. In fact, I may have passed her on the coast by night without knowing. I've stopped searching for her now but I would have liked to see her again.

The beachcomber rested; his story was at an end. The three companions looked in turn at the faded magazine photograph and, for a minute or two, no one spoke. Then Emma asked him why he kept returning to the Blackwater. ‘Well, it's an interesting river and this is such a pleasant spot to watch the different ships pass by. There is another reason and you will probably laugh, but I get an odd feeling that the ghost ship is around here somewhere. Anyway, I'll be moving along very soon, so let's forget about the past. What are your plans for the future?'


15. The challenge
For the rest of the afternoon, they talked about places on the river they could visit, and picked up a few tips on how to repair sails. Jake and Emma went swimming out to the beachcomber's small yacht and Ben made a sketch of the hide. Then the sun, which had made a half-hearted and watery appearance, started to sink behind a bank of low clouds. It was time to be leaving. With reluctance, they said farewell to the beachcomber and wished him good luck with his search. ‘Look me up anytime you are passing this way, but promise that you’ll keep this place a secret.’ Returning to the other side of the island, Ben remembered the ball hidden in the bushes. A noisy energetic game of beach football followed and only ended when the ball was struck high and wide into the river. The current carried it away swiftly for someone else to find and enjoy. They could have rowed after it in the dinghy, but were too tired and had hardly enough energy left to get back to Shimmering. Night was falling when they tied up the dinghy and lit the anchor light. The kettle whistled cheerfully on the galley stove and an interesting aroma filled the cabin, not of sweet potatoes and taro root but of toast, sausages and beans. Soon they were tucking into a hot meal and discussing the day's events.


‘How could he have sold the boat without talking to the others first?’ ‘He must have been given a huge pile of money.’ ‘Ah, but it didn't last all that long. There must have been some other reason.’ While they were talking, Ben remembered the boatyard owner’s words: ‘They're all for sale if the price is right.’ Perhaps there was no such thing as a perfect boat. It would be either too large for mooring fees or not large enough for comfort, too light for heavy weather or too heavy to make a fast passage, and so on. Eventually, the attraction of a new boat would prove too great and the owner would start to despise the craft that had once been his or her most treasured possession. And then it would start all over again. But what were the ghost ship's weaknesses? Apart from the unreliable engine, the beachcomber hadn't mentioned any. Whatever the problem, they all agreed that the journey to the Pacific had been a great adventure even though it had ended in disappointment. From a rack above her bunk, Emma produced a chart of the East Coast and, pushing the dishes aside, spread it out across the table. With a pencil she picked out the various rivers that the beachcomber had explored in his search. Some, like the Blackwater, poured straight into the sea, whereas others followed a winding path, or divided into several smaller streams and creeks. On this coast, a thorough search for a boat, even a large one, would take a lot of time and patience. In some places, the riverbanks were several miles from the nearest road or footpath and

could only be reached by water. Faced with the busy shipping traffic on rivers such as the Medway or the Thames, the crew of a small yacht would be fully occupied in avoiding collisions, and would certainly be discouraged from exploring every dock or jetty. They all agreed that to search one river would be fun and it was at this point that someone suggested they did just that. They knew their chances of finding the ghost ship were very slim but the challenge occupied their thoughts for the rest of the evening. ‘If we have a search with a purpose like this,' said Jake, ‘It will help us to get to know the river better.’ ‘And it will make the week more interesting than if we just drift about,’ added Emma. Reluctantly, Ben reminded them that their father had limited their cruising grounds to the River Blackwater. Emma reached for a copy of Coote's East Coast Rivers, a popular pilot book for the area, and turning to the chapter on the Blackwater announced that, according to the book, the river's entrance was considered to be at the Bench Head buoy some 15 miles down river from Maldon. ‘We shall therefore limit our search to those waters west of the Bench Head buoy,’ she announced solemnly. In a way this was a rather cunning move for it extended their territory to include the creeks around Tollesbury and West Mersea on the northern shore. A further hunt in the rack above her bunk produced a chart of the River Blackwater and they were able to inspect the task in closer detail.

‘Let’s miss out the small Goldhanger Creek above Osea,’ suggested Jake, ‘Because we know that one quite well and there is nothing like the ghost ship anchored or moored there. Mill Creek on the north bank of the river is quite shallow but worth a look. After that, we’ll search Tollesbury and West Mersea to the north, then Bradwell and Maylandsea to the south, and finally Maldon and Heybridge to the west.' From the chart, Ben could see that this involved a circular route bringing them back to where their journey had started. ‘It will be important to work with the tides,’ continued Jake, whilst consulting a small set of tables, ‘And it looks as if they’ll fit in neatly with our plans.’ He scribbled some figures down and then read out an approximate timetable for their movements. It occupied most of the week and ended on the Thursday afternoon at Heybridge. ‘Well that's the search plan sorted out,’ agreed Emma, ‘But do we know what we are looking for?’ Ben suggested that they made a list of all the things they could remember from the beachcomber's account of the voyage. For the next twenty minutes, they racked their brains to recall any facts about the ghost ship that might help them in their search. They finished up with a list, which was something like this:


A gaff-rigged cutter like Shimmering At least 12 metres long A stout mast and bowsprit Built in Norway about 1930 Tan coloured sails One or two skylights Brass portholes and fittings It wasn't much to go on, but at least the boat's length would help them to reduce the number of possibilities. They also had a guide to the types of sailing ships seen around the East Coast which they thought might be of some help. Night was falling on the river. The paraffin in the oil lamp was running low and, as no one seemed eager enough to refill it, they cleared away the dishes and got ready to turn in. ‘Well, if we fall behind our timetable,’ said Jake yawning slowly, ‘At least Shimmering has a reliable motor to help us catch up.' If only he had known how wrong these words were to prove in the days that were to follow.


16. The search begins
It was a miserable day. The clouds were heavy with rain and it was blowing hard. The crew struggled up on deck in oilskins and sea boots whilst Shimmering shook and tugged violently at her anchor chain. The wind howled through the rigging and rain pelted down on the cabin roof. In the midst of all this mayhem, they had to shout to be heard. Jake seemed to enjoy the weather for he clung to the mast singing cheerfully as he released halyards and removed ties from the mainsail. Emma grinned encouragingly from the bows and started to shorten the anchor chain. Ben felt clumsy and awkward in the oilskin leggings. The rain was driving against his face, running down his neck and soaking the top of his jumper. Perhaps they had seen his discomfort and were trying to cheer him up? It was having little effect. Whilst he was trying to secure another line to the dinghy, Shimmering rolled suddenly and the small boat slammed forward jamming his fingers painfully against the hull. He sat miserably in the cockpit and sucked at his fingers to relieve the pain. If they were off in search of a ghost, this was a nightmare. With her mainsail reefed and a single storm jib set, Shimmering lurched away from the anchorage. She was running before the wind but sailing directly into the flood tide. With the tide and wind fighting each other in the shallow waters of the estuary, short and lumpy seas kicked up and jerked her into a violent motion. Ben's stomach


started to turn and he felt sick. He was tempted to go below, but Jake asked him to take the tiller and keep the boat aiming for a green buoy a mile or two ahead. The task kept him busy and, by the time they passed the buoy, he had started to recover. Before they realised it, they had sailed past the entrance to Mill Creek but, with the state of the sea, were reluctant to go back so they carried on downriver. There were no other boats around apart from a motordriven fishing boat which was heading upriver. Its bows lifted and fell like a hammer; heavy seas broke over and cascaded down its decks. It was much larger than Shimmering and Ben wondered how the small yacht would cope if it had to sail against the wind? Jake must have been reading his thoughts because he explained that a sailing boat would tend to ride over the waves more comfortably than a power driven craft forcing its way through the seas. Ben wasn't particularly reassured by that information, but he was feeling much better. At least the storm inside his stomach had eased. ‘Hey,’ called Emma, ‘Do you know a good cure for seasickness?' Jake muttered something about pills and milk. Ben shook his head and hoped it didn't contain butter. Emma started laughing and finally blurted out, 'You just find a nice green tree and sit underneath it.’ Sometimes that girl had a very odd sense of humour.


With Bradwell abeam to starboard, Jake nudged the tiller over and they swung towards the northern shore. He explained that they were heading for Tollesbury which lay behind a wilderness of mudflats bordered by a low sea wall. At the bows, Emma lowered a weighted and marked line into the water and gave a 'thumbs up' sign. They were passing over the Nass, a long shallow bank, and the line showed that they had enough water beneath the keel to do so. On the other side of the bank, was a deep creek leading to Tollesbury. Without a chart, you might pass by the bank without ever realising the creek was there. A small island at its entrance merged with the surrounding marshes and mudflats and formed a barrier against the sea. A call from Emma indicated that they had entered deeper water and could turn safely into the narrow creek. Here, in the shelter of the riverbank, the wind eased and the boat was carried up the channel by the rising tide, Tollesbury is a mysterious place. It sits at the head of a small creek off the main channel overlooking a vast expanse of mudflats and saltings. Close to the quayside stand several old wooden buildings perched on tall piles as a precaution against floods. Tollesbury was once home to the crews of great sailing yachts of days gone by. The wooden huts had housed sail lofts, boat builders, chandlers and other businesses that served the needs of the yachts’ wealthy owners. Anyone who has visited Tollesbury will remember the saltings, a confusing network of muddy channels meandering around marshes in which an armada of small sailing boats hides. As the tide rises, the boats lift

until they appear to be sitting and bobbing on top of the marshes. When the tide falls, they slowly disappear into the mud leaving a forest of masts to mark their resting place. Go to Tollesbury on a misty morning when the tide is rising; it is sight not easily forgotten. As soon as the tide was high enough, they searched through the saltings on both sides of the creek. There were many unusual sights to distract them from their task, particularly those boats on which the owners lived. One had several garden gnomes standing on guard by the gangway; another had a clay gull perched on the galley chimney to scare the real gulls away. At Tollesbury, they saw more derelict and abandoned boats than anywhere else on the river, though nothing to match what they had in mind. Despite the rotten weather, they stuck to their task and only left the creek when the tide had fallen so low that they were in danger of being stranded. The night was spent quietly at anchor under the stars and close to the edge of the Nass sandbank. The following morning, they awoke to the sound of fishing boats heading out to sea. These were packed with day-trippers and their gear, and they could hear them chatting excitedly above the noise of the engines. Although the skies had cleared, the wind was rising again, and Ben wondered if they would still be quite as cheerful after lurching up and down for an hour or so. He had some recent experience in these matters.


The task that day was to search the creeks and channels off West Mersea. Approaching the moorings of a local sailing club, they spoke to a helpful boatman who was able to suggest quite a few boats that matched the general description of the ghost ship. On closer inspection, however, they had to be rejected; there was always some feature or another that didn’t fit. The only sour note of the day occurred when they entered a channel above West Mersea and passed over some oyster beds. Someone in a rowing boat came out snarling and shouting at them to clear off, so they scurried away. It had been a tiring but enjoyable day and they returned to their anchorage near the Nass. Jake was in half a mind to continue to Bradwell on the opposite shore, but the tide was pouring out of the river and he didn't want to waste their small supply of engine fuel The fishing boats which had disturbed them at dawn were heading back home and, as each one passed, the crew of Shimmering waved cheerfully at the passengers huddled in the stern. One or two waved back, but the rest stared bleakly over the rail. Perhaps they hadn't caught many fish? Or any fish.


17. The south shore
On the first evening, when they were driving to Maldon and the Blackwater came into view, several large ships lay at anchor in the entrance to the estuary. Cargo ships, ore carriers, tankers and ferries that were no longer required for work. Their search now took them through this graveyard of forgotten ships as they crossed the river in the direction of Bradwell. The abandoned fleet swung sadly together to face the changing tides; each ship with a handful of crewmembers aboard to keep an anchor watch and await further orders. Occasionally, the silence was broken by the sound of someone chipping away at some rust or slamming a steel door. Then, as they passed one very neglected Greek freighter, a rather curious thing happened. The gangway was lowered and twenty or so men carrying sea bags and suitcases filed silently down the steps to an awaiting launch. Having cleared the freighter, the launch sped off in the direction of a modern cargo ship lying about a mile offshore, Later that morning, the cargo ship weighed anchor and steamed away from the estuary; the Greek flag flying proudly at her stern. A transfer arranged in city offices a world away from the River Blackwater, but, as Jake observed, it looked as if someone had said, ‘Hey guys, this tub is too rusty. Let's do a swap.’ Unlike Tollesbury, the entrance to Bradwell Creek was easy to find. They carefully approached the edge of the rather dull-looking Peewit Island and a line of withies


appeared. These were long thin tree trunks or branches pushed into the mud to mark the edge of a channel. Emma wondered who went to the trouble to position these simple marks and guessed that it may have been local fishermen. Hidden behind Peewit Island, there were lines of moorings, a quay and a marina. These were filled with all kinds of craft but there was no sign of the ghost ship. The marina had many fine yachts easily capable of a North Sea or Channel crossing. It was Emma's opinion, however, that the more expensive a boat, the less it was likely to be used. Fine craft like these were also to be found in the boatyard moored alongside Shimmering, but their owners rarely appeared from one season to the next. They followed the line of moorings through the creek and out again into the main river. Ahead of them lay St Lawrence Bay and Stone where they had bought their stores. A couple of miles upstream, a large motor yacht appeared to be stranded on a sand bank; Ben could just make out two figures inspecting the hull. The pilot book reported that, despite a green warning buoy, many yachts sailed headlong into this sand bank whilst heading straight up the middle of the river. The motor yacht was the latest victim of The Spit. Ben would have liked to stop again at Stone, but Jake knew that their timetable was a tight one. They had to use this tide to reach Maylandsea Bay. ‘If she's anywhere on this river, I bet she'll be tucked away there,’ he said with some confidence.


A little later Emma plucked a boathook from the water. ‘We seem to lose and find one of these every year!’ she cried, waving it triumphantly above her head. Ben wondered if this was an omen that their fortunes were to change? The speed of the current increased rapidly as they passed between Osea Island and an imposing farmhouse overlooking the south shore. Two creeks lay ahead to the southwest and both were full of moored craft. They spent little time exploring the smaller Mayland Creek: it was packed with sailing dinghies, and any unusual boat would have been easy to spot. The longer Lawling Creek looked more promising; it meandered for a couple of miles in a southerly direction and ended at a boatyard in Maylandsea Bay. Many large cruising yachts swung at their moorings along this arm of the river and it was here that Jake thought they find the ghost ship. But, despite their earlier optimism, they saw only two possibilities, and not very convincing ones at that. Jake sketched them and made a few notes about their rigging. Then, with all her sails set, Shimmering tacked out of the creek in a fairly light wind. Suddenly, struck by a freak gust, she heeled over to starboard, and they narrowly avoided a collision with a passing cabin cruiser. Crockery shot across the cabin and a pint of milk poured over one of the bunks. It was all over in a few seconds. ‘My fault,’ admitted Emma, 'I was tired and not concentrating. Let's call it a day and moor up at that buoy.'


Night was falling over the Blackwater. The river was silent, and a few bright stars were just appearing in the evening sky. With the evening meal cleared away, the three were ready to turn in. Ben was just closing the curtains above his bunk, when he remembered something he had completely forgotten all day. ‘Do you know?’ he said, ‘Early this morning, off Tollesbury, I was woken up by the sound of a ship’s motor. When I looked out, I saw one of those old fishing boats going past.’ ‘What?’ queried Jake, ‘One of the old ones on the beach near the yard?’ ‘Yes. It was quite misty at the time but I was able to read the name. It was Ariel.’ ‘It must have been another boat with the same name,’ suggested Emma, ‘I don’t think those old fishing boats are going anywhere. They don’t look very seaworthy to me.’ Jake yawned. ‘I reckon that when we get back to Heybridge, you’ll find them both asleep on the beach. And that’s where I’m off to now, but not on the beach.’ ‘Well,’ replied Ben, ‘The man who owns the boatyard was in the wheelhouse.’


18. Under suspicion
‘Ahoy Shimmering!’ A loud voice shattered the silence of the mooring and they awoke with a start. It was about half past one. ‘Come on,’ the voice commanded, ‘Out you come on deck and hurry up.’ Though confused and scared, the three dressed quickly and climbed out of the entrance to the cabin. A powerful floodlight from the police launch Alert shone in their faces. ‘Are there just the three of you?’ The three huddled together and nodded. ‘Stay where you are while I come aboard.’ A police office holding a loud hailer climbed down on to Shimmering and towered above her crew. ‘Right, who are you and what are you doing here?’ Jake gave their names to the officer and told him that they were just sailing around the river and staying in the creek for the night. ‘Well, I think you’ve got some explaining to do,’ announced their uninvited visitor. ‘For one thing, you’ve been observed rowing around the moorings and looking inside various yachts.’ ‘Yes,’ said Emma, ‘But there is a reason for that. You see we are looking for a particular sailing boat and we need to inspect them quite closely to make sure we get the right one.’


‘I see,’ said the policeman, ‘And what is the name of this boat, then?’ He was met with a wall of silence. ‘Come on,’ he insisted, ‘It must have a name.’ ‘Well, we call it the ghost ship,’ said Ben, ‘But the gentleman who lost it didn’t tell us its proper name. At least, I don’t think he did.’ ‘If someone has lost a boat they should report it to the police. Now, who is this man, and when and where did he lose his boat?’ ‘It’s rather difficult to explain.’ replied Emma ‘Oh, I bet it is but I suggest that you try.’ ‘We don’t know his name,’ she continued, ‘ But we think he lost it in Tahiti about twenty years ago.’ ‘Are you having me on?’ said the officer, sounding quite annoyed. ‘A ghost ship? A man from Tahiti? Listen, I think I’ve heard enough of this nonsense. You better come aboard our launch.’ Looking rather sheepish, the three clambered aboard the Alert while the policeman inspected Shimmering. They sat down at a table in the main cabin and gradually pieced together the story of their search while another officer took notes. Throughout the interview, the boat’s radio was crackling with messages; most of which seemed to be in some kind of code. Suddenly, the officer who had returned from searching Shimmering said ‘Quiet, there’s something coming in.’ The radio continued to crackle with messages and then they heard a voice announce: ‘Alert return to base. Suspect apprehended.’


The policeman turned to the three and said, ‘You know, I was beginning to find this tale of yours quite interesting, but you’re in the clear so you can return to your boat. Just be a little more careful about when and where you go searching for ghost ships.’ Laughing, he handed them a bag of doughnuts as they returned to Shimmering. Alert then sped off in the direction of Bradwell. Still confused, the three watched her disappear into the darkness. ‘Well, what was all that about?’ asked Jake ‘Search me,’ replied Emma ‘These are delicious,’ said Ben, munching a doughnut; ‘I thought policemen only ate them in lay-bys.’ A few weeks later, they discovered that, while they were searching the river, the local police were watching them very closely. For several weeks, valuable items had been stolen from craft moored at various places along the river. With so many unguarded and deserted boats to protect, the police had decided to keep watch from inside the cabins of selected yachts. And who should come along but the three companions, sailing in and out of the creeks and weaving between the lines of moored boats. Occasionally, they would moor Shimmering and row over in the dinghy to one of the moored yachts and peer over the rails or through the portholes for clues. To the hidden detectives, however, it all looked very suspicious, and their progress around the river was watched with increasing interest. Fortunately, the culprit was arrested the very night that they were disturbed by the police launch in Lawling Creek .

The thief was the owner of a hairdressing salon and a small yacht that was very similar to Shimmering. He would moor the yacht at the entrance to a creek and check that there were no boat owners around. Armed with an empty petrol can, he would row over in the darkness to a likely looking craft and break in. On a couple of occasions, he was challenged boarding a yacht, but produced the empty can and said that he was only looking for a little fuel as his tank had run dry and he had to get home. To most boat owners, this would appear a reasonable excuse, particularly when he assured them that he had every intention of returning the borrowed petrol. Eventually, it was his yacht that gave the game away. Several people remembered having seen it in the vicinity of the burglaries. Watching from inside moored boats, the police spotted it and caught the thief as he left a boat carrying a small radar set. He might have got away with a can of petrol, but you don't need radar to find your way across the Blackwater in the moonlight.


19. Good news and bad
Despite a disturbed night, they continued with their plans. Having dropped Jake off by the entrance to the Heybridge Canal, Emma and Ben were to sail upriver and beach Shimmering off the promenade at Maldon. Jake would search the canal and rejoin them towards evening. Their task was to make enquiries around the different boatyards and inspect the river opposite the promenade. They glided past Mill Beach on the afternoon tide and lowered the sails. ‘Don't forget,’ reminded Jake, ‘Keep to the starboard side of the channel and try not to cross the bows of any approaching boats. If in doubt, run Shimmering gently into the river bank and wait until everything is clear.’ Jake climbed off at the canal lock and the other two continued the journey using the outboard motor. A winding channel led them up to Maldon and a bustling quayside filled with sailing barges. These were not shapeless containers carrying coal or sand and hauled along by tugs, but fine tall sailing ships. When rail and road transport had killed any competition from these old vessels, many had been left to rot in rivers and creeks around the East Coast. However, they were gradually being rescued and repaired by companies or clubs and the results of this enthusiasm made a proud display of masts, sails and rigging along the quayside. Emma and Ben moored close to a boat builder’s yard and spoke to an old shipwright. Having heard their description


of the ghost ship, he downed tools and sat down with them on the quayside. ‘I remember working on a boat like that some time ago. She was unusual because her frame was of pine and her planks of Italian oak.’ An expert was speaking on his favourite subject and they kept a respectful silence. ‘They build them like that in Norway because the pine makes good elbows and knees. I can't recall her name, but I remember that we had to remove her mast because her days as a sailing ship were over.’ So here, at least, was a clue that the ghost ship may have been refitted in the yard. With no sign of their quest in nearby yards, or out on the river, they spent the rest of the afternoon walking and chatting on the promenade. For the time being, the search was forgotten and they talked about their schools and their friends in the small county town where they lived. Shimmering was secured to a couple of mooring rings set in the sea wall, and as the tide drained away, she heeled over at an angle on the sloping shingle beach. Evening was falling and people were strolling along the promenade. The pair had just climbed aboard to put on a kettle, when they saw Jake waving in the distance. He was running along the sea wall and calling to them. By the time he reached the quay, he was gasping for breath. ‘I've found her. I’ve really found her. She's in the canal at Heybridge.’


Ignoring the sloping deck, they sat inside the main cabin listening eagerly to Jake's news. ‘I would have returned sooner, but I took a wrong turning. The canal is crowded with boats and she's quite a long way down the towpath. There's nobody aboard, and she looks as if she's laid up. No wonder the beachcomber never saw her from the river.’ The other two wanted to set off immediately to look at her, but by the time they reached the canal it would have been pitch dark. ‘Let's leave with the tide early tomorrow morning,’ suggested Emma, ‘We can sail down and moor up by the lock.' And so, on a pleasant summer's morning, they found themselves walking up the canal towpath to what they hoped would prove to be the ghost ship. At first sight, there was no doubt that this was the kind of boat that had taken the beachcomber and his companions to the South Seas. It fitted the description perfectly. Was this the bowsprit that had served so often as a diving board? Could that be the deck that had hosted the farewell feast at Cristobal? Where had the ghost ship been since the beachcomber sold it so casually in Tahiti? Who owned her now? So many questions, but with no one around to answer them, they wandered back along the towpath to the lockkeeper's cottage by the entrance to the canal. The lockkeeper was just replacing the telephone when they knocked at the open door of his small cottage.

‘Why can't some of them buy a set of tide tables? That was another person asking about high tide for next weekend. Do you know, they even phone me on Christmas Day to ask about the tides at Easter.’ He shook his head in bewilderment. ‘Now, what can I do for you?’ Emma explained that they were interested in finding out more about the gaff-rigged cutter they had seen in the canal and she described it in a little more detail. 'Oh yes,' beamed the lock-keeper, 'That’s the Norwegian boat. She's been here sometime now. Not in a bad condition considering her age and where she's been.’ 'Could that have included the South Pacific?' asked Emma. 'I’m sure it does, but you’ll need to speak to the owner. He comes here most weekends to work on her. She was built a few years after the war.’ ’After the war?' repeated Jake ‘That’s right,’ replied the lock-keeper, ‘The owner's father built her around 1950.’ With this disappointing information, they sat silently on the edge of the lock watching water from the canal seep through the old timber lock gates. ‘I think that's the end of our search,’ said Jake sadly and the two of them reluctantly agreed. ‘I can't think of any other hiding places on this river.’ But there was something nagging away at the back of Ben's mind and it wouldn't rest.


20. A discovery
The three companions have never forgotten the events of the next eighteen hours. They were an amazing mixture of good luck and misfortune, and some facts seem too strange to believe. Nevertheless, they are recorded here exactly as the three remember them, though parts of their story must remain unexplained. While they were sitting by the side of the lock, Ben wandered back to look at the sailing boat. He remembered the beachcomber telling them that the ghost ship had once been a pilot cutter; here in the canal, was a boat designed in the same style. He studied the complex rigging and, recalling the incident at Decoy Point with Shimmering, wondered how the tall wooden mast could be lowered to the deck. Then he realised that, without its mast, it would look very similar to the abandoned fishing boats he had boarded several days earlier in search of a bolt. Yet another idea occurred to Ben. Could the fishing boats have once been sailing ships but had their masts removed? Perhaps the shipwright in Maldon had converted one of them? It was only a hunch, but he returned to share his ideas with Jake and Emma. They agreed that they had nothing to lose by taking a look at the boats, for the beach where they lay was only a short distance from the lock. Apart from the burnt out hulk, only one boat was still moored with its bows facing the shore; its weed-ridden hull


still dripping water from the morning tide. Of the second boat, there was no sign. From the sea wall, Ben pointed to the lone fishing boat but the other two shook their heads. ‘Oh, that's only Paradox,’ exclaimed Emma, ‘The boat dad told you about in the van. She used to be out on a buoy in the river and dad used to moor Shimmering alongside her whenever he missed the tide.’ They both agreed that there was a similarity between the hulls of the fishing boat and the pilot cutter, but that was where the likeness ended. Indeed, with her large ugly wheelhouse, cargo hatch and working gear, she looked anything but a sailing ship. 'I can't imagine,' said Jake, 'That boat ever had a mast let alone any sails.' Ben might have let the matter rest there, but Jake's words jarred a memory. ‘But it does have a mast,’ he exclaimed, ‘I mean it did have one once. You remember I told you about the man who climbed into the hold and tried to remove a plate with some numbers? I remember standing behind a large wooden pillar and watching him. Now that must have been the lower part of a mast. It could have been left there as a support when the boat was converted.’ At this point Emma chipped in. ‘Yes. Don't you remember the beachcomber's first trip when he used her as a fishing boat? The mast fell down and had to be replaced with a stronger one that passed down through the decks.’ ‘Come to think of it,’ said Ben, ‘I think the other fishing boat had a similar wooden pillar below decks.’


‘Well,’ replied Emma, ‘Perhaps we should ask a few questions about them in the boatyard here.’ Arthur, the yard owner, was unavailable, but the lady in the office listened to their story with great interest. She explained that the owners of large old boats occasionally paid for a week’s mooring in cash but then ignored requests for further payments; letters from the yard were returned unopened. Eventually, the boats were moored on the muddy beach near the yard and, if no one turned up to claim them, were sold. This is why the two fishing boats, Ariel and Paradox, had ended up where they were. The lady explained that, in marine law, a ship’s debts stayed with it, which meant that anyone who wanted to buy Ariel or Paradox would have to pay some large bills first. Indeed, a third fishing boat on the beach had recently been destroyed by vandals and was of no further value, but Ariel had been sold a couple of days earlier and was being delivered to the new owner by Arthur. While the other two went off to examine Paradox, Ben remained in the office to collect some information about Ariel. Despite a careful search of the files, there were no documents regarding her ownership or past history; the file for Paradox was just as empty. Then, from a long brown envelope, the assistant drew a faded piece of paper. ‘Arthur found this old note tucked in the back of an empty chronometer box left aboard Ariel. He hoped it would provide a clue as to who owned the boat, but it didn’t.’

Ben studied the handwritten note. It was dated 18th September 1948, and they could just decipher the words ‘To be repaired in Malden’. Both agreed that this wasn’t of much help other than the writer couldn't spell Maldon. Ben thanked the lady for her help and left the office to join the others. He found Emma and Jake rummaging around in the darkness of Paradox's hold. ‘Was there anything about Ariel in the office?’ asked Emma. Ben shook his head. ‘No. They don't know who the owner is or where the boat came from. There's only a note that suggests she may have visited Maldon around September 1948 to get the chronometer checked, but by then the ghost ship would have been in the Pacific.’ Jake spoke. ‘This fishing boat has definitely been converted from a sailing ship. The hold was once a part of the main cabin and, like the ghost ship, there are some brass fittings aboard, but come and look at what we found below the wheelhouse.' They walked back through the hold to a cabin that contained a couple of full-length bunks, a table and a small galley. ‘Take a look at the wood fittings around the galley,’ suggested Emma. Ben did and could see that they had been permanently scorched with burn marks. ‘That might have been the result of Simon's cooking,’ she added, ‘But there's something else too. Look at that shelf above the port bunk.’

She didn't have to say another word for as they gazed at a small wooden box screwed to the shelf only one thing was missing: Simon's mouth organ. They smiled at each other as they inspected their discoveries. Perhaps they were standing in the ghost ship after all, or perhaps it was just a series of coincidences: there was no real way of knowing. As they were leaving the yard, the helpful assistant called to them from the office window. ‘I've found something which might interest you.’ She held up a large black book of nautical tables. 'I kept thinking about the spelling of Maldon in the note we found on Ariel, the other fishing boat. Well, there is a place called Malden according to this list of ports and islands. Look, it's mentioned here in the index.' ‘But where is it?’ they asked. She shook her head. 'It doesn't say exactly, it only gives the latitude and longitude. Malden: Latitude 4 03 South, Longitude 155 01 West. Now according to my reckoning, that's an island somewhere in the South Pacific.’


21. High and dry
Encouraged by this piece of news, they agreed to take another trip back to Osea Island. Once there, they could tell their beachcombing friend what they had discovered. It shouldn’t be too difficult to trace Ariel. They sat on the sea wall and exchanged ideas on how things might turn out. ‘If Ariel is the ghost ship, he might want to buy her back again.’ ‘And convert her back to a sailing ship.’ ‘Maybe we could help him during the holidays?’ ‘He may not have enough money to buy her.’ And so on. But, despite the incoming tide, Shimmering was still aground at the entrance to the lock so there was nothing more they could do except wait. After a while, Emma and Ben decided to go for a stroll around the nearby fields. As they left, Ben shouted ‘Behave yourselves!’ and Emma shot him a Brothers can be so annoying look. When they returned, Jake had washed down the decks using a long hose lying by the side of the lock. Someone sitting on the sea wall had asked him questions about Shimmering and about where they’d been sailing. ‘I just told him we’d been around the river and that we were getting ready to return home. I didn’t like the look of him much, but he was quite helpful and offered to coil the hose while I went to switch off the tap and return the key to the lock keeper.’ Ben asked Jake what he looked like.


‘Oh, well fed, head like a thumb, and a droopy kind of moustache,’ came the reply. ‘He sounds a bit like Ben's mysterious stranger,’ said Emma. The three of them gave no further thought to the incident and took a walk around Heybridge to pass the time. But the hand of fate was waiting silently in the river to interfere with their plans. Upon their return to the lock, they found several yachts moored around the entrance to await the opening of the gates. In doing so, they had hemmed in Shimmering assuming that she was also bound for the canal. With the help of the owners, they cleared the lines that trapped her, but lost valuable time getting out into the river. The next problem was the wind, or the lack of any. During the afternoon, it had dropped to a gentle breeze and had then disappeared completely. Smoke from a distant factory chimney drifted straight up into a cloudless sky, and the surface of the water was like a mirror. Without wind to drive the sails, there was nothing else for it but to start the outboard motor. Jake tugged at the starter cord and the engine burst into life. It ran for about a minute and then faded away. Having checked the petrol, Jake rewound and tugged the starter cord several times but the engine just gave an unhealthy splutter and refused to run. While Emma and Ben took turns with the starter cord, Jake thumbed hastily through the oil-stained and dog-eared pages of the instructions manual. His efforts to check and adjust settings


had no effect and he thumped the top of the motor with frustration. ‘It’s let us down,’ he groaned, ‘Just when we really need it!’ Collier's Reach slipped gradually astern and they headed slowly, very slowly, in the general direction of Osea. ‘This calm won't last, there's usually some sea breeze towards evening’ said Jake hopefully. Several other yachts drifted lazily along in the ebb stream. Emma tried to scull Shimmering by waggling the rudder backwards and forwards, but it had little effect. Off Decoy Point, they altered course and pointed the bows towards the Stumble, the shallow stretch of water between the island and the north shore. In the distance, at the far end of the island, the beachcomber's small blue yacht was still at anchor. ‘This short cut behind Osea Island should save a little time.’ explained Jake, but Emma looked at him anxiously. ‘What about the tide?’ she queried, ‘There are no other boats using this route now.’ They carried on in silence and the gap between Shimmering and the other yachts in the main channel increased. After a few minutes, there was a slight stirring on the surface of the water and the small flag at the masthead began to lift and flutter. ‘Look! You were right,’ cried Ben. The sails filled with air and the sound of bubbles hissing at the bows gradually increased as the boat gathered way.


With the boat heeling, they sailed on towards the island and cheered the wind as it whipped past their faces. Their delight was short-lived. Within a few hundred yards, the twin keels had driven into a shallow bank of mud and gravel and were firmly gripped in its clutches. With the pressure of the tide swirling past her hull, Shimmering swung around and slopped over at an angle. She was stranded on a falling tide. Jake plunged over the side and Ben followed. The cold water came well over their waists, but they managed to gain a foothold on the unseen bank and struggled to drag the boat clear. They heaved and pulled, but she was stuck fast. Within a few minutes, they had to abandon their efforts, as she was no longer capable of floating. From the gravel beneath their feet, Jake guessed that they were aground on the causeway leading to Osea Island. Back aboard, they dried themselves and changed clothes whilst Emma brought the dinghy alongside. There was hardly enough room for the three of them in the small boat, but no one was willing to remain behind, so they squeezed aboard and started rowing in the direction of the island. It was a slow and tiring business, but the swift current helped to carry them some way down the beach. Emma was first out of the dinghy and set off along the shore with the two of them in close pursuit. They followed a rough path above the beach and skirted several small coves. A few deserted farmhouses lay behind the trees on their right, whilst, to their left, the remains of disused fish

traps beckoned from the shingle like stark black fingers. Every so often, they disturbed groups of sea birds perched along the sea wall and these fled across the estuary protesting noisily at the unexpected invasion. The path gradually became overrun with briars and nettles and was impossible to follow, so they continued their journey on the other side of the embankment until the beachcomber's hut came into view. The first thing they noticed was that the tarpaulin, which had covered the roof and entrance to the hide, had disappeared. They scrambled up the bank and looked inside; all signs of occupation were gone. The fireplace outside had been cleared away and the bricks lay piled on the floor of the hide. Emma and Ben peered through the slit that overlooked the beach, but there was no sign of the beachcomber's yacht. Jake climbed on top of the hide and stared down the river. In the distance, the small blue yacht was sailing away towards the entrance of the estuary. They shouted loudly and waved from the top of the embankment, but it was pointless. No voice could have carried over such a distance, and the little boat continued on its journey. ‘He's gone and he won't be coming back,’ said Emma ‘And he's taken everything with him.’ ‘Not everything.’ replied Ben, pointing to the roof of the hide. There, furled and tucked in the timbers above their heads, was a large and colourful umbrella.


22. A brief phone call
Several miles to the north of London, dusk is descending over a large country mansion. Though the building appears deserted, in the study, someone is searching through a stack of documents. The papers litter the heavy oak desk and spill over onto the floor. Suddenly, the sound of a phone ringing disturbs the silence and the search. ‘Hello. Who’s that?’ ‘Who do you think?’ The caller, a man, sounds tetchy ‘You were meant to phone me earlier.’ ‘I had a few things to sort out.’ ‘Well is everything ready?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Good, but what about those kids?’ ‘Just forget about them. They think they’re going home.’ ‘I don’t want any stupid mistakes this time.’ ‘There won’t be.’ ‘You said that the first time.’ ‘What about my money?’ ‘It’ll be here waiting for you.’ ‘Right, I better get on with the job.’ ‘Come straight back here afterwards.’ ‘Yeah, I’ll see you later.’ Pausing briefly to replace the phone, the woman continues searching for a document she knows she must find.


23. Fire down below
Jake was right: Shimmering was aground close to the causeway. A few feet either way and they might have avoided the small bank of shingle on which she was now forlornly trapped. They dragged the dinghy along slowly in the few remaining inches of muddy water and secured it to the stern. Any conversation was mixed with disappointment. If only the motor hadn't packed up like that. If only they had sailed to the south of the island. If only. Two of the saddest words in any language. ‘Perhaps we shall meet him again one day,’ said Emma, but didn't sound too confident. Jake agreed and added, ‘What a pity we didn't get his real address: To the Beachcomber, Summer Residence, Osea Island, River Blackwater, Essex. We think we have found the ghost ship.’ Jake's sense of humour rarely failed to cheer them up, but it didn't work on this occasion. Later, however, Emma wrote a short note with a similar message, walked back along the beach, and pinned it to the umbrella. While Jake tinkered with the outboard motor, Ben sat on the hatch and listed the things they had discovered about Ariel. She was a fishing boat that may have been converted from a sailing ship. She may have sailed the South Seas with a chronometer problem: a clue that might yet prove to be a simple spelling error. It didn't really add up to much and the other two agreed.


‘Well, I think the search was good fun,’ said Emma, ‘And we certainly know a lot more about the river than we did a week ago.’ Jake gave a cry of triumph as he found the cause of the engine failure. There was water in the petrol tank and he wondered if their new friend by the lock had something to do with that. Fortunately, there was a spare supply aboard and the engine would soon be running smoothly again. Night fell and, from their perch on the causeway, they hurled the anchor out on to the riverbed. It slid silently under a layer of black ooze. To the East, a green beacon stabbed away in the dark over The Spit. The only decision that faced them now was when to leave the causeway. No one wanted to spend another day on the mud so they chose an early departure with the morning tide. For a while, they sat in the cabin and played cards, then Emma set the alarm clock and they turned in. When Ben awoke, a few hours later, he heard the sound of Jake hauling in the anchor chain, and went up to join him. ‘You were both fast asleep when the alarm went off so I left you there. I can manage alone if you want to go back down again.’ Ben shook his head and gave him a hand with the wet, slimy chain. As his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he could see the water rising slowly around the hull. A cold easterly wind blew across the estuary and but he resisted the temptation to return to his dry warm bunk and pulled on another jumper. Soon, the noisy outboard motor broke the silence of their deserted anchorage and, with a brief

shudder, Shimmering slipped off the bank and headed upstream to Maldon. As they crept toward Collier's Reach, a small figure emerged from the cabin. ‘Morning all.’ Disturbed by the noise from the engine, Emma had come to join them in the cockpit. She smiled as she recalled the song contest during the van journey to the coast, and started to hum the sea shanty that she and her brother had sung to drown their father's mournful choruses. Way-hay and up she rises Way-hay and up she rises Patent blocks of different sizes ....... Suddenly, she froze and gripped Jake’s arm. ‘Patent blocks ... that's it ... why didn't I think of it earlier?’ Then, before the others had the slightest idea what she was talking about, she tugged at his sleeve and pointed to the shore. 'Quick! Pull over to Paradox before the tide sweeps us further upstream.’ Jake eased the tiller and guided Shimmering across the dark water to the beach where Paradox lay. ‘I'll need some light.’ Emma ducked below to get a lamp from the cabin, ‘Just get close enough for me to hop aboard. I'll only be gone a couple of minutes.’ Jake cut the engine and let Shimmering drift gently into the shallows near the beach. A large and familiar shape loomed up out of the darkness some yards ahead. It was Paradox and Ben stepped up to the bows to fend her off as they came alongside.

‘Now we can hear each other think,’ said Jake, ‘What’s this all about?’ Sitting in the cockpit, Emma lit the lamp and repeated the line about patent blocks. She had just started to explain when they were distracted by a strong smell of burning. Something was on fire and it wasn't the lamp; it seemed to be coming from Paradox. They hauled themselves aboard the old fishing boat. Smoke was billowing up from a hatchway near the bows and a sharp crackling sound could be heard from within the hull. One door of the wheelhouse was flung open and an orange glow flickered around the painted woodwork inside. ‘This boat’s on fire!’ ‘We must get some help quickly.’ The nearby boats were deserted but Ben saw someone standing on the jetty by the boatyard. A long plank of wood had been left near the bows leading to the beach. Ben ran down the plank and hurried to the boatyard. When he reached the jetty, he hauled himself up using one of its slime-covered posts as a support. Peering over the planking, he froze at the sight of a large rat perching inches from his face. Having inspected the new arrival, it scuttled away and disappeared through a hole in the planks. The jetty was empty but from somewhere across the other side of the yard came the sound of running water. Ben walked in the direction of the noise, which seemed to come from the back of a large boatshed. Turning a corner, he saw a man crouching down and washing his hands under a tap at the rear of the building.

‘Can you help?’ he asked, ‘There's a boat on fire near the yard.’ The man was clearly startled by Ben's sudden appearance, but recovered very quickly. 'Yeah, I'll phone the fire brigade. You better shove off, OK?’ Then turning, he ran off in the direction of the office overlooking the jetty. Ben certainly had no intention of ‘shoving off' and decided to follow the man, particularly as he hadn't asked any questions about the fire or the name of the boat. By the time he reached the office, however, the man had disappeared. Ben looked for a light being switched on and listened for a voice; the boatyard remained dark and silent. Puzzled, he walked along the front of the office and tried the door but it was locked. In the darkness, at the back of the office, Ben noticed the store that he had searched earlier in the week. Although its metal door was open, the store was deserted. He checked behind the store, but there was no one there. Then, as he turned back, he saw the man crossing the yard. He was clutching a lump of wood as if he were about to give someone a beating. To Ben’s horror, he realised that he might be that someone and looked around in panic for a way to escape. Before he could move, however, the man had walked straight past him and into the store. He hadn’t seen him at all. Ben decided to remain in the shadows and hoped he wouldn’t be noticed. Behind him, a wire fence ran along the rear of the boatyard; it was too high to climb. Ahead lay the office and jetty, but these were in full view of anyone inside the store. Ben remained by the side of the

store for several minutes, though it seemed like hours. Why was the man taking so long to look for him in the store? Surely, he must have seen that it was empty. Glancing up, Ben noticed a small window at the side of the store and, beneath the window, a large oil drum. He climbed up on the drum as quietly as possible and peered inside. Although the window was filthy and covered in cobwebs, he could just see the man hiding behind the door. He was breathing heavily and still clutching the wooden post. From his shiny head and large moustache, Ben recognised him as the man who had tried to remove the metal plate from Paradox several days earlier. He was hiding from Ben, but it was clear that he intended to use that lump of wood on whoever might discover him. Suddenly, from somewhere across the yard, he heard Emma calling. ‘Ben, where are you?’ She had come to see why he was taking so long and was standing in the yard and looking around. With a finger on his lips, Ben waved at her to join him and, for a second, she appeared to do so. But then he realised that she hadn’t seen him and was walking directly towards the store. What if she stepped inside? There was no time to waste. He slipped silently off the oil drum, and ran to the front of the store. The metal door had a large handle and a sliding bolt. Taking a deep breath, he grabbed the handle, slammed the door shut, and slid the bolt home.


24. Search’s end
The cabin beneath the wheelhouse was filled with smoke, but the fire seemed to be coming from the hold. Coughing and choking in the fumes, the crew of Shimmering grabbed some old towels that were lying in the galley, soaked them with water, and wrapped them around their faces. Then they went down into the hold to investigate. Flames licked around the base of the wooden mast and the hull reeked of charred timbers. Despite the dense smoke, Ben thought he could see sparks shooting up through a gaping hole in the main deck. The smoke cleared briefly and he could see that the hatch covers above the hold had been removed deliberately so that the night breeze would fan the fames below; flames that were creeping steadily in their direction. ‘Let’s get out of here before it gets any worse,’ he yelled and turned to make a hurried exit. Jake held him back and shouted. 'No! Let's try to put it out before it takes hold.' Before it takes hold! Ben thought Jake was mad, as it seemed that the ship was already engulfed in flames. Jake and Emma grabbed some buckets and scrambled up the steps leading to the wheelhouse. As Ben followed them, he remembered there was a hand pump near the hatch with a length of hosepipe attached to it. It was a pump to clear the bilges. He worked the handle up and down and, within seconds, a stream of filthy water gushed out of the pipe. Perhaps Paradox's leaky old timbers were to save her? With the pipe leading over the hatchway, he worked the


pump like a demon. Meanwhile, Jake and Emma filled their buckets from the ship's side and threw the contents on to the flames rising from the hold. Within a few minutes, the bilges started to dry out and the pump stopped working; it looked as if they were fighting a losing battle. 'We must get to the heart of the fire!' shouted Jake, carrying a bucket into the wheelhouse. Ben grabbed Emma's bucket and ran after him. Down below, they saw that their attempts to contain the fire had been quite successful and the smoke was starting to clear. At the far end of the hold, however, a small bonfire was raging. It looked as if the hatch boards, the covers, some rope and stores had been piled up and set alight. All they had done was to dampen the flames licking from this angry inferno. Ben noticed that one of the hatch boards was the main source of the blaze and decided to try and shift it. Though heavy, he managed to lift it clear and was about to throw it to the side of the hold when something caught his attention. Illuminated by the light of the flames, he thought he saw a figure moving through the smoke towards him. Could the man he had locked up in the storeroom have escaped? Then, as he went to throw the burning hatch board, something gripped his arm and he dropped the board to one side. He swung around to see who had grabbed him, but there was no one there. Not a living soul. Whatever the cause, it may have saved their lives. Then Emma appeared through the smoke in the hatchway above. 'Ben! A basket of blocks.' she cried. 'Can you see a basket of blocks?’

How these would help to fight the blaze, he couldn't imagine, but he looked around in every direction. By the light of the flames, he could see a large wicker basket lying on its side with several wooden blocks spilled out across the deck and almost reduced to ashes. The basket lay behind the fire but the heat was too intense for a closer inspection. ‘I can see it,’ he cried, ‘But I can’t get near it.’ Within seconds, a large metal hook thudded down on the deck beside him. It was Shimmering’s mooring hook and line. ‘Try to grab it with that,’ yelled Emma. Ben threw the hook in the direction of the basket and, after several unsuccessful attempts, caught it and dragged it clear of the fire. Emma was still peering down through the hatchway, her eyes streaming from the smoke. ‘Now pass up your buckets using the hook,’ she called. The buckets disappeared up through the hatchway on the mooring hook to be filled with water and returned. For the next ten minutes, they worked hard to rescue the old ship and the fire was gradually brought under control. The air was thick with the acrid smell of burnt pitch, which had melted and dripped down from the seams above. Beams were charred and smouldering, and blistered paint peeled from every plank. That the ship was badly damaged, there was no doubt, but they had managed to save her. As the smoke cleared, several red metal containers could be seen piled up to the side of the hold. They were marked Petrol Highly Inflammable. Ben remembered trying to cast aside

the burning hatch board and silently thanked whoever, or whatever, had stopped him from doing so. If the flames had reached the metal cans, the boat would have exploded. Exhausted and filthy, they slumped down on deck by the door of the wheelhouse. Their faces were streaked with sweat and soot, and their clothing scorched. After a few minutes, Ben remembered the man locked in the store and describe the events in the yard to Jake. ‘It sounds like an insurance fraud to me,’ said Jake, ‘The owner gets someone to set the boat alight, claims it was an accident, and picks up the insurance money.' ‘But why did walrus-face try to remove the metal plate earlier?’ ‘It must have had the ship's registered number on it. With two similar boats next to each other, he probably took it to check with the owner that he had the right target.’ Then, as they sat wondering what to do next, they heard Emma was calling up to them from the hold below. With some reluctance, they dragged themselves to their feet and went down the steps to join her. She was leaning over the wicker basket that Ben had rescued. It was upside-down and she held a lamp over its wooden base. ‘Do you remember that Dad had seen a crate or basket of blocks on one of the fishing boats? Well, out there on the river, it suddenly occurred to me that it might be the basket that was used to ferry stores to the ghost ship; the one that the Pacific Islander repaired. Just take a look at this!'


Puzzled, they looked down to where she was pointing. There, in the flickering light of the lamp, they saw a map with names and figures, carefully engraved almost thirty years earlier by an old man in the Galapagos. An old man who wanted to share a secret with people he could trust. The first rays of the morning sun pierced the smoke still rising from the ashes and someone appeared in the entrance to the wheelhouse. They had found the ghost ship and were about to share their discovery.


24. A final surprise
A familiar face appeared on the steps above; to their delight it was the beachcomber. ‘She's a bit different from when I last saw her, but it's the old ghost ship alright.’ ‘And look,’ said Emma, ‘Here's your treasure map to prove it. But what brought you back this way? We didn't think that we would ever see you again.’ ‘I saw you waving from the island as I was heading down river. Then I remembered that I’d left my umbrella behind but the tide was too strong to turn back. I lay at anchor off Stone for the night and returned to collect it on the flood tide early this morning. That's when I saw the note you had left, so I continued up the river to look for you. But what on earth has happened down here?’ While Emma and Ben described the events of the last few hours, Jake went ashore to phone the police. When he returned, they were still explaining to the beachcomber how they had pieced together the various clues. ‘Did you check on my prisoner?’ asked Ben. ‘Oh yes,’ replied Jake. ‘He had tried to escape through the small window at the back of the store, but he got stuck half way and is still there now. I won't repeat what he called me when I refused to release him!’ In the daylight, the four of them explored the ship. The beachcomber was obviously delighted to see her again, though saddened by her wretched condition.


‘I've passed this beach many times, but never imagined that one of the fishing boats might be the ghost ship. The name Paradox didn't mean anything to me.’ ‘We though that another fishing boat called Ariel might have been the ghost ship,’ added Emma, ‘The lady in the boatyard said it had visited Malden in the South Pacific.’ ‘Or Maldon on the Blackwater,’ added Jake with a grin. The beachcomber hunted around the cupboards and drawers in the wheelhouse until he found a large screwdriver, then he beckoned them to follow him back down into the hold. ‘Let's take it off the basket. I don't think anyone will miss it.’ ‘Or deserve it,’ added Ben. The beachcomber removed the copper screws holding the wooden base to the basket. When it was released, they brushed away the dirt and tried to decipher the words and numbers carved on its surface. Nobody took any notice of what was lying on the original base of the basket. It was only when they turned the map over and saw six circular green stains in the dark wood that they glanced back at the basket. There, to their astonishment, in a layer of thick dust and rotting wood, lay half a dozen large coins. ‘So that’s why he wanted us to take his map if we ever left the ghost ship. It was meant to be a surprise. He put the coins here when he repaired the basket. They must have come from the treasure trove on his secret island.’ ‘Pieces of eight!’ gasped Ben. ‘No, pieces of eight would be silver; these are gold.’


They passed the coins around, turning them over and studying them carefully. On one side there was a coat of arms and the word 'Hispaniola'; on the reverse, a king and queen stared coldly across at each other. ‘Do you think they came from a Spanish galleon?’ ‘Possibly, but just think of the men who fought and probably killed each other to possess them.’ ‘And now they are yours again.’ said Emma. The beachcomber turned the coins over slowly. No one spoke, but they guessed he was wondering what he and his companions might have done if they had known that the coins were concealed in the basket. Then he looked up at them and smiled. ‘No,’ he said, ‘I want you to have them. They're no use to me. They would only collect dust on a shelf at home. But they are probably worth something. You deserve them and it's the best way that I can thank you.’ He handed them each two coins and continued. ‘It's so easy to fill your life with dreams yet end up in a rut having done nothing about them; the years can thunder by. Perhaps the coins you are holding may give you the chance to escape, to travel, to see the world or to do whatever you set your heart on. But remember that money isn't everything; I had to learn that the hard way. You must have the courage to follow your dreams.’ And that's about as good a place as any to finish this story. Their suspicions that the fire was deliberate were right. The owner had arranged it in order to collect the insurance on a boat that was of no further interest to her.

She had employed an accomplice to do the job; both were arrested and charged with various offences including arson. The third fishing boat had been destroyed earlier through their botched plans. Naturally, no insurance was paid and Paradox eventually passed into the hands of the yard. She remained on the beach by the sea wall for two seasons. Arthur placed a large 'For Sale' sign over the wheelhouse, but she attracted little or no interest from passers-by. Twice a day, the tides brought life to her timbers then lowered her gently into the mud again. But, just when it seemed that she was to be towed away and scuttled in the deep waters of the North Sea, someone bought her. The mast was restored, the ugly wheelhouse removed, and the hull repaired and repainted. And then, one night, she sailed away from the river and has never returned. The crew of Shimmering kept in contact with the beachcomber for a few years until the day a large flat parcel arrived in the post. With it came a formal letter from a solicitor regretting that their friend had died. In his will, he had directed that the enclosed be sent to them. The solicitor’s letter described the contents of the package as 'One simple wooden engraving without a frame. Of no apparent value.' And what of the three companions today? Well, they often talk of finding a larger boat and going to look for that treasure. They may go one day, but time is passing swiftly as their busy lives unfold. But how about you? You could take up the search instead. Why not? There’s rather more

truth in this tale than you realise. You know the route and the map of the atoll looks genuine enough. Unfortunately, the oceans are rising and the atoll may soon disappear, so there’s no time to lose. Start to plan your voyage now and we can talk about the money later. Don’t forget, you’ll need to pack plenty of shark repellent and a metal detector. Try not to damage the coral, and, if you can remember, leave a message in that old barrel on Post Office Bay.