Harry gripped the wheel tightly as the ship plunged into another wave. Ahead, through the bridge window, he watched as the wall of water crashed over the bow, leaving its white spume on the open deck in its wake. It wasn’t much of a storm really, not like the ones he’d seen in the past. Now he was the bosun, in control of the steamer; then he was a hand on a fishing boat, like his father and grandfather before him. As the ship corkscrewed her way across the sea, lurching from one side to another, Harry felt calm and remembered his first trip as a ship’s boy, aged just 11. Not so much boy as cook and cleaner, he thought grimly, stuck below deck in the fumes and heat. Still, he was lucky, the sea was in his blood and he was a born sailor. His friend Tommy was tied to the mast of his boat until he got used to the pitching and tossing. They were tough days then.
While he was thinking about the boat owners who exploited the fishermen, the bar light appeared ahead. A dim light in the dark night sky, flashing every few seconds, disappearing behind the waves as the bow went down, reappearing as the ship hit the crest. As he changed course to head down the river, Harry could see the dark mass of the land, shelter from the storm, but the channel could be dangerous. Staring through the bridge window, he could make out the green and red lights of the buoys he had to guide the steamer through. The swirling waters showed the strength of the crosscurrents in the channel, but it was what he couldn’t see that tested all his skill. Hidden beneath the eddying waters were the remains of ships that never made it, lying on the seabed, jagged wrecks, ready to bring another ship down with them. Harry had done this trip hundreds of times before, but he was no less alert now than on his first trip as bosun all those years before.
As the rain abated, he could see the lights of the port and the berth. Another safe crossing. Harry thought of his wife and four children back home. Tomorrow he’d be back in the ship’s home port and they would come on board to see him. He could see the bow ropes were secured. Time to sleep for a couple of hours before facing the storm again.
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