Since starting his travels five years ago, he’d been shipwrecked at least twice, not counting the times his vessel had been beached, scuppered, squashed, upturned or stranded on a sandbank somewhere inconvenient. He was also very good at getting lost, having sailed around Fiji four times before wondering why it took so long to reach Dover. No wonder he’d been dubbed ‘Catastrophe’ by fellow seafarers. In fact, every time he left port, coastguards throughout the world took bets on when he’d meet his next disaster. Of course, it mattered little to him if people poked fun, but things were different now. Now, two young lives depended on his seamanship and, for the first time during his watery exile, he wished with all his heart he’d taken lessons!
With great difficulty, he staggered towards the prow, fighting against the fiercely squalling winds while raindrops big as jam jars pelted down remorselessly. AS he lurched from side to side, Captain Bob tried desperately to lash the sails and fasten the rigging, but the deck had become so slippery, it was almost impossible to stay on his feet while the waters swelled with increasing power, tossing the vessel every which way but upright.
Down below, the boys were feeling distinctly queasy and their arms ached through holding onto the table. “Do you think we ought to help him?” asked Odi, trying very hard not to panic. Joe shook his head. “He told us to stay here!” he yelled, unable to hear himself above the now earth-splitting thunder that accompanied the constant shafts of jagged, pure white energy. The boat rose upward from the stern and jiggled violently, as though determined to shake the boys’ grip from the table and they both screamed with terror as the craft slapped downwards again, almost pulling their arms from their sockets. Immediately, there was a sickening crack from the deck. “I’m going up!” Odi insisted. “If Captain Catastrophe gets swept overboard, we’re done for!”
Up aloft, the Captain was in a dreadful state, scarcely able to stand due to the force of the gale that howled menacingly around the Mersey May while the boat’s joints creaked under the strain. To make matters worse, the deluge had sucked all the air from his wellies and waterproof trousers, rendering them rigid, vacuum-packed, and clinging tightly to his legs. Unable to bend his knees, all Captain Catastrophe could do was cling desperately to the rails and haul his huge bulk along the deck, lunging wildly from one spot to another until finally reaching his goal. With one hand clutching the winch, he stretched his other hand towards the rigging of the main sail and started to untie it. This in itself was a Herculean task, but then a particularly savage gust wrenched the rope from his grasp and knocked him off his feet. At the same time, a sudden gush of air shot up his jacket and, unable to escape due to the tight neck fastening, caused the garment to blow up like an enormous yellow balloon. Poor Captain Catastrophe completely lost resistance to the elements, and was literally blown across the deck, bouncing in his jacket like a buoy, until his head struck the tiller. But for an open cupboard under which his inflated jacket got wedged, he’d have been dragged overboard by the ferocious surge of water. Now completely helpless, the Captain lay with his upper body jammed into the cupboard and his legs sticking out, stiff as boards.
“What do we do now?” yelled Odi in dismay.
“The jig….the jig…!” Captain Catastrophe replied from the cupboard.
“What?!” Neither Joe nor Odi had a clue what he meant.
“The thingummy jig!” the Captain continued, frantically waving his one free hand towards the mast. “Pull down the sail! It’s going to break!”
Sure enough, the mainsail was flapping and yawing perilously above them. “Here!” said Joe. “ We’ll tie ropes around our waists in case we get washed away!” Once secured, both boys inched their way towards the mast, trying to dodge the rigging that whipped from side to side. It seemed to take ages, but at last, they reached the mast and started winding together to bring the sail down. Unfortunately, they’d hardly begun this task when the cable jammed.
“It’s stuck!” cried Odi. “One of us will have to climb up to release it! I’ll go, I’m the strongest!”
“No” Joe protested, “I’m lighter than you are. It’ll be less likely to break.” Not waiting to argue, Joe grabbed the mast and began to scale up it.
“Be careful!” yelled Odi, but Joe couldn’t hear him above the howling gale and the gushing of the sea. At first it was almost impossible to climb; his feet kept slipping and every time the boat dipped into the hollow of a wave, he had to cling on desperately. But slowly, carefully, agonisingly, he managed to inch himself upwards, until at last, he could grasp the cable near the top of the sail.
“Start winching now!” he cried and waved at Odi who had a crick in his neck through looking up. While Odi set about his task, Joe began to inch downwards, a feat that was even harder than the ascent, for he couldn’t see where to put his feet. To make matters worse, he was still a long way from the deck when he heard a sickening crack. The mast had split beneath him!
“Help!” he screamed, as he felt the mast lurch sideways.
“Hang on!” cried Odi. “I’ll pull you in.” And he grabbed the other end of the rope which was tied around Joe and yanked with all his might. Immediately, the mast fell sideways and dangled over the sea, leaving Joe floundering headfirst in mid air, with only Odi and the rope between him and certain death. “I should be used to this by now” he thought wryly, and prayed Odi was as strong as he liked to boast.
Fortunately, Captain Catastrophe had managed to squeeze himself out of the cupboard in time to help Odi haul Joe in. The three of them collapsed in a heap, groaning with fatigue.
As usual, Odi was the first to speak. “I feel like I’ve been in a Tom and Jerry cartoon!” he remarked. It was then he noticed the Captain’s balloonish appearance. “And, if you don’t mind me saying so, Captain” he added cheekily, “You could do with a few less fry-ups!”
“Glad someone still has a sense of humour” said Captain Catastrophe as he reached into his pocket. “All in all, that was quite a squall.” He pulled out a small penknife and plunged it into his oilskin jacket, which, to the boys’ delight, deflated with the most disgusting noise.
“Hey, Captain” exclaimed Odi, cheekily, “You make a brilliant whoopie cushion!”
Extract from "The Runaway Children Volume 2 - The Astonishing Mr Smyle"