Bond at sea
I wake. A thin spear of light slopes to the corner of my bare cabin. The engines hum, but the sea is calm and the motion gentle. My eyes take time to adjust to daylight as I pull the curtains to reveal the line of containers. Standing aloft, a seagull gazes through my spray drenched window.
The ‘Instructions’ on my desk designated breakfast between 0800 and 0900 hrs. It is already 8.40 am. I skip the shave and walk the white steel corridor towards the galley dining room. A door to my right bangs in a 19 knot headwind.
The galley is deserted. Along one side the steward has arranged stainless steel trays over a huge bain-marie. I select two thin sausages and a spoonful of drying scrambled egg, thinking back to the missed brunch at Fortnum and Mason. As I slot two pieces of brown bread in the commercial toaster it springs to life.
Across the room a door opens and Cpt Compton enters followed by a miniature Schnauzer. His little dog trots over to where I am standing and Compton grins “look out for your sausages Bond, mi pero is rather fond of them”.
“So who’s driving the ship?”, I question, hoping that humour will conceal my fragility. “It mostly does not need driving, Bond, it knows it’s own way once we are out of the channel”, he replies with a guffaw. “Right now the galley steward is probably practicing his driving skills”, he continued, “Let’s hope he is better at steering than he is at cooking breakfast”. “Come, let’s sit together”.
Nick Compton has the appearance of a man who has been at sea for a lifetime and a half. Although far from old - somewhere in his early fifties, he has assumed the mantle of an aged sea dog, his forehead creased by sun and rain, his springy beard showing traces of grey. He is not merely master of his ship, but master of the seas, crossing and re-crossing the Atlantic on a route that will take us through the Straits of Gibralta to Barcelona for our next landing, then down the Spanish coast via Valencia, Algeciras to Tangiers - and across the Atlantic to Salvador de Bahia in Brazil. From there we are to travel south via Itaguai, Santos Itapoa and finally on to Buenos Aires.
It seems that Compton has been employed by the same ship owner for most of his sea-going life. He tells me that his Chief Engineer is Romanian, and the rest of the crew are wiry Filopinos. “They learn quickly”, he adds, “we Europeans are a dying breed on the ships. It won’t be long before we are history”.
“So, Bond, what brings you here?”, he says after a silence.”Madden tells me that you are on the run”.
“No, not quite, simply fleeing old blighty and the MI5 cabal”, I reply, “I don’t think the Ministry wanted me to return to Argentina, but I have unfinished business there”.
“Nuff said”, he replies, giving me a quizzical smile and a nod. “Well, here you are safe, Bond. This ship’s cargo is full of secrets”. “Join me on the bridge when you are at a loose end”, he adds, “we might need you on our three officer rota”.
With that, Cpt Compton drops a sausage into the Schnauser’s open teeth, and rises to leave. The door bangs noisily behind him, leaving a silence that is interrupted only by the creaks and vibrations up from the engine room. I stack the plates and carry them to the servery. The coffee is bitter and stewed. Perhaps tomorrow, I should ensure I am down for 8.00 am on the dot.
Outside the sea is still calm, but a sharp wind blows spume up to the lower decks down below. I fasten my flying jacket tight and walk a full 225 metres of green painted top deck, cutting around stacks of containers arranged like lego bricks, the uppermost covered by tarpaulins, some buzzing with refrigeration fans, all lashed together by a lattice of steel ropes. At the stern, 98 ton propellers drive the ship at 20 nots, powered by 42,000 horsepower midship engines that stand over three storeys and consume 90 tons of fuel per hour at normal speed. At the bow, the sea is torn into a ragged white tissue of small waves. Seabirds wheel, and in the distance other vessels progress like tiny snails.
It is going to be a long voyage. I turn and head back to my cabin. As I approach, I hear the door catch click. I need not struggle for my key for the door is ajar. Inside, the cabin is deserted, save for an object dropped onto the bottom bunk. ‘The Quest for the Embrace’ by Benzecry Saba - it reads. ‘Who on earth could have left this?’, I ask myself, ‘And why?’
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