Because Arnau reminded me and he was there.
The forecast warned of a severe gale 9 for our area but we had to sail, there were people waiting for us in the next port.
Down on the Poop Deck, the crew and I let go our ropes and quickly coiled them down in the locker to stop them getting washed over the side when we left the shelter of the harbour. Around us, watching us, filming us and getting in the way were photographers, cameramen and reporters from Spanish TV stations and newspapers.
One of them came over to me and in broken English asked, ‘When we outside.’ He waved towards the harbour entrance. ‘Where will be sea?’
Momentarily nonplussed I gazed at him thinking ‘What do you mean where will the sea be? It’ll be under us …’ Then I got it. He wanted to know where the waves would be coming from. I indicated the ship’s port quarter and explained that the wind and swell would be coming from that direction when we got out into open water.
‘But sea won’t come in here?’ the cameraman asked pointing down at the deck.
‘Oh yes. Water will come inside.’ I tried to indicate to him that the deck would very quickly be awash but I could see from his expression that he thought I was winding him up. He sauntered back to the stern rail with his colleagues.
Busy, I didn’t really take in that our Spanish press pack had ranged themselves across the stern with their cameras pointing out over the port quarter until I felt the ship lift and twist. I looked up. We were passing clear of the breakwater and out into the storm. Keen to get action shots, the cameramen were filming and photographing away and standing on the weather side of the ship. Geoff, one of the crew nudged me.
‘Look, Lol,’ he said.
A hundred metres or so from our stern, the angry, wind-stirred Bay of Biscay was rising. The swell was already big enough but as we watched, this wall of water reared up and up and up, blanking out the evening sky. It raced towards the ship and I swear it was like being in the path of an angry, mobile block of flats. The crew and I tried to shout to the Press guys. Even as we backed up the deck and into the shelter of the accommodation, we shouted. I don’t know if they heard us or if they suddenly realised for themselves that they were in danger of being flattened and drenched but, suddenly, they turned away from the rail to look for safety …
… they were too late. The wall of water engulfed the back of the ship. Splattered across the deck were cameras and cameramen. Small tidal waves rolled them back and forth until the sea drained out of the scuppers leaving them panting like beached fish.
I had the watch after we left Gijon. With the ropes securely away and the Poop Deck mopped clean of soggy Spaniards, I made my way up to the Bridge.
‘That was a big sea we took over the stern.’ Peter, our captain remarked as I joined him in the chartroom. I started to smile.
‘Everything OK down there?’ he asked. I started to laugh.
‘What?’ Peter wanted to know. ‘What is funny?’
I’d never believed it possible that you could laugh so much you couldn’t breathe. I found out the truth of it that night. As the ship bucked and reared and rolled and pitched eastwards towards Santander, I leaned against the bulkhead behind me, unable to talk, I slid down into a sitting position. I laughed so hard I thought I’d suffocate.
‘What?’ Peter demanded. ‘Why you laugh so?’
‘Water,’ I spluttered. ‘Cameras … They didn’t believe me …’ Hot tears flooded out of my eyes, I held my stomach with both hands and gasped for breath. Over and over again the image of the cameramen turning away from the rail too late to escape played across my mind and I could not stop laughing. Another picture, overlaying but complimenting the first was of the same men – now in the mess room – ignoring their own comfort, fighting seasickness and desperately trying to dry out their equipment. Every towel the crew brought them was not used to dry hair, skin or clothes but was lovingly wrapped around a camera. Two or three men stood around the sink taking it turns to flush lenses and other bits of photographic technology with fresh water.
I shouldn’t have laughed. It wasn’t nice of me. It was bloody funny, though.
The midnight to four watch is usually a quiet time when a vessel is on passage. Sensible souls are in their bunks and watchkeepers are left to do their duty uninterrupted. Unless you’re on a Greenpeace ship. And especially if that Greenpeace ship is campaigning against driftnets with local Spanish fishing fraternities. Then you might find that the two senior men in northern Spain’s fishing community, who are on board representing their colleagues, don’t want to go to bed. Oh no, they want to be on the Bridge with Marijke and me.