Extract

 

They came in the night in a long, black boat. They rowed out of the harbour at the south end of the island, past the breakwater, past the cottages and on towards the bluff at the north-eastern tip, still hidden from view in the foggy murk. They pulled in silence, their hands wet and cold in the chill before dawn, the only sounds their grunting breaths, the grinding of oars and the murmur of water against the bow as it cut a path through the milky sea.

The breeze was cool and no longer smelt of summer. They pulled on, none speaking, and the rocky shore slipped slowly by, just visible through the gloom. More wind came, more mist, great clouds of it now rolling in from the north. They rowed on, their eyes on the sea, the shore, the grey haze, anything but each other.

At last they saw the bluff ahead, fog swirling around it like smoke. They gave the outlying rocks plenty of room, then brought the boat round into the cove at the top of the island. They stopped for a moment to muffle the oars, then set off again, past the rocky scar at the north-western point and away from the island itself. All sense of the land was gone now. There was only mist and sea, and themselves. They rowed slowly, watching, listening.

From somewhere in the mist came a deep, mournful cry.

They stopped. It came again: a long, eerie moan, no human cry, nor that of any normal creature. They felt a swell in the water, a movement far down. The blades of the oars hung dripping. The cry came again, the same unearthly moan. It seemed to well up from the sea itself. But it sounded further off this time.

They rowed hurriedly on, a panicky new vigour to their strokes, but now the wind had picked up and the surface of the sea was rippling with misty life. They drove the boat on, searching the darkness beyond the bow, and suddenly there it was – the great rock rising fifty feet above them, stony teeth around its base.

More mist rolled in, blocking the rock from view, but they had their bearings now and rowed on towards it. The wind freshened further; the swell grew greater. The mist parted overhead and they caught a glimpse of the moon, the first they had had since setting out. It was a cold moon, a dead, distant thing. But here, too, was the rock.

They could see the white water at the base where the seas washed over the teeth. They could see the gap that led between them to the tiny haven under the side of the rock. They entered the raging water, wrestled with the eddies that threatened to pluck the oars from them, then suddenly they were through and inside the sanctuary.

They moored the boat and started to make their way along the twisting ledge that spiralled up to the summit of the rock. Below them the sea moved and breathed like a fretful beast. They reached the summit and peered over the flat table of rock. The fog was so dense here they could barely see more than a few feet ahead. They took a few steps forward, then stopped, their eyes searching around them.

But all they saw was darkness and mist.

They linked arms and started to inch their way across the top of the rock. Nothing at first but the clear flat floor, then, as they neared the southernmost point, a rougher, more broken surface: potholes, cracks, fissures. They slowed down, aware of the edge somewhere just ahead.

There it was, and closer than they had realised. They stopped, clutching each other tight. From below came the heaving of the sea, a deep, unsettling sound. They turned and made their way back across the surface of the rock. Then suddenly the mist parted and they saw the man at the northernmost end. He was utterly still, sitting on a stump of stone. But his eyes looked straight into theirs.

They pulled the clubs from inside their belts and rushed forward. The man did not move, did not speak. The first blow knocked him to the side. The second felled him. They crowded round with mad shrieks and set about him with their clubs. He soon stopped twitching but they carried on even so until they were spent. Then they stood back, breathing hard, and looked down at the body.

It lay there unmoving in a sea of blood.

They stared at it for a long time, spitting on it one by one. Then they bent down, picked it up and flung it over the edge. It cannoned into the water with a splash and vanished from view. They watched for a while, searching the space where it had fallen, but all they saw was foam.

From deep in the mist came the long, unearthly cry.

‘What was that noise?’ said Dad from the cockpit. ‘Did you hear it?’

‘Yes,’ said Mum.

‘A kind of weird cry.’

‘I heard it.’

‘What do you think it was?’

‘Don’t know,’ she said. ‘But let’s hope whatever made it isn’t interested in us.’

Kit listened to their voices from down in the cabin. He was lying, not in his usual pipecot up in the forepeak, but in Dad’s bunk with a blanket over him. He was supposed to be sleeping; and he had been sleeping. But he’d heard the cry, too. It had woken him from his dream. There was a long silence, broken only by the shiver of sails and the ripple of water against the hull. Then Dad spoke again.

‘Wind’s picking up.’

‘Maybe it’ll blow away some of the mist,’ said Mum.

‘Let’s hope so. Can you ease off the jib a bit?’

‘OK.’

Kit frowned, unwilling to doze off again. The dream that had fallen so fitfully upon him since he came below to sleep had been horribly disturbing. But what was more disturbing still was that he had had the same dream three times already on this voyage; and each time it had felt more real than the time before.

He rolled over onto his back, enjoying the extra space of Dad’s bunk but little else; then he saw his father watching him through the open hatchway. Dad smiled and called down to him.

‘Don’t get any ideas about nicking my bunk on a regular basis. I’m only letting you have it this time because I’m feeling kind.’

‘Don’t want it on a regular basis,’ Kit called back. ‘Might catch something.’

Dad gave a chuckle, then Mum’s face appeared in the hatchway.

‘Kit?’ she said. ‘You’re supposed to be sleeping.’

‘I was but that weird cry woke me. What do you think it was?’

‘Don’t know. But nothing to worry about, I’m sure.’

‘OK.’ He yawned. ‘Mum?’

‘Yeah?’

‘I had that dream again.’

Mum’s face softened. ‘It won’t happen, Kit.’

‘It might.’

‘It won’t. I promise.’

‘How do you know?’

‘Because I’m cleverer than you.’

‘Oh, yeah?’ He raised an eyebrow. ‘How do you reckon that, then?’

‘I’m older and wiser.’

‘Older, yeah. I’ll give you that. By miles.’

‘Not by miles, Kit.’

‘By miles!’ He snorted. ‘I’m only fifteen. You’re at least a hundred and forty.’

‘Give or take the odd century.’

‘Yeah, sorry. I meant two hundred and forty.’

She laughed but was quickly serious again. ‘It’ll be all right, Kit,’ she said, and moved back to her former position in the cockpit.

He closed his eyes but even now found himself reliving the dream: the restless water, the dark shape moving through it; the clear sense that he was drowning. He felt a tightness round his heart and opened his eyes again. This was crazy. It was only a dream. Mum was right. It wouldn’t happen.

He rubbed his chest for a while with the flat of his hand, then sat up, put his clothes on and climbed up to the cockpit. Mum made a space for him between her and Dad. He sat down and looked about him. Windflower was still reaching on starboard tack as she had been when he first went below, but everything else looked different now that the fog had come down.

‘Sure you’ve had enough sleep?’ said Dad.

‘I’m all right.’

‘That’s not what I asked.’

‘I’ve had plenty of rest. I’ve been down there for six hours.’

‘But you weren’t sleeping all that time,’ said Mum.

Kit looked round at her.

‘Have you two been spying on me?’

‘Dead right we have,’ she said. ‘And we reckon you only slept a couple of hours in all that time. And that wasn’t proper sleep either because of your bad dream.’

He said nothing.

‘So what were you thinking of all the time you were awake?’ she said.

‘This and that.’

‘I know what that means,’ said Dad. ‘It means mind your own business. OK, we will.’

‘It doesn’t mean that. It means….’

But in truth he didn’t really know what it meant. And he didn’t know what he’d been thinking about down in the cabin. All he knew for certain was that he’d been worrying.

Maybe it was because this was Windflower’s last voyage. Now that Dad was officially bankrupt, she was going to have to be sold along with everything else when they returned. But they’d promised themselves that her last voyage would be a proper one, not just coastal stuff but a real adventure. And so it had been, with weeks and weeks of almost non-stop sailing, most of it out of sight of land. They’d loved every moment of it, but the summer holiday was almost at an end now; and so, too, was the voyage, though they were still a good ten days from home.

But Kit knew it wasn’t just the imminent end of the voyage that was bothering him. It was something else, something that had started a couple of days ago when the first of the dreams came. He’d felt frightened, not just by the thought of drowning, but by something in the sea itself. He’d never felt this way before but there was something strange about the waters round here. They were unfamiliar, to be sure, but that in itself couldn’t account for his fear. Most of the voyage had been through unfamiliar waters – that was the whole point of the trip – and he hadn’t had a problem. Until now. And he didn’t like this night fog either. He looked round at Dad.

‘Where are we on the chart?’

Dad glanced at Mum, then back at Kit.

‘We’re not sure,’ he said slowly. ‘The compass is playing up.’

‘What?’

‘It’s been playing up for quite a while.’

‘Quite a while?’

‘Several hours.’

Kit stared into the binnacle and saw the compass spinning wildly.

‘Have you tried the spare compasses?’ he said.

‘Yeah. They’re all doing the same thing.’

‘So we could be anywhere?’

‘Yeah,’ said Dad. ‘But we should be safe. The nearest land is at least forty miles away by my estimation. And we’re not crossing any shipping lanes here.’

‘But you don’t know how far off course we’ve gone in this fog.’

‘That’s true. So we need to be cautious.’ Dad glanced over the sails. ‘I think we’ll reef her a bit more. The wind’s picking up again.

It was indeed and the seas were growing larger, too. Ordinarily Windflower thrived in rough weather but Kit knew that Dad was right. It would be foolish to go racing through the night, especially when there was fog and they weren’t sure of their position.

‘Would it be safer to heave to?’ suggested Mum.

‘Might be an idea,’ said Dad. ‘But let’s shorten sail anyway. She’ll be more comfortable.’

‘OK. Jib first?’

‘Yep.’

Mum eased off the jib sheet, then pulled in the reefing line.

‘Enough?’

‘Can’t see,’ muttered Dad, squinting towards the bow. ‘This fog’s getting worse. I’m going forward. Take the helm, Sarah, can you?’

Mum took the helm and Dad climbed forward to the jib, his body turning to a grey shadow as the mist engulfed him.

‘Jim!’ called Mum. ‘Be careful!’

‘I’m all right!’ came the answer, then, ‘Pull in a bit more!’

Kit took the reefing line and pulled it in.

‘That’s enough!’ called Dad, and a moment later he reappeared. Kit felt a sense of relief to have his father clearly in view again. Dad stopped by the mast and clung to it, balancing himself against the heel of the boat.

‘How does she feel?’ he called.

‘Bit heavy on the helm,’ answered Mum.

‘She’ll be better when I’ve taken more off the mainsail.’

‘OK.’

‘Any chance of fixing us a bite to eat?’ said Dad, already bent over the reefing gear. ‘Something we can nibble as we go along? I’m starving.’

‘I’ll make us some sandwiches,’ said Mum. ‘Kit? Can you take the helm?’

‘Sure.’

‘Just keep her as she is.’

‘OK.’

Kit took the tiller from Mum and sat to windward, hunched against the cool air. Mum disappeared below and he soon heard the sound of her busying about the galley. Up at the mast, Dad was trying to ratchet the sail round the boom. Suddenly a squall struck. Windflower heeled sharply to port, her lee rail under. Dad clung to the mast and bellowed at him.

‘Ease off the mainsheet a bit!’

Kit was already doing so but it made little difference. The squall was growing stronger.

‘More!’ shouted Dad. ‘Get her on an even keel if you can!’

He eased the sheet out further and Windflower steadied for a moment. But now more squalls were coming in, and with them great clouds of mist. He saw Dad furiously working the ratchet but the boat was heeling dangerously as the gusts swept over her.

Something hard knocked against the hull. Neither Mum nor Dad seemed to hear it but Kit caught the sound. Then he saw a piece of wood drifting past to leeward. It was barely a foot long and in a second it would be gone. Yet in that second he saw what it really was.

A tiny carved boat.

On an impulse he scrambled to the port side of the cockpit, switched the tiller to his right hand and reached out with his left to pick the model up. His hand closed round it; then he froze. Holding on to the carved boat was another hand, a hand reaching up through the sea itself; and below that, an arm, a body, a face, staring up at him through the foam.

And then it was gone, swept past and lost in the wake.

He heard Dad yelling at him from the mast.

‘Kit! What are you playing at? She’s coming up into the wind! Get her back on course!’

He struggled back to the windward side of the cockpit and wrenched at the tiller. But his mind was in turmoil now. All he could think of was the watery eyes staring up at him. Dimly he realised that Windflower was still shooting round to starboard into the wind, that he was somehow clutching the little carved boat, that Mum was hurrying up from the cabin, that Dad was shouting at him to bear away and get back on course. In a daze he stood up and yanked the tiller towards him. Windflower started to bear away to port, bear away to port, bear away to port.

‘Not too far!’ shouted Dad. ‘Straighten up or you’ll gybe her! Sarah! Get the helm off him! Quick!’

From up in the bows came a crash.

Windflower gave a lurch and skewed round to port, throwing the mainsail across in a violent gybe. The impact and the swinging boom jolted Kit back to the present but the movement of the boat still flung him off balance and he fell with a thud against the coaming. Mum rushed over to him but he pushed her aside and scrambled to his feet again, his eyes on the mountainous shape towering over them.

He’d run the boat into a rock, a huge, murderous thing. But it was the teeth at the base that were the greatest danger. Windflower was caught between a score of them and with the wind now dead astern of her and the sails still full she was pounding against the sharp tips as the swell dropped her. She could break up at any moment.

‘Sarah!’ roared Dad, now clinging to a shroud. ‘Port your helm! See if you can bring the bows round to starboard! But watch out! She’ll probably gybe again! I’ll try and push us off! Kit! Dive into the forepeak and see if we’re shipping any water but come straight back!’

‘Dad!’ he spluttered. ‘I’m sorry, I – ‘

‘Never mind that now! Go and check below!’

He climbed down into the cabin and hurried forward, tears streaming down his cheeks. If Windflower foundered, he’d never forgive himself – and losing the boat wasn’t the only thing that could happen. There was something far worse than that. But he didn’t dare think of it. He found he was still clutching the little carved boat and flung it under his pipecot. Then he crawled into the bows.

It was worse than he’d expected. One of the planks was sprung and a steady flow of water was oozing in. Another break could open her right up. He hurried back to the cockpit to find the situation worse than ever. Dad was on the foredeck, desperately trying to push the bows off the rocks with the boathook, but the pressure of the wind on the sails made it impossible.

‘Jim!’ called Mum. ‘You’ve got to take the mainsail down! It’s keeping us stuck here!’

Dad ran back to the mast and fumbled with the halyard and topping lift. ‘Mind your heads!’ he yelled, and a moment later the mainsail came shivering down. He seized the boathook again and pushed, and this time the bows eased back a fraction from the rocks.

But now, in spite of Mum’s efforts at the helm, the wind was forcing the stern round to starboard. If they didn’t do something quickly, the boat would be broadside on to the rock with the whole of her starboard side exposed to the teeth. Dad looked quickly about him, then bawled at Mum.

‘Sarah! We’ll try and get her off the other way! Let go the port jibsheet and pull in the starboard one! And helm hard to starboard!’

‘OK!’ shouted Mum.

The jib flew out, then tautened and filled on the other side as Mum pulled in the starboard sheet. The bows started to move round to port away from the teeth. But the stern was still swinging to starboard and Kit saw to his horror that the boat did not have enough way on her to pull clear.

‘My God,’ said Mum under her breath. ‘The stern’s going to hit.’ She threw a glance at Kit. ‘Are we shipping water?’

‘Yes.’

‘Tell your dad.’

‘Dad!’ he shouted. ‘One of the planks is sprung up in the bows! We’re shipping water!’

‘How fast?’

‘Not fast yet but steady!’

‘Go back and stuff all the mattresses and pillows you can find against the leak and hold them there! I’ll be down the moment I can!’

Kit scrambled below again, grabbed the mattresses and pillows from the bunks, and crawled with them into the forepeak. The water was coming in faster now. He thrust the pillows over the leak, then the mattresses on top, and held them in place. But it was no good. The water was still seeping in around them. There was a sudden, rending crash from the stern, followed by a shout from Mum.

‘Jim! The rudder’s gone! I can’t steer!’

Kit felt the tears start again. This was the end. They couldn’t stop the water coming in and they wouldn’t be able to pump or bale fast enough to keep her afloat. And now the stern had crunched into the teeth and the rudder was gone. Windflower would founder against the rock; and he was the one who had brought her here. He felt the stern lift in the swell, and hang there. He held his breath and waited for the next crash. The stern fell again.

But there was no crash. Instead a shout from Dad.

‘Roll up the jib! Roll up the jib!’

He heard the sound of the jib rolling up and wondered what was going on. If they were drifting, Dad must have decided they’d be safer without any sails set. He listened, his hands and arms now soaked as the water seeped in around the pillows and mattresses. There were no more crashes, only the lifting and dropping of the hull and the smack of the sea against the side. Suddenly the forehatch opened and he saw Dad peering down at him.

‘Kit? Is it working?’

‘No.’

‘I’ll come and take a look.’

Dad started to climb down through the forehatch.

‘What’s happening with the rock?’ said Kit.

‘The wind’s blown us past it but one of the outlying teeth messed up the rudder.’

‘So we’re drifting?’

‘Yeah.’ Dad squeezed next to him and ran his eye over the damaged plank. ‘Damn! It’s coming in faster than I feared. We’ll have to rig a fothering sail over the leak or she’ll go down. And we’ll have to be quick about it.’ He grabbed one of the sail bags. ‘We’ll use the storm jib,’ he said, pulling it out. ‘It’s thicker than the other sails. Pass me those coils of rope.’

Kit handed him the ropes.

‘Right,’ said Dad. ‘Now come with me on deck but be very careful. The boat’s pitching like hell. And put your life jacket on.’

‘There isn’t time for that.’

‘Just do as you’re told.’

Dad wasn’t wearing a life jacket and neither was Mum but Kit said nothing. Dad climbed up through the forehatch with the sail and ropes. Kit put his lifejacket on, then joined his father on the foredeck.

Dad was right about the sea. It was more lumpy than before and the wind had risen further in the last few minutes. The darkness was clearing a little and so was the mist, but visibility was still poor. The rock couldn’t be more than fifty yards upwind of them but all they could see of it now was the foaming white of the teeth that had savaged Windflower. And here she was, rocking rudderless in the swell. Mum clambered across from the cockpit.

‘Are you going to try a fothering sail?’ she said.

‘Yes,’ said Dad. ‘But there’s no telling if it’ll work. You’d better put some water and provisions into a couple of kitbags. We may have to abandon ship and take to the dinghy.’

‘OK.’

Kit glanced at the dinghy in her place between the cabin top and the mast. Splinters was a sturdy little boat but she was hardly suitable for a voyage in rough weather with three people and a stack of provisions. He prayed it wouldn’t come to that. Mum hurried off and Dad turned back to him.

‘Now listen, Kit. You’re to keep one hand on the boat at all times, you understand?’

‘OK.’

Dad knelt down, balancing himself as best he could on the shifting foredeck, and tied the ropes to the corners of the storm jib.

‘Right,’ he said. ‘Let’s go.’

They stretched out over the edge of the bow, waves smashing up into their faces, and spread the sail across the leak. Windflower bucked suddenly as a larger wave rolled in.

‘Keep hold of the boat!’ yelled Dad. ‘Don’t let go!’

Kit clung on, one hand on the sail rope, the other on the forestay. Another wave crashed in, drenching them both. He hung on and waited for his eyes to clear. When they did, he saw to his horror that Dad had been washed half over the side and was slipping into the sea.

‘Dad!’ he shouted.

He clutched at his father but missed, then heard a pounding of footsteps on the cabin roof. The next moment Mum leapt across the foredeck and threw herself onto Dad’s disappearing leg.

‘Jim!’ she yelled, struggling to pull him back. Kit let go of the forestay, sprawled across the foredeck and seized Dad round the waist, and somehow they manhandled him back onboard. He lay there for a moment, breathing hard, one hand tight round the anchor chain. Mum bent over him.

‘Jim,’ she said. ‘Jim, are you – ‘

‘I’m all right.’

‘I thought you’d – ‘

‘I’m all right, I’m all right.’ Dad rolled upright again and gave Mum’s arm a squeeze. ‘Thanks,’ he said, then turned to Kit. ‘And you, boy. Well done.’ He took a deep breath. ‘Right, let’s finish this thing.’

Mum moved back but only as far as the mast, her eyes fixed on the two of them. Dad grabbed his end of the storm jib, waited for a smoother patch of sea, then nodded to Kit. ‘Now,’ he said. And they pulled the ropes tight, drawing the fothering sail back over the leak, and then made fast.

‘Do you think it’ll work?’ said Kit.

‘Don’t know,’ said Dad. ‘But we’ll soon find out.’ He turned to Mum. ‘How are you getting on with the kitbags?’

‘I was just getting started when you decided to go for a swim.’

‘Well, can you carry on with that now?’

‘OK.’

‘Put a compass in as well. I know they’re not working but put one in anyway. And a chart. And some warm clothing and waterproofs. When you’ve sorted that, get pumping. I’m going to try and rig an oar over the stern so we can steer. Kit, dive into the cabin and pass me up the sweep. Then find yourself a bucket and bale like hell.’

But Kit didn’t answer him. He was staring through a gap that had suddenly opened in the mist.

‘Dad,’ he said. ‘There’s an island.’

They stared. And there, about half a mile beyond the bow, was a small but unmistakable island. They couldn’t see it clearly yet, for though the mist had gone, some of the night still lingered. But dawn was on its way and by its spreading light they could see the outline of a hill, and cliffs, and what looked like a cove at the nearest point.

‘Come on,’ said Dad. ‘We’ll see if we can get Windflower over there. If it’s all rocks, we can’t do much for her but if there’s some kind of a beach, we might be able to run her ashore.’

They hurried to work: Mum to the kitbags, Dad to the stern locker for more ropes, Kit down to the cabin. But the hopes he had felt rising at the sight of the island fell at once. A pool of water now covered the bottom boards, filled by a steady flow from the bows. It was hard to tell whether the fothering sail was making any difference or not. He saw a plastic food box floating down towards him, and a mug, and a sponge, and some of the mattresses.

And the little carved boat.

The image that he had tried to forget came back to his mind: the body below the surface, the arm, the hand, the face, the eyes; and with that image came the other thing, the thing he had not dared to acknowledge to himself until now.

The recognition.

It made him shiver to think of it, yet there was no doubting what he had seen. He had seen the face of a man, not a boy, yet it had been a face so like his own he had felt he was looking at an older version of himself. A face drowning not just in water but in another dimension.

Mum joined him in the cabin and started collecting things for the kitbags.

‘Come on, Kit,’ she said. ‘No time to waste. Your father’s waiting for the sweep.’

The long oar was easy enough to find. It was floating right in front of him. He picked it up and steered it out through the hatchway into Dad’s waiting hands.

‘Thanks, Kit,’ said Dad. ‘Now get baling.’

Kit filled a bucket, carried it up to the cockpit and tipped the water over the side into the sea.

‘Not that way,’ said Dad, already busy lashing the oar to the horse. ‘It’ll take too long. Just tip the water straight into the cockpit. The self-draining system will get rid of it.’

‘OK.’

He hurried back, filled another bucketful and tipped it into the cockpit, and then another, and another, trying as he did so to push aside the thoughts that plagued his mind. Dad now had the steering oar in place and was testing the blade over the side. Mum had finished with the kitbags and was hard at work at the pump. To Kit’s relief, both had slipped into their lifejackets.

He went on baling, baling, baling. He was almost grateful for the monotony of it. He could hardly bear to watch what was happening and at least this gave him something mindless to do. He heard the sound of the jib being unrolled and then the sheet trimmed, and then Mum’s voice.

‘How does she feel?’

‘Sluggish,’ said Dad.

‘Is the oar working?’

‘Just about. But it’s difficult. The broken rudder’s giving us some negative drag and I keep having to compensate for it. This rolling sea doesn’t help either.’

Kit carried on baling, trying to push all thoughts from his mind save the need to clear the cabin of water. But there seemed little hope of that now. It was coming in too fast. He felt the bows plunge as Windflower drove into a trough. He waited for her to come up again but to his horror she stayed down as though locked there. He stopped baling and waited, panic filling him, then slowly, ponderously, she rose once more to the surface. As she did so, he saw a stream of water run down from the bows into the pool in which he now knelt.

‘Kit!’ called Dad.

He turned and saw his father craning over from the cockpit.

‘Nip into the bow and tell me what the leak looks like.’

Kit crawled through the water and studied the broken plank. It was obvious that the fothering sail wasn’t working very well. Water was finding its way in easily and the movement of the hull in this deep, rolling sea was clearly making things worse. He hurried back to Dad.

‘It’s coming in faster than before. The storm jib’s not making much difference.’

‘It’s the motion of the boat,’ said Dad. ‘The waves are picking us up from behind and pushing the bow down into the troughs, so the water’s getting in round the edge of the sail.’ He frowned. ‘We’ll give it a bit longer and see if we can keep the water level down enough to stay afloat. But if it gets much deeper in there, we’ll have to launch the dinghy and abandon ship. Get back to your baling. And give it everything you’ve got.’

Kit returned to the baling with all the energy he could manage. Yet the ever-increasing flow of water seemed to mock his efforts. He filled the bucket, reached up and tipped it into the self-draining cockpit; yet when he turned back to the floor of the cabin, the pool of water seemed only to have deepened. The little carved boat brushed against his legs.

‘Go away,’ he muttered to it. ‘Go away, go away.’

He picked it up and threw it into the forepeak. It reappeared at once, floating blithely back. He dipped the bucket again and tipped the contents into the cockpit, and then dipped again, and tipped again, and so it went on, as he worked to keep Windflower afloat. And as he worked, he heard Mum’s ceaseless action at the pump, and the scrape of the oar against the hull as Dad struggled to keep them on course for the island.

But Kit was sure now that they weren’t going to make it to the island. A glance through the forward cabin windows showed Windflower still some distance from it; and she was slowing by the minute. Hampered by the rolling sea, and by the water she was carrying, and by her reduced sail, she was moving more and more awkwardly.

He knew there was little else they could do. If Dad hoisted the mainsail, the boat would speed up but she’d also ship a skinful of water and maybe go down within seconds. It had to be this snail’s pace if they were to have any chance at all. Yet even this didn’t look as though it was going to save her.

‘We’d better launch the dinghy,’ he heard Dad say.

‘Kit and I can do that,’ said Mum. ‘You stick with the steering oar. You’re probably the only one of us who can work it.’

‘All right.’

‘Kit!’ called Mum. ‘Stop baling for a second and come up here!’

Kit hurried up to the cockpit.

‘Help me launch Splinters,’ she said.

They climbed over the cabin top and unlashed the dinghy.

‘Give me the painter,’ said Mum, and they eased Splinters over the side. Mum dumped the kitbags in her, then guided the dinghy round to the stern and made the painter fast.

‘Thanks, Kit’ she said, and returned to the pump.

Kit glanced quickly at the island. It was still some way off but in the last few minutes they seemed to have made a small amount of headway towards it. And one thing was clear now in the growing light of day. The thing that had looked like a cove was a cove. And inside was a shingly beach. If they could just get Windflower to that and run her up on the shore….

But once again his hopes were shattered by the sight of the water in the cabin. The pool had deepened further and he knew the situation was now critical. They would have to make a decision soon about whether to abandon ship. He looked for the bucket and saw it floating around with boxes, mugs, oars, the spare boathook, and as always the wretched carved boat. He grabbed the bucket and started baling furiously. It seemed to make little difference but he kept at the work until his body ached. After a while he heard Dad’s voice again.

‘All right, Kit. That’s enough now. Come up.’

‘But – ‘

‘I said come up! Don’t argue about it! It’s not safe down there now. The water’s got too deep. I need you up here. We may have to take to the dinghy any moment.’

He climbed up to the cockpit and looked around him. To his surprise they were barely two hundred yards from the mouth of the cove. To port was a large bluff and to starboard, at the other extremity of the cove, a long rocky scar running out for about fifty yards into the sea, a narrow platform barely three feet across and scarcely visible above the surface of the water. A fearsome thing but Dad had seen it and was giving it plenty of room.

They limped closer. The features of the island grew clearer. There was a rocky shore and a hill rising high above the cove. The slopes were mostly grassy but they were studded, too, with rocky outcrops and a high stony ridge at the peak and what looked like the dried-out beds of long-gone streams that had once cascaded down. The cove itself ran no more than a few hundred yards to its innermost point, the small shingly beach that Dad was aiming for.

Kit stared about him. There were no signs of present habitation but as they drew closer to the mouth of the cove, he saw on the rocky embankments of the two shores the remains of old stone cottages. No roofs or windows or doors, just shells and broken-down walls. They sailed on, Windflower rolling as before and the jib now fluttering as the wind grew fickle under the sloping sides of the cove.

‘Come on, girl,’ murmured Dad. ‘Just get us there.’

Kit held his breath and Windflower struggled on. He watched the ruins slip by and the shingle beach draw nearer. Below him in the cabin the water swirled as it pulled the hull deeper and deeper. He saw the little carved boat bobbing among the other things. He remembered what he had seen; and on an impulse turned and gazed out to sea.

The mist had cleared and night was gone. All was grey. The sea was grey; the sky was grey. Half a mile astern was the great rock. It, too, was grey: a deep, foul grey. He saw waves rolling in towards the island, long waves with angry crests; and nearer than that something else, something just a few yards astern of them: a dark shape slipping beneath the surface of the water like a vast moving shadow. He stared hard at it, trying to see it more clearly, but it eased away towards the sea and was gone. From somewhere beyond the cove came a long, eerie cry, the sound they had heard during the night. He shivered and turned to Mum and Dad.

But as he did so, Windflower grounded on the beach.