Excerpt from Book 2: 1962 Salcombe

Simon, now 15, and his best friend for two weeks each year when they met at Salcombe in South Devon, take the little inboard motor boat out into open sea to look at a wreck, But they get a lot more than they bargained for.

1962/8 Salcombe

But the main event of the summer was of course the holiday to Salcombe. They said goodbye to Phoebe and made the long drive south, stopping again at the farmhouse bed and breakfast just outside Kingsbridge on the Friday night.

Their regular group was diminishing as the Broomfields did not come, but Simon was happy the Griffins were again there, and he and Jack renewed their friendship. Invention was again booked for Simon and the two boys more or less resumed from where they had left off the previous year, ferrying the group about and then going off on their own to enjoy the boat and their companionship.

On one occasion, for which Simon and Jack got into trouble, they took the little inboard motor boat out over the Bar and into Starehole Bay to see the wreck of Herzogin Cecilie. Simon still felt uneasy about being over clear, deep water, especially looking down at the dark shape of the shipwreck, but he was older and told himself that he was being illogical. But out over the Bar, the small boat was subject to the Atlantic rollers coming in and even in the fearlessness of youth, Simon felt some nervousness as Invention was lifted and dropped by the large waves. But he trusted his seamanship. Both he and Jack were wearing life jackets whenever they were on the water but neither was anxious to put them to the test. However now the sea was getting bigger, the rollers coming in higher than when they had come out and some were breaking at the top.

"I think we should go back," said Simon.

"Yes, let's," said Jack with relief.

Carefully, Simon pushed the tiller to turn Invention to the waves, and they made their way, rising and falling several feet over the rollers out of the bay, keeping well away from the rocks under Sharpitor. They were bounding around on the waves as Simon sought to turn the boat round Sharpitor to re-enter the estuary and find safety. Both boys were inwardly afraid but neither wanted the other to know. The turn had to be done, but it meant that for a time Invention was beam on to the sea, the most dangerous state, especially for a little boat that really should not have gone further than the Bar at most. At the top of a roller, Simon looked up sea to choose the best opportunity.

"When are you going to turn, Simon?" asked Jack. "At this rate we'll be in France."

Simon did not laugh at the joke, his mind was entirely concentrated on judging the right moment to push the tiller over to bring Invention round.

"When I'm ready," he said. "It's got to be right or we'll capsize."

The little boat dropped into a huge trough, Jack went quiet. He was a competent sailor and his family had their own Enterprise dinghy, but he was not usually allowed to take it out on his own. And although he understood the sea, he also knew that Simon was more used to handling Invention. The two had known each other for some years, and he had confidence in Simon. Also Simon at almost sixteen was a few months older. So he sat, held on, and hoped.

As Invention reached the crest of a roller, Simon chose his moment and pushed the tiller hard to starboard to bring the boat round to port. At the top of the roller, Invention turned and now stern to the sea, raced down into the trough.

"Yippee!" they shouted at the sudden acceleration, relieved at having made the dangerous turn successfully. Now riding the rollers towards the Bar, they felt more relaxed and could enjoy the exhilaration of their adventure.

Then the engine stopped.

Without steerage way, they were in serious danger.

"What are we going to do?" asked Jack, nervously.

"Here, take the tiller. Try to keep us stern on," said Simon, reaching for the tools. He was praying that he knew what the trouble was. The little water cooled two stroke was prone to plug whiskers, a deposit of carbon that built up on the sparking plug, killing the spark and causing the engine to stop.

Jack was doing his best but Invention was now at the mercy of the waves. Being intended for inshore work inside the estuary, there was no flare or similar aboard, and as they looked around, there were no boats near enough to attract attention. They shouted at some people high above on Sharpitor footpath, but they just waved back at the two boys having fun in their boat. Inexorably, they were being driven closer to the rocks.

In the madly rocking boat, Simon found the spark plug tool, lifted the engine cover and tried to loosen the plug. It was tight.

"Hurry up, for Christ's sake," said Jack.

"I'm doing my best," snapped Simon, struggling to get the spark plug loose.

"We're drifting ashore!"

"I know!"

"We'll be killed!" Jack shouted.

"I know that too," said Simon, panic welling up in him. What could he do? He was aware of the two of them in the little boat, imagining the scene as it would appear in a film; under stress, viewing himself from outside again. Yet he was very much in the scene, and now struggling to survive.

"It won't fucking well move!" cursed Simon, now shaking with fear. Stop panicking, think! Almost unconsciously he tapped his chest twice. Don't be afraid. Yes, he could think. The screwdriver. He went back to the tools and got the big long screwdriver. He had never known why it was there, perhaps left by accident, but now his and Jack's life depended on it.

"What are you doing?" shouted a still panicking Jack.

"It's OK, we're going to be OK. I guarantee it, Jack," said Simon. He put the screwdriver into the end of the plug tool and pushed. Hard. Again. Harder. It moved! The extra leverage had done the trick. He unscrewed the spark plug and desperate not to drop it as the little boat pitched and rolled in a gut wrenching corkscrew, he saw that thread of carbon across the gap. He had been right! Wedging himself against the side of the boat, he used the gapping tool to knock the carbon out and reset the gap to 25 thou.

"How much longer?" demanded Jack, eyeing the approaching rocks.

"Not long, Jack," he replied with all the confidence he could summon. "You're doing a great job there holding us as straight as you can. Keep it up." Isn't that what Daniel would have said?

He replaced the plug and tightened it, reconnecting the high tension lead.

"Here we go!" he said and engaging the starting handle, gave it his usual quick upward pull. The engine chugged but failed to start. He tried again, with the same result.

"Tickle it," urged Jack, referring to bringing fuel into the carburettor.

"Don't want to flood it," said Simon.

"At this rate, we'll be flooded," said Jack tersely. But as Simon failed again to start the motor, he realised with the rocks now only yards away and Invention in real danger of being caught by breaking waves and smashed to matchwood and them with it, he pressed the little rod a few times until fuel just appeared in the hole. Again a sharp upward swing on the handle. The engine sprang into life.

"Home, James," shouted Simon to Jack at the tiller, relief surging through him.

"Took your time," said Jack, now grinning broadly.

Simon left Jack at the helm and turned to face the bow. He was close to tears with the emotional release and did not want Jack to see. It seemed to him that in some idiotic way, Daniel had been with him, and had saved him from the water again. Impossible, he told himself. But then he quietly wept a little for his loss and the unanswered letters. Jack steered Invention away from the rocks and into the estuary and calmer waters.

"You all right, Simon?" called Jack from his position at the stern.

Simon composed himself and turned to face his friend. "Yes, fine. Now," he grinned. They both knew the strain it had been and how close they had come to death.

"Well, we've done Starehole now, we don't have to do it again," said Jack.

"You're dead right there," agreed Simon heartily. "Keep away from the Wolf," he reminded Jack of Wolf Rock.

"I know," said Jack, bursting into song.

"We're riding along on the crest of a wave, and the sun is in the sky.
All of our eyes on the distant horizon,
Look out for passers by.
We'll do the hailing,
When all the ships are round us sailing,
We're riding along on the crest of a wave,
And the world is ours!"

Simon stared, so surprised he didn't join in. "How do you know that?"

"Oh, I'm a Scout. It's a scout song, but rather fits us now."

"You're such an idiot! Why didn't you say something? All these years, and I never knew you were a Scout too," said Simon, dumbfounded. And they exchanged the Scout handshake and sign.

"Nor me you," said Jack. "Never occurred to ask. Should have guessed really, you know all the knots, but I just thought that was from the sea."

As they passed South and North Sands Simon watched Jack, his best friend for two weeks each year, taken for granted and it came to him how much he liked him. He took in the blond hair, blue eyes and fair skin and was glad for the friendship. He shook off a vision of them both battered against the rocks, drowning together.

"What's the matter?" said Jack noticing his fixed look.

"Nothing," said Simon. "I was just thinking about us dying together, and I'm glad we didn't."

"Me too, Simon. Me too."