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The sea lapped against the boat's hull as though it were almost too much effort. I leaned on the guardrail and breathed deeply, filling my lungs with moist, tangy air. The surreal post-dawn tranquillity seeped into my bones, heightening my appreciation for the simple things in life. I gazed at the sea, a dozen different shades of turquoise reflected in its torpid surface, thinking about all the stuff I'd learnedor rather hadn'tduring my trip to France.
The shrill urgency of a Mayday call crackled loud and intrusive across the airwaves, abruptly shattering my mellow mood. I scurried back to the wheelhouse to establish the precise nature of the emergency, not unduly worried because I doubted there actually was one.
"Some idiot's probably run out of fuel," I muttered, glancing at the flat, calm sea.
As it transpired, I couldn't have been more wrong.
"Mayday, Mayday, Mayday. This is the motor vessel Mistral, a 62-foot Azimut, current position "
The caller reeled off his compass location. I checked the coordinates against my GPS and identified the boat in question as the closer of the two vessels I had visual contact with about five miles off my starboard bow. Their location explained why I'd been able to pick up their transmission so clearly. An adrenalin rush flooded my veins.
"We're bound for Dover, but have an uncontainable fire in our engine room."
Fire! My core temperature dropped several degrees. Boats might be surrounded by water, but fire was still one of the most feared shipboard catastrophes. A lot of craft had automatic fire extinguishers in their engine rooms for precisely that reason. If the vessel in trouble was fitted out with the appropriate fire-fighting gear, they obviously weren't using it. I pondered on that and missed some of the vital details that were supposed to be included in an emergency broadcastsuch as how many people were on board, and whether anyone had incurred life-threatening injuries.
But then again, perhaps I hadn't. As an ex-copper, I'm used to listening to panicked accounts from victims of accidents or violent crimes. I'd developed a sort of sixth sense over the years for separating vital information from all the garbled excess. I was pretty sure Mistral hadn't broadcast that information, which didn't altogether surprise me. It's all very well practising these things, but when it's for real it's a different story. Thankfully I'd never been in that situation so I wouldn't know. Still, faced with the prospect of abandoning ship and bobbing about in a flimsy life raft, at the mercy of whatever the elements decided to throw at you until help arrived, following correct procedures probably didn't seem all that vital.
I reached for the microphone attached to my shipboard radio, and depressed the transmit button.
"Mistral, this is the motor trawler No Comment," I said calmly. "I'm five miles off your port bow. How serious is your situation? Over."
"Critical, we can't contain the fire."
I didn't waste time asking about fire extinguishers. If they had them, presumably they'd be using them. Trailing the long microphone cord behind me, I grabbed my binoculars and went out to the Portuguese bridge to better assess the situation. The enclosed walkway around my wheelhouse enabled me to step outside and still be protected from the elements.