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Nick Sandman's spine was shattered by a bullet in the Falklands. He has no money and no prospects, only a dream of sailing far away from his troubles on his boat, Sycorax. But Sycorax is as crippled as he is, and to make her seaworthy again, Nick must strike a devil's bargain with egomaniacal TV star Tony Bannister. Signing on to the crew of Bannister's powerful ocean racer, Wildtrack, Nick is expected to help sail her to victory. But the despised celebrity has made some powerful enemies who will stop at nothing ...
Nick Sandman's spine was shattered by a bullet in the Falklands. He has no money and no prospects, only a dream of sailing far away from his troubles on his boat, Sycorax. But Sycorax is as crippled as he is, and to make her seaworthy again, Nick must strike a devil's bargain with egomaniacal TV star Tony Bannister. Signing on to the crew of Bannister's powerful ocean racer, Wildtrack, Nick is expected to help sail her to victory. But the despised celebrity has made some powerful enemies who will stop at nothing for revenge. . . .
I walked out of the hospital fourteen months later.
I knew Doctor Maitland would have told the press that I was leaving, so I discharged myself two days early. I didn't want any fuss. I just wanted to get back to Devon and walk into the pub and pretend I'd been away for a week or two, nothing more.
So I limped down the hospital drive and told myself that the pain in my back was bearable, and that the hobbling walk was not too grotesque. I caught a bus at the hospital gate, then a train to Tomes, and another bus that twisted its way into the steep river-cut hills of the South Hams. It was winter's end and there were snowdrops in the hedgerows. I wanted to cry, which was why I'd told no one that I was coming home, for I had known just how glad I would be to see the hills of Devon.
I asked the bus-driver to drop me at the top of Ferry Lane. He watched me limp down the vehicle's steps and heard me gasp with the effort of the last, deep drop to the road. "Are you all right, mate?"
"I'm fine," I lied. "I just want to walk."
The door hissed shut and the bus grumbled away towards the village while I went haltingly down the lane which led to the old ferry slip. From there I would be able to stare across the river at Sycorax.
To stare at my home, for, however battered she might be by the winter's ice and gales, Sycorax was home. She was the only home I had, or wanted any more, and it had been thoughts of her that had steered me through the long months to this moment when I walked towards her.
Or rather limped. It hurt to walk, but I knew itwould hurt for the rest of my life. I'd simply have to live with the pain, and I'd decided that the best way to do that was to forget it, and that the best way to forget it was to think of something else.
That was suddenly easy, for, as I turned the steep corner halfway to the river, a watery sunlight reflected with surprising brilliance from the windows of my father's old house which stood high on the far bank.
I stopped. The new owner of the house had extended the river façade, making a great sweep of plate glass that looked down the wide expanse of sloping lawns to the water. The towering mast my father had put on the terrace still stood complete with its crosstree, shrouds and angled yard. No flag hung from the mast, suggesting that the house was empty. To me, as I gazed across the river, the house seemed like a foreign place for which my visa had long been cancelled.
I picked up my small bag and hobbled on. In summer this lane was busy with dinghy-sailors who trailed their craft to the water's edge, but now, in the wake of winter's cold, there was just one car parked at the head of the old slip. It was a big shooting-brake filled with paint and tools and warps and all the other gear needed to ready a boat for the season. A middle-aged man was stowing cans and brushes into a bag. "Morning! It's a bright one, isn't it?"
"It is," I agreed. There were a dozen boats moored out—only a handful compared to the scores that would use the anchorage in summer, but just enough to hide Sycorax from me. She was on the wharf by the deep cut that led to my father's old boathouse on the far bank.
The tide was ebbing. I hoped the middle-aged man would ignore me now, for this was the moment that had kept me alive through all the months of hospital and pain. This was the dream; to see the boat that would sail me to New Zealand. I was prepared for the worst, expecting to see her topsides shabby and her hull clawed by the ice of two winters. Jimmy Nicholls had written in the autumn and said she needed work, and I'd read between the lines that it would be a lot of work, but I had persuaded myself that it would be a pleasure to mend Sycorax as the days lengthened and as my own strength seeped back.
Now, like a child wanting to prolong a treat, I did not look up as I limped to the slip's end. Only when my shoes were almost touching the swirl of falling water did I at last raise my eyes. I was holding my breath. I had come home.
And Sycorax was gone.
"Is something wrong?"
My right leg was shaking uncontrollably. Sycorax was gone. In her place, tied to the ancient wall that was my private berth, was a box-like houseboat.
"Excuse me?" It was the middle-aged man who had approached me on soft-soled sea-boots. He was embarrassed by needing to ask the question. "Are you all right?"
"Yes." I said it abruptly, not wanting to betray the dismay I felt. I looked into the big upstream pool where another handful of boats was moored, but Sycorax was not there. I looked downstream towards the bend which hid the village, but no boats were moored in the reach. She was gone.
I turned round. The middle-aged man had gone back to loading his inflatable dinghy with supplies. "Were you moored out through the winter?" I asked.
'Fraid so." He said it sheepishly, as though I was accusing him of maltreating his boat.
"You don't know what's happened to Sycorax, do you?"
"Sycorax?" He straightened up, puzzled, then clicked his fingers as he remembered the name. "Tommy Sandman's old boat?"
"Yes." It was hardly the moment to say that my father had long ago sold me the yacht.
"Sad," he said. "Shame, really. She's up there." He pointed across the river; I turned, and at last saw her.Wildtrack
Posted November 11, 2010
If you love sailing and flat, predictable characters, you will love this book. If you do not care for sailing, don't read this book. Mr. Cornwell knows sailing and can accurately, and excitingly, tell a sailing adventure. But I think the book suffers from formulaic novel writing.
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Bernard Cornwell is know for his historical novels, and they are excellent. But it's obvious he loves to sail and it comes through on the page. The characters resonate and the plot crackels. If you have passed the nautical novels, give them a chance. You won't be dissapointed.
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Posted January 29, 2010
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Posted March 7, 2011
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