Let me refresh your memory of the sea ditty thus far... It’s been a while, and although chapters 1 – 4 can be found herein to energise your memory cells... let’s re-cap where we are.
Ancient salt Captain Horatio Hardy is searching for his ‘lost’ triplet great nieces Claudia, Camilla and Chlamydia. The girls’ parents, Algae & Hermione, have been ‘bwootally’ kidnapped by marauding pirates in the Gulf of Socotra; they are banged up in a nasty hole somewhere in north east Africa where they survive on filtered kudu piss and fried wildebeest turds (which, being shat from a herbivore, also provide organic and genetically unmodified roughage.)
They face an ordeal of gargantuan proportions; it’s the first time Hermione hasn’t inhaled conditioned, cool air since she was expelled from Roedean after being caught fellating the postman in the library (it was, she delighted in regaling, the ‘best shag’ she’d had in her entire life – ‘he had a Johnson like a baby’s arm’.) My, how her room-mate Anunziata Grease-Fogg would screech at her peccadilloes and other small furry animals.
H’s search takes him to Antibes to grill ‘Claude’, the only niece of known whereabouts, for any signs of intelligence. She offered none. But strange things happen in the lofty atmosphere of Le Totty d’Azur, the yachtie groin exchange, where he also meets Captain Skippy Brewster, Claude’s boss and master of MY CAVIARE.
Despite having retired 20 years earlier, H is persuaded to replace the recently departed Mate; a disloyal scoundrel who has done a no-notice runner, having accepted a loadsamoney offer from the huge yacht next door. H is hastily enlisted as Skippy’s 2i/c, and during his induction tour he marvels at the jaw droppingly superb presentation of the gleaming vessel (he chooses to ignore the obscenely vulgar whale-skin, silk and gold cladding – H is more interested in where the fire extinguishers are hidden).
Play-thing of a Ukrainian under-pant oligarch, the vessel was bought in cash via his ‘offshore office’ (whose flag he proudly wears as testimony to his unspoken allegiance to the Queen of England and her tax efficient dominions.) Proud to be the uber wealthy, sole owner of his country’s entire textile industry, his good fortune was ‘bought’ with a sans interet loan provided, by spooky coincidence, by none other than the girls’ investment banker Dad when he was a London based commission earning money lender at the now defunct Nastyyankeebank Inc.
On the bridge, planning a passage through Suez and beyond, Skippy and H are astonished to see the boss driving along the IYC jetty in his Lambo cabrio, complete with Hermes and Harvey Nicks clad Camilla, triplet number two. She dutifully follows her catch on board, reminding H of a Lady-in-Waiting with whom he occasionally walked out when staying at his club in St James’s. With each nervous wobbly step, not unlike Dick Emery in drag, Cam crossed the gangway in her new ‘eight inch’ Jimmy Choos. No longer mere crew, who skip around the decks in bare pedicured feet, her elevated status means she can ‘do whatever the she f&^*ing well likes’...
The ditty continues...
In equal measure H is both delighted and horrified; collectively gobsmacked, to use a phrase H neither understood nor used – he was made of different stuff. He packed his old Navy issue kit bag the following day and left; he would be fishing for dabs and flounders off Hunstanton tomorrow, he mused. Occasionally glancing over his shoulder, he found himself involuntarily shaking his head, wondering ‘what in God’s name...’ Here’s why he left...
‘Dake me do Monaco, NOW!’ boomed the boss, who was by now quaffing a large freezer-cold ‘wodka’, blissfully unselfconscious that he was stark bollock naked. What the man wants, the man gets – to Monaco!
H was startled and more than a little impressed with the evident sense of urgency with which preps for sea were done in this well-oiled machine: Chief Engineer Shuggy legged it with all naval despatch to the machinery control room to disconnect shore power, prime the main engines and flash up the auxiliaries, his winger to the engine room via the steering gear compartment for pre-sea checks, deckies singled up the berthing ropes, the interior troops secured the galley and guests’ areas whilst Claude, with an unparalleled sense of urgency, steam ironed creases into the boss’s starched boxers; she bore the earnest expression of a woman possessed.
Skippy headed for the bridge... followed by a bewildered H who had assumed, God alone knows why, that his role as chief officer was to oversee the seamanship aspects of the departure, also from the bridge where he could direct both the for’d and after deck teams.
‘Whatcha doin’ ‘ere H?’, demanded Skippy and, pointing towards the sharp end added, rather too dismissively for H’s taste, ‘you’re on the foredeck – go on, skippy-de-doo-dah’. H was momentarily taken aback at Skippy’s impudent tone but, sage old bird that he was, decided to let such gauche rudeness go; he’d experienced worse. He’d have a quiet word with Skippy later about command presence, and perhaps give him a copy of Debrett’s Modern Manners as a lead-lined hint, if only to let him know that there is much more to being appropriately polite than occasionally just saying please and thank you.
But spying no charts, 2Bs or bridge sea logs, H felt an instinctive sense of guilt that he might have let Skippy down, ‘But what about the passage plan to Monaco; shall I do it quickly, now?’
‘Nah, no need H – I know where Monaco is; I could find the bloody place with an AA road map!’ And he meant it.
So H went to the ‘fo’c’sle’ (a nautical term he later realised was probably not optimal) where he oversaw the under-dressed foredeck sailors make an anchor ready for letting go on the brake before casting off the ground tackle ropes. ‘Deft fender drill’, H reflected, as Skippy single-handedly and skilfully manoeuvred the mighty CAVIARE off the berth, easing out between two megayachts each just a few metres either side. H sucked the air in, ‘ah, to be at sea again – marvellous!’ To the bridge …..
...During the short passage H firmly but politely insisted on taking the watch from his captain; ‘I have the ship, sir!’ Clearly mystified by what he considered to be an ancient formality of the sort seen only in Downton Abbey and other pre-historic documentaries - ‘I have the ship????’ - Skippy immediately went below to attend to more important command matters (i.e. the boss).
H then sent for the Bosun: ‘who and where is my conspicuously absent bridge lookout?’ The bosun, who was briefly flummoxed by such a peculiar question (‘f*&^ all to with me, Tonto’, he initially thought), grabbed the opportunity by the balls and burst out, ‘I’ve always wanted some bridge time, can it be me H?!’ who smiled at the lad’s infectious eagerness, ‘of course, I’d be delighted to work with you; put those binoculars around your neck and switch off that bloody phone... standards, standards!’, replied a smiling H.
He taught his lookout non-stop during the entire passage and Frankie, the Bosun, sucked it all in with relish, ‘I haven’t done any of this since I became a yachtmaster!’ H drew a few lines on the chart, popped a couple of PIs on the radar, and prepared a pilotage plan that, at minimum, would at least show the limits of safe water off track. ‘Monaco – how exciting!’, thought H.
I’ll skip the rather uneventful passage, other than to observe that H was impressed at the sense of urgency, the focus, the drive. Grand, it was! Amongst other pressing tasks, he overheard Skippy on the phone reserving a particularly prestigious alongside berth (the administrative detail of how this unusually complex task was achieved was lost on him, but no matter), and some other logistical arrangements the boss had demanded. H’s antenna picked up that some guests were expected.
Immediately on arrival alongside (during which Skippy again impressed H with his instinctive ship-handling skill), from a darkened Merc emerged the ludicrous sight of Gucci booted and suited aide Igor, with more muscles on his chiselled face than most men have on their biceps. He strode unchallenged across the gangway, without eye contact with anyone, and went straight to the boss to whom, in hushed tones, he whispered something into his ear. It was the first time H had seen the great under-pant man smile, revealing a gob full of pearlescent crowns, backed in gold (to make them look nice.)
For the next hour or two, with the sun gradually fading over the rocky mound to the west, fastidious preparations on board were made discretely, but with great attention to detail. H was dumbstruck at how a black belt in origami could transform a mere napkin into a fish! But it wasn’t quite H’s scene; he felt uncomfortably goldfish-like in front of the gawping grockles on and overlooking the jetty. ‘I reckon it’s Angelina Jolie’s or maybe Danny La Rue’s’, he overheard one celebrity spotter opine with the authority of someone in the know; a Daily Mail reader who actually bought Hello! magazine (by direct debit.)
H had never before seen a fendered fender (wearing a nice woolly coat), and a stainless-steel windlass polished to a mirror-like sheen provided H with the opportunity to comb his thinning hair. He almost felt famous, by proxy! And he was slightly surprised by his own desire to muck in, do his bit – he was, after all, a paid member of the team. He was not, could not and never would be a bystander – ‘if a job needs doing, point me in the right direction’ was his mantra. He was mulling over the positioning of the rat guards when the corner of his eye was caught by a linen trousered man walking purposefully towards him.
‘Hey, old man... you are Hooray-Shio; you new Mate; Skippy, he tell me. You my wooman Clud’ya uncle. I say welcome you’.
‘Good afternoon sir, how do you do; yes, I am indeed he, and’, a deft old hand at naval and liner cocktail party banter, he politely added, ‘may I congratulate you on your beautiful yacht’. He waited for a response, but none was forthcoming... until:
‘I dell you samtheeng Engineer Shoogy say me. You know me? People they no call me Superman like America movie; they say me Underpantman!’ The Boss positively howled with laughter; what an unusual epithet! H too was amused and was fleetingly tempted to reply with a witty riposte about the best image-based cartoon joke he knew – the one about Superwoman in her tights being goosed by The Invisible Man, but thought better of it. Instead, he smiled politely as he might have done in the presence of real royalty.
Emboldened, and regaining his composure, Boss continued with the underwear theme: ‘why you not wear Ukrainian under-pant?’ He paused like a seasoned pro for comedic effect.
‘Becoz Cher knob’ll fall out!’ Well, Underpantman very nearly had a seizure at that one, and nor could H contain his mirth; they immediately bonded over the side-splitting gag. H really was beginning to quite enjoy himself. This joke, tasteless as it was and dubiously made at the expense of the greatest nuclear accident in history, had the unexpected side effect of endearing him to H, who was surprised to find himself rather charmed.
Without further ado, the boss turned about and wandered off in search of a wodka. ‘You come with Skippy ant Cameella see me and Clud’ya lader; I got some nooz for you!’
After a dinner pour deux of regal quality the boss’s minder Igor, with more than a hint of menace, sent for H, Skippy and Cam (being nice did not fit well with his job description which demanded other skills and attributes). He ‘invited’ them to ‘join Boss ind m’dam’ for a post prandial soupcon of Talboh, a fine Davidoff cigarillo or two, and the cheapest Spanish brandy money could buy – it was heavenly; nectar itself.
They settled down in deep sofas to watch a film; ‘how lovely’ thought H, reminded of wardroom film nights at sea. He hoped it might be a western, or perhaps West Side Story. It was neither.
The film initially had an amateurish quality about it: no cast list, no haunting music – just straight in. It showed a wide expanse of hot desert scrubland and panned to an elderly, clearly emotionally distressed woman with Ethiopian or maybe Somali features being roughly bound by her ankles and wrists. To add to the wretched woman’s humiliation and misery, she was stripped naked and shown, to clearly dramatic effect, a cut-throat razor. Something obviously awful was said to her in what H guessed was Somali Arabic. Grotesque, very poor taste, in H’s view.
She was then unceremoniously hoisted feet-first to dangle from a window-cleaning gantry jutting out from the flat roof of a derelict four-storey building. A lingering shot of a newspaper clearly in Arabic ensued, followed by a few frames of the rope being secured carelessly around a nearby bicycle stand. But what also struck H was the familiar visage of the man with the rope; he looked uncannily similar to Igor.
The next scene, inside a dark room, showed a group of three men each carrying a knackered old Kalashnikov; they had about six greenish-brown teeth between them which, as events would show, gave them a toughness that belied their true natures as limp wristed Mummy’s boys. They were, Boss stage whispered, brothers. The now armed man who looked like Igor’s brother – let’s call him Yuri - nodded at them nervously, and there was an indecipherably brief dialogue in which H could just pick out some words like ransom, keel, dollars and payment.
The men, with brief expressions of surprise, then turned and looked at a laptop monitor and became immediately transfixed with what looked like fear; nay, terror. H, by now hoping that the ice creams would soon be served, was intrigued by what hidden image they could have been so horrified. ‘Show us the bloody laptop screen!’ he was inwardly demanding when, to everyone’s surprise, the film stopped... and Boss rose to his feet and turned towards his guests.
Addressing his words mostly to the beloved Claude, but also often to both Uncle H and Cam, the boss was quite some orator. Not once did he look at Skippy. Underpantman had a sense of gravitas; he knew how to work an audience. In rich Slavic tones, the Boss explained he had no choice, that his love for Claude drove him to act; he was horrified by what had happened to her (and Cam’s) Mum and Dad. So, used to getting what he wanted, when he wanted it, and being able to do quite literally anything, he decided to fix it; simple as that.
And, having learned a thing or two in business about how to get things done, he used the simple old trick of applying similar tactics to the enemy but amplified by a factor of ten (for the military strategists out there he was a fan of Clausewitz’s shattering blow and concentration of force, and had no time for the subtlety of all that Sun Tzu nonsense). Whatever the enemy did, he would do much, much worse.
Boss used his contacts (governmental, diplomatic and ‘business’) to agree the $5 million ransom with the pirates, on the condition that the leader himself delivered Algae & Herm to where the money was waiting; only by that means could both sides be confident Algae & Herm would be swapped for the multi-million pound ransom. A kind of honour amongst thieves. What the haplessly naïve head-honcho pirate didn’t know was that Igor (for it was indeed him) had done a little more homework, and tracked down the pirates’ dear and lovely old Mum. She was the starkers lady dangling upside down in the ‘home movie’. The unspoken message was crystal: if the ‘deal’ wasn’t accepted, the rope would be cut and it would all be seen live, as it actually happened, in glorious technicolor. Nice people.
Boss reckoned himself to be a simple businessman who was just good at deals. Sound familiar? A straight swap: single Mum for a Mum & Dad. Now that is profitable business! It was a no brainer. Job done. As an added bonus, targeted for the benefit of the wider maritime profession, Igor ‘encouraged’ the pirates to behave themselves in future before, sobbing their little hearts out, they ran off – without the dosh - to rescue their very cross Mum.
The room was stunned into astonished silence. Everyone stared into the middle distance, pondering a plethora of imponderables. Initially, H was selfishly delighted about his own narrow, personal family agenda – but then what about the poor woman, presumably ignorant of the whole sordid affair; was she well – IS she well?? The Boss shrugged his shoulders, ‘should be, I guess’. Not good enough for H who was trying desperately to widen his tunnel vision; to ponder the wider picture when …..
... surprise, surprise! Boss opened the door into the principal guest suite and – Gordon Bloody Bennett – Algae and Herm, gaunt but otherwise chipper, burst into the room screaming with delight at the sight of Claude and Cam... and then dear old Uncle Horry. Tears aplenty...
It was shortly after that when H decided he had to leave, and straight away – the sooner the better. For sure, he’d miss Shuggy who, in the space of just a few days, had become a real pal; a total diamond, and they planned to meet up back in Blighty and maybe go and watch Boston United. Skippy didn’t try to change H’s mind – he knew that with H he’d bitten off rather more than he could chew, and the former mate was already begging to come back; better the devil you know.
But H’s influence and legacy in the mighty CAVIARE would linger with CAVIARE’s troops long after he left. Frankie in particular was now fuelled with ambition, and he too would write to H from time to time and ask for his wise counsel. He addressed him as ‘Uncle’ H, just like the triplets.
And I wonder how many eagle-eyed spotters amongst you have spotted that I’ve confused Claude’s and Cam’s character? No such thing, silly handy-billy, but well-spotted that their characters seem to flip and flop anyway! It’s Boss who’s confused Clud’ya with Cam and vice versa – these girls are smarter than they are painted; the schemers positively loathe the disgusting old creep.
Apropos all afore, what, you might ask, of Clam – where is niece number three? God alone knows – H reckoned she was probably being shagged senseless somewhere exotic. Time will tell.
Horatio Hardy, sea captain and ancient mariner, bon viveur and all-round good egg, had learned and compressed more new experiences in his few days as CAVIARE’s Chief Officer than he could remember. It was to him a parallel universe; a different bloody planet. But he didn’t judge; he was too kind for that. As he strolled down the jetty, kit bag slung over his shoulder, he smiled at the prospect of meeting shipmate Shuggy again and spinning a few more dits. The trip was worth it for that alone, H mused.
Half way to the nearby train station H stopped briefly and looked over his shoulder one last time. He smiled again, and started off once more towards La Gare, soon lost in thought wondering what bait – lug or ragworms? - he might use tomorrow off Hunstanton...
Post Script... A few days later H was out in his boat, fishing off the Norfolk coast. ‘Bing-bong’ went his phone; it was a text from Shuggy. It read ’My Dear Shipmate, I have just passed a rather firm stool’. A few seconds later, another ‘bing-bong’: ‘I wish I’d bought it!'.
About the author:
Commander Sean O'Reilly spent 28 years in the Royal Navy. He commanded two warships, taught navigation, ship-handling and leadership at Britannia Royal Naval College, Dartmouth, before commanding the naval contingent in the UK MoD Saudi Arabia Project. He then commanded the UK inter-agency Maritime Counter-Narcotics contingent in the Caribbean. A Masters graduate in International Affairs, he left the Navy in 2006 to lecture International Law of the Sea to Naval undergraduates in Abu Dhabi. Sean now teaches UK MCA accredited courses in the captaincy of commercial yachts up to 3000gt.