Last time Anatoly and his colleagues reached their first Scottish island and met the same fisherman that Bill and the children did on their first day at sea.
Bentley skirted the east side of the fisherman’s island for a short time then they headed out into the open sea. At first the going was pleasant, but slowly the wind was picking up and causing little white tips on the increasingly choppy seas.
Anatoly glanced at the sky doubtfully, noting the dark, ominous clouds that were gathering above them, and as far as he could see in all directions. He opened his mouth to suggest that just maybe the fisherman had got it right and felt the patter of raindrops beginning to fall.
Bentley grunted and swore to himself. “I really believed that old man would be wrong! Can someone chuck me my raincoat?”
“Maybe it will pass?” Anatoly suggested as he moved to pass over the navy coat.
“Maybe,” said Thompson, pulling on his own rain jacket as the rain came down more heavily.
It didn’t take long before they were starting to worry. The wind, and the waves had increased dramatically in just a quarter hour and the boat was now being lifted up at the front and then dropping down.
“I think we ought to find land and hunker down,” Anatoly suggested, having to speak loudly over the wind and crashing waves. “I do not think we will get the tents up this wind.”
Thompson and Bentley glanced at each other. “Think you’re right,” agreed Bentley. “Have a look at that map and see how far the next island is!”
They were grateful for the tiny cabin of the boat as it gave them some protection from the elements as they spread the map out. “I hate to say it,” said Thompson, staggering as the boat lurched again, “but I think the nearest land was back where we’ve just come from.”
“It’s at least somewhere we know we can dock and tie up,” Bentley said wryly from outside the door where he was still handing the boat’s wheel. “That old fellow is going to be cackling that we didn’t listen to him in the first place.”
“Better our tails between our legs than at the bottom of the sea,” Anatoly said. When the other two laughed he at first thought that he had gotten his metaphors muddled up again, but then he realised that they were simply amused and he grinned.
The amusement didn’t last long as Bentley piloted the boat in a wide circle and they began retracing their route. The weather only got worse as they went, leaving the two not piloting the boat to bail out the water that kept flooding in with each crashing wave.
Through some miracle, Bentley controlled the boat through the choppy waves towards the island they had just visited. The waves next to the island were crashing against the rocks. “Take it steady, Bentley,” Thompson warned. “I don’t want the boat to end up as driftwood.”
“I have no intention of that,” Bentley replied grimly. “They’d take it out of my bloody wages, no doubt.”
A good way away from where the agents were struggling with the elements, Bill wasn’t having much of a better time. The shack he was in was dreadfully drafty, and the rain and spray from the waves were able to get in. He felt his clothes starting to get wet and cold. He shivered as another wave broke over the shack and wetted his clothes again. He was so cold he was struggling to try and form a plan. He wondered if, with the help of the wind, buffeting against the wood, he could rock the small shack over so he could facilitate an escape. He struggled to his feet and threw himself against the side of the shack when the waves broke and the wind blew. After fifteen minutes or so, weak from hunger and cold, Bill gave up and began to pace to keep himself warm.
By the time Bentley was steering the boat towards the jetty they had left mere hours before the three men were cold, tired and hungry. They ached from being battered against the sides of the boat as it rocked and yawed on the waves. He had to be very careful but succeeded in getting alongside the jetty with only a couple of scrapes and Anatoly and Thompson worked quickly to get their ropes tied up so the boat was secured. The jetty was in a sheltered cove so the sea was not quite so rough there.
The men pulled their packs and kit out of the boat. “Do we go to the fisherman or shall we just find shelter?” Anatoly asked. “The fisherman might know a place of shelter to save us looking,” he added.
The fisherman looked annoyingly smug when they knocked on his door, dripping wet, though he didn’t say anything. “My bit cottage won’t tak sae mony, and that’s what I told yon other fowk, but you can come in an’ dry off a bit. I’ll put the kettle on, and you can hae a cup o’ tea.”
The men graciously accepted and moved into the house. “Is there anywhere around here to shelter?” Anatoly asked when the fisherman’s wife had put their cups of tea on the table in front of them.
“Weel,” he rubbed his whiskered chin. “There used tae be a few mair families living here, I suppose you might shelter in one o’ the auld cottages down that way,” he pointed with his pipe. “They’re a bit tumble-doon but one or two o’ them might hae dry bits inside.”
“I am happy to try some old houses,” Anatoly said with a smile, glancing at his companions.
Bentley shrugged. “Sounds like our only option. Better than being on the boat, anyway.”
They had a second cup of tea, pressed on them by the fisherman’s wife, along with hot buttered scones, and then headed back out into the storm. It was only early evening but it was nearly dark already and they were bent almost double as they went down the rutted track, the wind and rain stinging their faces nonetheless. The first cottage they came to had almost no roof, the tiles either blown off or scavenged for one of the few remaining buildings with people still living in them. A quick look inside with a torch showed it was almost as wet inside as out.
The moved on quickly to the second building they could see, and faired slightly better, the roof was at least still on this building but it had been utilised to house some chickens which were clucking in alarm at the storm and then the three men invading their space.
“Call this one a maybe,” Bentley said, backing off as a brave chicken attempted to peck at his ankles.
The third cottage was missing an entire wall, and unfortunately it was the one facing the wind, and the fourth was missing substantial chunks of both wall and roof. “Looks like we’re in with the chickens,” said Thompson, and the others agreed they’d rather face the hens rather than continuing the search for a cottage both whole and empty.
They returned to the second cottage and, giving the chickens a firm glare, spread out their sleeping bags in the driest corner. There was a fireplace still intact, and enough bits of scrap wood and straw inside the cottage to get a reasonable fire going, the warmth of which seemed to settle the chickens who were soon roosting comfortably and, as far as they could tell, sleeping.
To be continued…