No Borderlines

by Andrew Foote

Chapter 14

With Cathy and Rob up and about, it was time to think about getting the Marion S sorted out.

This promised to be a big undertaking given the damage we'd seen whilst giving her a cursory inspection the previous evening, and Cathy wanted my first task to try and get the Port generator running. She and Rob decided to tackle the mess that had been made of the accommodation and I had Aruno chase the burnt out cabling.

Rob managed to sweet-talk the harbour office into lending us an electric trolley and the use of a sizable skip into which we could deposit whatever was past redemption and / or water-damaged, but I think that Aruno copped the short straw with the cables.

I have this theory that boat and ship builders deliberately install all the heavy stuff such as engines, compressors and generators, wire them up and only when they've been tested, do they weld the boat tight shut so you can't get them out without carving a bloody-great hole in the superstructure. The same method has to be used when laying in cables cos the ducting disappears into places where, unless you're a snake, are completely inaccessible, but somehow, (and I must remember to ask him how he did it), managed to trace all the damaged ones to their source, namely inverter feeds, radar monitor DC lines and very importantly - power to all deck lighting including aspect lights.

The generator problem turned out to be the result of a totally totalled starter motor but until such time as we could lay our hands on a suitable replacement, there was no way of knowing what sort of state the alternator was in; they really don't appreciate being dunked in salt water – any water come to think of it.

Best guess was the engine would be okay. There was no evidence of water in the sump meaning the block hadn't cracked, and anyhow, these Volvo Penta units are as tough as old bootlaces.

Next was a taxi to the nearest chandlers' emporium where Cathy's Dad's charge card took a massive hit.

Starter motor – brilliant! Cables – the inverter feeders being outrageously expensive. Paint for the soiled bulkheads, rollers and brushes and a three phase trip unit. We were ready to rock!

Fitting the starter motor was easy and after about an hour it was ready for testing.

Like Conqueror, all ancillary power-plants could be started either from the engine room or the bridge but to prove the system hadn't suffered more extensive damage, I had Aruno go up-top and make the start from up there while I watched for smoke or other indications of trouble.

Time plays tricks with your mind – it seemed like an eternity until I heard the whine of the starter followed by the engine shuddering on its mounts as she coughed into life before settling down to its normal speed of three thousand RPM.

Cathy, Rob and I high-fived just as the comms sounded. "We have charging Mimi-cu. The instruments show seven hundred and fifty Amps."

I called him back. "Stay up there for a bit and monitor things. If everything seems okay after about half an hour, leave it running and come back down so you can help us with the deck circuits."

By eight that evening, we had managed to restore all the lighting, dump what was left of the trashed cabins which left us with only the faulty radar so investigate. This we decided to leave 'til the morning; we were tired and hungry and in desperate need of showers – no eating in nice restaurants tonight – instead we settled for fish and chips which we ate sitting on the promenade wall, then with Marion's accommodation being unfit for habitation, we made our way back through the harbour to the sanctuary of Conqueror, wine and lots of it, followed by bed and a sound night's sleep.

Late, at least by my normal habits, it was gone eight in the morning before the breakfast dishes had been washed and put away, so it was then I heeded my Mum's suggestion.

"Cath? As we've only got the radar to see to, why don't you and Aruno take Conqueror over to the service quay and get a fill of diesel while Rob and I make a start on this last job? If we draw a blank, then we've not lost too much time, I can do the same with Marion and we can make a prompt getaway."

"That makes sense, we might make Penzance at a reasonable time – I'm not a fan of running after dark and especially entering a harbour, but it might be an idea if Rob and I take her across rather than Sam as he's the one who'll be crewing for me."

"Whatever suits you. She's your boat but might I suggest we do it sooner rather than later, like before all the pleasure boats decide to beat us to it?"

With Cathy generally playing the role of skivvy, I'd forgotten how bloody good she was with boats. Rob had the Stork on warm-up as soon as we stepped on board then the next thing I was aware of was the engine shutting down ready for refuelling. Not a bump, not a roll, just superb manoeuvring in a confined space.

With what damaged wiring we could find now repaired, Aruno and I made our way up onto the bridge to test our efforts. Both Cathy and Rob were there so I pretended to act ignorant and congratulate Rob on his helmsmanship. "Nicely done Rob. We never felt a thing!"

Both of them spun around to look at me – Rob holding his hands up in mock surrender.

"Nothing to do with me mate? I'm crew and I was outside with the lines. She's your man – honest!"

"Yeah, I know. I was only having a laugh but I suppose this means I have to brew the coffee, huh?"

Cath handed me two mugs, and grinning said "I think that might be wise Simeon! How's it looking with the radar?"

"Cool…… I hope. We've replaced all the damaged cables…… well, all that we can see at any rate, so if you want to try a boot-up?"

She hit a couple of switches and we heard the Beeps indicating a start-up sequence then, looking outside, we saw the antenna rotating – it was operational!

"Whoopy-do! We're all set but…… you can still go and get the fucking coffee!"

"Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned" comes to mind. *

* (William Congreve; born 1670 died 1729; the quotation should actually read: "Heav'n has no rage like love to hatred turned, nor Hell a fury, like a woman scorn'd' and is from his play, 'The Mourning Bride'. Act III Scene VIII.

See? This site is educational too!!)


Leaving Cath and Rob to refuel, Aruno and I made our way back across the quayside and got Conqueror ready to follow on behind. We were directly in line of sight of the service quay and as no other craft appeared to be on the move, we untied and slipped in behind Marion and awaited our turn. She carried more fuel than we did so we would probably be waiting around for a while so we busied ourselves and watered up, then made a large flask of coffee which we took on board Marion to share with Cath and Rob.

Cathy thanked us and apologised for the hold-up.

"Sam said we were at 25% capacity and that's what the fuel gauge still indicates, but we've taken over eighteen hundred litres since he read it and still we have capacity. I reckon the transducer's shot."

"It shouldn't be too difficult to get to it but if you fill completely, sorting it out can wait until we get home."

"Oh yes…… I wasn't going to suggest we hung about here for any longer than necessary, but it's odd, Dad was meticulous when it came to maintenance."

"I know it, but things go wrong and if he was confident he had fuel enough to get to wherever he was headed then perhaps, like me, he thought it best to leave it until he was in port somewhere."

"Possibly. But you know me Simeon? I'm not given to flights of fancy but this just…… I don't know…… doesn't feel right somehow."

"We've two ways to play this. Either we stay and try to get to the bottom of this or the other option, we head out for Penzance and try and do it there. It has to be your decision Cath, and whatever choice you make is fine by me."

"Oh sod it. Let's get home!"

Fuelled, watered and provisioned, Cath radioed the Harbour Master for clearance to put out to sea. "Two boats. MV Conqueror and ourselves, MV Marion S, both bound for Penzance, over."

"This is Torquay Harbour. No incoming vessels so have a safe voyage. Out."

We had both our radios on duel-watch, channel 16 for distress calls and nine for ship-to-ship chatter. We were heading into moderate seas but the breeze and tide were slowing progress so it was nice to be able to exchange banter so as to relieve the tedium, but it was during one lull in conversation that we had a call on channel 16.

"MV Marion S. MV Conqueror. Instructions to return to Torquay harbour at the first opportunity, over."

"From MV Marion S. We're on our way home. What's the problem, over?"

"Please just comply with instructions. This is important, over."

"From MV Marion S. Very well, we're on our way. Out."

"MV Conqueror?"

"Likewise, over."

"From Torquay harbour. Once in, please make your way to the customs hall where you'll be met and berths provided for you at no extra charge…… understood? Over."

"Very sweet of you…… not!

From MV Conqueror and MV Marion S. We're on our way. Out."

We turned as we had been instructed and with Aruno at the wheel, I took a break and tried to collect my thoughts but these were interrupted by my phone chirping at me.

"Simeon? What the fuck?"

"Cath? I have absolutely no idea!

I take it you paid for your diesel?!"

"Hahaha! I'm pretty positive I did! Seriously though? What do you reckon is going on?"

"That drug haul; it has to be something to do with that."

"My thoughts as well but this goes past the point of Worry…… it's altogether scary!

If they still had concerns, why didn't they impound Marion and do the job properly at the first attempt?"

"Can't answer that but you'll most likely be told that investigations are ongoing or something. Our options are closed – we have to go back. Don't sweat it girl – we've nothing to hide so try and relax."

"I'll give it my best shot.

See you in prison later!"

Two hours later found us tied off in the most secure location any of us had ever seen.

We had entered the Customs shed where we were directed towards the far left corner and once moored, solid steel gates, reaching from under the water to the ceiling were used to seal both boats off from the world outside. We were passed shore-line power cables, told to power down all engines and leave our respective boats and as we did so, we were met by four Customs officials and a herd of policemen. Yes, I realise that's not the correct collective noun but never mind.

The senior Customs official looked us over then turned his attention to Cathy.

"Am I right in assuming that you are Catherine Penfold?"

"Yes you are. What's all this about?"

"I'll come to that in a moment." Then looking at Rob who had thrown a protective arm around her, "And you are?"

"Robert Adams. I'm Cathy's boyfriend."

He then turned to Aruno and me. "You must be Simeon Woolacott, Conqueror's Skipper."

"I am he."

"And you, young man? Who might you be?"

"My name is Aru…… Sam Penfold. I'm Catherine's brother."

"Thank you. Now let us go somewhere less austere and I'll explain why we found it necessary to recall your boats shall we?"

He and the highest ranking policeman led us through into a sort of conference room. "Please take a seat while I organise some coffee then I'll tell you why you're here."

We only had to wait a few minutes before he returned followed by a woman carrying flasks of coffee, then once she had left the room, Mr HMRC started with his explanation.

"Please help yourselves to drinks, but before I get down to business, let me introduce myself.

My name is Captain Stone and I'm the senior Customs officer for the South-west of England and with me is Detective Chief Superintendent Best, head of Devon and Cornwall Police's Drug Squad.

It is worthwhile pointing out that none of you are under arrest and equally, none of you are under immediate suspicion of criminal activity and so, that said, you are free to leave this facility at any time, however I would appreciate your co-operation in answering a few questions and then, depending on what we find during the search of your vessels, it may be necessary for all of you to provide written statements.

Okay so far?"

We all of us nodded our heads, except Aruno who looked perplexed.

"What's troubling you, young man? You look to be less than happy."

Cathy chipped in. "My brother has only been in the UK for a month. When our parents split up, Mum took him to Brazil when he was only six months old and so, all his life-experiences were of living amongst a native Indian tribe in the rain forests. Our Mum, who's a Doctor, was working for the UNHCR."

"Ah. I see." He leaned forward and speaking to Aruno said, "What I said just now was only a long-winded way of telling you that you're not in any trouble. You have nothing to fear from me or from the police. Alright?"

"Yes. Thank you. Now I understand."

"Okay then.

You will all be acutely aware of the incident involving the trawler Marion S.

She was boarded at gunpoint by who we believe were a gang who intended to illegally import into the UK, a massive quantity of uncut cocaine and the best way to meet this end, was to highjack a seemingly innocent fishing vessel; the idea being they could slip into port, unload their cargo, in a way sort of hiding their activities in full view, and, it might've worked had it not been for the ingenuity of your father, Catherine, and or the members of his crew. So let me explain to you what happened that afternoon and the subsequent involvement of Simeon's vessel, MV Conqueror.

By all accounts, they saw a distress flare, not a radio transmission, and on investigating further, they came across a large inflatable with five men on board who indicated that their outboard engine had failed. Catherine's father plus three crewmen went on deck to lend them assistance, whilst the fourth crewman remained on the bridge.

These men in the inflatable, who were armed with Kalashnikov semi-automatic assault rifles, boarded Marion S and effectively took command, but the fourth member of her crew, seeing what was going on, ducked out of sight, made his way down into the engine room and partially opened the sea cocks hoping that later on, the boat would take on sufficient water to render her unfit to continue towards port.

Drastic action, but it's best to look at it in context.

This crew member, who for now will remain nameless, probably assumed that they would be killed and their body's dumped overboard, so his thinking was, if he could disable the Marion S, it would in all probability sink in one hundred and fifty foot of water and take whatever cargo was being transferred along with it."

He paused to help himself to more coffee before continuing.

"Penzance Harbour picked up a weak radio transmission. Our fourth crew member admitted that he panicked; who wouldn't, given the situation. Anyhow, their radio was tuned to a channel used for ship-to-ship communications so its power had automatically been reduced to one Watt. He forgot to switch to channel sixteen, the distress frequency and high output, hence the weak signal.

Once these pirates had boarded, all the crew were roughed up a bit, tied up and locked in a cabin on the accommodation deck, but then, some while later, these pirates realised there was a problem. The port-side generator had failed due to the ingress of water in the engine room, the main engine's flywheel had thrown water up over the turbine casing and the resulting steam had triggered the smoke alarms.

It was at this point your Dad, Catherine, was dragged to the bridge and ordered to make the distress call that you picked up and subsequently responded to."

Another pause for more coffee.

"Now I dare say that what followed, Conqueror's intervention, the provision of a very sizable pump and an electrical feeder was what saved the lives of the crew. Had it not been for your actions, there can be no doubt in my mind, and that of the Maritime Accident Investigation people, the Marion S would've sunk and with her, all the crew while the boarding party would take to the life rafts and live to smuggle another day but instead of that happening, the pump was powerful enough to make damage inspection possible so it was an easy enough job to find the sea cock, close it, restart her engine and drop your tow plus feeder over the side."

I raised my hand.

"Yes Simeon?"

"That all makes such perfect sense! Mr Penfold was famous for being over-zealous when it came to Marion's maintenance, and something like a weak cooling water intake…… well he'd spot it in a heartbeat. But here's what I don't understand? What was all that stuff about us towing him to Newquay?"

"A red herring, or rather a clue as to where he was really headed.

His captors realised that, what with all the fuss, their real destination couldn't be broadcast, so knowing you as well as he does, you'd pick up on the fact that never in a million years would Mr Penfold risk his boat or the lives of his crew by taking his seemingly sinking vessel around Land's End to Newquay. The hint was Quay…… he hoped that someone out there would pick up on it and arrange for an appropriate reception for when he docked. Penzance understood as he's talked to the Harbour Master about having to go to Torquay, but then he'd come back to Penzance to land his catch. Penzance phoned Torquay, so we were there, ready and waiting."

"Okay, but you mentioned something about the crew being locked in a cabin on the accommodation deck. When we saw her on Sunday evening, all the cabins had been smashed to matchwood – ever the flooring had been torn out so how could they've been locked in anywhere down there?"

"I can explain that, or at least I believe I can but first, a bite of lunch I think."

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