Nancy L. Hull On Rough Seas

ISBN 13: 9780618897438

On Rough Seas

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9780618897438: On Rough Seas
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At 14, Alec knows what he wants to be: a seaman. Instead of working at his family’s inn, he prefers roaming through the busy streets and docks of Dover. When the captain of the Britannia, one of the fishing vessels in the Channel, asks him to be a galley boy, he seizes the opportunity in spite of his father’s objections. On his first day at sea, he weathers a severe storm similar to the one that took the life of his cousin and best friend, Georgie, months earlier. Alec still feels guilty for having not been able to save Georgie. England is at war with Germany, and soon Alec is doing more than swabbing the deck and handling the ropes of the fishing vessel. He wonders why shadowy figures are disappearing into the tunnels under the old stone castle and who the special soldiers being billeted at the inn are. Then comes terrible news: hundreds of thousands of British forces are trapped on the beach at Dunkirk. All ships in the Channel, large and small, are ordered to undertake a massive evacuation. Alec’s transformation from galley boy to courageous seaman is a riveting journey in this dramatic novel.

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About the Author:

Nancy L. Hull extensively researched the history and visited many of the places described in this novel. She lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Crusty Badger

Alec heard the shouting as soon as he stepped onto the dock. It was late afternoon, and most of the other ships were already in port, tied up for the night. The argument was coming from near the Britannia. We’ve no need for a boy on this ship!” the man bellowed. ’e’ll be in the way, makin’ more work for us. We can manage without ’im.” Alec slowed his pace and then hid behind the Tamzine, which was moored next to the Britannia. Captain Cairns was speaking.
He’ll do the jobs we can’t be wasting our time doing, Badger,” the captain said. Scrubbing the decks and reeling in the lines once we’ve loaded the hold.
He’ll free us to collect our pay and settle accounts. Besides, with Alec along at the end of the day, you can start early on your pints at Snargate Street. You’ll see the boy’ll work hard.
He’s been raised to carry his load. Give him a chance . . . and treat him better than you do the barmaid at the White Horse.” I’ll be treatin’ ’im the way I care to treat ’im, and if ’e gets in my way, I’ll give him a thrashin’ ’e won’t soon forget. I’ve got no time to be trainin’ babies ’ow to be seamen.” Alec didn’t wait for more. He stepped out from his hiding place and cleared his throat.
Captain Cairns turned toward him and smiled. Alec could tell by the wet deck and loose ropes that they’d just come into port. Alec. We were just speaking of you, lad. I was telling Badger that you’re coming on as galley boy. . . .
Badger,” the captain said, this is Alec Curtis. Alec, Badger’s my first mate.
Been with me for some time.” Aye, good to meet you, Mr. Badger,” Alec said.
Not Mr. Badger. Just Badger,” the first mate answered.
We’ve had a long day, Alec,” Captain Cairns went on. A bit tired we are. Let me show you the ship, and we’ll make plans for tomorrow morning.” Alec could see that the Britannia was an old ship, sitting low in the water, a meter high from deck to gunwale. Its beam was about three meters across, allowing room for working with cargo.
Near the stern were two doors that swung open to the hold below. In the middle was the wheelhouse, where the captain guided the boat through the Channel waters. Atop that, the boom extended upward at an angle, ready to be used for loading and unloading cargo and catch.
Just in front of the wheelhouse, doors lifted up to reveal a few steps that led to the small galley. You’ll help with casting off the ship, and then I’ll need you to clean up any mess on deck,” the captain said. Once that’s done, we’ll want some strong tea brewed, and then, if Badger has nothing else, you’re to wait atop the locker on deck until we make port. Badger tends to the mechanics making sure the engine is running and the petrol is stocked.” The Brittania wasn’t a big ship about twelve meters bow to stern but what with keeping the ship running, and loading and hauling cargo, and cleaning up after, Alec could see that they were all needed. He would prove that to Badger.
That’s it, lad,” Captain Cairns said, climbing up from the galley and moving past Alec toward the stern. We’re a small business, hauling light cargo wire, scrap metal, steel posts up and down between the smaller coastal towns. And when the weather’s good and we’ve no loads to deliver, we’ll cast some nets for fish to sell at the pubs.
It can be a hard life. But it puts money in your pocket. And it usually gets us out to sea six days a week.” Aye, and it’ll get you ’urt if you don’t stay awake and keep out of my way,” Badger snarled. So be sharp. This is no life for a reckless bloke.” Aye, Mr. B ,” Alec began. Aye, Badger.
I’ll do my job. You can believe that.” Alec,” Captain Cairns said. Depending on how thick the fog is, we leave at seven hundred. Don’t be late, lad.” Aye, Captain.” Alec answered. I’ll be up early to do my work for Aga. I’ll be on time.” Until tomorrow, then, sonny. Get your rest. You’ll need it.” Alec nodded and stepped over the gunwale and onto the dock. He heard Badger grumbling to the captain, but he didn’t care. Captain Cairns owned the Britannia. Badger worked for the captain. And now, so did Alec. Badger would not change that.

The next morning, Alec was up as planned. He had the breakfast table set and hot water boiling on the cooker by the time Aga came into the kitchen.
I’m off, Aga. Wish me well on my first day.” Aye, Alec. I wish you good sense and good weather. I just stepped out to bring in the milk, and the clouds are thrashing about. Take your slicker.” Already have it here.” Alec pointed to his pack. I’ll be back before supper.” The streets were wet and dank as Alec maade his way to the docks. Though he couldn’t see the dairyman because of the fog, he could hear the clopping of horses’ hooves on the brick streets and the clinking of bottles as the man placed the milk on the back steps and waited to collect the rationnnnn stamps from his customers.
Mrs. Tanner was sweeping the sidewalk in front of her tailoring shop. Alec didn’t see her until he was nearly past.
He tried to ignore her.
Young man,” she said. Where are you off to this early in the morning?” To the docks. I’ve a job on the Britannia. A galley job.” Well, you’ve got a dreary morning to be shoving off. Rain will come before you’re back.” A little rain won’t scuttle us,” Alec said. Who’s your skipper?” Mrs. Tanner asked. What’s the bloke’s name on your ship?” Cairns,” Alec answered. Captain Cairns.” Cairns, is it? Aye, I know him. Older chap. Too quiet. Always wonder what he’s thinking.” Alec didn’t answer her. He was not going to be late especially because of Mrs. Tanner. So he sprinted off before she could question him further.
Old Mrs. Tanner, Alec thought. She’s nothing but a gossip. She might run a good tailoring business at least that’s what Mum says but I’m not wasting words with her.
On the corner, he looked up to see that the fog had begun to clear. He could barely make out the gargoyle that perched menacingly atop the old shoe factory. Wouldn’t Dover be surprised if that gargoyle suddenly swooped down and snatched Mrs. Tanner right off her front stoop? He smiled as he imagined Mrs.
Tanner on the gargoyle’s back, rising up to the heavens, spewing gossip to the folks below. His thoughts soon shifted to Captain Cairns and the boat. One day I’ll be a full shipmate, he imagined. Then I’ll buy my own boat, something small for odd jobs along the Channel. Like Captain Cairns, I’ll run my own business until I’m old and be free of anyone telling me what’s good and what’s not.
Past the Tea Shoppe and then the Snargate pubs, Alec continued down the hill to the docks. The town rested peacefully by the Channel. Most Dover merchants had not yet opened their businesses. Only the greengrocer was out, filling the bins in front of his store with asparagus, potatoes, and the few oranges he could get. Across the street, the haberdashery stood silent, its windows displaying the latest hats and trousers. A charwoman, her apron starched white against her black dress, greeted Alec on her way to work. And just as Alec passed the newsstand, its agent stepped outside and bellowed.
Alec. Alec Curtis. Where have ye been, boy? I haven’t seen ye at me stand for weeks now. What are ye too old for them Beano comics? I’ve the latest issue right here.” No, no thank you, Mr. Kelly. I’m in a bit of a hurry. I’ve got a job now. I’m a galley boy on the Britannia. I’ve not much time for reading anymore, with helping Aga and then tending ship. We’re off to Folkstone today.” The Britannia, ye say? Can’t picture it. Who’s her captain?” Mr. Kelly continued.
Worried that he’d be late, Alec edged away from the stand. He knew Mr. Kelly would want to find out more than he had time to tell.
Captain Cairns,” Alec answered. It’s an old oyster smack with a Kelvin forty-four engine. Runs on petrol. Used for fishing and carrying light cargo.” Alec paused. I’ll stop another morning, Mr. Kelly. Maybe I’ll grab that Beano comic then.” Aye, Alec. You do that if I’ve any left. Watch for the weather today. The clouds are hanging low.” Alec scurried on past the postal office and Lawton’s Jewelry and emerged from between the buildings. He crossed High Street and sprinted along the dock where the Britannia waited. Captain Cairns was winding up the ropes as Alec came down the planks. Hey, sonny. Ready for some rough waters today?” Doesn’t look too awful, Captain. But Aga was worried, too. Think we’ll get in our trip to Folkestone before it hits?” Aye, sonny. I wouldn’t risk it if I thought the old ship couldn’t handle the water. We’ve started out in worse. Now help me with these cargo doors so we can be on our way.” Where’s Badger? Isn’t he coming?” Alec closed the doors and slipped the board through the handles.
Aye, I’m wondering the same. He’s a smart first mate. He’s also a crusty one. Likes the pubs most nights. I’ve waited for him before. He’ll be here, but my patience is getting short.” What’s our cargo to Folkestone, Captain?” Fencing. The council there wants to yard up the area between the beach and the town. We’ve got posts and fencing for them. Loaded it last night with Badger.” A neat job,” Alec said. Should be a quick jaunt, right, Captain?” If the weather cooperates, we’ll be back in a shake. But keep your eyes on those clouds rolling from the south; storms usually kick up pretty quickly with clouds like those.” Aye, I know.” Alec nodded. He remembered the Wayfarer and Georgie. It had been such a morning. He hadn’t seen it coming. How could he have missed the signs? How could he have thought they’d be okay in a little fishing skiff? If he was to be a seaman, he must learn to see the signs. Alec scanned the dock for Badger. He couldn’t decide whether to be disappointed or happy with the man’s absence.
But before he had a chance to make up his mind, Badger staggered down the dock planks, looking hung-over and ornery. He squinted through the fog with his bloodshot eyes and tangled with the mooring rope of the Tamzine before stopping at the Britannia.
Thought we were going to have to shove off without you, Badger.” Captain Cairns looked him over and wrinkled his nose at the smell. Have you been stumbling around all night?” ’Ad meself a row last evenin’, Cap’n, and I feel it this mornin’. I’m a bit sore. Though I fared better than the other bloke, I can tell you that. Where we off to?” To Folkestone. Remember? That fencing we loaded? Have to get it to the docks there. Those blokes think it’ll keep the Jerries off their beaches. . . . Soon we’ll see the fencing up here as well.” Now, Cap’n, we’ve nothin’ to worry about, do you think?” Badger watched as Alec untied the ropes from the dock stakes and stepped onboard. We’ve got the Royal Navy and the BEF. Aye, those boys in the British Expeditionary Force, they’ll be after the Jerries soon as they get the word. And a bloke at the White Horse? He says there’s special troops comin’ into Dover. Those Jerries they cannit take British soil.” You weren’t old enough for the Great War, Badger, but I can tell you, those Germans are still upset at their disgrace. They’ve been building up arms, just waiting for another chance to storm Europe. And Hitler the newsreels are filled with him and his propaganda. Says his air power his Luftwaffe is something to be feared. No, I’m not wishing for a war, but I’m not ignoring it, either.” Well, they’ve been scrappin’ over in Europe for months now, and nothin’s ’appened ’ere but a few air-raid sirens and the blackouts. I’m not worried though I’m glad for the work.
Carryin’ fencin’ gives us business.” Alec felt the Britannia shudder as the captain started the engine and steered the ship out of port. Take a seat on the locker, Alec, until we get into open water.” The captain turned the wheel and pushed forward on the throttle. The rumbling of the engine gave Alec chills. Just the way Margaret had told him. He was there on a ship. Leaning back on the locker, he closed his eyes and felt the wind brush his face as the boat cut through the choppy water. Surrounded by sea and whitecaps, Alec felt content. What Aga feared about the Channel, Alec loved the uncertainty, the wide expanse of water, the mysteries beneath.
Sometimes, when he had been sailing with Georgie, Alec would tell stories about sea creatures and giant fish. Though they never lost sight of land, Georgie would stare at the shore, planning his escape yet quivering with excitement as Alec spun his tales. It took some time for Alec to convince George they were only seamen’s tales with no truth to them.
Now, relaxing on the locker box, Alec smiled, remembering how Georgie would slip his hand into Alec’s just to feel safe. Alec felt a twinge of guilt about not missing Georgie so much lately. But he’d been too busy. Could it be that easy to forget a friend? You haven’t forgotten him, Alec,” Margaret’s voice said in his head. Why, you’re thinking about him right now.
You’re just remembering the good times.
You’ve started to move past the bad.
He’ll always be your friend.” The ship pitched left and jolted Alec out of his daydream. Rolling waves beat against the hull as the wind picked up speed. The gray-blue sky and water came together, causing Alec to think the ship was floating free. His hands gripped the side of the locker.
It took most of the morning for the Britannia to cut through the Channel to Folkestone. By the time they reached port, they were weary from fighting the waves. Badger released the boom and swung it around to the hold while Alec opened the cargo doors. Alec stepped back as the captain snapped the hook onto the first roll of wire. Then the captain and Badger swung the boom around and lowered the wire to the dock. A crew of dockhands unclipped the load and carried each bundle up to shore. The whole business took only an hour. It’s looking ugly out there, mate,” one of the dockhands called. Can you get home, or should you tie up and wait it out?” Alec felt his chest tighten. He didn’t want to risk a disaster but he also didn’t want to be home late on his first day. Father would never let it go.
Aye, it is a bit nasty. But I’ve sailed enough to know we’ll be okay if we don’t dawdle,” the captain answered.
After closing the hold and securing the boom, they were soon ready to leave Folkestone and turn north to Dover.
Though the wind had picked up even more while they were docked, Alec was hopeful they could make it to Dover well before supper. Settling into his spot behind the wheel, Captain Cairns beckoned Alec.
Alec lad, go below and secure anything that could come loose and bounce around the galley. We’ve got some foul weather coming rain for sure.” And tea?” Alec inquired. Will you be wanting tea?” Too much pitching for a flame today, lad. No, just snug things up and then stay below until we’re done with this wind. Those clouds over there tell me that the Britannia will soon be tossed around a bit. I don’t want to take any chances of you flipping overboard.” Yes, sir,” Alec answered, disappointed.
He descended the short stairway to the galley. He tried to steady himself when the ship heaved fiercely to one side.
Bracing his foot against the wall, he checked the galley cupboards. Then he felt the ship lurch to the other side, tilt back to the center, and stop with a jolt that sent him banging into the cupboard behind him. Racing up the steps, Alec made it to the wheelhouse just as Badger ran in. He pushed Alec aside. What’s the bloody matter?” I shut her down. She won’t turn,” the captain answered.
What is it?” Badger shouted. The rudder, I think. Something’s tying it up.” Someone’s got to go over.” Badger shot a look at Alec. The boy’s not strong enough. It’ll have to be me.” Alec felt the sting of his words.
The captain continued. Alec, get a rope from the hold. . . . Badger, we’ll t...

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Nancy L. Hull
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Nancy L. Hull
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