Saving Starbird

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Chapter 16

The Coxswain Agrees

Archie’s dad began to take charge of the operations, with all the children gratefully doing exactly what the tall fisherman told them.

They off-loaded all the fishing gear they had used to decorate the trolley for the procession. Archie sorted out the various items and quickly coiled the rope they had used. He put the crab pots in one pile and the lobster pots in another, and with Jack’s help folded the nets.

Sally and Jane used the artificial grass to recover the probe after Mr Smith had first checked that the straps were tight and that it was still fixed secure on the trolley. Archie and his dad climbed down to the stone landing above the moored boat and the others dropped all the fishing gear down to them.

Mr Smith then pulled on the mooring rope to pull the boat back into the sea wall. Archie took the rope from his dad and pulled it tight, while the tall fisherman made easy work of climbing down the weed covered slimy ladder until he jumped safely onto the deck of his boat.

Quickly Archie threw down the pots, nets and ropes to his dad who stacked them on the boat deck. Once he had finished Mr Smith climbed back up the ladder and joined his son on the stone landing. After once more checking the boat was securely tied to the big metal ring that was built into the landing, they both climbed back up the steps to rejoin the others who had been watching from the quay.

Mr Smith said, “Right. I want you to take the probe on the trolley back along the quay, up the slope and back to the other side of the harbour wall.”

Archie asked, “Why are we moving way from the waterside when we need to get the spacecraft onto a boat to get out to Smugglers Rocks?”

“OK Archie if you want me to help just do what I say,” replied his dad.

As they all helped push the trolley back up the slope Archie’s dad explained, “I have worked out a plan that I think will work, but it needs one other person.”

Once they had got back onto the road beside the harbour wall they began to push and pull the trolley back towards the Smugglers Rest where the laughing villagers were enjoying the street party that was now in full swing. When they were almost back to the tables that were now filled with food and drink Mr Smith told them, “Wait in the shadows between the street lamps by the harbour wall while I go and find someone.”

He disappeared into the bar of the Smugglers Rest, but in only a few minuets reappeared accompanied by another man, and together they hurried back to the waiting children.

Mr Smith told the children, “Follow me and bring the trolley with you.”

As they made their way back along the road Sally asked Archie, “Who is that?”

Archie told her, “It’s Mr Tampling. He is the head of the Lifeboat team and this is called the coxswain of the boat.” He went on to explain, “He is a very important man that everyone in the village looks up to.”

Jack said, “They may look up to him, I’m scared of him! I remember him telling me off playing around the Lifeboat when it was on its slipway in the harbour. He said if I did it again, he would give me a cuff around the ear.”

The two men stopped at the cottage on the far side of the road, where Mr Tampling opened the door and went inside. They saw him light a lamp through the bow window of the cottage as Mr Smith called for them to cross the road and join him.

They pushed the trolley under the bow window next to the steps that lead up to the cottage door. As the trolley was in deep shadow, Mr Smith said they could safely leave it there while they all went into the cottage to speak to Mr Tampling. The children followed Mr Smith up the steps and into the front room of the cottage.

The cosy room fascinated Sally. It was lit by two flickering oil lamps and the walls were covered by painting and photographs of ships, lifeboats and scenes of giant waves in stormy seas. There were several comfortable armchairs around the walls, with a table in the centre of the room that was covered with papers and maps.

Mr Tampling was a short but very muscular man with a beard that was going grey. His face was very weather beaten and he had deep blue eye that Sally thought would see right through her as he looked in her direction.

He took out a large curved pipe and proceeded to light it and did not speak until his face was almost hidden in a cloud of tobacco smoke. He stared straight at Sally and pointed at her with the end of his pipe. When he spoke he had a deep voice softened with a very strong Devonshire accent.

“Right now my pretty girl, tell me everything that has happened since you arrived in the village.”

Sally was very nervous when she started to tell the story, but as she began to tell of the strange stones, the bird and finally Starbird she became more and more confident.

Nobody spoke until Sally had finished. There was then several seconds of complete silence, broken only by the slow ticking of the grandfather clock that stood in the corner of the room.

Mr Tampling continued to stare at Sally with his piercing deep blue eyes, and then he took a deep suck on his pipe before he allowed the smoke to slowly escape from his mouth as he turned to Mr Smith.

“I think that it sounds a load of rubbish, but what do you think Smithy?” asked the coxswain

“I know it seems impossible to believe, but what I saw down at the harbour, coupled by the fact that Archie would never tell me lies about anything, I do believe it all. The children would not make up a story like this.”

Mr Tampling looked slowly around the room then sat at the table and had several more puffs on his pipe before he spoke. “I agree, how ever difficult it is to believe, I am sure you are all telling the truth. The question is now what are you planning to do about it?”

They all crowded around the table and began to discuss the next move.

It was quickly agreed that they should still try and save Starbird and his spacecraft. Even Mr Tampling finally agreed. To do this Sally said they would have to get the probe out to Smugglers Rocks before Starbird finally lost all his remaining powers and died

Mr Tampling questioned them in quite a gruff voice, “What have you planned to do when we get out to Smugglers Rocks?” He continued, “How are we going to get Starbird back to the main space fleet? What other ideas has anyone got to make sure this turns out successfully?”

Sally replied, “I am sure when we arrive at the rocks, Starbird will somehow be able to contact us. He will tell us what to do, like he has every time we have got stuck so far.”

“It seems to me, a lot of hope is involved with not any certainty. I don’t like plans like that,” the coxswain grumbled, blowing out a vast cloud of smoke from his pipe.

“Well, Starbird has guided us pretty well so far,” said Jack, who then blushed deeply when Mr Tampling turned and glared at him.

Archie’s dad said, “I am very concerned about using my boat. I don’t think it is suitable to transport the probe safely. Also I am not sure we can even get it onto the deck at low tide, because of the big drop from the quayside down to the deck.”

Nobody spoke for quite a long time. Sally began to feel that they would not ever get out to the rocks. Archie whispered to his dad, while Jane and Jack sat together in silence.

Mr Tampling lit his pipe after filling it again with his rough tobacco. Then he looked around the room and came up with his wonderful idea.

They would use the Lifeboat!

Archie’s dad was amazed that the coxswain would even consider setting sail in the Lifeboat for such a mission.

Mr Tampling explained his plan to them.

“The Lifeboat has only just finished having a refit. This includes a lot of new additions to the rescue equipment the boat carries, but it has also had new, more powerful engines installed.”

Mr Tampling went on to explain, “Although I would not normally be allowed to set sail without there being an emergency, or having other direct orders from their area head office. However, I have already had permission to undertake certain sea trials with the boat. We have already taken the boat out on test runs to check that the engines were working satisfactory during daylight, but I have been told to try the boat in the dark at any time of my own choosing.”

With a big wink and a wide smile on his face he said, “I have just decided that tonight is an excellent time to carry out these orders. Also in my own mind I am sure that this trip is a life saving emergency!”

Sally squealed with delight

The coxswain got up from the table telling the children to get the trolley down to the far end of the harbour where the Lifeboat was moored as quickly as they could. He also told them to make sure that they did not attract any unnecessary attention from the crowd that were still enjoying themselves outside of the Smugglers Rest.

He and Mr Smith would go round to the Lifeboat shed to collect several items that they may need, then they would meet the children on the quay.

Archie and Sally thanked him as they left his cottage, feeling far happier than they had for several hours now that they were getting the help from the two sailors that Archie most admired.

With Jack pulling the trolley and the others pushing, the trip back down to the harbour wall was uneventful. However, they almost turned the cart over as they charged much too fast down the cobbled slope to the quay. It was only Jane’s quick action that saved the day. She threw herself across the top of the trolley as it started to tip over and just managed to save it from crashing off the quay and into the dark water below.

She told Jack, “You don’t have to live up to your nickname of Mad Jack all the time. Steer the trolley better and more carefully for goodness sake!”

They made their way along the dark quay, past Mr Smith’s boat until they arrived out of breath at the far end of the stone walkway where the Lifeboat was moored out in the harbour.

Shortly after their arrival, Mr Tampling and Archie’s dad came down the darkened slope from the Lifeboat shed carrying several bundles in their arms.

The coxswain told them all to take every thing across to the loading winch. When she saw its stark shape on the quay side, Sally thought it looked like a sign post for them, with its long arm pointing like a finger out to sea and then on to Smugglers Rocks

When Mr Tampling arrived at the winch, he quickly climbed down a metal ladder that was fixed to the sea wall and clambered into the small dingy that was moored below.

He disappeared into the darkness as he rowed the short distance out to the Lifeboat that they could just make out as it bobbed gently at its mooring.

Shortly after they heard the engine start, then the lifeboat nosed its way slowly back the quay wall until it stopped below the loading winch.

Mr Smith pulled the trolley carefully under the winch where the children helped uncover the round probe that still had the harness straps around it.

After Archie’s dad had pulled as hard as he could on the strapping, he told them all. “You have made a very good job of fitting it around the round ball, I am sure that it will take the weight when I fix it to the winch cable. Well done!”

The winch had a large wheel that lowered the steel cable with a hook at the end. This was used to fix any sling containing freight or equipment down to the deck of boats moored below.

Using a rope, Archie’s dad firmly attached the harness around the probe to the hook and slowly lifted the unusual cargo up off the trolley. The straps made a creaking sound as the winch took the weight, but everyone was relieved as the straps held and the spacecraft swung gently on the end of the cable.

Jack and Archie pushed the arm of the winch round until the probe hung away from the quay over the Lifeboat waiting below. Mr Smith slowly and carefully began to turn the wheel and the round ball disappeared below the quay wall.

Sally held her breath and clung onto Jane’s hand as she leaned over the edge of the quay to watch as the coxswain guided the probe safely onto the deck of his boat.

They had decided that Jane, who was a bad sailor and always suffered with seasickness, would stay behind. Jane was quite upset at being left behind, but deep down was relieved that she was not going to sail out to sea.

Mr Tampling said, “It is for the best Jane, you’re the oldest and probably the most sensible. We need someone who knows the whole story to stay on shore, just in case there was any accident while we were out at sea.”

It was Archie’s dad who finally suggested that Jack should also stay behind with Jane.

Jack was very disappointed and argued,” I am the biggest and strongest of us, so will be most help on the boat.”

However Mr Tampling agreed with the decision. He explained, “Sorry Jack but I agree with Smithy. It will be far easier for me if there are only two of you young people on the boat for me to worry about. Archie has spent many hours at sea, and Sally is the one who seems to have a very close tie with the spaceman.”

Mr Smith then pointed out,” We are going to be very late returning and your families will miss you both. This will raise questions about the voyage and we all want it to remain a total secret, just between us all.”

So Jack and Jane reluctantly agreed with the plan and gave Sally and Archie big hugs for luck.

Archie quickly climbed down the slippery ladder to the boat while Sally watched with a growing fear of the climb that she was going to make herself. Mr Smith held her as she turned with her back towards the sea and gingerly put her foot on the first rung of the ladder.

“Don’t look down Sally, said Archie’s dad. “Make sure your feet are placed firmly on each rung. Take your time.”

She started to make her way down the slippery ladder feeling very frightened in the dark, with her face very close to the wet stones that made up the harbour wall. Sally slowly climbed down with her eyes tightly shut and was very relieved when she felt the strong hand of Mr Tampling grab her waist and lift her down onto the deck.

Archie’s dad told Jane and Jack to take the trolley back to the fisherman’s shed and thanked them once again for all their help, adding that they would not have reached this point in the rescue without their help.

They wished him luck as he effortlessly swung himself onto the ladder and quickly disappeared down to the Lifeboat.

Jack and Jane stood together as the engine started and, the Lifeboat slowly made its way towards the mouth of the harbour and the open sea beyond.

Sally looked back at the two friends as they gave a final wave, then she held Archie’s hand as the boat began to pick up speed. What would happen to them in the next few hours and would they be able to save Starbird?

She shivered and it was not just the wind that now blew into her face, but it was also the fear of the unknown that now faced them.

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