Jonny let out the mainsheet as he pulled the tiller towards him and headed downwind, grinning as his little sailing dinghy surged forward, spray flying, his small dog curled up under the foredeck. He squinted into the low evening sun. Was that a face looking at him from the island? No, it couldn’t be. Jonny rubbed the salt from his eyes and cleated the sheet so that he had a free hand to shield the sun from his face.
“Starboard!” yelled a voice, bringing Jonny to his senses before he was jolted forwards with a sickening sound of splintering plywood. He’d hit something. The dog barked angrily and Jonny ducked down as the boom swung dangerously across in an accidental gybe. When he looked up again, he caught a glimpse of a modern racing dinghy in front of him, its young helm shouting: “Look where you’re going, you wally!” And then the other boat planed off into the distance, leaving a shaken Jonny to assess the damage.
The bow of his old wooden boat was cracked but the damage was well above the waterline, so Jonny was happy to sail back to the clubhouse. Besides, what choice did he have? There was no rescue boat out as it was the middle of the week. The boy was gutted; he’d never done anything so stupid before and his dad would kill him.
Then Jonny remembered what it was that had distracted him. “I’m sure that was a face I saw,” he muttered, partly to himself and partly to the dog, who woofed softly in reply. But it couldn’t have been; no one ever went onto Folney Island because the ground had been contaminated since the war, when the Navy had stored some sort of chemicals there. A gust of wind took Jonny from his musings and he was soon easing his old boat onto the plane for a fast and exhilarating reach back to the sailing club. “This is what sailing’s all about,” he smiled as he hiked out as far as his twelve-year-old legs could reach, the salt spray stinging his suntanned, freckled face.
As the wooden buildings of the sailing club loomed near, Jonny pulled up the centreboard and let the sail right out to slow the boat. At the very last second he pushed the tiller away to turn the dinghy into the wind and bring it to a stop. He hopped out smartly onto the concrete slipway, grabbing the damaged bow. “Perfect,” he grinned, delighted to have managed such a textbook landing on his own. The dog, seemingly unimpressed by his young master’s seamanship, jumped happily onto dry land and ran off to find his favourite tree.
Jonny looked around to see if his dad had arrived to help but he wasn’t there. The only other person was a boy about his age, whom he’d never seen before, busily unrigging a new-looking racing dinghy. “Uh, oh, it’s the kid I hit,” thought Jonny sheepishly. He pulled his own rather sad-looking boat up onto the slip and walked up to get his launching trolley.
“Oi, what the hell do you think you were playing at?” yelled the other boy, storming down the slipway as Jonny struggled to get his boat onto the trolley, the breaking waves doing their best to hinder him. “Don’t you know the starboard rule?” he continued, referring to the fact that a boat with the wind on its starboard, or right, side has right of way over a boat on the opposite, port, tack.
The other boy was tall and thin with short dark hair and wearing a brand-new sailing suit and buoyancy aid, plus some expensive-looking sunglasses. “You could have damaged my boat, and it’s only two weeks old,” he yelled, not making any effort to help the struggling Jonny pull his dinghy up into the boat park. Jonny was surprised, though, to see his dog go up and lick the other boy’s hand; he only ever did that to people he liked so maybe this angry kid wasn’t too bad after all.
At that moment, the roar of a car exhaust and the toot of a horn made both boys look up. “Hey, Will,” yelled the driver of the bright-yellow Porsche 911 through its open window. “I see you’ve got a friend with you. You two OK putting the boat away while I get a drink at the bar?”
“Yeah, alright, dad” replied Will without enthusiasm, as he watched his father jump out of his sports car and disappear into the clubhouse.
“Look, I’m really sorry about bumping into you,” said Jonny; he was a boy who always admitted his mistakes. “I kinda got distracted.”
“Distracted by what?” replied Will scornfully. “A mermaid?”
“I wish,” grinned Jonny, trying his best to be friendly, and chucking his scruffy and faded lifejacket into his boat. “No, I’m sure I saw a face on the island.”
“Yeah, right,” sneered Will. “As if. No one ever goes onto the island, everyone knows that.”
“Well, I’m sure I saw someone. Maybe it was just the light,” shrugged Jonny, flicking his long blonde hair out of his eyes. “Hey, do you want some help with your boat? It looks great.”
“OK, thanks,” replied Will reluctantly. “It’s typical of my dad to leave me to sort it out on my own. Is this your dog?”
“Yeah, he’s Ainslie.”
“What, like the TV chef?”
“No,” Jonny rolled his eyes. “Ben Ainslie, the sailor.”
“Ah, cool. I guess I’d better sort this boat out, seeing that my dad’s not gonna help.”
“Well, it won’t take long with the two of us,” grunted Jonny as he lifted off the rudder from the transom. “Wow, this is really nice, let’s get it hosed down and under its cover.”
Will found it hard to be bad-tempered with Jonny’s enthusiasm and infectious grin, which spread over his freckled face at every opportunity. Before long, the two boys were making rude jokes and laughing as they helped each other clean up their boats and pack them away.
“Sorted,” said Will. “Come on, let’s go and get a drink at the bar.”
“Er, I’ve no money,” replied Jonny sheepishly. “I never carry a wallet when I’m sailing.”
“No probs, my dad’ll get us some. Come on,” shouted Will as he ran into the clubhouse.
“Hey, dad, can we have some cokes?” Will asked as he went up to the bar, which was deserted apart from his father, who was calmly sipping a pint of beer.
“Sure, kiddo. Who’s your mate?”
“This is Jonny, dad. Can we have some crisps, too?”
“You certainly can, just don’t tell your mother. Hi, Jonny, I’m Rick, Will’s dad.”
Rick held out his hand and Jonny shook it, shyly eyeing up this tall, suntanned man. He was coolly dressed in faded jeans, a brown leather jacket and white tee-shirt, with his sunglasses perched on top of his cropped, greying hair. Jonny spotted a Rolex diving watch on the man’s wrist. “Nothing like my dad,” he thought to himself.
“Come on, let’s go outside,” said Will when they’d got their drinks and crisps.
The two boys, with Ainslie at their feet, sat down on the grass overlooking the large, picturesque harbour with its small tree-covered island at its centre. It reminded Jonny of his earlier distraction: “Look, I’m really sorry about bumping into you.”
“No worries,” said Will, giving Jonny a friendly thump. “Just stop going on about it, OK? It’s your boat that’s damaged not mine – that plastic hull just bounces.”
“Well, my dad’ll help me mend it, once he’s finished killing me,” replied Jonny. “A bit of glassfibre and it’ll be like new. Well, as new as it could ever be. You’re so lucky having a modern boat; me and my dad had to rebuild mine from an old wreck that had been sitting in someone’s garden for years.”
“Wow, that sounds fun,” mumbled Will through a mouthful of cheese and onion crisps. “My dad’s always too busy working to do anything like that with me. He just buys me new things all the time.”
“Sounds good to me,” said Jonny as he blew bubbles into his coke. “How come he’s got so much money? That Porsche of his is well-cool.”
“He’s an architect. You know the new museum in town? His company designed that.”
“Wow, that’s an amazing place, I’d love to be an architect when I’m older.”
“Don’t you believe it. He’s always grumbling about red-tape and meetings stopping him from being ‘creative’,” said Will with an air of sarcasm. “What does your old man do, anyway?”
“He’s a maths teacher at the high school. You don’t go there, do you?”
“No, I go to Oakmount.”
“Ya posh git!” said Jonny, pushing Will.
“Pleb!” replied Will, grabbing Jonny’s leg and pulling him over.
The wrestling match was just getting going and Ainslie was barking his encouragement when there was a shout from the clubhouse: “Jonny, what the hell are you up to?”
“Just mucking around, dad,” yelled Jonny. “Any chance of a coke and some crisps?”
“You’ve just had some by the look of it. Come on, we need to get home, your mother’s got a meeting to go to tonight, and I promised to pick up fish ‘n’ chips on the way home,” replied the scruffy, slightly distracted-looking man.
“OK dad. Will, I’ve got to go. See ya again sometime,” said Jonny as he got up and brushed the grass off himself.
“Sure thing, mate, bye,” replied Will with a wave as he retrieved his sunglasses from the ground and headed off in search of his father.
“Good sail?” asked his dad as Jonny climbed into the old Citroen. “Yeah, guess so,” replied Jonny as he tried to summon up the courage to tell his dad about his accident. Was that really a face I saw on the island? Jonny wondered again to himself as Brian Wild reversed his creaking jalopy out of the car park.
Dinner was, as usual, a rushed but subdued affair at Jonny’s. His dad had taken the news about the boat pretty well, considering, but had given Jonny a lecture about safety at sea and how he should respect his boat, which had cost a lot of money. “Yeah, all of £200,” thought Jonny to himself, thinking of Will’s brand-new dinghy.
“Come on, eat up,” mumbled his mother through a mouthful of chips. “I need to be out of here by seven.” Angela Wild (or Angie, as she liked to be called, much to her son’s embarrassment) was a social worker and was always in a rush. Jonny thought she always seemed to have plenty of time for everyone but her family. He sighed inwardly as he glanced at her spiky red hair and dangly earrings, and then at his quiet nervous father who was dutifully eating his food. “It must be neat to have cool parents like Will’s,” he thought, assuming that Will’s mum must be as trendy as his dad.
Just then the front door slammed, making the whole house shake, and in came Jonny’s teenage brother. “Where have you been, Tom? You knew we were eating early tonight,” said his mother, in an annoyingly calm voice. Mrs Wild never lost her temper.
“Football,” grunted the burly and slightly spotty fifteen-year-old, grabbing a bag of chips from the cluttered worktop. Tom was nothing like his brother, he didn’t like sailing for a start, preferring to play football, rugby and had even, much to Jonny’s disgust, started to play golf.
“Can I have a lift to Becky’s?” grunted Tom.
“Done your homework?” asked his father without looking up from his dinner.
“No,” sneered Tom.
Jonny quietly left the room with Ainslie, sensing an argument coming on. His brother could be such a pain sometimes he thought as he climbed the stairs to his bedroom, leaving Tom to give his father yet more grief.
Jonny’s room was, as ever, a mess. His bed was unmade, and the floor was strewn with cast-off clothes and sailing magazines. The walls were covered with photos of boats torn from magazines and, at their centre, was a big poster of one of record-breaking sailor Ellen MacArthur’s racing catamarans. Jonny threw himself on the bed and looked at the poster, dreaming of the day he would return from sailing single-handed around the world. “Jonny Wild, Sports Personality of the Year.” Hey, that would show his brother!
Before long, though, as he lay there stroking Ainslie’s soft ears, his thoughts drifted from fame and fortune to Folney Island and his bump with Will. He’d never done anything so stupid before while sailing – something had distracted him. Jonny decided there and then he had to get to the bottom of the mystery face on the island.