July 28. Wind: SSE 25 knots. Heading: 180M. Position: 11°30’13”S 155°06’78”E
I stare in disbelief at the two-tone screen of the GPS. In the past 24 hours we’ve lost forty-two miles west, and gained only a handful south. Disaster looms once more. To avoid running aground on the reef east of Tagula, we need to make fifteen miles south over the next fifteen hours. The likelihood of this happening is slim given the recent trend.
All we can do different is try to increase our RPMs. April ups hers from forty to forty-five. I aim for fifty-two. We also shorten the daytime shifts from three to two hours, and the night-time ones from four to three to optimize performance.
“It’s like pushing a loaded wagon up a hill,” April remarks, her knees visibly straining.
I nod. “It’s going to take a full-on effort.”
“Better cowboy up then!”
Good old April, I think.
At the next shift change, I power up the GPS. April sits on the passenger seat, anxious to hear whether she’s achieved the all-important one-mile-south-per-hour ratio.
“So what happens if I don’t meet my quota?”
While the GPS is looking for satellites, I fold my sweat towel into thirds, arrange it against the back of the pedal seat, and get cranking. “Then I’m afraid you’ll leave me no choice.”
Her face falls. “No choice?”
“But to get out the cat.”
Not exactly the response I was expecting. “Tell you what, Ms April. If we miss this bloody reef, we’ll celebrate with an extra special treat, okay?”
Thirteen hours later…
I read off the latest coordinates, and pencil them onto the Admiralty chart draped over my knees. April stops pedalling to hear the verdict. It’s the first time in three days the cranks have stopped longer than the sixty odd seconds it takes to switch positions.
Pencil wobbling between thumb and forefinger, I smile at my exhausted co-pedaller. “I have some excellent news to report, April. In the last fifteen hours we’ve made eighteen miles south, five of them during your last shift.”
She beams with pleasure.
“Well done.” I rat-tat-tat the pencil triumphantly on the chart. “Extra tot of rum for the crew tonight, boatswain!”
Missing Tagula Reef is huge, putting us back on track to reach Cairns. As promised, I extend to April the honour of being the first to sample The Cabbage, which we’ve been saving as long as possible. She unlashes it from the cabin roof, and delicately peels away the spoiled, outer leaves, revealing a pristine inner membrane that glistens with the polished luminosity of a living brain.
“Jeepers!” she gasps, handling the vegetable like an ancient treasure, turning it slowly between her fingertips. “Just look at the size of it. Beautiful isn’t it?” She tears off a leaf and takes a bite, eyes closing in ecstasy. “This is pure self-indulgence. Forgive me, but I love cabbage. Loved it ever since I was a child.” She takes another bite, the greenery snapping like toast. “Absolutely the best cabbage I’ve ever tasted… been dreaming about it…” She’s rambling now, delirious with pleasure. “So expensive… but so good…”
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All Rights Reserved – © 2012 Jason Lewis
>> More excerpts from The Seed Buried Deep, part two in The Expedition trilogy, will be posted in the coming weeks prior to US & Canadian publication.