Nightmare on Biscay by Bob Manning
The boat lurched violently sideways throwing me across the cabin. "What the hell was that?", I spluttered. The public address system crackled into life. The captain informed us that we were heading into 'some bad weather' and we should 'make ourselves comfortable'.
The bow then pointed itself upwards, as if climbing a hill, and remained like that for a unbelievably long time. I sat on what use to be the wall, silenced in disbelief. The boat reversed its trajectory and headed downhill, my stomach reached my brain. Then came a bone wrenching crash as we hit the bottom of the wave, and the whole fibre of the boat reverberated.
This carried on for twelve hours more as I clung to the bunk, trying to hold on to my digestive system. We were informed that we were entering the Bay of Biscay, where the storm was raging at gale force twelve, Twelve!!
The brutal movement of the boat was incessant, the porthole would disappear under the water as we lolled sideways. This buoyancy self-correcting stuff was probably keeping us on top of this mountainous fervent, but was also responsible for cracking my rib. As we violently sprang back upright, I was flung from my bunk and landed squarely on the door handle of the loo, which was where the floor used to be and with a nauseous crunch it parted in two.
Then it got worse!
The pitching and rolling intensified incredibly, the only respite was the long slow upward climb to the top of the twelve meter waves and that second of stillness, before we hurtled down the ravine beyond, fearing that this valley might be the one that smashed the bows into oblivion.
The public address crackled into life again.
"Will you all please return to your cabins and lie down", was the request of the captain.
I did not like the emotion in his voice. That was fear. That was unquestionably fear I heard!
"That’s it", I said, “I'm not staying here, if I'm to die then its not in this box, and certainly not sober."
With that I crawled out the cabin and made my way up the stairs, clinging on to the rail during our furious descents and scuttling on during the crests. With all the strange movements of the boat, the stairways became very confusing. I was not sure if I was going down the upstairs or up the downstairs! At one point I lost grip of the handrail and tumbled back up the downstairs.
I eventually reached the main restaurant area. It was like a bomb site. The upturned tables and chairs were clumped together and sliding ferociously from one side to the other with the movement of the boat, far too dangerous to go in.
I carried along the corridor when a sudden jerk of the boat thrust me into the arms of a passing stranger. We both keeled over and rolled down the corridor in an ecstatic clinch, I politely apologized and we parted company.
I came upon what was left of the piano bar, it was full.
Groups of people were sat on the floor, each with one arm around the bolted down bistro tables, plastic beer glasses in the other.
Amazed I slid in, on my butt, through the door, like a dog with worms, and glanced at the bar.
Incredible, to my wondering eyes did appear a Spanish barman, strapped, with his belt, to the San Miguel pump, serving beer!
He attempted to get as much beer into the glass as was humanly possible, given he was strapped to a pump that had an ever shifting centre of gravity.
"Cop hold 'ere mate", came a distinctly cockney voice from behind me. I swivelled round and saw a couple of right royal diamond geezers clung to a table, like pole dancers.
"Room for one more 'ere", said one, so I slid in and clung on.
We chatted for a while with the bon homme that exists between people who share perilous danger.
The captain, sounding no less nervous, announced that we would not be allowed to enter Bilbao port as boats had broken loose from the moorings, it was too dangerous to pass. We were to 'heave to'-that is to point the bow of the boat into the wind and ride out the storm.
He also announced that the bistro, next to the piano bar, would serve chicken and chips! A queue quickly formed outside the piano bar, all sat down, shuffling along to get some sustenance.
Now one thing my two cockneys friends had was a sharp and acid humour.
"You 'erd bout the lorry mate", started one of the cockneys to a chap in the queue.
"Well apparently a lorry has broke loose in the hold and is rolling back an forth all over the cars."
"Oh my god", said the chap and immediately this rippled up and down the queue, like a stone in water. Embellished stories came back to us of total carnage, squashed BMW’s, and the lorry was in danger of smashing the bow doors open.
This entertained the cockneys no end and the frequent charging of our glasses, helped us through the long night, all trying to suppress our fear.
As consciousness returned I awoke with a dull throbbing in my head. I slowly realized that the boat was extremely still and the throbbing was actually the engines steaming us into port.
I jumped up with a colossal sense of relief, happy that the nightmare was at last over.
I rushed up the stairs and out onto the deck, made my way to the bow, and stood squinting, trying to catch my first glimpse of land.
A few of the people from the queue last night were milling around excitedly. I caught a few commenting on the lorry that had apparently rolled around the hold. I stifled a little chuckle.
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