Found and Lost.

Brass on the High Seas

The HMAS Mulga anchored close to the drifting yacht. The boarding party’s greatest fear was about to be realised. Their Captain, Malcolm O’Doherty, announced he was leading the rescue.

As the inflatable, affectionately called ‘rubber-ducky’, made its way towards the stricken yacht the Captain posed for PR photos. Approaching the yacht, he had the driver do a few twists and turns in the runabout; he wanted different backgrounds in the shots. He posed with his pistol; waving his arm; calling his men; looking at a map; searching through binoculars; and then extra shots for good measure.

Aboard the Stricken Yacht

After securing themselves alongside the yacht, the photographer climbed onboard. Like Captain Kidd springing from one boat to the next, the photographer captured the moment as Captain O’Doherty leapt aboard. Meanwhile, the Chief Petty Officer, who should have been in charge, searched the cabin and found the yachtsman inside it – delirious and in poor condition. He was a gentleman, but his unshaven appearance and the odour from his defecations took away any thought of hugs. Nevertheless, the Captain seized the opportunity and got the photographer to snap a few pics. He knew giving the man a drink of water, putting a pillow under his head and wiping his brow would look good. For him. Then he said.

“Where are the drugs?”

“Drugs?” the Chief asked, his surprise evident. 

“Yes, never trust stranded yachts; they’re perfect disguises for smuggling.”

The Chief nodded. He knew better than to question his Captain. But then an extraordinary moment. The old man pointed to the cabinet. 

“Drugs over there,” came his feeble reply.

“Get ready to arrest this man,” Captain O’Doherty bellowed.

The Search for Drugs

He quickly tore open the cabinet doors and hastily searched through the stockpile of drugs. The space contained The Yachtsman’s Stash –

• laxatives,

• cough and cold tablets,

• blood-pressure pills,

• seasick tablets,

• diarrhoea relief

• and bottles of antacid.

The Captain tried hiding his disappointment before moving aside, letting the doctor attend to the man. The Captain returned to the inflatable and had the driver do circuits of the yacht. The photographer followed his Captain’s commands and got a few more action shots – especially close-ups with the brass telescope that the Captain had found.

The yachtsman explained his predicament to anyone who would listen – the water tanks leaked; his ill health kept him below decks; he bumped his head; he hit the end of the cyclone, which ripped his sails; and his radio smoked and sizzled. The doctor treated his patient on the spot. The man kept asking about his brass telescope; despite a search by one of the party, it couldn’t be found, presumably lost to the wind. The senior needed hospitalisation so they would move him to their warship and head to the closest port.

The Chief said what everyone else was thinking: “That man and his boat were a disaster just waiting to happen.” Just like his Captain.

*This short story is a scene from an unfinished and untitled book, on the circumnavigation of Australia by the HMAS Mulga in the 1970s. Which is pure fiction – a dark comedy.

**I’ve chosen to use the term ‘driver’ for the sailor operating the inflatable. While ‘coxswain’ might technically be more accurate, I wanted to avoid confusion as the Chief Coxswain is a main character in the bigger story.