There was no way for me to get closer to the wreckage — you can’t just drop anchor in the middle of the sea, and with no other crew to tend to the Lady I wasn’t about to deploy my boat and row over there. But I couldn’t just leave it, either. I shouted, “Ahoy! Is anyone there?” about a hundred times, and blew my foghorn until it ran out of compressed air. There was no answer, and I can’t say I was surprised. The crash had been spectacular and the wreckage was pretty bad.
I was sitting in the cockpit, watching the sun come up and trying to figure out what to do, when a flash caught my eye. I picked up the binocs and scanned the wreckage again. There it was — a small ball bobbing up to the surface. I guess it had been trapped under the rest of the debris, because I hadn’t seen it before. I would have noticed, since it was clear and had a man in it.
I shouted some more, and when there was no answer, I found my little bicycle pump and recharged my foghorn. A few blasts with it did the trick, and I could see movement in the bubble. I stood on the deck waving my arms, and watched as the bubble split open on a seam, and a strangely dressed man emerged into the water. His suit must have had some floatation in it, as he bobbed on the waves easily. He was probably pretty shaken up, and he didn’t seem have a lot of energy. I was sure he’d never be able to swim the distance between us.
“Stay where you are,” I yelled, hoping he understood English, and trying to make calming gestures in case he didn’t. “I’m coming over there.”
I scrambled back into the cockpit and furled the headsail. I fired up the Lady’s small diesel, while I centred the main. I motored downwind of the wreckage and headed up, the engine barely ticking over as I slowly made my way toward the man in the water. As I approached him, I turned sightly and chucked my man overboard gear at him — a buoyant horseshoe tied on to the Lady’s rail with heavy floating line. I was about to try and pantomime what to do, but he was already dogpaddling toward me. He managed to get the horseshoe around his torso, and I started reeling him in.
He got to the side of the boat, and made to try to climb up to the rail. “Don’t,” I said, as he fell back into the sea for the third time. “I can winch you up.” I had a line on a four to one pulley that I lowered down to him. He clipped it on to the ring on the horseshoe, and I hauled on the line with all my strength. I yanked the sopping, waterlogged man up, inch by inch, until his feet were level with my toerail. I manhandled him over the lifelines, and as I put some slack in the line he collapsed on deck.
“Just stay here a minute,” I said, “don’t move. I’ll be right back.”
I jumped into the cockpit, and motored a safe distance away from the wreckage. When I’d put some sea between me and the floating debris, I pulled out the foresail, and hove to again. I killed the engine when I saw that we were sitting nicely, and went back to my catch.
He was cold and wet and in some kind of shock. It’s always warm in the tropics, but he couldn’t have been comfortable in that soaking suit, so I got him out of it as soon as possible. He didn’t help, but he didn’t try to stop me, either, and soon he was sitting on deck, naked. He was a big guy, and I wasn’t sure if I’d have anything to fit him, but I scrambled down to my cabin and rooted around until I found a pair of old ratty pyjama pants and a sweater I didn’t even recognize.
I came up with the clothes, and saw that the man had gotten himself into the cockpit and was passed out on the cushions. I found a thin blanket to cover him, and put the clothes down by his head. I picked up his dripping silver suit, with its hoses and gauges, and saw that it had the words “MAJOR TOM” stitched over the breast with the initials “P.R.” underneath. I scanned the horizon for ships, and seeing nothing, went down below.
Someone else might not have put two and two together, but I’d been following the news before I left port. This had to be billionaire Peter Ribald and the Major Tom, his private spacecraft. According to the press, Ribald owned a bunch of companies, had made more money that he knew what to do with, and was spending it now by indulging in a dream of a lifetime. A few years back he’d bought one of the more successful private aerospace companies, and set them working on his baby — the Major Tom, the world’s first private spacecraft to be piloted by an amateur. He’d been scheduled to lift off a couple days previously, making the history books as the first private singlehanded spaceflight.
I pulled out my sat phone, and shook the dust off it. At a couple of bucks American a minute, it wasn’t really in my budget to use the thing much, but it was exactly for times like this that I had it on board. I didn’t know who to call, though, so I dialled my brother.
“Angus Mulgawwy,” his clipped voice answered.
“Hi, bro,” I said. “It’s Kate.”
“Katherine,” he said, his voice constricting. “I thought you were at sea.”
“I am,” I said, and before he could start to panic, I continued, “everything is fine.”
“You’ve never called me from the boat before,” he said, suspiciously. “What’s going on?”
I told him about the crash and the Major Tom, and gave him the GPS coordinates of the wreckage. “You’re a connected guy,” I said to my brother, who fancied himself a big shot corporate lawyer, “you ought to be able to get in touch with Ribald’s people and let them know he’s okay. They’re probably in a froth by now; it’s been awhile since they’d have lost contact.”
“You haven’t administered first aid, have you?” he non-sequitured. Always the lawyer, I guess, worried about a possible lawsuit.
I ignored the question. “You just pass on the word,” I said, “I’ll get on the HAM nets in a hour or so, and hopefully someone who’s faster than me can get Ribald into port somewhere. But someone shoreside needs to know about this, and you’re the first person I thought of, Angus.”
“Okay,” he said, sighing. “This is going to be a huge pain in my ass.” I closed my eyes, awaiting a speech I knew was coming. “It’s not easy, you know,” he began, “taking care of everything while you go off gallivanting across the world. What is it with you adventurer types, always getting yourselves in the soup and leaving us responsible people holding the bag?”
Angus was terrible for the mixed metaphors, and I tried not to laugh. This wasn’t the first time he’d expressed this opinion, and I’d stopped taking it personally a long time ago. I also knew better than to argue with him; he was a lawyer after all. Instead, I just said, “Thanks, bro. I’ll be in touch when I make landfall. It’ll probably be another few weeks.”
“Stay safe,” he mumbled, and broke the connection.