Sam Llewellyn

The mind wan­ders on a yacht... could a log­book en­try turn into a whisky-heist thriller?

Practical Boat Owner - - Contents - Sam Llewellyn Sam Llewellyn writes nau­ti­cal thrillers and ed­its The Ma­rine Quar­terly. His 30ft ketch, now launched and cruis­ing, will (like all boats) al­ways be a project

Akind per­son gave me a new log­book a while ago. It is a big blue thing and its pages are di­vided into boxes for pas­sage plan, num­ber of peo­ple on board, weather fore­cast, course steered, course over ground, en­gine hours used, point of sail and pos­si­bly, though I have not yet got that far across the page, pre­ferred brand of break­fast ce­real.

This comes as a bit of a shock, pre­vi­ous log­books hav­ing con­sisted of re­marks scrawled in pen­cil on pa­per charts.

First time out I rose to the oc­ca­sion. I leapt to the chart ta­ble and started scrib­bling, con­firm­ing that the crew con­sisted of me, the weather fore­cast said some­thing or other, and the course on sail­ing from the lonely white-sand an­chor­age of Oron­say was some­where about south. I then de­cided to ig­nore the boxes de­tail­ing fuel con­sump­tion (we were sail­ing) and num­ber of ginger bis­cuits re­main­ing in packet.

Back in the cock­pit I gazed at the pass­ing scene, which was char­ac­terised by plenty of wa­ter. A seal was watch­ing. I took a pho­to­graph. In the dis­tance, a black back rolled in a trough, ter­mi­nat­ing in a hooked fin. Minke whale. I took an­other pho­to­graph. I made a cup of tea, the tra­di­tional on­board mix­ture of Earl Grey and Nam­bar­rie. The habit of writ­ing had grown on me, I found. I made notes about all of it, adding sketches and snip­pets of verse. It was the kind of colour­ful de­tail that would go re­mark­ably well in this win­ter’s Log Com­pe­ti­tion, in which dry recitals of course and speed pro­voke at­tacks of yawn­ing, but whim­si­cal de­tails about whales and teapots are just what the doc­tor or­dered.

It then oc­curred to me that there was probably more scope here for a more se­ri­ous kind of di­ary, not to be put in for club prizes, but along the lines of Charles Dar­win’s Ori­gin of Species, which is based on logs he kept on his voy­age to Tierra del Fuego and the Gala­pa­gos in HMS Bea­gle.

Those rafts of shear­wa­ters sit­ting on the wa­ter, now. Were they on their way to South Amer­ica for the win­ter, or had they col­lected there out of mere so­cia­bil­ity? And is that Great North­ern Diver in the mid­dle of the shear­wa­ters hav­ing an iden­tity cri­sis, think­ing it is a shear­wa­ter it­self, or is it just short-sighted? There was much food for thought here, and ma­te­rial for fur­ther re­search. I chron­i­cled it all.

The Sound of Is­lay was com­ing up, a nar­row gut of wa­ter that is a se­ri­ous tidal gate. I noted the course change in the log, find­ing it a bit dry and dull. There was no­body to talk to, and not much wildlife. We were, how­ever, pass­ing the Port Askaig ferry ter­mi­nal. It oc­curred to me, the mind wan­der­ing, that mil­lions of quids’ worth of whisky travel from the leg­endary dis­til­leries of Is­lay down that mod­est slip­way and into the thirsty world. It then en­tered my mind that if per­sons of ill-will were to hi­jack a ferry car­ry­ing a few trail­er­loads of whisky, they could be in for a ma­jor payday. In real life I write thrillers set on the sea, and the fer­ry­port scud­ding by on the west­ern shore looked like a launch­pad for some­thing pretty page-turn­ing. What, for in­stance, if it was re­morse­less Rus­sian goons who hi­jacked the ferry, but the hi­jack plan went wrong, and in the mid­dle of it all was an or­di­nary yachtie like you and me, with nor­mal hopes and fears, who sud­denly found him­self sur­rounded by hood­lums of an ap­pallingly vi­o­lent kind? How would yer man re­act, torn be­tween his duty as a cit­i­zen and the fact that he was sud­denly in pos­ses­sion of sev­eral mil­lion un­trace­able quid, and him need­ing a new gear­box?

Rush­ing to the chart ta­ble, I hauled up the note­book and started to scrib­ble. A few months later, it has turned into a book: Sin­gle­hand, it is called, and you can get an ebook of it from Ama­zon or a phys­i­cal copy from www.bookhar­bour.com, should you be in­ter­ested in spend­ing time in the com­pany of peo­ple you would not like to meet on a dark night, and stay­ing up well past your bed­time to find out who­dunit...

At this point I re­alised that four knots of tide were wash­ing us to­wards a rock, and the plot­ter was bro­ken. I needed to work out dis­tance trav­elled and in what di­rec­tion, and make some sort of tidal tri­an­gle. Back to the new, dry, dull blue log­book. Bor­ing. But im­por­tant.

‘If per­sons of ill-will were to hi­jack a ferry car­ry­ing trail­er­loads of whisky...’

Port Askaig on the Isle of Is­lay – where the seed of a story was planted

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