Some more of the Akaru-Hime story:
I continued my afternoon sailings with Mr Sommers. One Saturday afternoon was of particular note as he told me to meet him at the Noss Shipyard. There at one of the berthing slipways was a beautiful gaff rigged sailing vessel of stripped mahogany about 35 feet in length: “Lillian” she was christened. Of course she was.
“What do you think Nigel?” Mr Sommers said on seeing me.
“Beautiful” was about all I could say.
“Come aboard.” I did…in awe.
Mr Sommers had been working on “Lillian” for some years now.
“Just after the war’s end.” He told me. “My wife Lillian had been killed and my work with the yard and as Dockmaster and Harbourmaster for the Port of Dartmouth was considered essential by our government, thus my exemption from military service. I was too old as well they told me but I didn’t like to think of myself in that way. The activity of the Port, my job and my responsibilities were important to the war effort. Yes, perhaps, but it kept me sane, grief stricken as I was with Lillian’s death. And I had Ruth to take care of.”
“I am sorry sir.” was all I could say for the moment. We went below deck into the main cabin. I followed his lead and took a seat across from him on the port settee. He continued.
“I found this piece of maritime flotsam, as I referred to her, up in the western arm of the Dart, by the Old Mill Boatyard. She was in rough shape, neglected and up on her side on the mud flats in a little bay just to the east of the marine slips on the north side of the arm. Being the Harbourmaster it was my responsibility to ensure that derelicts such as this could not be used by the enemy for nefarious operations against the port. Believe me Nigel there were many spies and Nazi sympathisers in this area, especially given our proximity to the Royal Navy’s presence at Plymouth. Plymouth was strategic and an important target for the German bombers. Nevertheless, I gave whoever may have owned her a chance to recover her. I posted notices up and around the various slipways of the Dart and in the small towns and villages around here and upriver all the way to Totnes. No response.”
“Then what?” I asked, while admiring Lillian’s interior teak.
“I took ownership and had the lead shipwright and naval architect at Noss’ come over and survey her. Turns out she was stable. Her hull was sound. The mast and gaffs were strewn across the mud flats and beach but all of the bits and pieces were still true to form in relatively good order. Her standing rigging was gone however. I felt that with a bit of sweat and a loving touch I could bring her back to life.”
He paused to reflect on something. He looked directly at me.
“On the selfish side of things Nigel I knew that bringing her back to life would provide for me a focus and purpose to continue living without dear, dear Lillian. Sure I had Ruth’s welfare to consider but she wasn’t enough.
“So I had some of Noss’ crew come over and right her, get her floating again and bring her over to the shipyard. There they found a slip for me, and a cradle on the hard which was out of the way of prying eyes. I could use the resources in material and expertise of the yard to draw from in which to restore her. That I did over the years, but on my own time and at my own expense.” He looked forward then aft toward the engine compartment.
“It wasn’t until after the war’s end that I could really focus on her in my spare time, of which I suddenly had lots.”
He looked at me again, grinned, then added. “And that is why those Saturday afternoon sails in “Lilly” were so important to me Nigel. In a selfish way I might add I used you and our time together to placate my own fears and loneliness. It provided a welcome break and respite from my work as Harbourmaster but also a break from my responsibilities in raising Ruth. Furthermore, our afternoon sails reminded me as to why I was so eager in restoring “Lillian.””
“You were not using me Sir.” I responded. “I enjoyed every minute and it got me away from a home life that was becoming unbearable, if only for an afternoon escape.”
Hope you enjoy these snippets.