19. Lost at Sea

Karl woke Jens and Stefan and beckoned them out of the cabin. The time was right. If the sea was too heavy it would be impossible to lower the lifeboat. They moved stealthily along the corridor and climbed the steps. Each of them had a small plastic bag attached to their belt with passports and personal artifacts in. The path to the lifeboat was out of the line of vision from the wheelhouse. Everything was quiet, as normal on a freighter notwithstanding the usual clangs and rattles. They opened the storm door and it was all hell outside. Just the captain and first mate were on the bridge, everyone else was below sleeping apart from one man on the bow away in the distance.

They slipped into the lifeboat and with the canopy still over, manually lowered it down the side of the ship. It crashed against the side a few times but the crew inside the ship were used to crashes and clangs in storm conditions. As it hit the waves it crashed into the ship several more times before settling in the sea. Stefan sliced through the ropes and after a final crash almost under the stern the lifeboat was lifted like a cork up towards the underside of the ship ripping the motor off after further contact with the stern. If the swell lifted them as the ship came down it would be the end for them. Eventually after what seemed like an age the ship lurched away from the little lifeboat and minutes it was a mere speck appearing occasionally on peak of a wave before plunging deep into a trough.

The boat tossed around like a cork, occasionally nosediving into a wave causing the three men to be thrown forwards. Karl had secreted two fire buckets under a side seat when they first chose the lifeboat and used them to store food and clothes in. The clothes were saturated and the food was gone so he threw the clothes out and proceeded to bail frantically.
“When is the bomb going off” shouted Jens in all innocence. His voice abnormally loud as the wind carried it towards Karl.
“Put your lifebelt on now” Stefan ordered.
“There is no bomb” yelled Karl.
“No bomb?” shouted Jens incredulously.
“We just told you that”.
“Why?” yelled Jens, as he attempted to throw half a bucket of seawater back only to have it blown back into the boat along with what seemed like half the Atlantic ocean.
“We wanted you to believe us” shouted Stefan from less than a metre away. “We’re Stasi, we didn’t think you’d believe..”

In that second a huge wave smashed against the boat beam on, another followed it almost immediately and ripped off half the canopy. It thrashed around dangerously and then flipped into the sea, slewing the boat as it dragged in the water behaving like a drogue and de-stabilising it. The three men struggled and strained to unhook what was left of it and threw it overboard and set about baling water out.
The two Stasi men still wore their flimsy border guard uniforms which offered no warmth at the best of times but now were totally saturated. Karl had omitted to put the change of clothes in a sealed bag but it didn’t matter anymore as another wave inundated the boat and washed everything overboard. When Jens had rubbed the stinging saltwater from his eyes he realised there were only two of them in the boat.

The boat was almost under the water by now, Stefan was missing. Jens and Karl frantically looked all around, shouting, screaming into the noise of the raging seas. They searched the horizon for Stefan’s orange lifebelt but couldn’t see anything. They continued baling out for what seemed like an eternity until the boat was almost bouyant again. Exhausted, they both collapsed and fell asleep at opposite ends of the boat. Little did they know, landfall was only a matter of a few hundred yards away in the form of a small island on the western edge of Ireland. Two huge waves hammered into the little boat, one after the other. The storm was determined to have the last word and several more deadly waves tossed the little boat around like a cork.

The coup de grâce nearly came as a massive wall of water hit them with incredible force, almost miraculously the boat came out of the other side in one piece but Jens was oblivious to anything, blinded by the salt and disoriented, he was thrown into the bottom of the boat. He hit his head on something hard, too exhausted to care anymore, soaked to the skin, his will to survive almost at the end, just lay under the bow and waited for the end. He lost consciousness in the course of time