‘IT’S ALL VERY WELL HAVING A BIG BEAK, BUT YOU’VE STILL GOT TO KNOW HOW TO USE IT.’
– DAVID ATTENBOROUGH, ‘AFRICA: CAPE’
The bow scrapes a line across the sandy riverbed as we haul the new vessel from the shore. The shipbuilder warned against adding so much metal to the rostrum, but our leader thought it would strengthen the ram, and bid him do it anyway. ‘It’s all very well having a big beak, but you’ve still got to know how to use it,’ he’d muttered in response. We tie the ship up in the harbour, where it drifts and pulls against its ropes.
In the evening a storm sweeps in from the mountains. One of the men set to watch the port appears at our door; she is listing, the stern rising as the nose turns down, filling in the deluge. They have tried adding weights at the back, but when we reach the water’s edge, the jars and crates have tumbled forward, dragging her down further. The rope snaps with a crash like thunder, and we watch her slip beneath the rain-lashed waves.