High above the boat now and I am face to face with another French accent, this one dressed in green. He has no smile for me, he must be tired. He's grabbing me by the shoulders and wrenching me deep into the belly of this metal bird. What now?
Ben is in a foil blanket, at the back with him was Slava and Sacha. I get pushed along to my place at the front of the helicopter, in amidst the thousands of buttons and lights that I will never comprehend. The nurse comes across to check me over. I feel her compassion through my skin as she takes my hand. I nearly cry but think better of it. Man up Thom! Instead I'll fix my gaze through soaking wet, salty dreadlocks and into her deep eyes as she begins to take my blood pressure.
Ben Wookey was placed on the floor of the helicopter next to me. I look out beyond the green tinted window at the scene below and beyond us. So many ships passing by. Why could you not find it in your hearts to come and find us? Though the one directly ahead of the ex catamaran is beautiful.
'WAGENBORG, WAGENBORG, WAGENBORG' I repeat it over and over and over so as to remember it forever.
Captain Jack Wieten and the crew of the M/V Ijsselborg. I love you. For answering the SOS, for steaming 35 nautical miles to assist, for having a heart.
The crew are all aboard the Helicopter now. Some noise follows and we begin to move. The tired man is playing around with the microphone on his helmet, I think maybe it's broken. He sees me looking at him so I flash him a smile full of heartfelt thanks and humility. He looks down, takes out a huge military issue knife and plays with more extrusions from his helmet. Then he looks over again and approaches me in a crouch.
'HOW MANY EPIRBS?'
The noise of a helicopter is deafening. My ears have been through a lot this evening.
'QUOI?' I ask.
His eyes roll and his question is repeated, to which I shout back that there were six.
'ARE YOU CERTAIN?'
'ARE YOU CERTAIN?'
A grunt, followed by a crouched swivel and he's back on the helicopter floor playing with more wires.
The sea is so vast. From a height the waves look tiny, merely a surface swell. Did we capsized in that?! What the fuck? Why the fuck? How the fuck?
I'm tired so I slump forward to rest my elbows and head on my knees. My dreads itch, will they ever dry? I wonder.
The nurse nudges me.
Shouting through the fantastic noise of brute force machinery keeping us aloft she asks, 'OK?'
Am I? I really don't know. I'm certainly elated and literally elevated. My night is better than it was but OK might only be a relative state of affairs.
Relatively, of course.
I wonder where they are taking us. I'll ask...
'Où cet hélicoptère va ? '
'Britain'. She replies
'Merci' Says I. 'Je le veux dire!' And I really, truly did mean it.
Ben Wookey looks a bit astonished that some one of my ilk is able to talk a foreign language, albeit in a true pigeon form.
'What was that about?' He shouts.
I explain that they are taking us to Britain. Though I don't see why or even where exactly they would take us.
An hour or so of shivering passes. How long did we go sailing for? We seem to be driving on the right hand side these days.
Of course they didn't take us to Britain, but to Lanveoc near to Brest. In BRITANNY! My mistake.
The Hellijigger meets the asphalt, I'm marched out by 'smiler', our tired French friend, grabbing me by my shoulders and moving me quick and low. I see grass and make a break for it. It's not far away and I dive to one knee to tear up a clump, just to feel it. I never thought I would again. Smiler does not like this, makes chase, wrenches me upright and leaves me in the care of some new uniformed faces. These ones are dressed in blue...