THE BELL BUOY BOY

It was one of those hot summer afternoons. Tom and I decided to take one of the club sailing boats for a sail around the bay. With just a light breeze, we decided to sail across to the far headland, about four miles away.

 

Halfway across the bay we had to round La Grande Pierre, a bell buoy marking a submerged rock.

‘How would you fancy being stranded on the buoy, Peter?’

 

‘Like hell I would.’

‘O.K. Turn into the wind, come up alongside, and I’ll climb up on the top and hang on to one of the bars supporting the bell. You just carry on to the headland and pick me up on your way back.’

 

We were two sixteen-year-old boys, adventurous and somewhat irresponsible. It was certainly not a sensible thing to do as a strong tide was running towards the headland. Tom scrambled up on to the buoy, his weight tilted it slightly, the sound of the bell echoed across the water. The tide swung the boat away from the buoy, and I turned towards the headland.

‘Don’t fall off,’ I shouted. ‘I’ll pick you up later.’ He paused, ‘that’s if you promise to be my slave for the rest of the school term.’ Tom was laughing as he waved to me, quite unconcerned.

 

On approaching the headland, I noticed a bank of fog moving in. I was soon immersed in the thick fog.

Becalmed, the tide took me well beyond the headland. Four hours later, when the fog the cleared and the light breeze returned. I headed back to the buoy.

 

The tide had turned and the sea had become quite rough. I could hear the bell tolling in the distance. To my horror, here was no sign of Tom as I approached the buoy. Had he fallen off? The strong current would have swept him far out from the land.

For an hour I sailed backwards and forward searching for Tom. I decided to return to the harbor to raise the alarm. Perhaps he’d been spotted and had been picked up and was now safely back at the yacht club.

 

For the next two days the lifeboat and most of the local fishermen searched the whole area but to no avail.

The following day, when a police detective climbed up on to the buoy, in the thick layer of bird-droppings he found the bare-foot, imprints of a boy.

 

He also found that they were partly covered by a man’s heavy boots.

Tom’s body was never found.