Chapter 8: Chapter 4 - All at Sea (2023)

Chapter 4

Stevie’s head spun. The information overload she’d sometimes reached as a student nurse was nothing on this. Boating terminology swam in her head: transom, gunwale, pushpit. And she had to have it all memorised in the next thirty minutes before Kaz took her nap. When her parents took the cruiser out, there was seldom anything to do. Her father started the engine, took the wheel, and popped the champagne.

She looked over the rail to where the sun lowered itself towards the ocean. The earlier whitecaps had disappeared, leaving a calm, deep-blue sea. The wavelets whispered against hull, and the mainsail was taut against the small breeze.

Kaz was on the bow doing something to the self-furler. Stevie had seen it work earlier. It allowed a solo sailor to control the sails from the cockpit. Kaz made her way back around the deck. Sinbad stalked in her wake, his tail a quivering question mark.

“Dinner?” Kaz asked.

The slight queasiness Stevie had felt earlier in rougher seas had vanished, and hunger growled in her stomach. “That would be good.” She tried a smile. “Want me to prepare it?”

“If you don’t mind. There’s pasta, some cooked bacon I brought from home, and a jar of pasta sauce. It should be enough for both of us—I was going to have it for two nights.”

With a swift nod, Stevie made her way below deck, unclipping the tether as she went. The cabin was warmer, so she shed her bulky outer jacket, leaving it on a hook by the companionway as she’d seen Kaz do. She looked around. A two-burner stove swung on gimbals, barely rocking now in calm seas. She found pans and the pasta.

It took her a couple of tries to figure out how to light the stove. She found the sauce Kaz had mentioned and also some mushrooms and tomatoes. She studied the vegetables for a moment. If she was at home, she would have added the veggies without hesitation—but Kaz had said they would be eating dehydrated packet food before the trip was out. Reluctantly, she put the veggies back in the cooler. She found a block of parmesan cheese, and when the meal was ready, she used a knife to shred some over the pasta.

“Dinner,” she called to Kaz, who came to take the bowls Stevie handed up to her.

Kaz ate fast, shovelling down her food. Her bowl was empty before Stevie was even halfway through.

“That was good. Thank you.” Kaz set her bowl down on the deck.

“It was nothing. Just what you told me to cook.”

“With a sprinkle of cheese and I think a few of the dried herbs.”

“Yeah. Do you mind?”

“No. But I’m glad you didn’t use the mushrooms, or we’d have a lean dinner tomorrow.” Kaz took a swig from a water bottle stored in a pocket by the wheel. “It’s probably a good thing we don’t have anything fancy to drink. Who knows which yacht you’d end up in afterwards?”

Stevie opened her mouth to object, but then caught Kaz’s teasing smile. She rolled her eyes. “Look, it was one party, okay?”

“I know, just joking. I’m pretty impressed with this meal. Didn’t figure you could cook.”

Stevie laughed. “Of course I can cook. I’m a nurse. Do you really think I can afford a chef? Nursing is one of the most undervalued professions there is. And until now, I’ve only been able to work as a nursing aide. My pay barely stretches to a bottle of merlot on the weekend.”

“You’re a rich girl who happens to be a nurse. I’ve seen your licence, Stephanie Sterling. I’ve seen the luxury cruiser your parents own.”

“And you’re assuming because I’ve got rich parents, I’m rich too?” Stevie snorted. “I supported myself through university.”

“Really? Supported yourself completely?”

Stevie screwed up her nose. “You obviously don’t believe me. Not that it’s any of your business, but I didn’t take a penny from my parents for three years. Before that, even. I lived in a student share house. This yacht is a lot more luxurious than that.”

“It was your choice.”

“Yes,” Stevie agreed. “But it was what I needed to do.” She set down her bowl, some pasta still untouched. “I don’t expect you to understand.”

She stared out to sea, stupid tears pricking at the back of her eyes. She didn’t need Kaz’s approval of her choices. As soon as her foot touched dry land, Kaz would be forgotten, and she was sure the feeling was mutual. She picked up the bowls and made her way to the cabin to use the toilet.

It was difficult to manoeuvre in the tiny cubicle. Once she’d finished, Stevie sat for a moment and rested her head in her hands. This was the craziest situation she’d ever gotten into. Still, it would make a good story in the future. She wondered if Alana had contacted Ash as she said she would. Was Ash worried? Maybe she thought it was just a cock-and-bull story so Stevie could have some time alone.

She went back to the galley and cleared up the dinner items, which took all of five minutes. She took a long, slow look around the cabin. What should she do now? If she was at home, she’d maybe go for a walk or a cycle, call a friend, or read a book. She suppressed a chuckle. She could walk around and around the deck for exercise. It must be all of a dozen steps from end to end.

A soft thump sounded, and Sinbad appeared. He jumped onto the table and sat regarding Stevie with a fixed stare.

“Hello, kitty.” She held out a hand to him, and he rubbed his face against it, purring softly. At least he appeared to have got over his wariness to her. If only his owner would follow suit.

Should she feed him? She found some sachets of cat food in a locker, along with a bag of kitty litter.

“Do you want me to feed Sinbad?” she called up the steps.

“Yes, please. You’ll find—” Kaz’s outline showed against the light.

Stevie held up the packet. “Does he like the sardine one?”

“He likes whatever’s in his bowl. Apparently, animals who’ve been starved will always eat anything. I have to be careful not to overfeed him.”

Stevie found his bowl and emptied the packet into it. Sinbad’s sleek black head was in the dish before she had finished.

What to do now? Since Sinbad was ignoring her in favour of his food bowl, Stevie made her way back to the cockpit.

Kaz nodded approvingly as she clipped her tether to the jackline. “You’re a quick learner.”

Stevie shrugged. “I guess I fit a lot of the stereotypes about nurses: calm under pressure, quick learner, practical.”

“Every nurse I’ve known is also unshockable and swears a lot.”

“Those too. I’ve only done hospital placements so far, but I learnt a lot about people’s differences in that time. Especially when I was in Emergency.”

“You must have some stories.”

“Some. But I don’t know if they’ll interest you. Nurses don’t save the planet like you do.” She tried to keep the bitterness out of her voice but couldn’t have entirely succeeded.

“I would never say nurses aren’t important. They are.”

“Not important enough to take back to shore.” Stevie shut her mouth with a snap. Antagonising Kaz would probably make it less likely she would help.

“I’m sorry you’re upset, but this protest is vital. I’m not here on a whim, Stevie. This”—she spread her arms wide to encompass Delilah and the ocean—“is to me what nursing is to you. And it’s a big picture.”

Stevie studied Kaz’s fingernails. Short, blunt cut, practical fingernails. Much like her own. Most nurses kept their nails short. Another cliché. Sailors were probably the same.

And lesbians. The thought leapt into her head. Which also fit Kaz—at least, she’d said Alana was her ex. That meant she did date women. Stevie filed that information away.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to be snippy.” Stevie’s words came out on a sigh. “I’m finding this difficult, to be honest. Not”—she held up a hand—“that I’m complaining because I’m a poor little rich girl as you obviously think I am, but because I’ve worked for something for the last three years, and now through some bizarre twist of fate, it’s not going to plan. I feel like a failure. I don’t expect to be your BFF, but can we call a truce? Again?”

Kaz gave a short nod. “There’s no room for ego or feuds on yachts. I apologise too. I did make some assumptions about you.”

“Thanks.” Stevie offered a tentative smile. “Now, what on earth will we talk about?”

“Do you live in Wallanbindi? That should be a safe subject. I ask because I don’t remember seeing you around before. And I would have thought we’d have bumped into each other before now. Especially as I think we might have a community in common?” Kaz tilted her head to one side. “Or have I read you wrong?”

“There’s nothing wrong with your gaydar, at least. As for the rest, remember I’ve been living in Melbourne for the last three years. I only came back ten days ago.”

“But your family is based here.” Kaz’s brow knitted. “I don’t take much notice of the social pages, but while I know a bit about your family, I don’t remember reading about you.”

Thank goodness for small mercies. “I don’t feature. My sister Ashleigh does sometimes. And my parents, George and Linda. They’re the socialites.”

“Yes. Big employer in town. Own a lot of the local businesses. Your mum does a fair bit of charity work, or so I hear.”

“There’s a charitable trust. Sterling Saves.”

“I remember now. I approached them a couple of years ago. I wanted to know if they’d consider helping Ocean Rights. I was told it wasn’t really their sort of charity.”

“No.” Stevie twisted her hands in her lap. Was this going to be another point of antagonism? “Mother oversees that. She’s more the charity-ball type. Safe, respectable charities, generally involving religion or children or both.”

“Not Ocean Rights, then. We’re neither of those.”

A brief silence fell. Delilah sliced through the waves. Twilight crept around them, and the western sky was streaked pink. The navigation lights twinkled; red on the port side, green to starboard. A white light shone to stern, creating a comforting circle.

“I’ve moved into a flat on Harbour Road,” Stevie said.

“I’ve probably passed by your place then, on the way to

“Maybe. I sometimes sit on the balcony and watch people pass by. Go for a walk around town. I haven’t been back long enough to make friends. The people I knew before have either moved on, or else we don’t have much in common anymore.”

“What about your sister?”

Stevie smiled into the gathering gloom. “It’s great to see her more often.”

“Does she work?”

Stevie’s smile slid from her face. “She’s learning the ropes in Sterling Saves so she can take over eventually. And she’s just got engaged.”

“Just?” Kaz’s gaze followed Sinbad as he leapt lightly out of the companionway and sat on the deck. One leg stuck straight in the air like a drumstick as he groomed himself. “Was it her engagement party on your parents’ cruiser last night?”

A wave slapped the hull, and Stevie took the moment to compose herself. “You could say that.”

“You don’t sound happy about it.”

All the clouds in the sky could be hanging over Stevie’s head. Grey and gloomy. “I’m delighted for my sister. Zach is lovely.” She cast around for a change of subject before Kaz could ask her more about the evening. “What about you? Where do you live when you’re not on your yacht?”

“I live in the hills outside of Wallanbindi. I like the quiet. I have a small cabin in a clearing in the forest. It’s pretty much one big room, with a view east.”

No mention of a job. Maybe Kaz was one of those people who lived on welfare payments while saving the planet. Stevie mentally shrugged. It wasn’t her business what Kaz did with her life.

There was a silence. Kaz adjusted the sail and rested back against the transom, her gaze on the sky and the few bright stars that shone through gaps in the clouds.

With Kaz’s attention elsewhere, Stevie was free to study her more closely. Her cropped brown hair hugged her head, but the ends were curling in the damp, salt air. The neck of her waterproof jacket was opened, showing a patch of tanned skin on her neck and upper chest. She had the look of someone who didn’t spend much time indoors.

It was hard to see her shape underneath the bulky jacket. Her legs were long and lean, that much she could see from the leggings she wore. She was probably wiry all over with hard muscles from sailing a boat by herself.

Kaz’s gaze returned from the stars, and she stared at Stevie. There was a small smile on her face.

Caught Stevie glanced away again, back to Sinbad who was now curled on the deck housing sound asleep.

The crackle of the radio came from the cabin below. “… Yacht This is Dolphin’s Leap calling yacht Do you read me? Over.”

Kaz leapt to her feet and was down the companionway before the voice on the radio had completed a second call. Stevie followed. From Kaz’s reaction, this was unusual. She stood in the galley, close enough to hear, but in Kaz’s line of sight in case Kaz needed privacy.

“This is Marty, is that you? You missed the scheduled call.”

“Yeah.” A sigh came over the radio’s crackle. “Kaz, I have to be quick. We’re waiting on marine rescue and I need the radio free. We were through The Heads heading into Bass Strait when we were rammed. A power boat came out of nowhere, straight for us. It was low light and our navigation lights were on. It must have seen us—and it took no evasive action. It’s put a hole in the hull. We’re out of the protest.”

“Did you get the name of the boat? The numbers?”

“They were painted out. It was deliberate, Kaz. Someone is on to us. Be very careful out there. We’re only a couple of hours from shore and it’s bad enough. Seas are calm; we’re in no immediate danger.”

Stevie drew a swift breath, shock hammering in her ears. Kaz had said it could be dangerous, but this seemed extreme. Her training kicked in, and she stepped up to the radio. Taking the handset from Kaz, she pressed the button. “My name is Stevie and I’m a nurse. Was anyone hurt?”

“Guido had a hand crushed. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

“Is it bleeding?”

“We’ve stopped it with direct pressure. I don’t think it’s bad enough for the rescue chopper.”

“Wrap the hand in clean wet towels if you have them. Have Guido sit somewhere quiet and raise the hand above his heart. He’ll need to go to Emergency as soon as he’s on shore. Crush injuries can be serious. If you give him pain relief, note down the name and dosage.”

“Got it. Thanks, Stevie.”

Stevie handed the handset to Kaz.

“I need the channel, Kaz,” Marty said. “Just wanted to warn you.”

“Thanks. Take care. Over and out.” Kaz put the handset down. She turned to Stevie. “Thanks for what you did. I doubt Marty would have known what to do, and there are usually only the two of them on board.”

Stevie shrugged. “Basic first aid. Not much else to do for that type of injury.” The approval in Kaz’s eyes gave her hope. Maybe now Kaz would reconsider taking her back. The danger had intensified. What if that same powerboat came for them? What if they were rammed several hours out to sea? What if they sank? She had no clue what to do with the life raft. Stevie trembled. Imagine being stuck in a tiny life raft—if they made it to the raft in time—in the dark. Would they even survive? Fear made her legs weak, and she leant against the chart table for support. Kaz was insane to even consider continuing.

Kaz had turned back to study the chart. “With Dolphin’s Leap out of the picture, it’s even more important we keep our allocated place.” She traced a path along the chart with a finger.

“We’re continuing?” Stevie’s voice shook. “Guido’s injury is serious. Crush injuries can turn into other long-term conditions.”

“There’s nothing we can do for Guido at this distance. He’ll be able to get to a hospital soon.”

“But we won’t. If that happened to The bubbling edge of anxiety nudged its way into her throat. Stevie dragged a deep breath. I can do this. I can keep calm. She glanced at Kaz once more.

Kaz met her gaze evenly. “I won’t lie to you, Stevie. Something like that could happen. But it’s less likely out here than closer to shore. We’re harder to find. It’s further for a saboteur to come.”

“But if it did?”

“Don’t think that. Lots of things could happen. It’s pointless to dwell on what might be. We have a life raft. It’s stocked with water, basic foodstuffs, flares, an emergency radio. We don’t want to end up in it, but if we do, chances are we’ll survive.”

When had Stevie started thinking of As if she were a part of As if she and Kaz were in this together. When had she accepted that she was involved, whether she wanted to be or not?

She managed a small smile. “That’s reassuring.”

“It is. I’ll show you how to launch it.”

“Thank you.”

Kaz sat in the chair and swivelled to face Stevie. She reached out a hand, and Stevie gripped it. Kaz’s grip was steady, reassuring.

“I realise this is outside your comfort zone, but you’re doing great. Really, you are. Remember too, the more you know, the better you’ll cope. Now, let’s go back on deck and I’ll show you the life raft.”

Kaz’s explanation went a long way to reassure Stevie. Her head spun with even more terminology and procedures she had to remember, but Kaz was right. It had helped to steady her.

At the end of the explanation, Kaz had gone below and returned with two mugs of hot chocolate. “It’s only powdered,” she said. “But it’s still good.”

Stevie sipped hers. The sweetness was familiar, comforting. “Did you say you wanted me to take a watch tonight?”

“Yes. We’ll both do two shifts of two hours each. You can go first.”

“What do I have to do?” Stevie pushed aside a frisson of anxiety. She had to sail this boat alone? In the dark. Surely that was too dangerous. She barely knew what to do.

“Come and stand here.” Kaz shifted back so Stevie could slip in front of her. “Put your hands on the wheel. Now, look up at the mainsail. See those little fluttering ribbons? They’re the tell-tales. When you’re properly on the wind, they go straight out. If they go limp, it means you’re too much into the wind and Delilah will slow down. Move the wheel until the tell-tales go straight out again.” She stepped away and watched as Stevie tried to keep the sail filled. Delilah came into the wind and slowed.

“Turn her away from the wind. Just a little.”

Stevie did so, and the sail filled again, and Delilah picked up speed.

Kaz watched as she held course. “You’re doing well. It’s important you know what to do if the wind direction changes.” She demonstrated. “Your main job is to keep a look out. Not only for ships—or power boats—but for anything in the water. Large timber, whales, even shipping containers. All of those can float just below the surface and be hard to see. But if you hit something, you’ll know it.”

“Is there a detector of some type?” The twist of anxiety increased. Hit a She couldn’t imagine that would end well.

“Sure.” Kaz scratched her nose. “If you have the money to buy one. Which I don’t.”

“What do I do if there’s a ship?”

“Nothing, if it’s a safe distance away. If you think it’s coming towards us, or we’re on a collision course, you get on the radio and try to hail it. Let them know we’re here.” Kaz paused. “If that happens, wake me. If anything happens you’re worried about, wake me. I’d rather that, than wake up on the ocean floor.”

“What about Sinbad?”

“It’s calm enough tonight to leave the hatch open. He’ll come and go as he wishes. Are you okay if I kip for a couple of hours? Wake me at”—Kaz consulted her watch—“eleven. Or earlier, if you’re worried.”

Stevie nodded and watched as Kaz descended the companionway. Sinbad stared after her but didn’t move.

Carefully, Stevie stood and turned a careful three-sixty, studying the horizon. There was nothing; just the inky-black sea. The tell-tales fluttered in the breeze, but all was good. She tipped her head back to see the stars. The clouds were less thick, and the Milky Way glittered overhead in a million points of light. She sat again and closed her eyes.

At first, there was only the background noise of the ocean—splashes, the tickle of water against the hull. Stevie drew in a deep breath, held it, and released it slowly through her mouth. There was a ringing in her ears she’d never heard before. Delilah was moving steadily, her sails filled. She opened her eyes and looked at the wind gauge by the companionway. Twelve knots. A steady breeze, Kaz had called it.

She was more alone than she’d ever been. Further from human companionship, further from shore. Apart from Kaz, there were no other humans for kilometres. Stevie shut down those thoughts before a dark panic could take her. She could do this. It was an adventure. If she thought of it that way, a new experience, something few people had, she would be okay. Focussing on the present kept the worry aside—mostly.

There was nothing she could do about her job: either she would make it, or she wouldn’t. If it looked likely she’d miss her start date, she’d ask Alana to contact Ash again. Ash could then relay a message to her employer. Hopefully, she would do it in such a way she wouldn’t make the problem worse. And maybe Kaz would relent and let her off sooner. Maybe they’d meet up with another yacht heading to shore. Stevie didn’t even know if it was possible to transfer passengers at sea like that, or if Kaz would allow it.


She was an enigma. What sort of person put her life at risk for a cause? Ha! Stevie snorted. She was being ridiculous, as the answer was all sorts of people, for all sorts of causes, both good and bad. At least Ocean Rights seemed to be doing something worthwhile. For a moment, she wondered what her mother would make of them. Would she ever consider a rag-tag protest group to be a worthwhile outlet for charity funds? Hardly. The answer jumped into her head. Her mother’s causes were ones that allowed her to dress in a ball gown and be a glittering host at a society event—events that allowed the spotlight to remain on her as much as the charity. Stevie had searched the internet for the last charity Sterling Saves had supported and found only a bare-bones webpage that talked vaguely about poor children in underdeveloped countries without giving any details. The biggest item on the page was her mother’s hosted luncheon. The thought of Kaz and her mother in the same room made her smile. There was no universe where they would get along.

Stevie was now daydreaming when she should be paying attention. Guiltily, she stood again and searched a three-sixty. A light winked on the horizon to the south-east. A ship? She supposed it must be. There was no land that way, not unless Tasmania had moved in the night and come closer to the mainland. She studied the spot, briefly seeing the light again. It was impossible to tell which way it was travelling.

She sat again. The rhythmic rock of the boat was somehow soothing and stimulating, a bit like riding a cantering horse. She tipped her head back to see the stars. Yup, still there.

There was a soft thump and Sinbad arrived on her lap. He arched his back and kneaded her leg with his paws. His slitted eyes seemed to dare her to throw him off.

“Hey, puss.” Her voice seemed loud in the night. She stroked the cat gently.

He arched under her touch, and his paws clenched and relaxed on her thigh.

She wouldn’t tell Kaz, but she could get used to this.

Chapter 8: Chapter 4 - All at Sea (1)

It certainly wasn’t the trip Kaz had expected. She trimmed a sail so it tightened against the wind. Delilah picked up speed. While she enjoyed sailing with friends—Alana and she sailed particularly well together—her time alone on Delilah was always special. The wide expanse of inky water, the stars, the small creaks and water noises that were Delilah at sea.

Not this time. Not with her passenger.

If she strained her ears, Kaz could hear a soft rumble from the cabin below: Stevie snoring ever so gently. No, it was far from ideal that Stevie was on board.

Kaz clipped the tether to the ring at the top of the companionway and went down to check the navigation. Was she being unreasonable not dropping Stevie to shore? But no, the GPS showed they were many nautical miles from land. She couldn’t justify taking Stevie in—not yet, anyway. Not until after the protest.

rocking had increased. Kaz went back on deck and checked the tell-tales, adjusting course to compensate. She remained standing, absorbing the boat’s movement through her deck shoes. Somewhere to starboard, she heard the long huff of a whale surfacing to breathe. Then there was quiet again. Looking in that direction, she spotted the whale’s footprint—the eerie patch of smooth water where the whale had dived. She kept her gaze that way, but the whale didn’t surface again.

Stevie’s rumbling snore had ceased. Kaz imagined her curled up in the bunk, her back to the sail bag, her face pressed into the pillow. Kaz checked the time. It was nearly time to wake Stevie for her watch.

Chapter 8: Chapter 4 - All at Sea (2)


The voice came from somewhere above Stevie’s head, and a hand shook her shoulder.

The remnants of her dream fled, leaving only the echo of the woman who’d filled it. She grunted and pushed her head deeper into the pillow. It seemed as firm as a bag of cement. She must buy a new one sometime. She groped for her quilt, but it seemed to have disappeared.

The shaking hand grew more insistent. “Stevie, wake up. It’s time for your watch.”

Watch? The word penetrated her fogged brain, and she rolled onto her stomach. Memory resurfaced in a rush. She was at sea. And this grumpy-faced woman staring at her was Kaz.

Stevie pushed herself up. “Sorry. I’m normally easy to wake. I can’t believe I slept so well.”

It was a bit of a lie, but to come face-to-face with the woman who’d been in her dream was a bit disconcerting. Not that anything weird had happened in the dream, nothing she wouldn’t admit to in company, but all the same, to wake up and blurt, “I was dreaming about you” wasn’t likely to endear her to Kaz. It had been easier to say she’d been sleeping soundly.

“Oh?” The grumpy expression eased from Kaz’s face. “I sleep well on board too. The motion, the sounds…”

Stevie swung her legs around, tugging Alana’s T-shirt back into place from where it had ridden up over her belly.

Kaz’s gaze flicked away. “I’ll let you get dressed.”

Dressed. Stevie’s brain struggled to catch up. She was dressed. Mostly. She’d slept in the T-shirt and only removed the jeans. Except, she now remembered, she’d also removed her bra. Heat stole into her cheeks. Kaz had looked at her chest.

Stevie groped around until she found her bra, pushed alongside the sail bag. With a swift glance at Kaz, now with her back to her as she studied something on the chart table, Stevie tugged on the jeans, stripped off the T-shirt, donned her bra, and redressed.

Quickly, she used the toilet and joined Kaz in the cabin.

Wordlessly, Kaz handed her a mug of coffee.

“Thanks.” Stevie took a sip and let the strong coffee roll around her mouth. Her brain immediately cranked up another notch. “What time is it?”

“Nearly two in the morning. I let you sleep another hour. You looked like you needed it.”

“Thanks. I must have looked pretty bad.”

“Terrible,” Kaz said with a straight face.

Stevie shot her a glance, and her gaze connected with Kaz’s. She was smiling. Pressed lips, a half-crooked mouth, but it counted as a smile. Instinctively, Stevie’s own lips lifted in response. “Then I’ll take a longer shift this time.”

Kaz gave a curt nod, and the moment of warmth disappeared.

“Anything I need to know?” Stevie took another mouthful of coffee. She needed it, and it might be the only one she got for a few hours.

“Wind’s light and constant, so you should have a fairly easy time. Watch out for the shipping lane coming up from Tassie to the mainland, though. I’ve seen a few cargo ships. They’re a good distance away, but we’ll have to cross their path at some point. Wake me if you’re concerned.”

“No worries.” Stevie gulped the rest of her coffee and rinsed the mug, then shrugged into her harness and made sure the tether was clipped to the front.

Kaz yawned and moved towards her bunk. “One thing,” she said over her shoulder. “There’re whales around. I hope you get to see one.” She pushed aside the curtain and crawled in.

Whales? Now that would be something. Stevie climbed up the companionway and clipped her tether to the jackline. She’d seen whales before. Indeed, much of Wallanbindi’s tourist traffic revolved around the animals. Whale-watching tours in particular. Also, the darker history associated with the ex-whaling town. But the only whales she’d seen had been from the deck of a large commercial boat in the company of a hundred or so noisy people. If she was lucky enough to see a humpback whale tonight, she suspected it would be a very different experience.

The night was quiet, the sea heaving in a gentle roll. She listened hard, but there was no sound, except the slight ringing in her ears from the utter silence. No lights on the horizon. A cool breeze filled the sails. Kaz must have reefed them, she noticed. There was a smaller triangle of sail to catch the wind.

Stevie sat and stared out across the water. No lights, no sound. Only the inky sea and a path of moonlight trailing across the water, lighting the tips of small waves in random sparkles.

Kaz chose to do this alone. What sort of person wanted this total aloneness, her only human contact a voice on the radio once or twice a day? Surely she must get lonely—scared, even. Stevie fought down a flash of panic. What if something happened to them? She could see the comforting shape of the life raft in its cradle on top of the cabin. At least she now knew how to operate it.

Stevie dragged a deep breath, willing the moment of anxiety to subside. She would be fine. It was a mantra she’d often repeated to herself when she was on her nursing placements. Although she’d been a student, she’d sometimes been left in charge of patients when the regular staff were called away. She’d been able to quell her jittery feelings of inadequacy by running through what she did know and making mental notes of questions to ask when the trained nurse returned. She’d got through that. She’d coped in all sorts of difficult situations then—had saved lives, even. She would not let being the only awake soul on this part of the ocean faze her.

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