Buffy the Pigeon.
Buffy came to us 37 miles offshore in the English Channel. He was a racing pigeon, whose skills were tuned by a loft in some green pasture, fed on the best high protein athletic foods, a racing pedigree, and a magnetic compass stored away in the back shelf of his brain.
Alas I suspect, he enjoyed the credentials of the racing back ground, but when push came to shove, his compass was not as good as his pluck. Buffy must have been sent away by his 'owner' to an overseas destination to race back to his green and pleasant loft somewhere in the UK. No doubt he had raced successfully from home, but this time he was sent to France, from where he was expected tip find his way home.
Well that is where we joined company. It was a nice warm summer's day, a very gentle breeze from the south east, we were on passage back from Brittany after a fortnightís holiday on our 32' Sadler cruising yacht. We had been on passage for only 15 hours or so, approaching the Cornish coast, as the evening was came.
Buffy came in low, as had is eye fixed on the boat spray hood. He was really a landlubber, trying to negotiate a moving landing platform, for which he was never trained. His first try was unsuccessful as he skidded off the canvass spray hood. His flight skills were good enough for him to take off despite the duff landing, and to have the nerve to make another approach. This time I able to study his techniques, which were very professional. His eye was fixed on a point, his flaps were down, all as a professional aviator would do.
He made crash landing, and was able to slide into a safe position on the deck. I left him to it, not wanting to disturb him. But inevitably we came together. I had to trim the genoa, and alas Buffy had latched onto the sheet. Both Buffy and I were surprised when I pulled the sheet, I as the pigeon appeared over the cockpit coaming, and Buffy as he was suddenly confronted by me. He took emergency action, and took off.
Buffy circled the boat, contemplating another embarrassing landing. He was unabashed, and quickly came in, landing successfully on the cabin roof. He strutted along the small area looking for a roost. With one leg gripping the spray hood, he looked through the plastic window to what would have been a good resting place.
For several hours we sailed on, the weather was gradually deteriorating, and whilst being concerned for the bird, my priority was for the boat and the other passenger. Our course took us around Lands End, the seas where large, and the darkness made me concentrate on the boats course, trimming sails, and keeping an eye on the several other ships in the area.
Dawn came, and the weather was getting worse. The wind had risen to a force 7 or 8, the waves were now smaller and were sweeping over the boat. I looked for Buffy, and he was there gripping the coach roof with determination.
I had to go forward to deal with the flogging mainsail. I crawled along the deck, just a foot away from Buffy, he looked at me and decided that I was no threat. With the sail dealt with, I returned to the cockpit, Buffy had moved to the other side of the spray hood, and was contemplating how to get between the hood and deck. I reached forward and opened the gap, but Buffy did not accept my offer. I tried to grab his leg, but Buffy was faster than me, and side stepped my grip. With that refusal of help, I thought to myself " You are on your own mate".
The weather was worsening, the waves grew larger, and Buffy was gripping the coach roof with determination, head down into the wind and wet with spray. Not a happy bird.
The inevitable happened. Buffy was washed off the boat. I didnít see it happen, I just saw him flying into the wind, desperately trying to return to the boat. Alas, he disappeared into the gloom. My heart went out to the small creature, a fate that I could imagine, and would not wish on anyone. I sighed, and looked to what needed to be done on the boat. I tidied the charts and logbook, putting them in the cockpit lockers, keeping them out of the spray and rain.
Then, amazingly, a silhouette of a bird appeared in the distance. Buffy had made it back. He came in like a good a good one, flaps down, an accurate landing seemed to on its way. Alas, Buffy was still not used to a moving runway, he desperately tried to grab the lifeline on the boat, but also managed to get a claw into the main sheet, where he hung in desperately. I made a grab for him, and managed to touch his foot. Buffy pulled his foot away, and fell into the sea. Buffy floated on the waves, just like a duck.
He looked at me directly. I responded by shouting to him at the top of my voice, 'Come on' I shouted, 'Come on' as loud as I could. Buffy was energized, he took off from the waves, I held my hands out to him, he crash landed into my lap and then to the cockpit floor. I think he had decided that I was the least of his problems, and had commended his life to the odd human in the tossing boat. After all, he was used to humans, no doubt his loft keeper would handle him regularly.
I gathered up Buffy quickly, tucking his wings away safely. I moved to the seat on the windward side of the boat. I clasped Buffy tightly, holding him to my chest. I was trying to warm him, but could fee Buffy's warmth through his feathers. He seemed resigned to whatever I had in store for him.
For a full ten minutes, I just held onto the scrap of life in my hands. He had been on board for over 12 hours, I remembered him with his head bowed into the heavy spray from the gale force winds. Buffy had neither eaten nor drunk in all that time. His stamina and ability to hang onto life humbled me. He was one hell of a pigeon, and deserved his place on the planet.
I had to return my attention to my boat. The mainsail needed to be taken in. Buffy was pushed carefully into the cockpit locker, safe and dry. I placed the charts and logbook in the way to make it difficult for him to get out. I did not need to do that, as Buffy was very pleased to be in a safe confined place. I went about sorting the sail, returning to the cockpit, then to below in the main cabin.
The next three hours passed by soon enough. I had my doubts as to whether Buffy would survive, and was expecting the worst.
The boat motored into Padstow Bay, the wind was now down to a breeze, we were intending to call into Padstow harbour for the night. The bay encompassed us, with Newland Island on the seaward side. It seemed a good time and place to release Buffy back to the land. I was anxious that he fed and watered as soon as possible.
The boat stopped, I removed the charts that I had placed in Buffy's way, he was still in the exact place that I had placed him, not having even turned around. I gripped him gently, and eased the brave bird out if the locker. He looked perky, taking in the new calm surroundings. I looked him in the eye, admiring the spirit that I saw there. Buffy was anxious to go, and he made the break. He flew up, gaining height quickly, circling, working out where he was, and the best way home.
A minute later, Buffy was in his way, out of our sight. We turned the boat towards Swansea.