For the next few days, morning and afternoon was spent on the lake, and by the Saturday they were able to sail all the way to Scholastika and back, a picnic in between, with time to spare. It was time to challenge the Atkins sisters, whom they had not seen since their plan had come into being.
Their challenge, the children voted, would be in the form of a letter posted through the letterbox of the holiday cottage across the lake, and that evening they gathered around the coffee table in the sitting room to draft it out.
Aoife held the pen, but Blaise contributed admirably, and their letter ran along these lines:
‘Dear crew of the Ophélie,
You are challenged to a sailing race on the Achensee at nine-thirty in the morning on this Monday, starting from the Buchau ferry landing to the Scholastika ferry landing, where you will take on board two passengers and race back to the Pertisau ferry landing. The race will be against the crew of the Kristiane, which consists of Captain Daniel Thimble, First Mate Aoife Thimble, Able Seaman Delia Thimble and Boatswain Blaise Thimble.
Crew of the Kristiane
PS – Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!’
Having drawn up this letter and the younger girls feeling proud of it, if not so much the elders, Aoife turned to print it onto a fresh sheet of white paper and then decorate the border in as pretty a style as she could muster with her limited supply of boating icons.
The challenge came out well, and Rob ran them down at eightish to push it through the letterbox of the cottage at Buchau. Then Aoife sent the lot up to bed, and settled herself down on the window seat in the dining room with the curtain swathed around her for a read by moonlight in the blessed peace and quiet before she went to bed.
On Monday the inhabitants of the chalet at Pertisau awoke early, and dressed and had breakfast as the sun rose. They were down at the lake by half past eight, pushing out the dinghy and readying Kristiane. Then they set sail for Buchau, where Blaise and Aoife ran along for some biscuits at the shop while Dan and Dee anchored and settled back to await the onset of their rivals. The four passengers and Rob were waiting at the shore on a bench, and Rob would drive them up to Scholastika when the race was under way.
Eventually Delia’s telescope spotted three dark-haired girls in shorts and waterproof jackets exiting the holiday cottage, a violet-eyed man close behind them.
“They’re coming!” hissed Delia, and Daniel stood up straight and tall as befitted a proud and confident ship’s captain. As the three girls launched a small yellow dinghy and headed for the boat named Ophélie, Dan hailed them.
“Ahoy, there, crew of the Ophélie!”
“Ahoy, crew of the Kristiane! Ahoy, Captain Dan!” called Basilie. “La commandant vous salue!”
Élodie gave a quick salute, and the three were busy for a few moments with the boat. They had quick, deft French fingers, and knew what to do.
“They’re good with her,” Dan muttered. “I think it’ll be a challenge to beat them. At least we have the same wind. Hey, Rob! Are you starting us?”
Rob shook his head from the jetty.
“I hate water as much as heights!” he replied. “So I’ve invited Mr Atkins to take my place, and he has kindly agreed.”
Mr Atkins chuckled as he got into the yellow dinghy which Basilie had quickly rowed back, and, having dropped her off, he brought it to an adequate starting place over the water.
“Line up!” he bawled when he saw that both crews were ready. He had a good starting voice, thought Dan. “Ready…set…go!”
And they were off, as they always say, and as I dared not omit.