Thursday


Death at sea in a dream



Sue Galliard lay in bed staring wide-eyed into the darkness and knowing without doubt that sleep wouldn't return that night. The wind was sighing in the elm trees around the cottage and in the distance she could hear the eerie cry of an owl. It was not a night to be alone. It was hard not to be aware of the empty space in the double bed and the absence of the comforting presence of her husband Rob, usually a gently-breathing mound of bedclothes by her side.

It was hard to shake herself awake and dismiss the dream as the result of too much cheese for supper or too much strong coffee when friends had called for a chat on their way back from the pub in the Kent harbour town of Whitstable.

After all she had been a fisherman's wife for nearly three years and nights alone were something she had learned to accept when the fishing was good and there was money to be made by men who ventured out into deep water.

Rob was skipper of the sidewinder trawler Fortune. She had sailed with a crew of three earlier on in the afternoon of that warm September day in 1987 for the North Sea fishing grounds - a trip scheduled to last three days. The weather was settled and the sea calm. There should have been nothing to worry about. And yet..
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Sue was later to remember: "It was just a routine trip and nothing to worry about. I had a lot to do — routine household stuff, and also spent a couple of hours with my mother-in-law. But in the evening I began to feel strangely apprehensive.

"I come from a fishing family and had learned since childhood to come to terms with the risks. Rob was a skilled and experienced skipper and he had a good boat and a fine crew. All the same, that night I lay awake for hours and when I did finally get to sleep I had the most terrible nightmare. It was so realistic that, rather than being a dream it felt as though I was witnessing a real event.

"It was as though I was actually aboard the Fortune. The mate, Ron Saunders, was at the wheel and Rob was in the engine-room. Suddenly there was a flash of light and an explosion.

"Smoke poured from the engine-room hatch and Ron was shouting: 'Rob's down there.' Then they were dragging someone out on to the deck. I knew it was Rob and that he was dead. Then I woke up."

Sleep was impossible after that. Sue switched on the light, put on her dressing gown, went downstairs to make a cup of strong tea and tried to dismiss the incident as the nightmare it undoubtedly was.

For the rest of the night she wandered around the house, did some ironing and tried unsuccessfully to read. Finally, as dawn was breaking, she lifted the phone and with trembling fingers, dialled the coastguard headquarters at North Foreland.

"I knew I was being crazy but at this stage I just couldn't help myself. I just had to find out if what I had experienced was a dream or reality."

In fact the reality turned out to exceed her worst fears. There had been a report of a fire aboard the Fortune, a man had been gravely injured and was at that moment being transferred at sea to a Royal Navy helicopter.

"It's the skipper, isn't it?" asked Sue, but the Coast Guard had no further details. "We must just hope for the best," Sue was told, "but how you knew anything about the incident — we haven't had time, or enough information, to contact relatives — is a mystery."

Rob Galliard was the victim, as Sue knew he would be, and he died shortly after arriving at hospital in Dover. The rituals of tragedy took their inevitable course... the identification of the body, the inquest verdict of accidental death, a marine inquiry which established a fractured fuel line as the cause of the fire and explosion.

The fishing community took Sue to its heart. There was a memorial service, help and comfort from people who had first hand knowledge of how cruel the sea could be. Ron Saunders bought the Fortune from Sue at well over the market price, had her repaired and took her back to sea. Everyone agreed that was what Rob would have wanted.

Sue Galliard left Whitstable and went to stay with her mother in Gloucestershire. Five years later she married again and now has two sons and a husband who farms safely away from the sea.

"I still love the sea and miss it, but I could never bear to have anyone I love connected with it," she says now. I can never forget what happened to Rob.

"You see, every detail of his death was identical to those in my dream. And as far as I can tell, the accident coincided exactly with the moment I woke up, knowing without doubt that my husband was about to die."

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