Glinting_sea

The French coast drops behind and we settle down for the channel crossing, moving fast in the moderate westerly on a starboard reach. The sun breaks through high cirrus clouds. Pinpricks of light, tiny sparkles, dance over the surface of the water.. As the sun climbs higher the sparkles disappear and the sea takes on a deeper, more uniform blue. Rain clouds gather from the west, the breeze freshens, raindrops spatter on the sprayhood. Coral heels over, and now carrying just a fraction too much sail, charges through greeny grey waves. As I can see blue sky ahead I choose not to reef but to hold on until the squall passes.

From my perch on the windward side of the cockpit I watch the water below me. Most evident is the long rhythm of the swell rolling up the channel. Shorter, sharper waves texture the swell, streaks of white blown from their crests. Tiny ripples fan across the waves, covered in windblown wrinkles that add intricate decoration all over the surface.

The movement is relentless: Coral rises with the swell, her bows pitch up, she rolls to leeward, slides down the back of the swell, then lifts her stern as she rolls back in the trough. Again and again the pattern is repeated with each peak and trough, never exactly the same. Now and again a wave comes out of sequence and hits Coral’s amidships in mid roll, arresting the regular movement and sending a shudder through the hull. The mainsail flaps as it loses wind then fills again with a sharp crack; pots and pans crash around in the galley; jars of jam and mustard roll around in the locker. Aries, the windvane steering, is knocked off course and swings around wildly before settling down again. With a final flurry of wind and rain the squall passes and the blue sky is above once more.

Mid channel. Nothing in sight except sea and sky and the odd gannet. No ships, no land, no sign of other humans—even Ben and Otto are out of sight in their bunks. There is nothing here to keep me alive except human ingenuity and inventiveness—a seaworthy hull, sails to drive the boat forward, Aries to steer, GPS and charts to navigate.  And here I am, entranced by the unfolding of the day, managing the boat, plotting our course, feeling alive. The wilderness of the sea shows me again what it is to be a human being.

Toward evening the lowering sun throws dark shadows on the face of the approaching waves. Between the shadows the light catches, burnishing the surface with a metallic sheen. As the sun dips below the western horizon, the full moon appears in the southeast.  The daylight fades, the colours drain away, the sea becomes heavily leaden, the sky a curtain of thin blue. Then at night the bright moon creates a seascape full of contrasts—lumpy dark sea separated from a profoundly blue sky by the sharp horizon, white horses and the ship’s wake glowing in phosphorescence. The moon rises higher and throws a silver path across the sea that Coral follows as she sails on northwards.

Later that night, after my watch below, I take over from Ben. “I thought I saw the loom of land over there,” he says, pointing northeast, “But surely it is too soon.” He goes below and I stare in the direction he indicated. Yes, there it is, just the hint of a light on the horizon. Then Coal lifts on a wave, and I see the pinpoint of a lighthouse, the loom of the light through the sky and a little later the regular three flashes which I know to be Start Point. We are approaching home.