Climbing out from the belly of that sleeping giant was the first step to our honey moon at sea. I had lost my way down there, down where acidic water dropped red from bleeding veins of rock, where air was drawn down through metallic nostrils and sent off in spluttering coughs, out along flapping vent bags into stale drives of darkness, where mouths swallowed great reels of dirt, where eyes strained through dreary waves of black shadow, constantly moving, constantly searching through the sleeping beds of dead stone. To leave the mines wasn’t quitting in my book, it would have been quitting to stay. The number bods had got involved, the pen pushers, and ladder climbers, the money men. Gone where the days of bacon butties and cups of tea before heading underground, gone was the laughter. It is better to go bust than turn sour, surely. I was on my last warning, Little Coconut was waiting, the summer back home was waking and most importantly Miranda was at my side. She had come flooding back into my life, brought the music in with the dancing shoes, she changed everything, turned my world 180. Four years in Australia had past in the blink of an eye, my barnet balding and belly soft, it felt like the tide was on the turn, what once rushed in was now running out, we needed Little Coconut ready for the sea, out with the tide, one last hurrah, why not? I’d go back and work on the boat, Miranda would finish off her contract, we would get married and go sailing.
Waking Little Coconut wasn’t easy, it took time and money, there was no escaping that. Harry and Dad had taken her kicking and screaming from St Aubins harbour to a farmer’s field. It must have been like a funeral procession, that slow march up the hill, tyres popping with the weight, cars stopping as the boat trailer struggled beneath her strain. I found Little Coconut there, beneath the trees, surrounded by a sea of potatoes, that five miles back to the water could have been five hundred. Coconut was out for the count, stuck in the mud, waiting in the shadows, mast missing, boom in the barn, lost to the world. Remnants of our year at sea were all over the place, old charts gathering dust on bookshelves, fishing lures tangled up in rotten warp, the tuna they once caught a distant memory. There was rusty paint tins from South Africa, coins from the Carribbean, old shanks and broken torches. Uncovering them again was like turning the pages of a book, it jogged my memory, got the fire burning.
I worked on Little Coconut up till the day we sailed off, and if we hadn’t left then, i’d no doubt still be working on her now, arse in the air, head in the bilges, blue language echoing back from those hard iron chimes. It was paint fumes for breakfast, dust for dessert, and if the boat wasn’t letting up nor was Miranda. I was worried about our 1980’s tractor engine, it hadn’t been cranked in a few years, she was worried about the colour of her bridesmaid’s dresses. It was like trying to juggle spanners with confetti. Follow that pink paper up into the breeze and you’ll get a lump of metal on the head or a boat on the rocks. I wasn’t going to run around the garden chasing hot air and lost flowers, it felt like everyone outside Little Coconut was barking at the moon. ‘ Keep your beak out of it,’ my old man would say, ‘leave it to the girls Hugh.’ He was right, getting hot headed about some fat cat charging corkage in my own back yard wasn’t helping.
The wedding arrived, people flew in from everywhere, as far away as Australia, old friends, lost cousins, Miranda’s family, it was a mass migration. ‘Keeping my beak out of it,’ As Dad put it, was a wise move. My idea was for Harry to cook a big curry, throw it around in paper bowls. H is the guy who doesn’t wash potatoes because he likes the taste of mud. He once cooked bangers and mash so badly he shat the bed aged 22, cooking curry for 150 heads would have been a disaster. It was an amazing wedding, the start of our life together, we did it properly, went out with a bang.
Packing your bride away into a small no nonsense cruiser is harder than it writes. Miranda looked troubled when i mentioned scrubbing her down on deck as the washing facilities, she made weird faces when i mentioned shitting in a bucket, she had a bag for everyday of the week and more shoes than Little Coconut’s wildest dreams . Our old kettle from Australia was put on the scrap heap, along with all the other rusty medallions that rattled around Coconut’s ribs like a bag full of old bones. It was Miranda’s space to, it also marked the start of a new trip, our departure didn’t feel like an extension of the last one, we were writing the lines of a new chapter, writing them together. We motored out of the bailiwick on Tuesday the 6th of September, a few weeks after the wedding, the sun was shining, Miranda was in my arms.
As evening descended a light breeze started to whisper it’s track across ours. Miranda was starting to feel sick, it was her first night under sail, setting off on the wrong foot was not an option so I sent her down for the night. Having her safely bunked up below was a weight off my mind. Rewind the clock back five years and we got a good old fashioned shoeing on our first night sail. The recipe behind it was simple, one clueless skipper, two greenhorns on deck and no slab reefs in the main, it was lambs to the slaughter. The wind played cruel tricks on us all night, dancing drunkard jigs around our compass, whispering one minute, roaring the next. That curtain of night fall can cut the senses quick, everything becomes louder, bolder, wilder, closer, things transparent in the light come alive in the dark, chinks in the armour, howls beneath the moonlight, weakness of the mind. By four in the morning I could see the French coast, clusters of crushed glass blinked out across the black stained horizon. My eyes were heavy, my head beating. The tide had enough legs to get us in if we acted fast, if not we would be stuck for another six hours, feet bound by moving water, three knots of tide off four knots of boat speed equals one knot over the ground. Roscoff was our harbour of choice, the wheel had taken my strength away, we could sleep the bad tide out, rise when it turned, finish our first leg to L’Abberwetch. And that was how it played out along the French coast, cat and mouse, running then hiding. Creation rules as master, not man, hang on to those bootstraps, duck when the bellows suck, run when they blow, get it right and you’ll enjoy them moule a la frites, get it wrong and the fish will pick up what the stomach couldn’t handle. It is a very exciting place to sail as a result, a race track has been set in the seabed, the North Atlantic makes a skyward jump over the continental shelf, it funnels into the channel, white horses running wild, dashing through the Alderney races, finishing the march in Brittany. Even neap tides gather up some pace. It all adds up, the restless currents, the fog, the shifting winds, the rocks, the sand banks, all for a taste of France you’ll remember, one that comes off the back of hard steps taken. Our final resting place in France was Camaret, a quiet town near Brest. For cats heading south Camaret is a window sill, a place to watch Biscay and wait, northerlies are what you want, for a good few days straight, they’ll blow a small boat all the way to Spain. The harbour is a bottleneck for cruisers, the longer you have to wait the more boats roll in, there must have been 10 boats waiting to cross when we arrived. With a surf break over the hill, and a happy wife wondering the markets and old cobbled streets, it was the perfect place for us, a place to sit and wait.