It all feels like no sweat now, as so often the case when you return safely to land. That twenty days at sea simmers right down, all the juices and flavours which once floated way above your head, governed by the heavens, whose volume seemed mountainous, whose spices hit in angry squalls, whose days rolled by slowly, all spinning in a thousand leagues, they fall away when you climb out of the cooking pot. You look back down on it all in a different light, adding a dash of salt here and there, your work complete, burned at the edges maybe but cooked up none the less. The journey takes you from inside out, crop growing to pot cooking to chef watching to fat cat eating, you see it from all sides when you cross an ocean on a small boat, certain flavours get preserved, soaked in honey and set apart, whipped into a cream coat or poured over the top in a chocolate glaze, others lie lost to the mix, hidden beneath a thick run of crispy skin.
We dined out on our trip across the pond for a good few days, Dad, Miranda and I, right up till we waved the old man off, that was when our chapter across the Atlantic closed. It wasn’t when we dropped hook in Carlisle bay, diving down into the perfect milky blue water, it wasn’t our first cold beer which I dispatched in great thirsty gulps, drinking it down so quick the bubbles burned the back of my throat, it wasn’t walking across the beautiful white sand beaches either, feet firmly on dry land at last, the chapter closed when our party went it’s separate ways. It was the ocean crossing that crowned those precious minutes ashore, slow cooked for three weeks, seasoned by two thousand miles of road. Our last night cap a sad one, the pipers played slow as Dad’s red sun burnt legs walked through the departure gates, he turned around for one last wave but missed us in the crowd, his month aboard little coconut over in the blink of an eye. We can reminisce on that leg together in years to come but never again will we taste it’s fruits first hand. See for me arriving is all about the journey, getting to the gates and making it through. It is the journey that makes that finish line stand tall, it is surely the journey that gives the whole thing light. There is no way I’d be cruising around the world if it was holiday after holiday, if it was easy, if the waves didn’t shake me and if those endless hours at sea didn’t rise up like great mountains.
The breeze came back in as we left Mindelo, swinging from one hind quarter to the other, falling and rising in shadows and flushes. The marching band must have been drunk, our partner the wind had lost all time and rhythm, she was dancing with two left feet. By night fall, just as my head started to ached the dam broke. We must have gained enough distance from the islands, a strong flow reached our tail and we found a constant stream at last. I took the pole down and throw up a cutter sail, for the next few days we ran, the waves came in all startled and frantic, they had been woken up too quick, no cornflakes for breakfast just a cold bucket over the head and a boot out of the front door, they bumped and bashed, spat and hissed, short sight and uncoordinated, swinging wild in the night. Little Coconut pushed on through, skipping down the white washed alleyways without a care in the world. Inside her steel shell things got slippery, cutting an onion took the patience of a saint, shitting in the bucket a real balancing act, sleeping in the forepeak simply impossible. Hot food and a few hours shut eye where my only luxuries, that and the company of Miranda and Dad of course.
After three days the squash was all blown out, it had nothing much left in the locker, a gentle breeze pushed us tenderly, dropping down to a whisper, picking up to a puff. The days melted away beneath the sun, mornings we spent rising, evenings we spent watching the light slowly fade, watching the colours change, waiting for the cool soft night. There was never a sense of boredom as you might expect, our pace of life had changed, our only real interruption Miranda’s energetic cry, ‘Fish!!!! oohh my goodness, another one,,,,, quick, come quick.’ Dad’s book would then be put down and I’d jump out from my bunk of dreaming, we would all stand together by the wheel, a huddle of excitement, reeling in the goods. Not exactly super market shopping as I once knew it, there was no hand picking, no way of knowing what or when you would be hooking, the fish would come in full of colour, their bright blues and electric greens lighting up our day. We used small lures to hook the smaller fish,without a fridge there was no point going for the big ones, I’d numb their senses with liquor, gut them on deck, then pan fry them with lemon, chill and garlic. It was amazing, restaurant quality fish, melt in your mouth stuff 1000 miles from anywhere.
Miranda was a trooper, she turned Coconut’s galley into a bakery, throwing the doors wide open as soon as the weather permitted. Eating cake come Sunday!!!!! on Coconut, what world had we fallen into with Miranda on board? Our bed of bones had become a luxury cruise, Dad and I turned soft, buttered up by them tea time flap jacks, spoilt rotten with pan cakes for breakfast, fattened like pigs with pop corn treats and chocolate snacks. The days of sailing on empty stomachs were over, the days of eating cold cans and raw onions were buried in the sand, corn beef out the tin, chopped tomatoes straight down the hatch, that was all away behind us, we were sailing like rich folk, a women’s touch had filled the air and there is no looking back from that. Dad spent the three weeks with a full grin, he was in his element out on the waves, a dreamer, an adventurer, his co ordination at 64 starting to fade, his optimism evergreen, still flourishing, forever in bloom, never letting up. One tooth was missing from Coconut’s wide beaming smile. Harry was missing, that big eye tooth which sits just to the side, white as snow, hard as a coffin nail, sharp like a razor. Not having H with us out deep took some getting used to, all the chocolate under the sun couldn’t fill the gap.
Our entrance into Barbados was like jumping the last fence in the Grand national, we were tired, our legs heavy, our eyes wide shut. It was the dead of night when that squall hit, the genoa was poled out full and Miranda was on the wheel. I awoke to her cries for help, ‘Hugh,’ she yelled, ‘quick, come quick!!!!!’ The sail was full of wind, bursting at the seams, Miranda’s voice full of panic. I swore blindly whilst trying to turn Coconut’s nose up into the drift, working hard to shake the wind away, pulling with all my might to furl those rolls of fat in. After I bagged her up I dropped the cutter halyard, it swung off into the night, running up the mast out of reach. I was dancing around the foredeck bare arsed, torch in my gob, spitting expletives out from beneath a mouthful of clenched teeth. The neon glow wrapped everything up, the backdrop became a cave of darkness, it’s stars frozen, all transparency lost to the blaze. The skipper’s hand book had been ripped up and tossed to the raging wind, it’s pages were torn and flying, untethered notes of calm thinking and calculated action, they dropped cold, falling to the waterline as the red mist fell. ‘ Your not going up there’ Dad said as I got ready to climb the mast and retrieve my halyard, he wasn’t alone, ‘ Yeah Hugh,’ added Miranda ‘your not going.’ They had joined forces, the good doctor and my misses, they had formed a front, it was mutiny on the bounty all over again, the black night and whistling wind my witnesses. It must have been quite a sight, me naked on the deck, torch still in mouth, spitting out the words ‘I’mmmm , the,,,ssssskipper,’ my voice didn’t resinate, the words lisps, numb inaudible sounds falling short, dropping dead, tired and lifeless. ‘I’m your father,’ Dad added as Miranda nodded,’your not going up there.’ What was I going to do, flog the shit out of my Dad and wife? Maybe I should have? Francis Drake wouldn’t have held back, lord Nelson no doubt would have bog flushed the pair of them. I looked up at the black sky and saw sense, we were 20 miles out, dad at 64 can still swing wild, there was no point fighting the tide, climbing naked up the mast untethered in a squall was a miscalculation, they were right. For once I listened, we unfolding a handkerchief of genoa and sailed for a faint glow which rose up from behind an island of thick black cloud, Barbados lay asleep just beyond our very nose.
We were checked in and anchored by 12:00, laughing about our hectic night in, Dad doing impressions of me swearing with a torch stuck in my mouth. We were sitting on the beach, the ocean behind us, cold drinks in hand, our crossing still very much alive, smoking beneath the ash, embers a glow, fire still burning. It was my third Atlantic crossing, Coconut sitting proud in Carlisle bay, just a mast on the skyline to the bystander, to us the grand national winner, the boat that brought us in.