21 November 2010

An Overnight Passage: Tortola to St Barths

"... There's Arcturus, looking very bright."
~ Edmund to Fanny [Mansfield Park, Jane Austen]

Venus burns low on the horizon, with Arcturus glowing red just off our port bow; behind us, our wake is lit up by the full-bellied moon. Standing at the helm for
the night watch, we see the swell hurrying past, its furrowed crests breaking into a lather of white foam. The boat lurches and sways as the billowing water picks her up and drops her, time and again, in a familiar rhythmic pounding we can feel in our bones.


These are the pleasures of the overnight passage, especially for crew who love making the delivery alone. We have done this so often now that even working silently together on our final checklists—checking the props, lashing down the dinghy, securing the hatches, taking down the more fragile furnishings etc—has become part of a pleasant ritual that culminates in the liberation of casting off the mooring lines. There is a joyous truancy in having escaped—absconded!—in the dark of the night, gliding furtively past the sleeping boats, out into the freedom promised by the channel.


The wind picks up.


Twenty-seven knots, says The Captain. Under our feet, we can feel the boat struggling to make headway against the push of wind and water. To ease the wear on the boat, he adjusts our bearings; as we exit Round Rock, we are 20 to 30 degrees north of our course. Now we can bear away, with the wind port side rather than on the nose; we are hoping to be able to sail her come daybreak.


The moon is rising again when at last we pull into Gustavia harbour. Behind us is the sunset, and a passage of eighteen hours instead of the usual fourteen. We are tired. We drop anchor, do our boat checks, and think with pleasure of heading ashore for a well-deserved dinner. Somewhere warmly lit, with a view of the moon on the water; somewhere to sit back amidst the friendly clink! of silverware and glasses and the buzz of conversation; somewhere to smile at each other across the fragrant steam of heaped plates, and the gleam of a glass of wine.

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Occasional vignettes from the life of a charter chef who loves simply messing about on boats.

"I still think that one of the pleasantest of all emotions is to know that I, I with my brains and my hands, have nourished my beloved few, have concocted a stew or a story, a rarity or a plain dish, to sustain them truly against the hungers of the world."
MFK Fisher

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