06 December 2010

Daylight Passage: Anguilla to Virgin Gorda



It is midday and the sun strikes a flinty glitter off the surface of the water, scattering a thousand fractionated flakes of white light, harsh as the glint of mica on a street pavement at noon. The boat dips, the waves rasping at the bow. I listen to the soft rhythmic breathing of the sea and watch its great indigo flanks rise and fall with the swell.

We are headed west, with a fresh nor’easterly breeze filling the mainsail and genoa. The green peaks of St Martin fall behind us in the distance; we have passed the flat white reaches of Dog Island (north of Anguilla), its pleasantly briny aroma blown seawards to us by the wind. For now, only a scant few clouds cling to the clean edge of the horizon, and there is nothing else about us but sea.

As if on cue, a flying fish breaks the surface of the water, whirring its improbable flight across the distance of twelve full, breath-held seconds. That tiny living glint of silver makes me smile, though I admit it also makes me think of cooking a whole dozen of boned, filleted flying fish—I like them best simply crisp-fried in fruity olive oil and glittering with flakes of sea salt; I also like to stuff them with pine nuts and raisins, like sarde a beccaficco.

Earlier that morning, we were surprised by a Breughel apparition: a full-rigged ship in the distance, its long bowsprit pointing east. Flat on the Delft blue horizon, it seemed nothing more than a painted ship upon a painted ocean [Coleridge].

Alas, closer inspection proved a much less romantic truth: it was only the oddly shaped Club Med boat, headed perhaps for St Martin, perhaps for little Sainte-Anne in Martinique, its berths filled with the hopeful and prurient young—or at least, the prurient hoping to be taken as young. I wonder idly if the ship is named Espoir. After all, as John Irving assures us, Hope floats.

Motor-sailing at a steady eight knots, we reach our anchorage on Virgin Gorda before sunset—a pleasant ten-hour trip, though we did not get to sail her properly. By the time the long, low-sprawling clouds glow pink in the twilight, our guests are settled with their glasses of wine and their frosty cocktails, and the smells of bruised lemongrass and caramelising pumpkin and simmering spiced coconut milk waft from the galley. Before us lies the evening, unusually cool for the Caribbean, under a sky bright with stars.

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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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