It is early in the morning. The sun is a lightening on the eastern horizon, and the moon is riding in the west. Dump the stores out of the tender and bend the painter to the mooring pennant. Climb aboard. Then aft to stow the stores, haul up the mizzen and sheet in. Round comes the big open yawl head to wind. Up with the main. A turn round the belaying pin, grasp the standing part of the halyard, lean outwards to sweat the sail up the last inches, cleat. Unroll the jib.
The boat hangs off the mooring pennant, sails drumming in the cool, hard breeze. The foredeck is alive under the bootsoles. Back she goes in a gust. The pennant comes taut. Wait for the slack as the gust passes. Pull the eye off the Samson post, drop it over the side, haul the jib aback so the bow swings to port to clear the tender. The nose comes round on to the starboard tack. Step aft, sheet in the jib on the other side. Jib and mizzen are easing her along now. Haul in the mainsheet hard until the sail stops flapping, then edge it out again until it is almost trembling. Don't know if it works for Ben Ainslie, but for a day's cruise with a picnic it seems to work fine... whoah.
The boat heels and surges ahead, and away we go, trucking, wind just forward of the beam. The tell-tales on the jib lie horizontal, windward ribbon just lifting. A torrent of breeze is flowing over the jib, accelerating into the slot between it and the lee side of the mainsail, pouring aft smooth and unturbulent. Another torrent of air is pouring back off the windward side of the great cream wing of the mainsail past the taut belly of the mizzen. The boat is a flying machine, hauled along by low pressure on the leeward side of the sails and high pressure on the windward side, tearing a white groove out of the sea. There is a pull of weather helm, which means the rudder is acting as a brake as well as a steering device. Ease the mizzen an inch, two. Suddenly the tiller is rock-steady under the hand, with just the smallest trace of an inclination to windward that will in the event of some sort of fit brought on by pure joy make the boat curve up into the wind and hang there, sails flapping, docile.
There is plenty of joy, but no fit. All there is is the tear of the hull through the sea, the roar of the wake from the transom, and the pressure of a single finger of the helmsman's right hand on the tiller as he squints down the lee side, watching the jib telltales, making millimetre helm adjustments to deal with the shadows of breeze racing down from the windward bow.
In the east the sun hauls itself over the horizon, and the grey dawn sea becomes suddenly green as a mermaid's eyes. In the west the ghost of the low moon hangs, two days past the full. And perfectly aligned between the two of them is the boat, the fulcrum of a cosmic seesaw, exquisitely balanced, roaring on and on as the blue shadow of the next land rises from the sea.
Any month now we will not just be thinking about this but doing it; and the world will flow past us, in balance once again.
Sam Llewellyn, editor The Marine Quarterly.