Floating away to a hot, hot summer

Sam Llewellyn escapes the rain by casting his mind back to warmer days.

Sam Llewellyn escapes the rain by casting his mind back to warmer days.

Rain is hammering on the windows, and the fire is hot. The mind floats far away to a hot, hot summer.

The boat is alongside a natural quay of rock, tied up fore and aft to juniper bushes. She is not complicated: seventeen feet long, clinker built, with a little foredeck in which the unstayed mast sits, ready for the single big leg-of-mutton sail. The equipment is not complicated either. Tent, sleeping bag, frying pan, flour, apples, a fishing rod.

Whistling for wind

I cast off the shore lines, climb aboard, shove off with a boot. We sit on the glassy water, the boat and I, whistling for a wind. No wind comes. The oars come out, clunk into the crutches, sit on the centreboard case and pull for the horizon. A loon, which is what they call a Great Northern Diver round these parts, makes its long, country-music yodel. This is Georgian Bay, part of Lake Huron. A catspaw shadows the mirror of the water. Oars in. Haul the single halyard and up goes the big sail, ancient, close-seamed cotton canvas. For a moment it hangs limp and somewhat grubby. Then the breeze bumps it, the long boom swings, the canvas curves taut and the wake starts to gurgle.

The trees on the shore are sliding by now, and I am sitting on the bottom-boards, tiller under my arm, contemplating the meaning of life and other subjects of interest to the cruising sailor. Up here there is only the sigh of the breeze off the lake, and the sun pressing down, and the cries of the loons. There is sixty miles of wildly indented coastline ahead, connected to the twenty-first century by very few roads. The only sign of human habitation is the occasional shingled roof among the trees.

Fishing for dinner

It is time to think about food. The fishing rod comes up from the bottom boards. Drop the lure into the water and sail on, standing up, skirting the pale patches of rock domes and skerries, steering with a knee. The lake is so big that if the water were salty it would be a fair-sized sea, and the creatures that live in it have undergone a convergent evolution - instead of crabs and lobsters freshwater crayfish, instead of mackerel black bass, and instead of sharks Northern pike.

The boat checks. The rod bends double. A short, tense struggle, and there is indeed a pike, grim as a small crocodile. Haul it in, trim up, sail on. The wind is going round to the north and freshening, so as we swoop northwest across the short seas of the bay it is necessary to perch on the top rail, the ensign at the gaff peak streaming back in the same plane as the sail, spray clattering over the weather bow. And there in the bight of the bay is an inlet. Bear away and in we go, tearing along now, full sail, on the edge of control, wake roaring. Jink round a pale-green patch of water and into the smooth between the pines and maples. Head to wind, a brief drumming of canvas, and as the sail comes down the stem kisses the sloping rock. 

Pull the boat halfway up the rock. The tent goes up. The sun is a red ball sinking towards the steel-coloured line of the horizon. It is important to watch it all the way down. The last red crumb of it turns a brilliant, piercing green. The smoke of the fire rises into a sky suddenly crowded with stars. There is Northern pike and flat bread for dinner.  

Sam Llewellyn, editor The Marine Quarterly