The dawn is slowly illuminating a huge grey waste of sea. The whole thing is in motion: the boat, tearing white plumes with her chain plates, the long swells rolling in under the port bow, and over the swells the shearwaters, zooming through the updraughts with a wingtip an inch from the surface, razor-fast, totally relaxed. It has been a long passage across a world that apart from the shearwaters has been just about empty. The eyelids are collapsing, the mind numb. Soon we will make landfall.
Autopilot on. Go below. Make coffee, percolator gripped by the bars on the stove. On deck again, hot mug in cold hand. Specks in front of the eyes. Not specks: birds, high white crosses in the sun as it heaves itself over the horizon to starboard. Gannets. Many gannets. Suddenly the frontier of sleep is driven back not just by the heat and sweetness of the coffee but by those soaring whitenesses. Then down they come, and there they are fifty feet above the reeling masthead, fierce-eyed, yellow-headed, beaks down, looking. Thy dive, one, then ten, hammering into the sea, because we are going through a shoal, and now there are a couple of dolphins among them, and there, believe it or not, the hump and the little hooked dorsal of a Minke Whale.
It lasts as long as the coffee. We watch, wheel kicking under the hand, gently, for the boat is balanced, running as if down an invisible rail. Then suddenly the frenzy is over, and the sea is quiet, and there beyond the curve of the genoa is the shadow of the land. Every minute it becomes more than a shadow, condensing out of a line of murk as the sun's warmth hits home. Soon there are hills, and in the foreground a low complication of what might be skerries.
Check the chart. We are spot on. The electronics have made sure of that, but still there is a small sense of smugness as the white shaft of the lighthouse detaches itself from the grey of the land. The shearwaters have departed, and far astern the gannets are still wheeling and plunging on their shoal. There are gulls now, and a cormorant duck diving for safety or fish.
The lighthouse comes near, towering high over the starboard rail. Ahead, a cairn of white crystal stones on the southern end of a skerry glitters in the sun, marking the entrance to the inner anchorages. Roll up the jib. No engine, though. This is a seal's nursery, and we do not want to disturb the peace, if you can call it peace when young seals are playing uproarious games of tag in the rocks, splashing and zooming while their parents lie like vast grey bananas, noses and tails up, on their favourite basking rocks.
In the silence there are other sounds. Curlews are yodelling, and oystercatchers are telling each other where they get off. We slide across a sort of watershed - no need to worry about the tide here, as this is amphidrome territory, the rise and fall no more than eighteen inches - into the anchorage. Down goes the anchor, just far enough off the shore for the boat's rig not to foul the oak trees that overhang this quiet and secret pool.
The seals recede. Silence falls, except that it is still not silence, because now the thrushes are singing, and the rock pipits are shouting their names, and above it all the cuckoos are shouting theirs. Below, for a breakfast fry-up and a kip, followed by a walk over the headland. Tonight there will certainly be owls.
Sam Llewellyn, Editor, The Marine Quarterly