It is a day in early spring, and the sea is like grey glass. We row away from the stony beach in a deep silence, broken only by the dip and rise of the oars and the drumming of a woodpecker from the oakwoods on the shore. The mooring buoy is a little low in the water, which is not surprising, as it has been sitting here accumulating weed all winter. Come alongside, put the boathook over, pull in the pickup buoy.
In a few months, when the mooring is cleaned and serviced, the boat will have come out of its tarpaulin chrysalis and be sitting here neat as a duck. The sun, with luck, will hammer down out of the sky, and this slaty water will have turned blue, with shadows of squalls running across it. We will row out. Up with the mainsail so it drums in the breeze, a beautiful cream wedge against the racing clouds. Unroll the jib. Drop the clean mooring pennant and grab the clew of the jib, walking it out to the windward rail so the boat's nose shoves round, the orange buoy sliding away to starboard. Then aft to the cockpit, mainsheet in, jib in, and the deck tilts underfoot and there is that heart-lifting surge as the sideways force of the wind in the sails converts into a joyful acceleration.
And we are away, on the watery road that leads everywhere. The mind toys with destinations. The West Indies? Too hot. Greenland? Too cold. Australia? Too time-consuming, and I can't be bothered to get the dinghy on deck. But over there beyond the point is a bay with a beach of small round crystal stones and a fine collection of driftwood and absolutely no people. Furthermore the mackerel are in, and when we have caught some we will do some sailing for sailing's sake.
Not much adrenaline in it, of course. Just the tug of the mackerel, the boat on a steady breeze, tender following on the first wave of the wake, jib trimmed to bring the air pouring past the aerofoil of the main's luff so the whole thing is balanced on the pivot of mast and keel like an acrobat on a seesaw. Steering means a single finger on the tiller, if that.
A porpoise rolls and blows and fades into the deep. The grey rocks of the point slide by, and the bay opens out. Roll up the jib, point the nose into the wind until the boat stops. Stroll past the slatting main to put the anchor over the bow roller. The boat falls back and the chain tightens, dug in. Row ashore, collect driftwood. A small fire in the usual place. Fried mackerel, lemons from the bag, bread, butter. Remove all traces of the fire, take only photographs, leave only footprints, and hardly even them on a shingle beach. Up anchor and away –
But all this will be in the summer. Now it is a daydream in a dinghy on a grey glass sea on a cold spring morning, with a mooring to service and a boat to refit when the boatyard opens, if it ever does. Check the line to the pickup buoy. Splices look all right. Furthermore in among all the sea squirts and weed and little crabs that have made their homes on the line and the riser there are some reasonably hefty mussels. Twist a few of them off, fling them in the bucket, and consider one of the great questions of life. When we eat them this evening, will they be baked, or shall we travel the well-worn white-wine-and-onions route to moules mariniere?