Shopping Trip


It is slightly too early in the season, but the time for daydreams is over, and the real sea is lapping at our feet. The trailer wheels are on the edge of the water, the masts are up, the sails are on and furled. A great black cloud sails off the sun, and a ray lances down and plunges into the deep honey-gold of the varnish on twenty-foot yawl's rubbing strake. There is, frankly, too much wind.

But into the sea she rolls, someone hanging on to a line on her windward quarter to stop the stern swinging. The trailer rolls away and we are aboard, drifting out to sea, unfurling the mizzen to bring the boat head to wind. Little black patches of breeze are wriggling off the shore. We are getting out of the lee of the woods, and the wind on the face is fierce. This is no time for mainsails. Uncleat the furling line, haul on the jib sheet. The sail unrolls, bang. Back it to bring the bow round, then sheet in. Jib fills. Mizzen fills. And away we reach, jib and jigger, towards the faraway straggle of white houses that lines the mountain's foot.

The gusts are big, but we greet them with a light laugh scarcely audible over the roar of the wake. Half an hour, and we are in the calmer water in the lee of the hills. Consider the usual deep-sea maxim: if you think it is time to shake out a reef, have a cup of tea, then shake out the reef. This is a shopping trip, so there is no kettle. Still, a mental cup of tea, and sure enough, bang, a squall, and green water pours glassy over the downhill rail. Then a quiet little breeze, the sea ahead blue and unshadowed as a baby's eyes. There will be no more gusts. Lash the tiller, jog forward, haul up the main and sheet in.

On we glide towards the village, burgee stiff at the gaff peak. The movement of the deck underfoot is lively after the stolid land. It fills the mind with thoughts of freedom. There is the pier, a colossal structure built for the paddle steamers that were once the public transport round these parts, growing white out of the beach. After the long locked-down winter there is a rush of happiness at once again seeing the land from the sea, and the promise of a lot more of it in the months to come.

The pier reels high against the clouds. We glide in to the stairs. Fenders out. Head to wind, alongside, sails drumming unsheeted, watch your head on the mainsheet block. Bow line on, roll up jib, down with the main, stern line on. Faces peer down from the top of the steps. Run up the steps, down to the shop, once round the shelves, and back with a couple of baskets of groceries. 

The patches of blue sky are bigger now, and out on the sea the wind is moderating. Main up, jib out, shorelines off. Back jib till the nose comes round, and away we go, weightless again, properly supplied. Soon we will be sailing these waters in the big boat, over the horizon and far away. For the moment, though, there is the kick of the tiller and the swoop of the deck and the grocery baskets under their tarpaulin at the mast's foot; and after a few miles the mooring buoy, fresh orange and newly serviced, rising under the bow. Someone is rowing the dinghy out from the shore to pick us up. Boring business, going shopping. But not today; quite the opposite, in fact.

 Sam Llewellyn, Editor The Marine Quarterly