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Jupiter hung hot and red in the north western sky

Sam Llewllyn affectionately remembers a passage through the Mediterranean.

We were out of the Atlantic. The first morning after the Straits of Gibraltar we were moving through the Mediterranean, the Costa del Sol a hundred miles over our port quarter, reaching to a cool breeze that rolled down from the sugar-pink peaks of the snowy Sierra Nevada.

At last we made the desert peninsula of Cabo de Gata and altered course to the northward, the land sinking away again until we were crawling across a warm blue sheet of sea under a warm blue bowl of sky.

There is a notion that the only life in the Mediterranean is the few undersized fish that have managed to squeeze through the meshes of local trawls. On this passage, this did not seem to be true.

Victory dance

Just after lunch, the engine stopped with a clunk. A couple of metres of rope had wrapped itself round the propeller. We took turns to dive under the hull and saw away at the rope with the ship’s breadknife.

As it parted, I saw what I took to be a fish watching me about ten feet down. Closer inspection revealed that it was not a fish, but a porpoise about fifty feet down. As I surfaced, waving the bit of rope, a dozen more porpoises appeared, did a victory dance, and sped off towards the horizon.

Trails of fire

At sunset a turtle was beetling solemnly down the long red track into the west. That night there were jets of phosphorescence in the sea, as if swift creatures were leaving trails of fire.

The phosphorescence itself is alive, of course - tiny animals flaming blue and green as they meet the turbulence of the wake. Jupiter hung hot and yellow in the northwestern sky. Overhead Sirius and Rigel winked coldly down, while the plankton winked right back.

We stargazed, and tried (and failed) to read a book by the phosphorescence. The night crawled by. At last the lights of Formentera were dipping in and out of the horizon, and from time to time the faint emeralds and rubies of ships drifted in the dark. At midnight I went off watch for four hours, and dozed in the soothing roar of the wake.

Jupiter had dropped into haze

At four I was awake and groggy, cluttered with the dark thoughts that crowd in at that low hour. The watch on deck made me a cup of triple strength Nescafé and crawled into her bunk. Jupiter had dropped into the haze, but the stars were still up, tilted far out of their midnight positions.

I sat at the wheel, huddled into my oilskins, sipping the artificial coffee and steering with one foot. The black mass of Ibiza was looming to starboard now. The stars faded, and the world took on the grim slate-grey of dawn.

As we opened the bay of Sant’Antoni the neon of the town shimmered at us, mysterious and romantic as a Tesco Local. The beats of all-night revels came tumbling over the water from the clubs, mingled (perhaps this was my sour imagination) with the reek of stale beer and Marlboro Lights. I sat at the wheel and felt hostile.

Then in the dark water between the boat and the town I saw half a dozen black shapes, rising, gasping, diving, and gleaming in the dawn. A pod of dolphins was keeping company with the boat.

Instantly, the shadows lifted from the morning. Somewhere ahead was a horseshoe bay with a gravelly beach and pine trees where we could fire the anchor into a plume of bubbles and swim with the clean water in our ears. Maybe the dolphins would drop by for a word.

Sam Llewellyn

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