Mais les vrais voyageurs sont ceux-là seuls qui partent
pour partir; coeurs légers, semblables aux ballons,
de leur fatalité jamais ils ne s’écartent,
et, sans savoir pourquoi, disent toujours: Allons!
Father died four years ago, I am now fourteen; I am immortal and as reckless as they come. The Commodore has anointed me, given me sole charge of a duck-egg green sailing boat in which to teach his red haired daughter the rudiments of seamanship, in return I have the run of it for the summer.
Today I have a quest, to sail single-handed as far as I dare over the horizon, something I cannot discuss with my Mother as it would terrify her; as of course it should me but I must learn to eat fear. By now I have learned to accommodate her mild, ultimately futile injunctions, to take care and keep out of trouble, on the assumption that they do not extend to serious categories such as shipwreck and drowning.
The name of the little vessel evades me as does the face of the Commodore’s daughter, a result of concussion probably, all I recall is setting off through the beach surf and heading out into the Channel.
The coast gradually melts into a meniscus of haze that forms the horizon, until at last I am, for the first time in my life, completely alone. A disc of blue ocean in every direction, no compass, just the set of the swell and the prevailing wind to orientate me. Above a hemisphere of blue, held aloft by a blue shimmer.
As the big swells roll under the hull the mast arcs across the sky, in a trance rhythm; one moment I am deep in sunlit reverie and the next, bang, the lights go out. Time stops, everything stops. Suspended in total darkness, no sound, no movement, I should have taken heed of my Mother before entering the afterlife. In this new world do I breath air, or drink down lungfuls of seawater? Impossible to tell in this darkness of dreaming, nothing to see, nothing to feel, nothing, apart from a throbbing white light inside my head.
I drift but gradually sense a gentle rocking motion and hear the plash of water, my eyes begin to probe the murk and finally I understand that the shadowy forms emerging below me are my legs fading into the abyss. Slowly, very slowly, it dawns on me; I am floating in a bubble of dark air trapped under the hull of the upturned vessel. My bruised skull cushioned by the semi-inflated RAF Mae-West lifejacket that holds my mouth and nose just above water, a good investment it would appear!
Move the hands, flex the fingers, touch the face, reach out to feel around the inside of the cockpit, a strange sensation, performing an underwater inverted handstand. There is of course only one thing to do, untangle the mess of lines and push out of the air pocket into the glare and dance of the surface.
There she wallows, centreboard skyward like a shark fin, the pale green hull glistening in the sunshine and the ghostly sail disappearing vertically below into the gloom. Toes grip the gunwhale and arms heave on the slippery fin, a slow struggle, a head-throbbing, body-heaving struggle to right the craft. Finally a slither onboard and lots of water to bail, wary, ever wary of that skull cracking boom.
Home to tell the tale? No, simply home, with a nod and a smile. Today for the first time, I have seen the world without land and I have had a preview of another world which will one day embrace me, but that is exactly the kind of thing that would terrify Mother.