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Bay of Biscay

13 March, 2015 0 Comments

First published in the October 2013 issue of Spotlight

He had been sleeping lightly for the past hour or two, his troubled mind rocked by the constant throbbing of the boat’s engine. Yawning, he looked at the illuminated dial of the big watch he always wore when sailing — the one she had given him for his 30th birthday. It told him it was now nearly 3 a.m. He got up slowly and felt the salty breeze on his face. The wind had picked up while he had been sleeping, and there was enough now to fill the sails, even if the direction was not ideal. He turned off the auto – pilot and the motor for the first time since the previous evening and set the sails.

Once he was satisfied that the yacht was more or less on course, he looked across from the softly lit compass to the blackness straight ahead. He picked out a pattern of stars that he could focus on. By making sure the prow was lined up with these stars, he would keep the little boat heading in the right direction, his steadying hands on the wheel.

Was this little group of stars a constellation? Perhaps, but not one he recognized. She would have known, of course. She knew everything about the sun, the planets and the stars, about the world and how it all fitted together. But she wasn’t here. He thought about the stars and what lay between him and them. Nothing more than a thin wisp of gas that clung to the rock and water of the earth — like mist across fields on a summer morning, ready to be burned away by the sun. After that, there was nothing but the loneliness of infinite space and scattered dust.

The lump that he felt in his throat made it hard for him to breathe. The stars blurred for a moment, and he blinked several times. The sails suddenly fluttered as the boat drifted briefly, until he turned the wheel hard to port, bringing the yacht back on course.

Where was he travelling to in this little boat? Somewhere that held memories, or somewhere that would hold nothing to remind him? Was it even important, just as long as he kept on moving?

Under his feet, the wood and fibreglass boat moaned. This was a strong pocket cruiser that could comfortably sleep a crew of four, a little family yacht for holidays and adventure. But the four berths lay empty, and he felt as if he were the only living creature breathing the cool air.

He looked at the horizon. Apart from the stars, there were no lights in any direction, no friends in the night in this dark bowl of ocean.

Below the boat, the rolling waters carried on down to the earth’s crust.

This was the right place for him, this cold emptiness, where he could think about all that had happened.

The deep quiet of his thoughts was broken by a sudden sound, a gently explosive rasp. Had he imagined it? He listened, and there it was again, just off to the side of the little yacht, to his right.

Keeping one hand firmly on the wheel, he moved to the side of the boat and looked down into the darkness of the waters. At first he could see nothing. But there, with the next rasp, came a shower of seawater through the air from a darkness more solid and smooth than the ocean itself. Up ahead was a patch of shining green, a reflection of his starboard light.

Slowly he could make out more of the beautiful living thing that had chosen to join him and keep him company on his journey — bigger than his boat, moving with gentle power at his side.

For the next hour, the great whale matched the speed and direction of the yacht exactly, keeping so close that he was sure he could have leaned out and touched it if he had wanted to.

Each time he looked out across the water, the sight of the whale’s steady presence brought joy to his heart, and he breathed in the cool night air deeply and easily.

Soon after the first light of dawn appeared in the east, washing the darkness from the sea, the whale’s head rose for a moment, as its back arched and the whole of it sank into the depths, the great tail following last.

The wind dropped, and the sails fluttered. He wondered if he would need to start the motor again, but very soon came a more favourable wind than that of the night, and he was on his way. The sails filled grandly as the sun rose, and the little boat moved eastward through the ocean towards the morning.

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