This is not how it is supposed to be. This is not in the brochure. In the brochure everyone is smiling, no one is perspiring. There are pretty young girls in tight tee shirts with long blond hair streaming behind them in the wind. There are no big women of a certain age with lumberjack arms. There are no bearded Nazis at the wheel. There is bonhomie and orange juice with sparkling wine.
“Stand by to go about! Watch the boom!”
Bang. Ouch. Splash.
There is nothing in the brochure about being knocked off the boat. Here in the water there are sharks and other slippery things. If you are still in the water after dark the big squid will come up out of the depths and gently touch your feet. They will not hurry; they do not have to. There is nowhere to hide. They will grasp your ankles and slowly drag you down. The squid can grow to eighty feet and have eyes like luminescent hubcaps. They have beaks like gigantic parrots. They can bite a man in half.
There goes one shoe. It will sink slowly to the bottom. It will take many minutes rocking slowly back and forth as it descends in silence to the abyssal ooze. It will settle among the sleeping squid. When the sun sets they will open their eyes and sense it there. Then they will rise.
“Grab hold of the line for goodness sake!”
They haul you in. It is the big woman with the big arms doing most of the work. She grasps you by the scruff of the neck and hauls your over the bulwark.
The sails are down. The boat has stopped. You can hear the outboard motor idling in the stern. Everyone is looking at you.
“Are you OK?”
You are fine, no thanks to the big pole. What took them so long? You were scared of the giant squid.
“What giant squid? It’s only ten feet deep.”
It is the know-it-all captain speaking. Do this, do that, hop here, hop there. It is only ten feet deep, bah! He is not sitting in wet clothes being stared at. He still has both his sandals on.
“Perhaps he’s got concussion,” the big woman says.
“Rubbish. The boom hit him on the backside,” the captain says.
“You can never tell. He looks confused.”
Of course you are confused. You should be sipping sparkling wine and orange juice among the tight tee shirts in a crimson sunset. There should be the tinkle of laughter and glasses on an indolent ocean. Instead there is hauling ropes and tying knots and tacking back and forth. There is dodging the big boom and wrestling with the spinnaker. There is leaping about like a circus monkey.
You get to your feet. “I’m fine,” you say.
“Well at least there’s a valuable lesson in this. You have to keep your wits about you at all times; no time for daydreaming,” the captain says. “Out on the big blue things could have been very different,” he adds darkly. He pats you on the back and rolls away, barking orders.
The others get busy with their tasks. The sails go up, the boat makes way. Nothing is expected of you, no demands are made. You only have one shoe. When you try and help you are gently pushed aside.
“Get your breath back first,” the big woman says.
So that is how it is. You have committed sin. You have not paid attention. You have flouted the rules of the sea. You can read it in the sidelong glances. You are a Jonah, a fount of bad luck and an outcast. Next they will petition the captain. They will tie the dead albatross around your neck. They will maroon you on an island. They will leave you there with a cask of rancid water and two pounds of salted beef. If you are lucky they will leave a blunt knife and a flint for making fire. You will have to gather palm leaves to make a shelter on the beach. You will have to hop after small game with your one shoe and the blunt knife. Your clothes will rot on your back. At night you will lie in your crude shelter and dream delirious dreams about tight tee shirts and sparkling wine. The days and months with merge into one seamless …
“Stand by to go about!”
You will not get caught twice. You are not that daft. You flatten yourself on the deck.
The yacht turns into the wind. The big boom swings ponderously. It hesitates briefly over your head, swinging back and forth like a giant golf club, seeking you out. Then it is gone. The manoeuvre is complete.
The captain calls your name. “Up you come. Your turn at the helm,” he says.
“Just keep her steady on this heading,” the captain says.
It is good in the stern holding the big wheel. It is better than burning your hands with rope. It is better than being marooned. You can feel the strength of the big yacht at your fingertips. You are sensitive to her needs, to her buoyant mood. The crew look up at you with new respect. They can sense you have control, that you are one with the boat and the wind and the sea. It is like that with the great mariners, the men with the far away look in their steel blue eyes. They have known the moods of the ocean, the titanic fury of deep-sea storms. In the lea of mountainous waves and the blur of wind borne foam the greatest affairs of men are small indeed. When the time comes and the crew are old they will sit by the fire and recall their days before the mast. They will speak in awe of the captain who fought the sea and brought them through. They will remember the ice in your veins and…
“You’re going off course, mate. Five degrees starboard.”
You swing the big wheel.
“The other way. Don’t worry, you’ll get the hang of it eventually.”