Part of my fascination with the sea and the shoreline lies in the idea of tangles - tangles of fishing nets, tangles of sea weed, tangles of salty ropes thrown over lobster pots, tangles of wire inside those broken pots as they lie discarded, useless by the edge of the beach, that edge where the sand meets the grass and the world starts to change from the reckless creative mass of the sea into the more ordered, more well behaved land, which turns into concrete, tarmac, houses, roads, graffiti.
Apparently the sea is now tangled with plastic, huge swathes of plastic bags drifting, bumping, rising and falling on clear blue swells. I wonder what those vast islands of debris look like at night, when the ocean is calm, the moon is shining in a cloudless sky and the deep glassy depths are masked by something in itself waterproof, something that would protect wet contents from drying out, protect dry contents from becoming damp, now wasted, used and useless and submerged in the very medium it was designed to manipulate.
I think about that long ago night, the warmth of the tropical air, the freshness of the trade winds sweeping across the deck, I think of my young self, dressed only in a borrowed t-shirt, unable to sleep, for once able to walk freely around the deck in the gentle rising and falling of the sea swells. It feels like this because you are sailing. When it is you sailing the boat, you listen to the sea, you listen to the boat, its fibres, its boards and you know how to harmonise the two. You are cocky with it, leaping about on deck in the worst weather, no harness, no tether, like a seabound monkey, your curly hair buffeted by the wind, plastered across your face, laughing, tying ropes, pulling sails “she’ll be right!”, that funny accent that is no longer British, but not affected either, a bit Australian, a bit playful. You’ve escaped the rules and no longer belong anywhere, just where you are right now.
And right now you are sitting in your captains chair, on your borrowed boat, one hand on the wheel the other draped at your side, enjoying the moonlight, the dark deep blue of the sea at night.
Hello Bird! you cry out, a bit like Peter pan somehow.
I wander over smiling and lean on the big arms of the seat.
Look dolphins, can you see them? they’re playing with the boat!
And there to the side of the boat I see them, their shiny silky backs rising up to the surface and then scurrying down into the bubbles we are making as we ride through the water, one after the other keeping up with us and playfully swapping places with each other in the moonlight.
Here, you steer, come on.
Really? hmm ok.
I sit on the big seat, my legs cold against the leather and dangling like a little girl’s, me pulling my t-shirt down to cover my cold thighs. The dolphins continue to dip and rise, wet glimmering shiny, and I watch them. And for that moment I am happy, I am free, I am a wanderer at home wherever I am, I am a traveller, an adventurer and the dolphins belong with me and I with them.
There was nothing on the surface of the water that night apart from dolphins, nor any night after that sailing across clear, turquoise waters in the day, deep blue or angry grey waters at night. I swam in those waters, once off the side of the boat out at anchor, so clear you could see your feet dangling underneath you, the sand way beneath, as clear as though you were looking through a glass. I was amazed at how clean the water stayed, the sand so perfectly settled, the water itself swimming-pool blue.
My memories jar with the thought of plastic bags tangled, choking, heaped on those clear depths. There would be no dolphins gliding alongside. It makes me think of the boats that crush their way through the ice way up north. Would it be like that then? Would the boat nose itself through those tangled layers, would the propellors become clogged?
The thought chimes with a feeling I have, that those days are gone, those moments which feel so now, are unreachable. I feel as though the freedom of that boat gliding through the water, me lying nauseous and tired on my bunk, hoping we wouldn’t sink, hoping that tonight I wasn’t going to die, feeling the change in rhythm as Bill took the helm and the boat glided once more along the swells, those days are choked in time, wedged in just that moment which is now gone.
Ropes and seaweed, rock pools, and a life limited to the shore line, gazing out at the sea, grateful for the safety, missing the danger, longing just slightly for the risk, for the days when you could lose yourself in an experience, in a person, in a moment, without becoming tangled and pulled away by time.
Kathryn was with Bill, the year was 2000