After our fry last night, we had another beer, and decided the anchor watch schedule. Dan took the first at nine o’clock, mine was three hours later. The boat was still being pushed around by the westerly. Torch lights still moved about onshore. I dropped into my bunk. Sleep came quickly. As did waking up bang on midnight. And so it came to be that I crept on deck with my knife out. We all have knives, us mariners. The badge of honour. I’ve a four inch Opinel, bought in Canet. Always with me, it’s been good to have one sometimes. Some things need to be cut in a hurry. No one was around, the shoreline quiet. A cargo ship anchored in the western end of the bay glowed in the vague mist. The lads were asleep. No need for anchor watch, the wind had dropped.
Upping anchor this morning, we snuck out of the bay watched by a workboat that had gone over to the second ship, the one anchored to our west. Our precision was militaresque, if such a word exists. We had done well yesterday in tough circumstances. The captain gave me a big pat on the back. Literally. It was surprising to look back on how well we’d reacted, Dan handing me the torch, me getting to the bow quickly while keeping safe, thinking fast after so many languid days. And so little sleep over the last month. We had slept now. Reinvigorated with the bloodshaking Turkish coffee in our veins, we headed out to sea. A tugboat passed us. I don’t remember seeing it in our custom office cove, perhaps it’s from the town on the east side. I waved an almost apologetic wave. I must send that place a postcard. One from Howth. In Irish. “Ta bron orainn, bhimid gohana tuirseach ar fad!” I’ll sign it O Dubhghaill, see if they write back. Maybe one of my cousins will get it.
This crew, Dan and I, we’re a better crew now. Since I’ve known him, Mark has always said that he loves bad weather after too much calm. It sorts out a crew that have had it too easy. And we’ve had it so easy. It hasn’t even rained once. We’ve played it safe, as is usual form for deliveries. Don’t risk the boat, not if there’s no real rush. We waited in Pylos for a few days for the weather out at sea to calm. Leaving Turkey was different. The papers allowing our jester boat, Farceur, to stay in Turkey were up. She had to be taken out of Turkish waters that day. The other crews headed more directly to Corinth, but we knew Pete, Fred and Luca were going to hang around a little in the islands. A part of me wishes we had done that, but then we wouldn’t have had our greatest adventure yet. And it’s too easy to say that we shouldn’t have come through the canal into forty knots of wind in the gulf. The forecast was for ten, and there was no help from the officials at the Aegean entrance of the canal. But forecasts can be so useless, take the Fastnet disaster of ’79.
We’re back in the Ionian, this gulf belongs to that sea. A calm sea it is as we try for Vounaki in one go. We’re low on food, Dan didn’t find coffee when he tried at Corinth. He’s a couple of cigars, Mark’s low on ciggies, and while I’ve a decent pack of tobacco, I’ve hardly any papers left. Should give up the damn things anyway, been smoking far too much on board. We all tried to put a limit on the amount we’d smoke, and it lasted for a while at the start. But it’s difficult. You smoke to calm nerves, to stave off fatigue, for companionship. One lights up and automatically the other two will follow suit. Goddamn smokes.
Mark just got a text from two skipper in Vounaki, old friends of his. They leave in the morning, we arrive in the morning. One of them, Stefan, has done five transatlantics in one season, a remarkable feat. Good friends who get lucky enough to cross paths now and again on delivery routes. I wonder who’ll join us there before I leave. Ross and Tom are at least a day ahead, they should be there already. Adam’s crew are dawdling as Fred’s wife is joining them somewhere. Bobby and Mikey, I have no idea. They live around Vounaki and have promised us a good time. It’ll be good to end this with a session. Good people, this sub-culture of sailors. It felt like we were on land in Turkey for a week. Was it four days? Was it less? I remember drinking Rica one night because I was sick of beer hangovers. That was the night I threw the “failed empire off the east coast of Ireland’ phrase into a conversation. Well, it was more a rant, I think. Ross didn’t care, Mikey didn’t care for it. He was a little offended, I guess it’s fair enough. But his folks are Irish, aren’t they? My racism aside, I need to make it up to Tom a bit. There’s a hierarchy here, and I’m near the bottom. The skippers, of course, it’s obvious. Then there’s Dan and Fred, with a whole lot of experience in life. I compete with Luca just to talk shite, it’s a Portmarnock thing. Anyway, family being different, Tom, in his youth, took a bit of a slagging from me, as I’d nowhere else to turn. It doesn’t sit well with me, the underling status. And it sits just as badly, the fact that I vented it elsewhere. I wish I could say it was different, but I’ve been a dick.
Like when Mikey told me to stop whinging when I was offended by my captain. Another giving out to. For questioning his authority. Well not really, that’s how he took it but what I said wasn’t meant like that. We were both drunk. On land, drunken sailors the lot of us. It is dangerous, this land thing. The tirade in Pylos still rankles a little. When we’re at sea, the captain’s word is law. On land, however, I rebel against the idea. I feel more like we’re equals. But, as Mikey says, who deals with all the paperwork? Who feels responsible for your safety? You’re still on the boat. Who is our captain? It’s like the military, it has to be. Soldiers, sailors, skippers, mariners. I’m a musician, if I’m asked. And sometimes it takes a band leader to get things done. And like out here, a good leader listens to his crew. Another subculture. A tribe. But less ego out here. Get over yourself. Go a boy and come back a man. They don’t want passengers. There’s no stepping off the boat, no hissy fits, no bullshit. You’re found out very quickly out here. I wonder. Have I found myself out, or been found out? Or, as a friend asked me, have I found the four tools I’ve been needing all this time? I still don’t know what she meant, and that may say it all.
The long, stretched out gulf was not without entertainment. Three fighter jets passed high in a V formation, heading slightly east of north. A while before, a fighter bomber, maybe, flew low off our starboard beam, heading due east. So low, it would have been under the radar. It dipped its wings in answer to a salute from Mark. “Cool, man!” I told Mark of my friend’s story, she’d dated a fighter pilot, French Airforce. She’s a vegetarian so ordered veggie food at dinner. He asked, “You don’t like to kill animals? I kill people for a living!” I had to ask her if they’d fucked, and what was her report? “He was terrible!!” So much for top gun. So disappointing. Quick on the draw, them military types.
We fell in and out of wind, depending on the shape of the land to our north. Approaching the nearly to mile long Rio-Antirro bridge, we had to follow their instructions, radio when four miles away, request passage, wait and radio again a mile out. Captain likes to do this stuff well. We are representing ourselves here, you know. As we prepare, a big rust heap who’d been catching us, it’s line more to our south, got a scolding. The larger vessels are meant to radio ten miles out. He didn’t. The control at the bridge demanded identification, “You were meant to contact us six miles ago!” A mumbling reply, “oh, em, oh, sorry, em..” “Identify yourself, how many crew, port of destination…” The ship captain replies, sounding so meek. And he sounded like a big guy, this Russian skipper. We near the mark, Mark calls with a fine accent, always addressing the controller as “Sir”. The respect is palpable between the two, the control sounding relieved at some proper order here. As we near the mile mark, the Russian has to contact control again. He follows Mark’s example, “Yes, sir, no, sir..” We burst out laughing. It’s an amusing success for Monsieur Farceur.
And now it’s another movie-set night. Twenty-five nautical miles to Vounaki, our final destination is so close, four or five hours away. The moon is a few days away from full. Clouds build, surely it must rain before we get there. Mark has handed watch over to me. What he thinks is a sailing vessel was behind us until we made the turn north. It turned too, taking the inside track through the islands closer to the coast. If it’s anyone, it’s Bobby and Mikey, they’re local boys after all. We have eight large lights on our starboard beam. Islands. With massive lights. Gives the movie set picture greater vigour, they’re like spotlights at the edge of a stage. Headsail is out, belly full. Unorthodox, the captain says, but it’s working. We’re sailing again, the wind shifted a little and I alter the sails to compensate. My alterations actually work, I’m delighted I’ve learnt something, sailing home, to land and voyage end. Hallelujah my friends, I should get to see ye again. I dreamt of France, a melange of a dream. I’ll be visiting before I go back home. It’s on my way. Through the mountains. Hard to think of that now. Easter’s coming, people will be on the move as we try to get home. Land, family, friends, girls. To talk to, to hold, to love. Guitars to play, bikes to cycle, footballs to kick. Four weeks, a couple of thousand miles, new friends and an education. Three men in a tub, rub a dub dub.
8 miles to Vounaki.
Time for a snooze
Course 000° (Due North)
No motor, no sail.
Just woke from the final dream at sea. But why are we stopped?
I dreamt we arrived in Vounaki. The Sunsail base is a massive skyscraper on the marina, a canal bringing the boat into reception. We jump off, Farceur disappears. A few other skippers are hanging around, their actions a little crazy in the posh surrounds. My sea legs have me sliding around the place, bumping into annoyed suits, knocking over things. I had to get out of there, I remember a conversation with Dan, “If you don’t like your dream, try to look at the back of your hand. You can never see it in a dream, and you’ll wake yourself up.” I can feel the mattress against my hand, hear the water lapping against the hull. As the man says, I trigger wakefulness when my hand turns out to be invisible. Why are we stopped? The water is hitting us, we’re not passing through it. I fall back asleep.
Same building, same reception, same thing. I float this time, like a badly inflated helium balloon. I feel the mattress, I look at the back of my hand, I wake up. Still can’t figure out what’s going on, have we anchored somewhere? I fall back asleep.
Same thing again, but this time I know better and get outside. We’re in a pig market. A black pig grabs my hand, the seller shouts “You own him now!” The pig turns into a monkey, I run outside, a gypsy woman spits at me. I figure that maybe I’m dreaming, I look at my hand, I wake up. Still the water sounds strange.
And again. Sleep. Floating around the reception, this time I leave through another door to the resort. A hundred thousand children are playing in synchronisation. I want to find our boat, but they’re all piled high on top of each other, separated by class. Where the hell is it? It’s been my home! The pig monkey is near, the gypsy spits. I can feel the mattress under me, looking at my hand wakes me again. We’re not moving the way I’m used to. What are the lads up to? I fall back asleep.
This time I figure it out quickly. I’m dreaming. Ok. Where are the powerboats? I find one that looks like the space shuttle. I’m in full control. Of course it starts, and the speed instantly has me airborne. I fly over the resort, the skyscraper, the pig market. I get too much speed and look at the back of my hand, waking up once again with the knowledge that something’s not quite as it should be. And fall asleep.
Straight to the powerboat this time and then I realise I don’t need it. I fly. It’s been a long time since I had a flying dream like this. I fly around this imaginary place until suddenly I lose the ability. Back of my hand, feel the mattress, once again I wake up to disquiet. But fall again into slumber.
I fly. Ambitiously I head north, up the coast, over these mountains. To Milano? To Belfort? Only when I think “To Dublin?” do I lose the magic of flight and plummet to the ground. My hand brings me out into consciousness but I lose it again. Now it’s me, Dan and for some reason, Scatman Crothers, the janitor from The Shining. We’re squashed into my cabin, our heads stuffed together in the port quarter. Mr. Crothers is dragging an octopus-type thing out of a pipe in the hull. “They always hide in here”, his familiar tones drawl. With a knife he slices a juicy piece off. “If they’re green, they’re no good. Man but if they’re red, they’re like apple pie”. He sucks the piece off the blade, red juice running down his fingers, a sweet smell reaching us. I can’t believe this, it looks so real. In his rich Kerry brogue Dan exclaims, “You’d better fucking believe it!” But I hear this differently. I look at my hand, and wake up to Mark answering him, “It’s fucking amazing, isn’t it?” Jesus, enough of this, where the fuck are we? I jump out of bed go on deck. It’s still dark. The engine’s off. No sails are out. Mark and Dan look strange. But they’re laughing. It takes me a second. They appear to be clean, Dan’s wearing a shirt. “Look!” Mark points at the plotter. “We’re floating due north at less than a knot. Vounaki is due north. The good ship Farceur, she’s taking us home!”
Mark knows the base in Vounaki. Getting there in the dark is tricky at this time of year because the boats will still be tied up for the winter, lines everywhere. So they cut the engine and we killed a bit of time. We’d been quiet this last day, savouring the last of it, holding our thoughts. The last few hours before it’s all over. Can’t believe it’s all over. As the day breaks, we see the marina ahead. No skyscrapers here, it looks good for us. As we approach, there’s a gathering on the jetty. We circle to come in from the north side. As we get closer, I can make out some unfamiliar faces amongst the others. One stands out, it must be Dom, the big Caribbean I’d heard so much about. Captain shouts, “We’ll come around, do you want us stern in?” A shout back, “Alongside, alongside, it’s much easier!” They know we’re in bits. Mark had been very attentive this last day, as is his wont on the final stretch. But we’re tired beyond anything. We approach, I throw the line, apologising for the uselessness of the throw. The catcher, Simon, laughs, tells me not to worry. The lines tighten, Farceur is moored. We step off to huge smiles, hugs all round, and cups of Ouzo. Dom and Stefan have a taxi waiting but want to have a drink with Mark before they go. Bobby and Mikey are moored beside us. Ross and Tom look hungover. There are so many yachts here. A girl steps off one. A girl, at last! She comes towards the group with a jug of coffee and a smile. As Helouise pours coffee into my Ouzo I say to her, “If you don’t mind, later on, I really need to talk with you.”