Tuesday 19 August 2008
Aground on The Ant Islands
The scraping, rending crack was a nail to my heart. Running my boat aground, my beautiful Onawind Blue, my home, my shelter and safety was the most nefarious crime I could commit and I toppled off my seat with the impact. There was nowhere to hang the blame except upon myself. I tried to blame the mutinous ants still milling by the hundreds and drowning by the score. I tried blaming the divers, who, I had realised at the last minute might get hooked on my fishing line. I’d changed course to avoid them and so come upon the rocks. But the fault was mine; I shouldn’t have been there in the first place. I’d been careless and lazy and rather than take an offshore route round the rocky islands I had gone for the shortcut.
It was all due to the tyrannical taskmaster who’d had me milking every gust and manipulating every wind shift to our favour all day long as if we were racing. And when we’d slowed below two knots I had to sheet in the mizzen and row into the wind’s eye. It was non-stop cracking on in the mid-day sun, watching pretty coves creep by, beautiful swimming spots, with never a moment to pause and explore. Now I’d reckoned there was half an hour to be gained by slipping inside the islands and I’d run OB aground. Soon she’d be filling up with water, I’d be grabbing what I could, putting on my life jacket and swimming to shore. I thought of Moitessier flagellating himself after losing his boat Marie Therese and understood. How could I have let this happen?
OB lurched. Heeling unnaturally and turning to windward the grinding stopped and the sails flapped. I sprang up and raised the centreboard and OB floated free. I hove to and inspected the damage. Somewhere there’d be water bubbling in, the centreboard trunk couldn’t have withstood the impact, somewhere it would have been wrenched from the floor. But it wasn’t. Where it attached to the sole it was sound. The only evidence of the bump a crack on the forward end and that was it. The blow had been absorbed by the centreboard its self which now bore a large dent in its trailing edge. Good old OB! I thought suddenly beside myself with relief, taking care of me, as always, in my bumbling endeavour.
I rowed on. My muscles moved mechanically and my relaxed, relieved mind, left to play in the surreal regions on the frontiers of exhaustion and sunstroke, painted mermaids in our wake. What were those islands anyway? I hadn’t looked at the chart since breakfast, and then I remembered. They must be Les Illes Formigues, The Ant Islands, how fitting given my mutinous crew and what better place to persuade them to leave the boat. Surely that arid rock was where all ants should live. But when I looked down not one ant remained alive. Those that had not drowned had evidently taken a raft across to their homeland. I turned north, alone at last.