A good read
Lallie is caught between the wind and her family as she faces her fears afloat
A teenager’s tempestuous sail
‘ Over water the pulse in the angry air quickens to a relentless fluttering’
I did not know before that race what a good sailor I was, in what father would have called the worst sense. My greatest temptation and danger was to sail the boat too gently, so that in my efforts to keep her as upright as possible I should lose way, leaving her at the mercy of an extra hard puff. I performed cowardly marvels of compromise, judging nicely the varying weight of the squalls, and the breaking point of each successive wave. Gradually every faculty became numb, save this one.
The other five boats left me behind almost at once. I had little attention to spare for them, but I saw the sudden disappearance, in a flurry of wind and water, of the bobbing splodge of red which had been the hull of the Mawleys' boat, showing down to the keel.
A woman competitor from Harwich had her boat dismasted on the windward leg of the first round. By the time that the race was half over I was oblivious of the sick wrench in the stomach that had at first come paralysingly whenever I had to stretch back over the windward gunwale for balance. In the wildly unstable world where I existed, second after second without past or future, there was nothing except my sailing self and this small bucking, fighting craft, that for some forgotten reason must be driven from one point to another despite our three enemies – water in sheets of blinding spray, water in solid, crashing waves, and the screaming air that shifted its direction a trifle from second to second.
On land, a fierce wind sweeps by in separate gusts, with softer intervals between, flowing constantly from one direction, but over water the pulse in the angry air quickens to a relentless fluttering. The invisible hands that batter at one's face and body have an infinite variety of weight and cunning with which to bruise the senses.
I would not look ahead more than need be, and in consequence I came up with each buoy a little before I dared let myself expect it. There were only three of us left in the race by the time that I came to the last leg to windward, the final out-and-back turn before the finishing line. Had there been any way of staging a safe and convincing accident of some kind I should have taken it then, for turning dead into the wind again was misery. But I had thought all that out before; there was no disqualification that I could manage less risky than carrying on. From an unreasoning belief in the old wives’ idea that one's feet must be kept dry on the first day of a period I still held mine carefully out of the water swilling over the bottom boards. I had been wet to the skin from the beginning of the race, and every cold douche of wave-top that broke inboard drenched me again so thoroughly that I need not have bothered.
I did not follow the other two boats into the shallows, where they were fighting to cheat the adverse tide, when we started the last run home. To do so I should have had to gybe violently and, unwilling to risk that, I stuck to deep water. They were in another world as far as I was concerned; what did it matter who won? I did not even see them cutting the underwater mudflats finer and finer in their efforts to outsail each other, until eventually both ran aground. They got off again in a minute or so, but meanwhile, keeping my attention strictly to myself, unaware of my isolation, I had passed them and won.
Ordinary Families by E Arnot Robertson, Jonathan Cape 1933. A coming-ofage novel set in Suffolk in which Lallie discovers sex and rejects sailing