A good read

Lal­lie is caught be­tween the wind and her fam­ily as she faces her fears afloat

Yachting Monthly - - VIEW FROM THE HELM -

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

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