“Never fear quarrels, but seek hazardous adventures.”
So, I do not have any quarrels, except maybe with the toubib who told me that there was nothing wrong with my knee as I hobbled around for 6 weeks. Forgiveness and redemption. However I crave adventure.
Who would not want to sail Dileas to Minna Jima? It is a tiny island off the west coast of Okinawa and I have to go there. I head for that huge inlet /bay which is so obvious on Google but as you will hear not so in reality.
It is summer in Okinawa and the best place to be is on a sailing boat. As I head North the sun blazes, the sea is a very fine blue and score of flying fish erupt in front of my bows, indeed from all over the place. Where are they going ? Do they know? Their gay abandon, as they launch themselves out of the water and glide with the wind for 20, 30, meters, fills my heart with joy as a soft, but adequate breeze pushes me onward.
I sail for 3 hours and make good progress in an unambitious sort of way. I pass interesting craft.
But then the wind just stops.
It sit around but the current is slowly pushing me backward. I am quite far out at sea and getting nowhere, so I have lunch.
I determine that if the wind does not come back by 1:30, I will abandon my invasion and turn for home. 1:30 a very stiff breeze blows offshore and we hurtle off, all a quiver. The waves get up and Dileas is close hauled bounding straight at Minna Jima.
As I approach, I see sands that are clearly the bay I am headed for. I am very confident as I know that once into the bay the wind will be blocked by the landmass and Dileas can calmly choose an anchorage in shallow water.
In fact I hurtle towards a beach and crash over a reef. The wind is strong and Dileas is very sporty. A few yards from the beach, I head up wind and I try to take down the sails. This a thing that I am not very good at as I am essentially one-legged and hopping agiley around the boat as she is pushed over coral in a vigorous swell is not something for me just now. I lumber over the side and finally manage, after several duckings, to get Dileas aft on to the swell and rush her up the beach. Okinawan beaches are preceded by coral. This can be flat or this can be canyonesque with metre deep holes that open up when it is least expected. Anyway it is razor-sharp, lethal stuff as any contact therewith results in blood.
Anxiety and sailing are joined at the hip. Now I am safe on land, how am I ever to get off again? I came in on the high tide so Dileas is stranded on a beach and the sea disappears way back. The only way I am going to get her back into the sea is to wait for the next high tide and be there to drag her back into the water. She is a heavy boat and I will not manage to drag her off the beach unless I am there at the right time. Even then there are unknowns of swell, darkness and of course coral to factor in.
I do not know when the next high tide will be. I take a hobble around the island. There is nothing here beyond a couple of soba stands waiting for tourists, of which I see none. I love it. There is absolutely no noise. I walk towards the harbor as lizards, butterflies and a legion of cicadas, grasshoppers announce my progress.
My reconnoitre shows me that I totally missed the bay I was headed for whose entrance is very well disguised unless you approach from the East. I hobble back to my bivouac.
OK to get off this island I have to get Dileas into the sea. The only way to do this is to be there when the tide rises up and reaches the boat, then I can use the swell to turn her and push her out into the sea.
So I sit on the beach and wait for high tide. I do not know what time that will be. They also serve who only sit and wait. This brings me to a reflection on solitude. Much though I enjoy society, chatter gets in the way of observation. I love to sit and watch and not talk about it. This beach is humming in activity. The restless Black Browed Tern is fishing just offshore. A group of 4 Roseate Turns fly past in a very determined way just a few meters in front of me. I eat.
As soon it gets dark, dozens of big hermit crabs er, walk, crawl, is there a word in English for the movement of a big hermit crab?- from the mangroves to the beach in search of devilry. No phone, no internet, no electronics just time to sit and watch. I like this.
I am exhausted and as soon as it gets dark, around 8:00, I lie down on my yoga mat and fall asleep. I sleep outside. There seems not reason to go into a tent. It must be 30 degrees.
At 10:30 I jerk awake and hobble down to the boat. The seat is crashing into her stern! I succeed in dragging her round and then pull her out into the East China Sea. Hooray! Dileas is freed.
So, the plan is to anchor her offshore where she can ride through the night. I drag her out over the coral until the water is at my chin. There I drop the anchor.
A small diversion about stars. It is a dark, dark, night but over my head the sky is ablaze with stars. We rarely see this nowadays due to the light pollution from all our lights. What a tragedy. Standing shoulder-high in the warm East China Sea, looking up to a canopy of dazzling stars beats er, most stuff.
OK, Dileas is moored but coral is a terrible slasher of rope and indeed chain. What if the anchor rope is caught on coral growth and gently incised until, snap, she drifts off into the night?
I cannot see her from the beach. I cannot sleep. At 1:00 I swim out with my biking light that flashes very satisfactorily. I lash it to one of the side stays and swim back to shore. Stars and amazing lightning to the West. The lightning worries me. What if a storm charges through during the night and whisks Dileas away? Anxiety and sailing.
I lie on my mat, soaking wet but it is hot and so what as Dileas is flashing out there. I know she is OK.
At 2:30 I jerk awake and check on Dileas. I see no flashes! The rope is cut, she is half way to China. I immediately rush into the sea and swim out. Soon, thank God, I find Dileas but the wind has changed so she has turned on the anchor and the torch is flashing but no longer towards the beach but out towards Taiwan. I lash, with some difficulty, the torch to the anchor attachment on the bow of the boat . It is 2:45 and I am swimming. What makes all this possible is that the sea is delightfully warm. Could not do this in Scotland.
I get back to my mat and watch Dileas flashing reassuringly. I sleep, but experience something very strange. I am cold. At 5:00, I am awake and shivering. It is true that I am sleeping outside on a beach in soaked T-shirt and shorts but I never thought that I would feel cold.
Who cares, it is time to go. Dawn is rising as I load up and raise sail in a silent, windless morning. Can I get away from here? The tiniest zephyr pushes me away from the island into the wild and wistful ocean. Success!
Then, a soft but constant wind blows behind me and propels Dileas on a broad reach homeward.
By 9:00, I am close to home and all is well with the world. Then the wind fails. I spend 3 hours drifting, flapping around windless whilst in sight of my final anchorage. I did not bring a motor. This is dull. Wait. Did I say dull? Ok there is a finality about reaching home but frankly sitting in a boat a couple of miles off the coast of Okinawa in bright sunshine and remarkable coloration, is pretty good. It all comes back to watching.
Suddenly a wind introduces itself. Regrettably straight offshore. After hours of precise tacking, I get over the reef and get very close to my mooring but after 6 hours at sea I cannot bear the idea of a series of manoeuvres to make the last 30 metres to the buoy, behind which the breeze is blowing straight towards me.
I flop overboard and, on one leg, walk Dileas to our anchorage.
Quelle histoire! Next time I will bring a motor.