There is a woman sat next to me, in the middle seat. I am by the aisle, her husband is nearest the window. As the plane begins to descend, she opens her handbag, carefully takes out one of those small clear plastic banker’s bags, the kind people use to count up coins, filled to the top with golden wrapped Werther’s Originals. She removes two, hands one to her husband, keeps one for herself, pops the bag back into her handbag. The entire exchange is silent, well-practised. I imagine they have been married for years, at ease with each other and their mutually established routines. These snippets of other people’s lives that we witness.
The coach transfer from the airport. A new experience for me, a chattering resort rep, other Brits, families mostly, bound for a week at the resort or on the flotilla with us. I am only half listening as she chirps merrily away about contact cards and welcome drinks, kiddies’ tea in the restaurant until half past five. I am mainly staring out of the window at the passing Greek landscape, fields of olive trees, fields of goats, the animals huddled in patches of shade, oleander bushes with their dark leaves and splashes of pink flowers, the rocky hillsides, the azure sky. As we slow through the town before the resort, there is a low stone house shaded by a vine covered pergola. It is fronted by a wall, upon which sits a teenage boy. Talking to him, between the wall and the street, perched side-saddle on the bare rump of a glossy black horse, is another teenager, slumped shoulders and tanned skin, nonchalant as hell, despite the majestic beast beneath him.
We arrive travel-weary, heat-sticky. Waiting for the boat to be ready, we swim in the sea off the resort beach. The water is cooler than the air, but not by much. Later, the fine hairs on my upper arms are salt crusted.
At night I can’t sleep. We bed down in separate cabins because of the heat, all the hatches open. I drift off, doze fitfully, wake with a jolt at any sudden noise. There are many, and they are amplified by the hollow shell of the boat, their source distorted by the water. I imagine intruders, and long for the reassurance of his body next to mine. It doesn’t help that I am reading Rebecca Solnit’s book of essays: Men Explain Things to Me, full of devastating statistics about male on female violence. My subconscious races away conjuring horrible scenarios, won’t let me rest easy.
During the day it is just the two of us, and Ola, our boat. The odd crackle of the radio, other vessels comparing locations and mooring spots. Islands nearby steep sided and tree covered, or smudges of blue on the horizon. The sky and the sea, boats in the distance, the occasional bird. Plastic bottles tied together bobbing on the surface, marking lobster pots. If you asked me the sequence of events that has led me to being one half of a crew on a sailboat in the South Ionian I could tell you of course, but it would still seem strange to me. I don’t really know what to do, or what half his instructions mean, but he is clear and calm with them, and I am learning. I can tie a few knots, and do a decent job of steering so I feel halfway useful. I don’t pretend to understand the physics of the wind, or what leads a life to track down this path or that.
On the water, the blue is all encompassing. Above, below, in all its many shades. I have a sudden urge to immediately re-read Maggie Nelson’s Bluets, but content myself with repeating her opening words: Suppose I were to begin by saying that I had fallen in love with a colour…
One afternoon he shouts my name, followed by
“Left! LEFT! ROCKS!”
I have been carefully avoiding the outcrop of the coastline so this feels unexpected, a slur on my skills at the helm. But I see what he is pointing at, a brown mass, breaking the surface of the blue. I swerve, annoyed that I hadn’t spotted the danger, that I am being told how to steer, just when I thought I was mastering it. And then, a fraction of a second later, like a kaleidoscope shifting, the mass alters, reforms, not rocks but a sleek, plump, seal. The largest bit of sea life we have seen so far, and the only mammal, though another boat reported dolphins. It feels a bit like magic, the way the fear of a ruptured hull morphs quickly into elation at spotting this creature.
Moored on Ithaca, mythical Ithaca, and it is beautiful. We have swum, showered, feasted on seafood, made conversation through dinner with a lovely Scottish couple, who fill their retired days with sailing. I am feeling claustrophobic and tetchy though. The combination of the organised fun of the flotilla, the group dinners, the rafted boats jostled up side by side with every conversation at risk of being overheard by the neighbours is beginning to feel smothering. Claustrophobic and tetchy, and unable to articulate it to him. He falls asleep as soon as we return to the boat, sun-stroked and exhausted from hauling ropes all day. I sit by myself on deck in the darkness, looking out over the water to the concert taking place on the other side of the quay, the strung-up fairy lights reflecting on the water’s surface, music drifting out to me in snatches, saxophone and song. Snores from below. The strangeness of feeling so claustrophobic, and yet also so alone.
One day we are port bound because of high winds. Freedom of a different kind to being on the water. A whole day to ourselves, to do exactly as we please. We sleep late, emerge into the bright sunshine. Hire the rental shop’s last available moped. Pack a rucksack with paper bags of flaky spanakopita, a bunch of grapes. Drive out to a tiny crescent bay, sheltered by arms of land, pale grey pebbles, clear turquoise sea. Read our books in the hot sun, eat our picnic, swim. Later, we pack up our things with a mind to visit the monastery on one of the island’s highest points. Drive north along the spine of the island, climbing higher and higher, road twisting back on itself, then back again. The wind buffets us aggressively as we climb and climb. I cling on, fearful. At the top, the monastery, pine trees, whipping wind. A tower, panoramic views of the island and the bay. The sea below is full of agitated movement, cresting white horses visible even from this height. A few moments of relief from the elements in the dark wooded chapel, air thick with the scent of beeswax and incense. The descent is only marginally less terrifying than the climb, a startled mountain goat bounding into the road, then away, then back across in frenzied confusion. The exhilaration of the safe return. How sweet the beers in iced glasses taste as we sit through the evening briefing, how sweet it feels to be alive.
On the final day of sailing we pause to moor in a small bay, swim from the boat to the shore. Sit for a while in the sunshine on the sand, a small white church on the hillside behind us. The resort is straight across from us, just a few nautical miles. We return to Ola and lift anchor, prepare her for our last sail. The wind is soft but steady, and almost directly behind us, no need for tacking. We make the sail large, let the wind catch it and push us gently across the bay. Eat lunch on deck as we drift towards our destination. Later there will be drinks back at the resort, a wander into town for an evening meal, a night on the moored boat and a day of water sports before our flight. We still have all of that to come, but at the same time, in the quiet without the motor and the silence between us, with just the soft wind and the high afternoon sun, the dark green ridge of land moving slowly closer, it is already over.
Rebecca Clark has a 9-5 desk job but often wishes that she were a full time writer with a shed at the bottom of her (imagined) garden where she could write all day. She is a born, raised and currently-residing north Londoner, who remains fiercely loyal to that side of the river. She is a sporadic blogger and a prolific Instagrammer, documenting with photos and words her London life, things she cooks, places she visits, bodies of water she swims in, and books she has read. She has written for Dear Damsels and Lucy Writers Platform. Find her at http://teacupscupcakes.blogspot.com/.