“Nothing much happening,” says the skipper as he climbs down the companionway. “Keep a 360-degree lookout, stay in the cockpit and come and get me if you are worried about anything.” The usual mantra.
He yawns and disappears into the comfort of our cabin. I heat up a bowl of noodles, waiting for my night vision to kick in. I check the radar and scan the electronic navigation aids before heading up. The cockpit is a cosy place illuminated only by the dimmed dashboard lights: wind direction, boat speed and compass. Scattered around are cushions, biscuits, binoculars, head torches and a Lonely Planet guide to India. Stars litter the sky. I settle in for the next few hours.
We have no strict system; we take our watches when the time suits us. My captain is a night owl, preferring to cruise through the blackness, trimming the sails and listening to the sounds of the sea. He will happily stay awake from evening till the wee small hours, while I sleep for England below. I am a lark; it works well.
For the first hour I am on full alert, scanning for lights and hazards. I conscientiously clamber up and down the companionway, checking the radar and our position. The boat creaks as the rigging does its job. The sails are taut in the warm, steady breeze. Even at this hour the air of the Arabian Sea is hot. I take off my T-shirt and sit in my swimsuit – I am already barefoot – and enjoy the feel of the warm wind softly brushing my skin.
I lie back and look up. There is no moon. We have sailed far enough south to see Scorpius crawling across the sky in its dazzling entirety, home to my favourite star, the fiery red Antares, “rival of Mars.” Beautiful. A small shooting star switches on and off for a second: blink and you’d miss it. I make a wish. The night wraps itself around me.
I catch myself nodding off. I stand and stretch, scrutinising the darkness. Nothing. I look over the side and watch the phosphorescence, startling against the black water. The yacht’s wake is a stream of brilliant tiny galaxies mimicking the sky.
At six the sun rises, bringing a kind of primeval relief. The weak light gives me back the horizon: sky and ocean are no longer an indistinguishable blackness. The world emerges from shades of grey to bursts of Turneresque pinks and oranges. Dolphins, already on the hunt, come to play in the waves formed by the boat. Ignoring my orders, I walk to the bow, calling to them. They look at me as they jump and dance; happiness incarnate.
Later on there is movement below and a furry blur rushes on deck. Our cat, locked in at night, blinks at the sun and begins her morning preening ritual.
“Kettle’s on!” shouts the skipper. Another day begins.
This piece won the Daily Telegraph weekly Travel Writing Competition.
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