The sun burst over the horizon, the cliff’s stood in awe of her beauty, splendorous rays crashed like violent tides over the world.
Seconds seemed like minutes, minutes hours and hours days. Finally, he’d be able to escape the biting of boredom and loneliness.
The sunlight pierced both the windows and his eye lids. The front door sung.
Jack heard murmuring voices in Uncle James’ kitchen, intrigued, he tip-toed down the corridor, his feet falling like feathers on fresh snow. The oak flooring let out a long groan despite Jack’s caution. There was a pause in the conversation downstairs. Jack knew he’d been discovered.
As he turned the corner into the kitchen, he found Laurus and Uncle James at the table.
‘Master Webley, I trust you’re well!’ Laurus exclaimed.
‘We couldn’t have picked a better day to go out to, it’s truly beautiful out there.’
‘Quite’ agreed James.
‘The first time I sailed it seemed the waves were out to sink us, rather exhilarating I can’t deny, alas, absolutely terrifying at the same time!’
‘Don’t just stand there Jack! Come and eat, you’ll need all the energy you can get for today, it’s very draining work.’
Jack sat and ate, nerves and excitement flowed through his body, completely impeding his appetite.
‘The Countess is anchored out at sea, some of the crew and Mirabelle are going to bring the rowboat out and collect us, it’s a two hour walk to get down to the coast, so we best get moving.’
Jack had been silent for the majority of the trek. The air was filled with the moving harmony of chirping birds, rustling leaves and the salty heaviness of the sea breeze. The coast had always been calling for Jack, and for the entirety of his life, he’d been yearning to answer.
As the path began drawing closer to the cliff edge, the thickets that had accompanied the party along the journey began waning. There on the ocean laid the Countess. Every detail was exactly as Jack remembered and his heart began to thud with emotion.
‘Down here’ Laurus gestured pointing to a cranny which disappeared down through the cliff.
‘I was quite pleased to have found this passage down to the bay below, makes getting up and down far more expedient, though Mirabelle would hotly contest it’s expedience on the way up’ he laughed.
‘Her scepticism isn’t unwarranted Laurus, I have to say I’d also question your definition of expedience and short cut’s after what happened on the Straits of Bonifacio!’
‘James, we’ve had this conversation many times, we’ll never know which route would have been faster. How could you be so ungrateful, to see such beautiful landscape is a gift’
‘I’d hardly call almost being shipwrecked a gift’ James laughed.
‘Well, we’re both still alive and kicking, no permanent damage as you can see Jack’ Laurus winked at him.
Through the tall, narrow and dark canyon an opening to the shoreline finally presented itself. The waves danced back and forth with the pebbled banks; the perfect synchronicity of sound only broken by the cacophonous screeches of gulls.
Mirabelle and a short, stout older man walked over. His skin told stories, leathered and well-worn, his jet-black eyes had infinite depth.
‘Jack, it’s good to see you again’ Mirabelle said with a kind smile.
‘This is our 1st mate, Silvio, he’ll be teaching and looking after you when you’re on deck.’
‘Bonjourno, signore, it’s a pleasure’
Jack was baffled, he’d never heard anyone speak like this. The words flowed in a poetic manner, nothing like the provincial English he was accustomed to.
‘Pleasure to meet you.’
The company boarded the clunky wooden boat, Silvio took one oar and handed Jack another. Jack watched as Silvio’s blade sliced the waves effortlessly, his rowing motion powerful and graceful. For Jack it wasn’t so easy, his oar slamming and glancing off the surface on most strokes. Every so often the water seemed to embrace the stroke, only to consume it, viciously trying to engulf the oar and drag the boat to the murky abyss below.
‘Jack, balance is the key’ Silvio said calmly.
‘You mustn’t fight or force when you row, move with the ocean, she’s trying to guide you. Feel the motion of the waves, when you feel the time is right, then move your oar and allow it to flow, don’t pull to hard.’
Jack nodded and tried to quiet his mind. The tide ripped underneath the vessel and they bobbed, Jack struck but again his oar hacked at the sea. His frustrations began bubbling in his chest.
James and Laurus were chit chatting, whilst Mirabelle had caught onto his frustrations.
‘It’s okay, everyone struggles first time around’ she said with a kind smile.
‘Listen to Silvio, move with the ocean and don’t try too hard.’
‘But I did move with it’ he sighed ‘I felt it pull but oar keeps splashing off’
‘You’re pulling too hard, keep your eyes in mine and when I say, row your oar very gently, concentrate on me’
He nodded and locked eyes with Mirabelle, nerves filled his stomach, and his body began to lockup with tension.
‘With me now Jack …. Ready, and pull.’
Jack’s body let go and flowed, he was fixated on the connection between him and Mirabelle’s deep brown eyes, his tension lost in the depths of her pupils. The oar moved effortlessly, the body of water now greeted the blade with familiarity and ease.
‘And… pull’ she said, gently smiling, their eyes still bound together. Jack had hardly noticed that Mirabelle had stopped telling him when to row. It was only when Mirabelle broke eye contact that he snapped back into himself and realised how far out they had rowed. He turned his head to see the Countess towering over them and his feelings returned.
‘That’s how it’s done’ Mirabelle smiled.
He couldn’t help but let out a large grin, Silvio let out a small chuckle.
‘Here we are! Excellent work Jack, clearly a natural’, shouted Laurus.
A voice called down over the gilded beams of the ship, shortly followed by two heavy ropes dropping from wooden cranes. The small tender now lay side by side with the Countess, James and Mirabelle moved to the stern and grabbed onto the wooden ladder, climbing aboard the boat.
‘We’re going to attach these ropes to the bow and stern of the boat, those cranes are called davit’s and it’s how we get the boat on and off the Countess.’
Silvio handed Jack one of the hooks and ordered him to attach it to the rusty metal eye at the bow. Once it had been clipped Silvio whistled up and the ropes strained until they began ascending to the deck of the Countess.
They clambered out of the boat and Laurus welcomed Jack aboard. Laurus called for the crew to gather on the main deck. Jack expected them to line up in an ordinary, somewhat regimental manner for introductions however each member occupied a very different space.
On the oak stairs sat Yusuf, who’s hair and eyes were as dark as night, he wore a beautiful yellow and green bandana that had an unmistakable quality to it and was certainly not woven in England.
Sinking into the ornate beams was Lucía, her long fair hair flowed freely in the light breeze, her fiery blue eyes pierced straight through Jack.
Standing in the middle of the deck was Florian. He was bald, stood tall as a mountain and his muscles bulged like great rocks.
From up the main mast called Yamato, his voice was sharp and purposeful, he sat amongst the rope shrouds which shadowed the masts, looking all too relaxed for someone 20 feet off the ground.
Last was Ramesh – he preferred to go by the name Ram. He was an extremely lanky fellow and donned a beautiful orange turban, always bearing an infectious smile and equally infectious laugh.
Quite a bunch of misfits. Jack felt a sense of belonging for the first time.
From the quarter deck behind the ship’s wheel Laurus’ voice boomed.
Silvio beckoned Jack over. ‘You act like my shadow, anything I do you follow. Andiamo!’
Everyone rushed to a small opening in the main deck, down a small flight of stairs and took their places around a wooden structure with beams protruding - the capstan.
Each crew member took their place on a separate beam. A momentary calm filled the room, Jack’s spine tingled with the creaking and straining of the rigging above.
Everyone took the strain, Jack did as Silvio had told him and dug in, preparing to push. Silvio barked a word Jack didn’t understand and in an instant the crew woke up, muscles tightening, sweat dripping and blood boiling. They began circling the wooden pillar, rope began coiling it like a snake constricting its prey. Jack’s head was pounding, it had felt like an eternity since they’d started pushing. Every few minutes Yamato and Ram disappeared down the boat at lightning speed only to return and begin pushing with relative ease. Ram’s laugh gave Jack momentary relief, how could someone have the energy to maintain such a sense of humour coupled with such a draining task. It was like having two Hummingbirds aboard.
‘Ram take Jack!’ Silvio ordered.
Ram flew over and grabbed Jack’s arm and ripped him from the Capstan. His body gave way, and was sucked to the floor, his body exhausted he clung to the deck like a barnacle.
‘Off we go!’ he said, smiling with a slightly mad glint in his eye. He heaved Jack up and they rushed to the other end of the deck, following what seemed like a never-ending strain of string.
Yamato’s voice sounded from a hatch below yelling at Ram to hurry up, followed by some language Jack had no idea how to piece together.
‘Nipper, where the rope is attached at the end there by the hatch, untie them and feed them down to Yamato’.
Jack didn’t have the energy to reply so just nodded, where on earth did Ram pull the name Nipper from? Perhaps he was just slightly insane…
‘Good work Nipper, not bad for a first timer! Now back to the Capstan!’
He was completely sapped of energy, hands bloodied and blistered, he stumbled back down the deck.
As he trudged back, Uncle James cried out for a shanty and the crew shouted in agreement.
James: Now we are ready to head for the horn!
Crew: Weigh hey, Roll and go!
James: Our boots and our clothes, Boys, are all in the pawn to me,
Crew: Rollickin', Randy Dandy-O!
All: Heave a pawl, O heave away
Weigh hey, roll and go!
The anchor's on board, And the cables all stored
To be rollickin' Randy Dandy-O!
James: Oh, man the stout capstan and heave with a will,
All: Weigh, hey, roll an' go!
James: Soon we'll be drivin' her 'way down the hill,
All: To be rollickin' Randy Dandy-O!
With renewed spirit Jack pushed on, the song filling him with energy. Not too long after, the serpentine rope had completely engulfed the capstan and much to his relief, the anchor was up.
The crew made their way up to the main deck, out of musty wooden confinement, back into the cleansing open air. Silvio approached Jack with some cloth for his cut hands.
‘It’s hard work the first few times around.'
‘Why didn’t you just give me the bandages before?’ Jack queried, holding his hands up as his blood began permeating the cloth.
‘It’s important to wear your hands when you start, if you want to sail your skin will have to thicken, or this keeps happening, cloth or not.’
He nodded in acknowledgment.
‘Just know anything I tell you to do has a purpose, trust in me. It will take time for you to learn, it will be both testing and painful. But know this, there’s no freedom like losing yourself to the wind, tide and temperament of the seas.’
He then attached a rope to Jack’s waist and ordered him to climb the shroud.
As he rose to the top of the mast with the help of Yamato. He paused and drank in the view. White horses caressed the hull. The sun danced on blue crests. Briny air filled his lungs. Silvio's voice rang in his head. Freedom.
'Unfurl the main sails', ordered Laurus.
Yamato and Ram guided Jack through the rigging. The sail gracefully fell before catching the light breeze.
The Countess moved to action.