There is a moment of panic as
he hauls his aching, fifty year old limbs, upright.
He almost falls from his bunk in his haste to get to the
porthole, naked, and stepping on the previous day’s discarded clothes.
The sudden movement inside causes his small, wooden, sailing
cruiser, The White Doe, to rock gently, sending ripples across the
Charlie also rocks gently with relief as he looks out and
remembers where he is. However, as his memory begins to function, the
relief is overshadowed by the recollection of why he’s here.
Then just as he is about to collapse back on to his bunk, with
its crumpled sleeping bag, he catches sight of her, framed in the
circular brass porthole.
Standing before him, a vision in white on the foreshore, she
is poised on one leg, ankle deep in a pool of seawater.
Her other leg is bent at the knee.
One golden yellow foot is raised, like a ballerina, frozen in
the act of tiptoeing.
She is gazing down, through the unbroken reflection of the
dawn sky, alone and still.
Her long slender black stockinged legs are delicate and pure,
save where an emerald pennant of seaweed trails.
Charlie is frozen in empathy with the intensity of her
The secret song of her beauty slips covertly and silently
through his eyes.
She seems like one touched by magic; surrounded as she is by
the crystalline beds of wet sand sparkling in the slanting sun.
Her dainty figure has the appearance of an innocent returning
from a sophisticated all night party, with her elegant long neck, long
feathery plume on her head and lacy white frill fluttering on her
His existence, his being, stands still in wonder, delight and
The moment becomes eternity and eternity the moment.
‘Ah, Isolt, loveliness personified. A wild angel of mortal
youth and beauty an envoy from the fair courts of life,’ he breaths.
Charlie had woken from a deep exhausted slumber.
Yesterday’s sail, along the North Brittany coast, had been
slow and tedious.
'Like Tristan, drifting in his rudderless boat,' he said to
He had been headed for L’Aber Wrac’h a familiar anchorage
further along the coast. However, the combination of strong tides,
light winds and a reluctance to use his engine, meant that it took him
most of the day to cover the twenty miles from Roscroff.
He had moored there the previous evening but hadn’t slept
well, despite being tired.
The noise and bright lights from the touristy town in August,
and his mind’s increasing unease at his pointless nice little life,
conspired to keep him awake.
So, yesterday, when the tide began to turn against him again,
he decided to head for the nearest refuge.
He had anchored, in this deep pool, behind a large outcrop of
pink granite topped with short dry sea grass and a clump of, wind
Now, that the tide had retreated, it was flanked by drying
sands and pools of stranded seawater on one side and the channel
leading to Brignogan Plage on the other.
For now this chance encounter with ‘Isolt‘, a little egret,
has momentarily lifted his mind above his discontent; his vague wish
for escape to some tropical Lake Isle of Inishfree with a bee loud
glade, to the land where corrals grow, anywhere away from this feeling
that his life had become futile.
For the moment he feels unheeded, happy and near to the wild
heart of life.
The early morning sunshine sparkling on the wet sands and
flashing off the rippling water is reflecting on the deck above his
head which, is already beginning to warm.
He is just reaching, with the familiarity of practice, for his
coffee pot, without taking his eye from the still figure of Isolt, when
suddenly the egret’s head darts forward.
The long tapered beak jabs through the mirrored surface.
The sunlight splinters, shards of flying crystal fill the air,
as she lifts aloft an eel; a black wriggling ribbon of high tensile
Wings stretched to balance, plumes fluttering, feet shuffle,
as a pas de deux with her reluctant partner begins.
Expertly she tosses her prize in her beak and drops him head
first down the dark tunnel of her gullet.
‘Ha, Tantris upturned,’ gasps Charlie, the coffee forgotten.
However, this wriggling, squirming prize is hard to swallow,
his head is already well down her throat, but his back end is still
thrashing the air.
With a demonic whiplash the dark, creature of the undersea
flings himself skywards then drops still thrashing back into the warm
bath of the pool.
The ballerina again freezes in mid step peering down as the
shattered surface stills, the sand settles and the ripples spend
themselves on the rim of the pool.
No sounds cross to Charlie even though the ballet is performed
just a few yards from his spy hole.
‘The still point of the turning world, except for the still
point there would be no dance, there is only the dance,’ thinks
Charlie, misquoting Elliot, as he catches his breath.
A crab scuttles sideways over the edge of the pool. His
blushing carapace low to ground claws tucked in, he makes for the
nearest rock. His yellow legs scrabble at the sand as he digs a hole
from which, to watch with beady eyes.
The sight of the crab reminds Charlie, of his entry, into his
bolthole, the evening before.
He only had very sketchy information on this little used
inlet. Nevertheless, closing with the coast he was able to pick out the
marker buoy at the entrance to the channel.
This lead from the translucent, calm blue water of open sea
between large pink granite boulders with a mortar of contrasting creamy
white sand between.
Going with his instincts but consciously fearful of the
outcome he dropped his sails and turned on Bessie, his trusty old
engine, then turned in towards the channel.
There was a tricky moment, as the tide was setting across the
Once in, the early evening sun cast deep shadows on his right
hand side as he threaded his way among the rocks.
The darker blue of the deeper water however, was easy to pick
out against the sandy shallows.
It was a pleasant surprise to be able to easily make it
through, accompanied by the popple of the engine echoing from the rocks
and the scent of the dry sea grasses, gorse and drying seaweed.
Once inside the inlet opened out into a small bay where a few
local fishing vessels were moored. At the end, several small boats
drawn up on the beach and the few scattered buildings of Brogan Plage
provided splashes of colour among the low bushes.
As he dropped the anchor, a faint aroma of cooking drifting
from the village reminded him of his own hunger.
He slopped a couple of tins of Sainsbury’s stew into a pan, to
warm on the galley stove while he tidied the sails and checked that his
anchor was holding.
The faded ‘Jolly Roger’ and the ‘My Little Mermaid’ pennant,
hung limply at the top of the mast.
Burning his mouth, he managed to eat half the stew straight
from the pan.
Then, he collapsed on to his bunk, just as the odd light began
to appear on shore and 'Mintaka', the jewel in Orion’s belt became
visible in the darkening sky above the rocks to the east.
The quiet was a welcome contrast to the crowded anchorage and
the noise and bright lights of Roscroff the previous evening.
Now, in the early morning light, there is no sign of movement
on shore, and only the faint hiss of the old unquiet ocean beyond the
rocks to disturb the stillness.
Then, suddenly, swiftly, the slim black harpoon of the egrets
beak strikes down.
Again, the eel, stranded in the pool by the receding tide, is
dragged out into the upper world of light and air.
Once again, the pas de deux for survival begins.
The eel fighting for his own, egret for the survival of her
chicks left behind in the nest, with her partner.
Once again, the little egret tosses the eel into her gullet.
Once again her throat seems to belong, not to her, but to become a
second skin for the squirming front end of the eel.
Again, the eel’s slime, a protection from the changing
salinity, helps him escape the dark, cloying warmth.
Charlie gasps, unsure if he is relieved for the eel or
grieving for the egret.
Again, the somersaulting eel plops into the shrinking pool.
Once more, there is a pause, the egret stills, watching, unwilling to
discharge her reluctant lover.
‘Let him go, let him go,’ thinks Charlie, ‘he’s too big for
you, you are being too ambitious.’
Charlie was probably being too ambitious when he set off on
this, his first real offshore trip alone.
His usual crew, Laura his wife and Craig and Sarah their two
children were off doing their own things now.
Charlie had been taken by surprise by Laura’s announcement
that she was going on holiday to Croatia with her friend Sibyl.
‘By the time you make up your mind where you want to go the
summer will be over.‘ Laura had retorted.
Two weeks with Sibyl, her huge hats, huge bottom, and even
larger voice, sounded to Charlie like a fate worse than death. However,
he had regretted his procrastination later when, he discovered that
their itinerary took in Diocletian’s Palace. He could almost picture
himself finally, reading his copy of Gibbon’s Decline and Fall, whilst
sitting among the ruins. He had carried it around Rome a couple of
years ago but still hadn’t opened it.
So finding himself with two weeks on his own and no plans, his
need for some sort of fulfilment, some purpose, took him down to the
old family cruiser moored on the Itchen.
Without any real goal, he took her out into the channel and
headed across the hundred and fifty odd miles of open sea from Plymouth
It was an anxious crossing watching out for shipping, while
the ‘Kraken’ of his discontent slumbered below the surface.
Now, a fly, woken by the morning sun, buzzes through the open
hatch bringing Charlie back to the present.
Just in time, to see the egret once again strike down with the
harpoon of her beak.
With an explosion of spray, she flicks the indignant eel back
up into the air.
Shock waves convulse his quicksilver body preventing the egret
from gaining a proper hold. Tiring now, she cannot maneuver him into a
She flutters her wings and virtually does an entrechat, but,
finally she loses him once again.
Then, just as Charlie thinks she is about to continue the
dance, she starts, a quick bend of the knees a flash of white wing and
she is gone.
The eel, gaining his freedom, squirms low in the sand to await
the returning tide. Charlie, the spell broken, looks around to see what
has disturbed the egret.
He sees movement on the periphery of his circular view.
It’s a dog weaving his absorbed way across the sands.
‘Hail, Dagonet the king of fools,’ exults Charlie, relived to
return to the everyday, the mundane world.
The dog sniffs a rock, lifts his hind leg, quickly pisses at
it, lollops, dawdles, smells another stone.
Pisses at an un-smelt clump of seaweed, then scrabbles at the
I am perfectly aware that the majority of Wooden Boat aficionados are sensible folk. However, I need to point out that I am an amateur wooden boat enthusiast simply writing in order to try to help other amateur wooden boat enthusiasts. And while I take every care to ensure that the information in DIY Wood Boat.com is correct, anyone acting on the information on this website does so at their own risk.