Searching for sea legs: an essay on sailing in the Maldives

21st November 2015

For whatever we lose (like a you or a me)

It’s always ourselves that we find in the sea

E.E. Cummings


Finding your sea legs takes a few goes. Stepping awkwardly off the jetty, you fear getting wedged between hull and dock. Your sense of balance flees. But then, up anchor and cruise, and you find there is something reassuring about that gentle rocking – that swaying cadence – which even the most faltering of steps are not immune to. The sea’s ageless rhythm creeps in through the toes from the hot timber deck, stripped of varnish by sun and salt. It loosens a foot’s excessive grip. It lulls the fear of falling.

You quickly learn the shapes of the boat. Stiff metal cables cut sharp triangles through the air. Taut, smooth rigging casts hard shadows upon the awning. Glossy, oblong buoys, anchors and piles of discarded shoes become the landmarks of a portable world. The secure camber of the bow mirrors the convex arch of the billowing sails. And in all directions, the world is sliced in half by the spirit level horizon.

Sails. That most ancient means of propulsion. The engine cuts off, the sails are hoisted and the wind claps them loudly into shape. Freedom. The wind was once the master of movement in this country. Its absence meant enforced inertia, its presence liberty. The vestiges of its tyranny are now undetectable. It is relentless hair in your mouth and gentle maelstroms round your ankles. It is instant relief on a sticky nape.

Forget all else. Let two legs dangle either side of the bowsprit and squint at the glamorous sea. Hold your breath. Dive, splash, swim, repeat. That full-body tired that only the sea brings allows half-sleep to creep in. Social graces amongst strangers evaporate and you curl like a church mouse at the stern.

Peace arrives inconspicuously. First in muscles and then in mind. Bodies stretch out and soften. Conversations slow, thoughts evaporate. A lullaby of hush, hush, hush as the hull parts the water expels all contemplations that are beyond the present.

Time passes differently at sea. The references are less familiar. Its indicators are colour and light. A fireball sun sits opposite a day moon. Afternoons stretch out endlessly but are met with abrupt, equatorial dusks. The water changes colour continually. At times, either side of the boat is a different ocean. Peacock indigo, charcoal grey, inky blue-black. Clouds configure, shift endlessly and settle into a faintly saccharine sunset.

Salty skin, knotted hair, tar on your shoes. A sailor’s legacy. Your heads swims as you finally walk on firm soil.

Your sea legs had found you and you hadn’t noticed.










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