Coming round the corner onto the road between the seafront and the marine lake, I saw that we were being overtaken by a ship with a familiar name on the side. "Oh, can we pull over?" I asked Mal, reaching for my camera. Things then got complicated, with a confusion of pedestrians and a car right behind us, and a tangle of bags and microscooters around my legs. There was just time to see that a litter bin was in the way of the shot, as the Huelin Endeavour disappeared round Battery Point, inbound for Avonmouth.
"We got pranged by a Huelin Renouf boat, once", I told her, as we climbed the steps to the grassy bit by the headland, where the sign asked us to please be AWARE of OPEN badger holes. "It was in St Helier, and blowing a hoolie. The Huelin boat cast off and got blown across the harbour, right at us. We crash started the main engines so we could use the bow thrusters. They made a big dent in the side. I think their skipper was just about to retire, or something. Maybe he'd been partying."
Several blokes with sensible jackets and large cameras were coming down the steps. "Crikey, ship spotters!" We pursued Guy, May, Asher and Pig the dog, who had galloped far ahead, heedless of badger holes.
Returning a little later, we saw that the camera chaps had reconvened, so we went over to see what further excitement was on offer. Pierhead Pete was the most informative. He showed Mal his handheld device; "There's the City of Mumbai, see; she's in the lock at the moment, but... no, move your hand... when the colour changes, that means she's underway and should be here about five minutes after that."
As we waited, Mal and young Asher scrambled down through the lush Alexanders that grew around the meadow, onto the jagged rocks round which a flood tide was rushing furiously. "Don't go too near the edge," May called, unheeded. Presently, City of Mumbai came by. Asher waved; the deckhands, ascending from the forecastle winches and heading for a cup of tea in the mess, paused, and gave a big wave back. They were a long way from home.
I remembered the autumn of 2002, as we neared the end of a summer's working out of St Malo on Condor 10. It was an early morning departure, the sea was calm with a little smoky wisp of mist, an early autumn chill in the air. I'd come up from the engine room as we pulled out of the harbour, and watched Condor Vitesse coming in. The engine room chaps over on the Vitesse were leaning over the rail too, and we exchanged waves, too noisy to call across. It was good being there, being part of that loose floating community, sharing that dawn.
Measure the days you have left. Do just that labour
Which marries your heart to your right hand: simplify
Your life to one emblem, a sail leaving harbour
And a sail coming in...
Derek Walcott, Omeros