The Birds

Joshua Slocum, on his solo voyage around the world, looked up into the cockpit one dark and stormy night and saw the pilot of Drake’s ship The Pinta at the wheel.

Jean Le Carn in the Vendee Globe Race held his sister in his arms – and woke up hugging a sail bag.

Hallucinations, when you’re alone at sea, are not unusual.

Feeling someone touch the back of your neck, however, on only the second night of a passage from Falmouth to Caernarfon – especially when pushed by northerlies into that empty gap between the Smalls and the Tuskar Rock separation schemes where there’s just nothing but empty sea (and on this occasion, not a breath of wind) – well, something’s up…

I’d had nothing to do for the past 18 hours but sleep and read and sit in the cockpit drinking coffee and watching some tiny land-birds flutter about the boat and try to balance on the guardrails…

So this was just plain creepy… but there: It happened again, just as I was pouring hot water into the pot: A feather-light touch on the back of the neck…

That was when I realised that the birds – having given up on the guardrails – were now in the cabin: Six of them whizzing about like rockets, exploring. It was a scene from Hitchcock.

Then they got into the fo’c’sle which, now it’s turned into The Shed, full of sails and the bike and the dinghy and the new enormous ball fender – well, it’s easy for a small bird to get lost in there – and start panicking.

With all six of them simultaneously bouncing from off the chandlery and banging their heads on the windows, they didn’t do much for my state of mind either. I got in there too and started waving my arms about and shouting.

In the end, of course, we all calmed down enough to take some pictures. One of them perched on my hand and even allowed me to carry him to the companionway and toss him into the sky like Noah and dove.

I hope he made it back to land (he hasn’t re-appeared with an olive twig). Another made a nest in the cockpit with a couple of non-slip mats for a cushion. He was gone by the morning. It was only then that I found another had settled down beside the petrol can. Maybe it was too cramped down there to spread his wings. I don’t know. Anyway, he was dead in the morning.

I gave him a sailor’s burial complete with a short prayer appropriate to a poor dead bird. I’ve no idea what he was. Maybe there’s a twitcher out there who can help…

3 Responses to The Birds

  • Sailing once along the ICW around Perdido, saw a small bird swiming toward me. Picked it out of the water and after it had rested and dried out, it took off again…landing short of the shore. Again in the water, I sailed over and picked it out again. It waited this time until I was close to shore and took off for the trees. The hard part was keeping my two dogs quiet and down below.

  • The only person who has spoken to me on solo voyages was me (and I’ve never won an argument yet!).
    The birds are Swallows on passage from Africa to more northern climes. Apparently the Egyptians are setting miles and miles of nets to trap them by the tens of thousands as a delicacy.
    If true then monstrous!
    Better to be swept north outside The Smalls than inside. Been there, done that and didn’t like it – although I missed the hard bits.
    Good sailing John.
    PS, the swallows can often carry some nasty little tick like creatures, best check they haven’t left you a present.

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