from “Jagular’s North Channel Adventure” by Tom Pamperin
Morning brings a gentle breeze and a few white clouds moving slowly through the sky like scattered sheep. The sun climbs slowly above the horizon and the rough granite of Africa Rock seems brighter than it did yesterday, the wide waters to the south calm and inviting. Moods are built of such small things: darkness and waves, morning sunlight and blue skies. Today even the gulls seem lively and bright as they wheel through the air above us.
But the deer skull at my feet seems to stare up at me as if it knows something I don’t. I’m trying not to pay attention. For the next forty miles we’ll be sailing along the rockbound coast that forms the northern edge of the North Channel. The chart shows clusters of asterisks and crosses and dots liberally sprinkled all along the shore, a long belt of markings that represent rocks—shoaling, half-submerged rocks that lie hidden among the waves like sets of jagged teeth. My copy of Well-Favored Passage describes this stretch of the North Channel as “inadvisable for small boats without sufficient power to cruise at least ten to fifteen miles an hour.” There it is, right on page twenty-three. Inadvisable for small boats. All along I’ve been secretly dreading this part of the journey, and now here we are. Without a plan, as usual.
“The ship was the pride of the American side…” Jagular sings softly, his voice trailing off into an ominous silence.
“You’re not helping.”
“We could head offshore and hop from island to island.”
“Sure,” I tell him. “Four miles south to Thessalon Island, then ten miles east to Bigsby, and another five to West Grant. Long stretches of open water with big fetches and God knows what kind of storms brewing up, just waiting to sock it to us when it’s too late to turn back.”
“Maybe. But I’d rather try the islands than those rocks,” Jagular says.
“Well, I’m the captain, and I’d rather be close enough to shore that we can get to a beach if we need to. Besides, when did you get so daring, anyway?”
“Since you started wanting to do things that are so inadvisable,” the boat mutters. “It’s not your bottom that’s going to get chewed up on those rocks on the way in.”
“It might be,” I tell him.
It’s a beautiful day, though, and it won’t do any good to wait around hoping that things won’t get worse. Things always get worse eventually. It’s just a question of how long we have until that happens. Time to get moving. I stow the tent aboard, snap a photo of Jagular in the bright sunlight, and then with a quick slide down Africa Rock’s rocky ramp, we’re launched and underway. I look at my watch, hanging from a strap under the starboard side deck. 7:02 a.m. I row out a few yards and hoist the sail.
We drift around for a while as usual, trying to work our way southeast on a close reach. Overhead the sail flops lazily back and forth. I get a good long look at Africa Rock behind us. The gulls are squawking and fluttering above it, rising into the sky and diving back down as if the rock is a bloated carcass they’ve returned to feed on. Up ahead, three or four miles east, the long snout of Thessalon Point marks our progress. Sometimes it looks closer. Sometimes it looks farther away. Finally I take down the sail and start rowing.
Two and a half hours later we pull into the shallows just off Thessalon Point. When I check the chart I see that we’ve only come six or seven kilometers.
“That’s not even five miles,” I tell the boat, running through the conversion in my head. “At this rate we’ll never make it.”
“You should have rowed faster.”
“Well, I’ve rowed enough, anyway,” I say, and hoist the sail again. Slowly it spreads out and catches what little wind there is, a faint northeast breeze. I turn us to starboard and we’re sailing, heading southward into the open water. I tie off the self-steering lines and let the tiller mind itself.
Excerpt from Tom Pamperin’s new book. Signed copies available here.