Open water

Words by:
Maxim Griffin
Featured in:
October 2023

By Maxim Griffin.

A jetty projects into the river – blue rope – little boats in the silt of the Great Eau – he spent most the summer fixing up the Emily Play, a fibreglass Norwegian vessel built for fjords – she’s good for the channels – it’s sketchy out there – sandbanks, stumps and wrecks – you’ve got to follow the buoys to open water – the tide will be full of mackerel, glittering – it’s a good spot, Saltfleet Haven – quiet, out of the eyes of developers who would develop it. Mare’s tails begin to fall closer – safety protocol is gone through – here are the flares, supplies – life jackets on – two giddy sons wobble the boat from side to side and climb about the rickety planks fetching things from the car – sausage rolls and a couple of flasks of water. The water quickly rises –a thousand tangles of manky lashing are unbound – there is nothing formal in these tethers – the Emily Play moves under the weight of her crew and is pushed off with the shove of a child’s hand.

Curlew – geese due any day – long, luminous reeds – a van makes its way toward the beach north of the Haven – a blind eye is turned to overnighters – good – curlew – weird and Jurassic waders stalk the border of the brackish water – fella waves from his jetty – recognition – a face from town, window cleaner with a giddy Labradoodle – wave back, always wave back. There’s a tiny blue vessel already out in the channel casting an arrow-shaped wake – he got a nice little haul this morning and is heading out for more – on the grand horizon, a container ship catches the evening sun as though its hill were a cinema screen – a little fata morgana off the weird reaches of Donna Nook – the earth ripples.

Through the swell
Familiar landmarks look out of place, strange – Belmont and Stenigot control the yellow hills – the Emily Play picks up pace as the Eau broadens – the last spit of dune passes – fella with a dog waves – wave back – always wave – the sun is warm and the wind is in the hair. The Emily Play casts her wake and curls into the riddle of buoys and beacons – back in the medieval days they’d be hauling wool to Flanders from here, sometime troops to the Scottish wars. Things get bumpy – the Emily Play wallops through the swell – the weight of the North Sea under us and there deep still, Western Doggerland – radio chatter – a little gossip from the moorings, warnings on later weather, tomorrow’s tide – stay safe, be lucky – the radio clicks out – fella in the tiny blue vessel turns fast and zooms north with alarming speed – draft way above the sea, keel barely touching – he’s almost flying.

Open water – somewhere off Theddlethorpe – so to fishing, the English zen – rods are handed out – silvery lures and tiny hooks – the gulls know where the mackerel are – cast – splosh – wait – reel – nothing, repeat – the boys haven’t the patience but that’s fine – sometimes the act itself is more important, the little ritual. The Emily Play drifts south, Mablethorpe in sight – nothing biting – no matter – drifting, casting, waiting – a huge ship far away approaches the Humber – a tug on the line, a cautious wind of the reel – something thrashes below the surface, the life struggle, the death struggle – a single mackerel dangles and flaps – in the excitement, the reel twists too quick – he thrashes and is free – disappearing under the swell in a blink. Efforts renew, casting away – the sea settling as the tide reaches its zenith – still enough for a beaker of tea, a sausage roll – a gulls dives close – no doubt after the same prize.

The clouds are sending long shadows – teatime turns to early evening – golden light is a cliché perhaps but this light is golden – even at sea you can smell late summer – an hour ’til sunset – port of the Emily Play three little faces appear – alright seals – the come and go and come back again – always curious – there is some debate as to whether a sausage roll is a suitable offering – pastry, maybe – kiddo sends a crust seaward – on we bob, three seals tagging along.

History of ruins
We bob along – the bobbing continues – the boys have caned a large sack of jelly sweets between them and are both quiet and green – still no more bites – the adults are happy in their fishing zen, necking flask tea and in silent competition as to who looks the most Robert Shaw – kiddo pipes up – he’s gonna be sick – anywhere over the side of the boat is fine. Farewell and adieu to you fair Spanish Ladies – nausea passes, sea legs reclaimed, the seals still among us, mackerel elusive – the outer channels of the haven sparkle with mercurial light – a smart fellow would press play on ‘La Mer’ by Charles Trenet at this point.

Becalmed and quietly heading in over a history of ruins – there’s a Heinkel down there – the Try is under a beacon – you can touch it at low tide, all bare ribs and crabs – and there’s always been talk of the galleon, an armada stray that got done in by the sands. Tide’s still high – the half moon beach of Saltfleet is a plateau of mirrors, all upside down clouds and ebbing sun – it is a moment of extraordinary beauty – the seals don’t come any further – the big ships are over the horizon. A fella and his boy fish from a boat so small it could be a toy – a sailboat makes no sound, her captain reclined, a big dog stands panting, paws on the stern – there is no movement on the surface of the Great Eau and yet the Emily Play is drawn deeper in – curlew cross the delta and we are in every boat movie ever made – the sun dead ahead, no wake behind – moving with stillness – first geese of the season cross the border.

Soggy knots – things are done to cleats – the jetty wobbles with feet – on land – no fish, no matter – look – the red disc of the sun – look – the waders are feasting in the silt.

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