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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Have you seen this months copy of Lincolnshire Life Magazine? 📖 If not, you may have missed their feature on the Taste of Excellence Awards, including our very own Tristran Russell presenting the Best Farm or Local Shop to this years winner and finalists Doddington Hall and Gardens, Manor Farm Shops and Garden Centre, Leasingham , Nr Sleaford and Leagate Road Farm Shop, congratulations to you all! 🍾 #awardsceremony #awardsnight #magazinefeature ... See MoreSee Less