The wind in St Vaast is a living presence. Stepping out of Joker’s amber cocoon, it howls around your ears and batters your body, pushing back as you press forward. As you step from the open quayside into the grey village it slackens, only to rush back and wrap your head in discordant chimes as you turn a corner. It’s been battering St Vaast without respite for the past six weeks. When the claustrophobia of the cabin gets too much, I stamp around in it until my face is pink icecream and the wind feels like an invisible crowd squeezing the breath out of me, screaming me deaf.
Now that April is here and the Easter holidays are upon us, the cobbled streets are full of English people. I’ve been struggling with loneliness over the past few months, wishing for a human encounter beyond polite GCSE-level stammerings in shops and bars. But now, in a cafe packed to the gills with Brits, I’ve no desire to say hello. Their talk is of shopping, wines and cheese. Gadgets the kids want. One family is updating their Facebook pages on their smartphones and bickering in the comments. They’re on holiday. Increasingly, I’m not sure why I’m here.
As regular readers will know, our planned journey South towards the Med on the good ship Joker has been beset by mechanical failures. We’re currently stuck in St Vaast-la-Hougue in Normandy. We’ve been waiting for the tides, the daylight and the wind and cold to coalesce into conditions that will enable us to dry Joker out again and try to fix her propeller. The wind has shown no signs of slackening for weeks. We’ve decided to spend the few hundred to haul her out of the water and onto hard standing for the repairs.
Meanwhile we’ve been on walks along the seashore and into some of the surrounding farmland. We’ve foraged mussels, winkles and a few stray oysters washed loose from acres of beds. We’ve eaten bladderwrack seaweed and I’ve picked up shells, stones and bones to make into jewellery. But we’ve spent much of it sheltering from the elements in our small cabin.
Having internet access makes this less boring and enables us to keep in touch with friends and family, research places to visit when we do get moving and keep up with news. But when we’re both plugged in, tapping away on our respective laptops, we may as well be anywhere. And that is frustrating.
Sam is a born schemer and tends to use his connected time more productively than I do. He’s inventing things, fixing websites, campaigning on Twitter.
Turning to Facebook for a taste of the banter and closeness I miss so much, I find myself skipping in an unfocused way among depressing and flippant articles linked to by friends. A cynical chuckle here, a gasp of outrage there. The past few days it’s been a barrage of rhetoric about inhumane Tory cuts, rape, feminism’s pedantic internecine battles, climate chaos and suffering all over the world. I always make the mistake of reading the comments.
The cumulative effect is hideous. I fret to escape, as though I were a battery hen forced into this hunched stare by a wire cage. Pecking away at information. Knowing it will hurt.
That’s when I leave the boat, and the wind takes me. It is powerful, clean, huge. It speaks with one voice, sounding like thousands. I’m pushed along the coast like the rest of the trash, seafoam slung across my back in white shocks of salt. I climb slick rocks piled high to form the bowl of marina, and face the sea. As darkness falls, the horizon turns jade green and the lighthouses flash out their warnings.
The wind tries to blow me away. And I want to go.