Drawing Waterwitch Michael Fitzalan


Soon we were free from the swamp and out into the open sea. We held our course south, southeast for an hour, before tacking back and heading east into the true entrance of Olhao. Then, we clipped along merrily and within three hours we could see the navigation lights of the harbour, red and green, lit even in the dusk, that demarcated the entrance to the harbour. We had had lunch on the move. I was galley boy and made some salami sandwiches with slices of cheese, each sandwich being a quarter of the remaining stick of bread, which was hardening nicely.Waterwitch 

We were allowed to use the rest of our fresh provisions as our destination was so close. There was still some hard cheese left and we had tinned food to keep us going for three weeks. My brother ate his sandwich at the helm and I ate mine sitting on the windward side, spray splashing my face. I had brought out two beers and we clamped the bottles between our knees as Waterwitch lurched determinedly through the rising breakers. This was sailing.

It was a little overcast now, but it was fairly warm. The wind was not icy but we wore our anoraks.

We had not quite made Olhao by lunchtime but we still had six days until my other brother came to join us for the trip from Portugal to Gibraltar. The wind continued to daunt us. We made swift progress on one tack and then scant progress on the next. Eventually, at about three o’clock, we were preparing for our final approach to the harbour. It would entail sailing up a wide channel to the north-west of the harbour and then turning about and heading for the harbour, passing the entrance on the same tack and heading for the island, perhaps making several small tacks on our passage there.Waterwitc

All we could see was the harbour wall and getting there was our objective. Once we were past we would set another course. I took the helm. The salt air made my lips dry, so I licked them, enjoying the saline flavour. My arms felt more burnt than brown. They had not stung like this in harbour, but I looked at my arms and could see a dusting of dry salt on them. The wind was cool enough to make the blond hairs stand on end.

It was bizarre, my arms were hot, but I still had goose pimples, salted goose bumps.Water

‘Now you see that buoy on the port side, the red one at eleven o’clock? Set a course for that,’ the Captain told me.
Ever dutiful, I steered for that buoy, aimed the bow of the boat right at it and kept the tiller swaying slightly against the waves. We were heeling over slightly with the wind. My brother felt we could use a better jib, a racing one for our dash past the harbour and so he went below to rummage around. I saw the hatch above his cabin open. Before leaving he had told me we were doing five knots and that the compass reading showed a bearing of 355 degrees. I looked down at the compass, up at the buoy and eased us back from 345 to 356 degrees to compensate.

The buoy started to disappear off and along the port bow, so I pushed the helm gently away from me. We hit several waves and then the compass read 343 degrees and the buoy had disappeared behind the bow. I pulled the tiller gently towards me and we started to head along at 355 again.

For ten minutes, I kept her on course. My brother’s head poked up through the hatch again.

‘Are we at that buoy yet?’ he asked. Waterwitch 

‘Getting nearer,’ I replied.

It had seemed like we were getting nearer, but in fact we weren’t. I couldn’t believe that it had taken so long. Perhaps our speed was not correct. It showed three knots. The wind had dropped noticeably, or had I just got used to the howling and flapping in my ears? My brother fed the bright racing jib through the hold and on to the deck. I knew what his question was and I hated to give the answer -we were no closer to the buoy now.

‘Oh, you bloody idiot!’ he cried from inside. I was glad I was there for him to take his frustration out on, as glad as I was that I had not booked a flight to Kenya.

‘Can’t you do the most simple thing? All I asked you to do was steer for that buoy.’

‘But I am steering for the buoy, our course is still 355.’

‘Then why aren’t we there?’

‘I don’t know.’

In fact the tide was going out at the same speed as we were sailing in. We were stationary as a result.

Written by Michael Fitzalan

Michael Fitzalan’s first novel gained cult status and here are some others: Waterwitch was a hit with those who have ever sailed; two brothers battle storms and Spanish support for the Malvinas in an attempt to meet up with their girlfriends in Ibiza. They have to get from The Algarve to Ibiza, all very straightforward until engine failure and storms threaten to sink all their plans. The Taint Gallery tells the story of a modern Romeo and Juliet; the story is set in Cheslea and Fulham, not Verona, nevertheless, it is a doomed relationship. The book was shunned by big publishers for its highly charged and graphic sexual content and the small publisher who produced the book folded, copies are rare. A reprint is planned for its twentieth anniversary next year; it is still as pertinent and shocking today as it was back in 1996. Switch is an amazing mixture of Franz Kafka realism yet it reads like a Raymond Chandler thriller. Joe Ederer falls for a French girl but he is recovering from being dumped by his English girlfriend. A fish out of water in London, he chases her home only to be rejected. He hooks up with a suffocating drug addict and that is when his nightmares begin. Major Bruton’s Safari is the story of innocents abroad; a family invited to celebrate the coronation of the Kabaka of Buganda become indoctrinated into the ways of Africa. With an acerbic observer on hand, the family experience the warmth and ways of Uganda that help them to understand themselves a little better. IPG – Innocent Proven Guilty is about a teacher, Philip Hayward whose brother sold their shared flat and ran off to America with the proceeds. Philip bumps into his brother’s ex-girlfriend and she tells him his brother is back. Racing to the address she gave him, he arrives to find his brother with a knife in his back. As he leaves, his shoes leave bloody footprints and the police come looking for him. Carom – Finn McHugh and his team take on a swindler and smuggler, Didier, who is depraved in so many ways. They know he is smuggling art and drugs; he must be stopped before others take him out. The Cubans, want him dead, Finn wants to break the smuggling ring. Who will win? Remember the Fifth November – Guy Fawkes was innocent, Catesby was a broken man who brought his children up in the Anglican faith, yet Robert Cecil arranged for them to be portrayed as terrible villains. With a spy service second to none and with moles everywhere how could someone hatch a plot like this and fail to be discovered? The answer, they could not. Read the truth! One – Bullying does not go on anymore in schools. I would not bet on it. Weep as you read the terrible story of a school bully and the misery he dispenses to all the boys. Then, cheer as one of his victims takes revenge. Take a trip to a prep school in a time when kids built tree houses, danced and swung on Tarzan ropes!

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