Lucy Baring longs to be back ashore.
It’s what we call a sloppy sea,’ says Nick, our skipper, as the flat-bottomed boat bounces from side to side and he makes the motion of a washing machine on a turbulent wash cycle with his hands. ‘She doesn’t know what she’s doing,’ he adds ‘but she’ll sort herself out.’ I nod with enthusiasm. We’ve only just begun.
Early in the morning, under grey skies with a nippy wind in your face, it all seems an exciting adventure. As the boat pings and then pongs over increasingly high waves, the mood continues to feel quite larky. When Nick cuts the engine and the rods go over the side and, within seconds, pollock, sometimes three on a line, are being heaved into the boat, all is going according to plan.
We chat, we laugh, we’re thrilled by the speed of the line going down and reeling it in, jiggling with fish. The small pollock are chucked back, along with sand eels. The bigger fish are kept for baiting lobster pots and any mackerel will be our lunch.
Fletcher the dachshund is the only party member who looks unhappy. He sits on my lap, shivering, whining and eventually subsiding into a state of subdued panic with his head resting on the side of the boat, staring balefully at the seagulls bobbing past us.
He hasn’t had a particularly happy holiday so far. Fletcher on the beach is the ultimate expression of anxiety. The sea, the seaweed and the other dogs so large and athletic and bouncy with their balls make him nervous. He’s anxious when we swim and stands in the shallows barking until we re-emerge. He relentlessly patrols an inc-reasingly large circle around our towels, so that the invisible line extends from 10 to 20 to 50 yards within which everybody is barked at.
He’s allowed on this beach, but not on the one next door. At low tide, they’re joined and I worry he’ll stray to the ‘dogs forbidden’ zone, although I don’t know how he would as he’s under my feet at all times. On High Alert.
The fish are filling the buckets so fast that they’re starting to flip out of them, having reached the brink. They land, flapping, at Anna’s feet, but, although she began the morning grabbing them and hurling them back, she’s now got her head between her knees and is rocking and possibly moaning.
The mood has altered, just like that. I’m not chatting and laughing. I’m concentrating very hard on the hills and the horizon. I notice bits of pollock in Fletcher’s hair. ‘Shall we move on a bit?’ Zam suggests. ‘There are a couple of very quiet people back here.’ The other member of the party is called Bones, a chef from Essex who says he never gets seasick. I receive this information in silence because I don’t care. I don’t care about anything.
I notice that we’re tantalisingly close to the shore and consider jumping overboard and swimming for it. The idea of being in the water and getting to a rock is infinitely preferable to the feeling I have right now. The only words in my head are ‘sloppy sea’ and I can’t shut them out.
‘Shall we do one more drift?’ Zam asks. Anna and I don’t answer. We don’t want to talk. We don’t want to be looked at either, which isn’t something Alfie or Zam or Bones seem to understand. And we especially don’t want to be looked at with sympathy. In order to up the mackerel quota, it’s decided we will do another drift.
As soon as the boat heads back to the estuary, where the water is calmer, I feel able to move my eyes a little. ‘Well, that was exciting,’ says Nick. ‘Never seen so many fish caught when you can hardly stand up.’ Zam and Alfie are beaming as they count the mackerel we’re having for lunch. A meal and a menu I can’t even consider.