A Description of a Sailboat Setting Out, by Erskine Childers

This excerpt is taken from Riddle of the Sands, “the classic spy thriller” by Erskine Childers. A beautiful bit of descriptive writing which captures the exhilaration of starting out on a sailboat journey. Childers, later in his life, took part in the Irish rebellion and was executed by firing squad.

“Soon the anchor was up (a great rusty monster it was!) the sails set, and Davies was darting swiftly to and fro between the tiller and jib-sheets, while the Dulcibella bowed a lingering farewell to the shore and headed for the open fiord. Erratic puffs from the high land behind made her progress timorous at first, but soon the fairway was reached and a true breeze from Flensburg and the west took her in its friendly grip,. Steadily she rustled down the calm blue highway whose soft beauty was the introduction to a passage in my life, short, but pregnant with molding force, through stress and strain, for me and others.

Davies was gradually resuming his natural self with abstracted intervals, in which he lashed the helm to finger a distant rope, with such speed that the movements seemed simultaneous. Once he vanished, only to reappear in an instant with a chart, which he studied, while steering, with a success that its reluctant folds seemed to render impossible. Waiting respectfully for his revival I had full time to look about.  The fiord here was about a mile broad. From the shore we had left the hills rose steeply, but with no rugged grandeur; the outlines were soft; there were green spaces and rich woods on the lower slopes; a little white town was opening up in one place, and scattered farms dotted the prospect.  The other shore which I could just see, framed between the gunwhale and the mainsail, and as I sat leaning against the hatchway, and sadly missing a deck-chair, was lower and lonely, though porosperous and pleasing to the eye.

Spacious pastures led up by slow degrees to ordered clusters of wood, which hinted at th presence of some great manor house. Behind us, Flensburg was settling into haze.  Ahead, the scene was shut in by the contours of hills, some clear, some dreamy and distant. Lastly, a single glimpse of water shining between the folds of hilsl far away hinted at spaces of distant sea of which this was but a seclud”ed inlet. Everywhere was that peculiar charm engendered by the association of quiet, pastoral country and a homely human atmosphere with a branch of the great ocean that bathes all of the shores of our globe.