The approach

The Approach

Plumes of steam flew in the cold air dancing from the tops of each pipe in rhythm with viennese waltz, obscured by the passing wooden figures rising up and down as if they were looking over the heads in the crowd, looking for another to partner them in their spinning and prancing cavalcade dance. Children screamed in delight as their horses spun around and around to the music.

The Carousel

I stood in my raincoat, turned against the winter rain but entranced, three feet from the turning platform, close enough for each strident note to pound at my chest. Cream and gold and red gleaming horses flashed past my eyes and in my memories dancing together, the now and the then. Allowing this daydream to persist was a luxury that I had not enjoyed since the old days and I stayed there a long time. It was becoming  a backdrop against which I felt sure that something else was about to appear, like the ‘boket in a photograph taken with a wide aperture setting. A closer subject began to make itself known, sharper and slowly distinct.

A large black steel ketch formed in my eye or in my head, it’s vast white sails taught against the trade winds. The horses becoming creamy tops to the waves still dancing to the Austrian waltzes. 

I am going to see someone on the square again. Every year since I started visiting the old Showmans Fairs here, the same thing happened; an old friend, a flashing idea of someone from the past. I came here for this perhaps; to find my ghost of the past. What better place and time? The enigmatic fairground in winter, swirling colours and winds, sparkling lights against the dark leaden sky. A place of mystery for children and romantics alike.

Like a hammer, a heavy hand struck my shoulder at that very instant, timed with my visions and thoughts. The shock blasting away the images of the sea and horses just as the waltzing horses slowed to a halt in both the ride and in the raging sea. I turned around and felt the blood rising in my cheeks and a reddening in my neck under my turned up collar.  

“Claude? Bonjours!”

“Salut petit mec” he replied in that permanent Breton accent of the old fishermen. It had been thirty seven years since we last saw each other in the Canary Islands and it now, suddenly seemed that the years had evaporated. We were back on the deck of his ‘Dioul Du’ – The Black Devil.

“So why are you here” we both asked at the same time. Half a smile nearly appeared on his always tight mouth. “For the Ocean Racing Committee. You?” 

“I am here for the Showmans Fair. I always come. But I am surprised to see you, there was no news, for years, I heard…..”

“No don’t listen to all that merde” he snapped. “I am here now. And you, you were always the showman, n’est-ce pas”

“But you were on the Big Tour no? Solo Circumnagivation?” 

“Yes I did that and I finished and now I am here for the committee” He was irritated.

“What about the ketch? Where is she?”

“We left her in the Ivory Coast”

“Yes, I thought so but we all had so many possessions on board her, memories too”

Well now they had all gone years past, there was nothing left of those days. Only one question remained.

“Why did you abandon the Atlantic crossing Claude? You could have found new crew when we left you in the islands. Only another 30 days to go. No, you left the ocean and headed for the Gold Coast. What was going on?”

Claude remained silent and began to turn his head away.

“I don’t think that you ever planned to take us all across, did you?”

 We had planned for months the voyage to Guadeloupe, to look for work and adventure. We had all dreamed of the life in the sun with our partners and our babies in tow; the sailing, the sun and the island life. 

“What happened in Gran Canaria Claude? What was in the sealed containers in the aft cabin? Why did you go into the conflict on the West Coast?”

He was turned away now, looking into the crowd as though he had seen something or someone out there or perhaps his regard was more distant and his mind on other times and places. This great broad man turned his sea beaten face slowly back towards me. His eyes were wet. His lips moved as if to speak, another flash of white and gold, between them in a second – before he stopped. Claude turned away again and began to walk. He never turned back, not at sea, not in life and not now.  

Only that once.

The next day the Fair was over and my mind came to rest on these events. The sky had cleared and the temperature had risen a degree or two. Wandering around the empty fairground I tried to remember all that had happened on that great steel yacht, long ago dissapeared. What had happened between us all on board and in port. Why had I met Claude again now, here in Saint Malo?

 I found a telephone. 

“Ici le Gendarmerie Maritime, bonjour” Yes Monsieur, un instant je vous prie? I waited for the officer to come back to the ‘phone with the information that I had requested.

“ Non Monsieur we only found the wreck of the black yacht floating 100 nautical from Ouessant. There was no-one on board, nothing, no sign of life.

Monsieur I can confirm categorically that Monsieur Claude Olivier was lost at sea 10 years ago.”.

Rene Paul Gosselin

Johannesburg. 15th May 2015

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