In June we set sail from L’Aber Wrac’h in northwest Brittany. For three days we sailed south across the Bay of Biscay. The north wind sped us along, the sky was clear, and dolphins accompanied us day and night.
On the first day of our Biscay passage I started reading Ruth Ozeki’s novel A tale for the time being. It is a story about the ocean, about Zen Buddhism, and about the unexpected flotsam that finds its way into our lives and our hearts. In true Ozeki style, the lines between fact and fiction are blurred. Ozeki and her husband are in the story, and half of the story is set on the small Pacific Northwest island where they live. The protagonist, Ruth, finds a battered Hello Kitty lunch box on the beach near her home. She brings the box home and opens it at her kitchen table. Inside she finds a diary, mildewed and water damaged, written by a teenage Japanese girl. The girl’s story unfolds as Ruth slowly translates the diary and begins to make sense of the other items in the lunchbox. The two stories are separated by the vast Pacific Ocean and by the time it has taken the lunchbox to drift from Japan to the US. Yet they are also bound together, as Ruth believes the story of the Japanese girl cannot reach a satisfactory conclusion without her careful reading of the diary.
By the time we reached Ria de Viveiro on the northwest coast of Spain, I was more than half way through the novel. I packed the book in my backpack for our first trip ashore from our anchorage. I hoped to read a few pages while the girls played on the huge empty beach where we landed the dinghy. Julian left us to explore the town and the girls and I had fun on the beach until the sky turned black. The thunder crashed loudly around us and spectacular lightning filled the sky. There was no shelter to be found on the beach and for twenty minutes we huddled miserably in the lee of a sand dune. By the time the sky cleared the girls and I were soaked to the skin, and we soggily slopped off to find Julian.
When we returned to Carina I discovered that the contents of my backpack, including A tale for the time being, had also suffered in the thunder storm. For the next couple of days I dried the contents of my purse, my notebook, pens and, of course, my book, in the cockpit. When it had dried, I gingerly read the last quarter of the book. It was waterlogged, the spine wilting under the now fluffy pages. In the Galician humidity, mould quickly took hold, and black spiral patterns spread across the pages that I carefully turned, willing the book to stay intact until I reached the end.
I finished the book and considered throwing it in the bin, due to its poor condition. But when we arrived at the marina in A Coruña I decided to leave the book in the marina lounge. One of the joys of being at marinas is browsing through the books left behind by other sailors and I like to donate my books when I’ve finished reading them. Amidst the novels in German, Swedish, Dutch, and so on, that one finds at these marina book swaps, there are always a selection of English books. And amidst the Danielle Steeles and the Harlan Corbins, I occasionally find a book or two to add to Carina’s library. Only yesterday, when I deposited my beloved copies of The Goldfinch (Donna Tartt) and Americanah (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie), I was delighted to pick up Orhan Pamuk’s The Museum of Innocence. Oh, what delights.
But I digress. I deposited A tale for the time being, tatty, waterlogged, mouldy, at the marina lounge in A Coruña. It’s fragile state reminded me of the diary at the centre of the story. So you can imagine my surprise when, last week, I wandered into the marina office here in Aguadulce to find my very own copy of A tale for the time being sitting on top of the book swap pile! It was instantly recognisable – the mildewed, water stained and swollen pages. It’s dried out since I last saw it, and the pages are now brittle and yellowed. But it was unmistakably my book. A book about a diary that floats across an ocean had followed me in the hands of another sailor (or maybe more than one) all the way from the Atlantic coast of northwest Spain into the Mediterranean (over 850 nautical miles, passing the entire coast of Portugal, west Galicia and Andalucia)! Discovering that my own copy of the book had followed me here made some of the more surreal and improbable elements of the novel seem spookily more plausible!
The sailor who picked it up in A Coruña could have gone anywhere with it. A Coruña is a major stopping off point for yachts heading south to the Canaries and the Caribbean and it is a landfall for sailors sailing east across the Atlantic and making their way to northern Europe. Between A Coruña and Aguadulce there are probably fifty marinas, many of them far more substantial and along more significant passage-making routes than Aguadulce. So for the book to travel over 850 nautical miles to the out-of-the-way marina where we have chosen to spend the winter is remarkable. What a thrill I experienced on seeing the book again.
PS…I had a goldfinch experience a couple of days ago, but that’s a blog for another day!