This is a story I have been working on for the last month, loosely based on my father’s time in the Caribbean as a young man with little money and a wide world before him. Just a small section of the opening.
Jason sat above the bow of the Sorrento scouting for rocks as they entered the bay of a hilly islet. With the sun aloft in the boundless azure sky the water was a window of jade glass, a refracted vision of the world beneath the waves. They were skimming along the edge of a small reef, its blooms of coral curling into fantastic shapes between which the myriad colours of tropical fish darted. A gap in the reef began to appear thirty yards ahead and Jason signalled for the anchor to be dropped. It rattled out of its housing and sank lazily through the water, gently thudding onto the floor and kicking up a plume of sand.
He grabbed his mask and flippers, checked the snorkel was secure and fell backwards over the edge of the railing. The water was inviting, rushing around his body as he sank below the surface. Momentarily suspended, he twisted to face the sea floor and gave a few powerful kicks to bring him over the coral. The shoals folded around him like clouds as he drifted along, black groupers, golden conies, blue tangs and banded butterflyfish. He arched his back and dived down between two huge trees of coral, coming to rest at the sandy bottom. Leaning back, lying almost flat on the floor, he gazed at the rippling waves overhead and the silhouette of the yacht lying perpendicular to the shore. He lay there for as long as possible feeling warm, secure, and strangely at home before his lungs began to ache for want of oxygen. In a single motion he pushed off of the sand with his fingers and surged upwards, bursting out onto the surface.
The clients on this voyage had the same idea as Jason. The two boys, twelve and nine respectively, were wrestling with their masks whilst their father, a stern banker of forty or fifty, watched from behind his sunglasses. The mother lounged on the deck in her bikini as Paul, the chief mate and engineer, worked around her, tying the lines and deliberately looking away from her bronzed, glistening body. There was enough room on the deck for both the clients and the rest of the crew – Jed the captain, Carla the cook and Rodney the boat boy – to move around without tripping over each other. At seventy-two-feet the Sorrento wasn’t the most luxurious charter yacht, but she was nimble on the water and beautiful to look at as she lay at anchor shimmering in the sun.
There would be no more work except for food service later, but the clients had been adamant that the crew not dote on them so Jason had plenty of downtime to continue diving. He took every chance to snorkel so that putting on the mask had become almost instinctive. On a rest day in Antigua he had bought a dog-eared copy of a fish identification manual, learning the species by memory and ticking off every one he saw. Once aboard he rooted it out and made a mark next to the blue tang, then sat on the rear dive platform with the waves brushing his toes.