Starsailor

It was unusual to see one on an inland lake. Sapphire thought that large sailing ships only ploughed the high seas. There it was though – what looked like a floating mansion with a fabulous clothes line of gleaming whites, gliding along the emerald waters, with mountains and forests behind. How did it get here, she wondered? Was it possible to sail all the way from the ocean, along the Glaser River, through Morrison Lake, then via smaller rivers, all the way to Lucerne?

Her grandma had first shown her the lakes. When life at home became unbearable – her parents fighting non-stop, and Sapphire crying non-stop – her grandma said, “Let me take you to a beautiful place where everything will be better.”

Sapphire said, “Where are we going, grandma? Are we going to India?” She’d heard her mother talking about living there. That was the main thing her parents argued about.

“No child. We’re going to the Magic Lakes. I discovered them when I was your age. I’d swim and fish there. You’ll like them.”

After her parents parted company, Sapphire travelled with her mother and saw many beautiful places – the temples of Varanasi, the churches of Jerusalem, the Oracle of Delphi, Angkor Wat, Borobudur, and Giza – but none of them were home. They were others people’s homes. Her grandma died the year after they visited the Magic Lakes, and Sapphire hadn’t returned there for ten years now. But this year she felt lost in life – stuck in a dead end job, with a fractured relationship, a poor body image, and negative mindset. She felt drawn to the Lakes.

There were so many lakes there – some round, some long; some green, some black; some transparent, and some thick with muddy clouds, seeming thunderous skies upturned. She traversed them endlessly in her kayak.

There was a bustle of activity around the large sailing ship. Teams of swarthy sailors – were they Goan? Maybe Filipino? – unloaded cloth-covered boxes manually. The operation seemed antique. Sapphire paddled across the lake towards the sailing ship.

Her paddle was quickly pulled from her grasp. She screamed in shock. A sailor was swimming beside her. He steadied her boat, clutching her paddle. She’d been ambushed.

“Please come with me,” he said, clearly Goan.

“Why should I?” Sapphire said fiercely. “Leave me alone, or I’ll scream.”

“You already did,” he said, smiling. “But don’t worry; I won’t force you to come. I am only delivering a message from the Captain. She invites you to join her for tea.”

She?” said Sapphire. “Your Captain is a woman?” She wondered why she was so surprised by this.

“Yes, she is,” said the sailor. “And a truly great Captain too. She has taken our ship to places we never imagined.” He beamed at Sapphire, his white, white teeth dazzling. “Will you accept her invitation?”

“If I say no, will you give my paddle back?”

“Immediately,” said the Goan.

“In that case please give me my paddle.” The Goan’s smile declined, and he passed back her paddle. “Now swim ahead,” said Sapphire, “and I will follow you.” His smile returned.

It was a beautiful ship with an elegant puzzle of ropes and sails. The three main masts had five square-sails each, and there was an array of long triangular sails – seeming washed kites – attached to the tusk-like mast at the front – was that the prow? Further triangular sails stretched taut between the masts. Why so many? What were they all for? A flag flew atop the main mast – royal blue with a golden sun, and a shape within, which was hard to indentify whilst limp.

“Welcome aboard sailor!” someone called down from the rear top deck – the stern? It was a strong female voice, maybe Anglo-Indian. Sapphire saw a sturdy, dark-skinned, dark-haired woman in her fifties – surely the Captain. “Thank you for accepting my invitation. Shall we?” she indicated for Sapphire to enter some ornate double-doors. Well I’m here now, she thought, so may as well.

The inside of the ship was beautifully crafted. There was teak panelling and mirrors, and ornate lamps of exotic designs, featuring spiders and peacocks. The captain led her to a spacious room with three sides of stained glass glowing. She said, “We were wondering who was watching our operation. I sent Gonzales out to investigate. He took more direct action than anticipated, but here you are.” She nodded warmly. “We’ve got a bit of cleaning to do – those barnacles really build up on the bottom, and algae accumulate. That slows us down. We need to lose some cargo too. Reduce weight to lessen water displacement. We’re near maximum deadweight tonnage. We’ll only carry high value items from now on.”

“But where are you going?” said Sapphire. “You haven’t told me.”

“You must join the crew if you want to know that, sailor. All I can say is that throughout history, ships have been used by men for many things – fishing, commercial, and military purposes; to transport people, to entertain them, to spread technology; to colonize and enslave; to spread new crops leading to our world’s crazy population growth, and promoting energy-intensive economies. Here’s our chance to make a difference.”

“I don’t understand. Where are you going?”

“Have you read Tom Sawyer or Huckleberry Finn?” Sapphire nodded. “We follow the advice of the great sailor-philosopher, Mark Twain.” The captain closed her eyes and recited, “‘So throw off the bowlines, sail away from safe harbour. Catch the trade wind in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.’ To this I add ‘change’.”

“Change what?” said Sapphire.

“Change everything! We sail great rivers, lakes, and seas, following our dreams. Taking ideas everywhere. We’re always looking for good crew members. Will you join us?”

Sapphire felt that she had nothing to lose, and said, “Aye-Aye Captain! When do we sail?”

“As soon as you salute our flag,” said the Captain, indicating for Sapphire to go above board. The royal blue flag was now fluttering. Within its golden sun was the shape of a little girl.

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