Andie.

"Bollocks!"

Andie was furious. He was more than furious, he had almost lost control of himself in his anger. I could understand why, though I wished he wasn't taking it out on me. He was standing facing me on the other side of the boat, which we'd just hauled out of the water. We'd just done very badly in the last race of the regatta, ruining any hopes of finishing in the first three. And he's been the helm for that race.

He went on, fury in his voice: "If you hadn't ..."

"Andie?" The voice of Mr. Wright, our sailing teacher.

"Yeah?" He didn't moderate his tone.

"I was in the boat on the start line watching you. Did you tell Pete to sheet in?" His voice was soft, trying to calm Andie down.

"Yeah, but he should have seen that it would take us over the line."

"You were helming on that race. If you tell the crew to do something, he does it. Your responsibility. You should know that."

Pete took a deep breath, and I thought for a moment that he was going to turn on Wright. Instead he turned on his heel, and stomped off, to go and sulk somewhere. I was relieved but not happy. Wright looked at me, eyebrows raised. I shrugged.

"Come on," he said, "I'll help you put the boat away. We'll give him chance to cool down."

At the start of the race, the wind had almost completely died, and there had been quite a tide running, carrying us forward. We'd got a clear slot by the line, and with ten seconds to go, he'd shouted, "Sheet in!"

With that current, I thought it was a bad idea, but I did as I was told, hauled on the jib sheet, bringing in the sail, which until then had been flapping idly. Then a puff of breeze came out of nowhere, and we speeded up ever so slightly, pushing us forward.

"We're over the line," I told him.

"We're not!"

Then the gun went. He pulled in the main, but that puff of air had gone. Then there was a yell from the committee boat. "42372. You're over."

"Shit!" Andie put the helm hard over, but with that current we had no chance. We sat stemming the current for three or four minutes while the rest of the fleet pulled away. Eventually we got a hoot from the committee boat to tell us we were clear again, and Andie put the helm back over.

He sailed a good race, I'll give him that, exploiting every little bit of breeze, playing all the tricks with the current. But there was no way we were going to come back from a start like that.

We bumped the dinghy back into the boat park.

"I'll go and have a word with him," said Wright.

I nodded, and started rolling up the sails. I could have done without all this. We were good friends, and I didn't want a row like this to upset things. I think Andie was as mad with himself as with me, but needed someone to blame. And I was the obvious target.

And when it came to the final ceremonies, to the prize givings, just Wright and I were there. Andie was nowhere to be seen. In fact, I didn't see him again before my parents picked me up.

And there was another snag looming. You see, we'd arranged another sailing venture. We'd sailed together at school, taking it in turns as helm and crew, for four years now. School was over. In fact, we'd left. I had enjoyed it at school, but was grateful to be away from all the rules and regulations. The regatta had been the last official function.

Andie's family had a yacht, a Moody 28. Nice boat, easy to sail, reasonably fast. I'd done the Round the Island Race with them a few weeks ago. I knew the boat well, enjoyed sailing it. And Andie had got the OK from his parents for us to take the boat away for a fortnight, over to France. So, if I was persona non grata, was this still on?

I thought that ringing him, talking to him, might be a bad idea. So instead I emailed him that night: "Are we still on for France on Monday?"

And I got a reply: "Sure we are."

OK then. With any luck, he'd have calmed down by then, got over the disaster at the regatta. So Monday morning, train to Portsmouth Harbour, little green ferry over to Gosport. I walked into the marina, found the pontoon. No one in sight, but the boat was open. I rapped on the hull.

"Hi," came his voice from below. "Come on board."

I heaved my bag over the lifelines and climbed on. When I went below, he was at the chart table. He didn't turn round.

"We're ready to go."

"Fine."

I took my kit up the forward cabin, and delved in it for a few things I would need for the crossing. I heard him fire up the engine, and hurried out, jumped onto the pontoon, cast the lines off, gave the boat a shove, and jumped back aboard. Andie was standing by the helm, dark sunglasses on, so I couldn't see his eyes. His face had a neutral sort of expression on - but it was that sort of expression which looked as if it was determinedly neutral. I sighed inside - the last thing I needed was a fortnight on a boat alone with someone who was just tolerating my presence.

I had the lines and fenders away even before we'd cleared the marina. It was two hours after high water - the train had been late, which probably hadn't helped Andie's temper. He revved the motor and we headed out into Portsmouth harbour. The mainsail cover was off, and I took off the sail ties and hoisted the main in the window shadow of HMS Dolphin.

With the full ebb behind us, we wooshed out of the entrance and down the deep water channel. We crabbed sideways as we went between the forts, then cut round Bembridge.

"Always lumpy round here," said Andie. And we were bouncing around. But it was the first statement he'd volunteered since I arrived. In the past, we'd always chatted, exchanged bandinage, whatever.

Then he looked at his watch: "Time for the Shipping forecast," he said.

I dived below for the radio and switched it on, waiting for our area to come up.

"Dover, Wight, Portland, Plymouth. Northwest or north 4 or 5, occasionally 6. Fair. Good."

I looked up at him, eyes still hidden behind those glasses, still making it impossible to work out what he was thinking. Mind you, it was bright enough out here with the sun reflecting off the water to justify his wearing them.

"Spinnaker run then?" I asked.

He hesitated and looked up at the wind indicator. The wind was over the quarter, and having come round Bembridge, we were laying the course we needed for Alderney.

"Yeah, why not?" he said. "Change over the battery switch so we can put some charge in the other one, and grab the spinnie bag."

Whilst I was doing down that, Andie put the Autohelm on, so the boat could steer itself.

Getting the spinnaker up with just the two of us was hard work. I went up on the foredeck, sorted out the pole, got the sail out of its bag, fixed up all the sheets. Andie led them back to the cockpit and put them on the winches. When everything was ready, I glanced back. He gave a thumbs up. I put the halliard on the winch and started hauling. The sail started coming up, then caught the wind and started filling, flogging from side to side. Now I had to use the winch properly to take it the rest of the way up. Andie pulled in the sheet, and as it began to draw, I could feel the boat heeling.

I tidied up the excess line and made my way back. Andie was standing gazing up at the sail. He was wearing a short sleeved white shirt, brilliant in the sunshine. His arms were tanned a deep brown by the hours he had spent on the water, but he was much dark complexioned than me anyway.

He turned, put the motor into neutral, and we stood for thirty seconds or so, getting the feel of the boat.

"Seems to be working," he said.

I looked at the log - it was flickering around just over six knots: 6.2, 6.3. Andie cut the motor.

"Isn't it nice when that stops."

I turned and gave him a half smile. With the diesel dead, the sounds of the boat moving through the water were much clearer now. With the wind over our quarter, and the spinnaker up, we were heeling a bit, but not too much.

I looked around: we were coming up to Dunnose now. "Two hours of tide left," I said. "Should see us nicely past St Catharine's. Then one foul tide, one fair tide. Should get us there nicely in time."

He looked at me. "You've been reading the books."

"Yeah." In fact, I had spent quite a bit of time between the regatta and now swotting up on the tides and the pilot books.

He looked round at the empty blue sea. "If we're going to be up all night, I better get some kip in now. You OK by yourself?"

I nodded. "Sure. No problem."

"Give me a shout if I'm not up by the time we get to the shipping lanes."

"Will do."

He disappeared down below. I looked around: we were coming up to being level with the lighthouse at St Catharine's, and if the swirls in the water were anything to judge by, there was still a good tide running. The sea wasn't as empty as all that: a ferry on its way to Cherbourg, a fishing boat about a mile away, a couple more yachts.

I spent a quarter of an hour tweaking the sails. The sea was relatively calm, and the Autohelm was coping well. The end result of my tweaks seemed to be an extra tenth of a knot. Then I went below, looked at the GPS, the chart, thumbed through the tide tables. Everything seemed to be going to plan. I made a cup of coffee, filled the thermos, and went back up.

The next few hours were straightforward enough. Occasionally I would disconnect the Autohelm and hand steer, for something to do. I caught the Shipping Forecast at six. No change. Then I began to see the white superstructure of ships on the horizon: we were approaching the shipping lanes running down the Channel.

I went below and peered into the rear cabin. Andie was sprawled out fast asleep, wedged by cushions against the rolling of the boat. I looked at him, hesitated. No point in waking him yet. I left him to it, and took the chance to grab a sandwich and a cup of coffee while I had the chance.

Back up on deck I watched the ships passing by. We were still only on the edge of the lanes. The wind was holding up nicely, and we were making a good speed.

I thought about Andie, his off hand manner, his slightly brusque behaviour since I'd come on board. We had been good friends at school, sailed on the boat together during holidays. We seemed to read each other's minds at times, know what the other was going to say. We were easy and relaxed together. All spoiled because of one row. He'd got on his high horse and wouldn't back down. And, yes, if I had done what I thought best, it wouldn't have happened. But Andie had been on the helm, had told his crew what to do. He could hardly complain afterwards if things had gone wrong.

Well, I could always jump ship on the other side, take a ferry back. But that would really kill our friendship stone dead. And it would leave Andie stranded without a crew. It would be difficult to do that to him. I sighed again, not sure what to do. Well, give it a day or two, see how things panned out. Things might yet come good.

As we got further into the lanes, one boat popped up behind us in a way I didn't like. We were on converging courses: the question is - where would we converge? After a couple of minute's indecision, I decided to alter course, and pushed the buttons on the Autohelm to alter course by twenty degrees. Then I did a quick sail trim.

The change in motion must have woke Andie, for his head appeared in the hatchway. He looked bleary with sleep.

"Where are we?" he asked.

"Shipping lanes. I've just altered course for that fellow," I told him, pointing it out.

"Right."

He gazed at the oncoming ship. Slowly its appearance changed, until its masts were in line. I breathed a sigh of relief: we were in front of it now, and our progress was taking us clear. After another minute, I went back to our previous course, and retrimmed the sails.

"Want something to eat?" asked Andie.

"Please."

He disappeared below.

"I've filled the Thermos," I yelled down the hatch.

"Thanks," came floating back up.

A few minutes later he came back with pies, some salad, some crisps and coffee. We sat in the cockpit munching away as the ships slipped past astern of us.

"Six o'clock forecast was just the same," I told him.

He looked up to the sails, saw them drawing well. We were still making more than six knots.

"Yeah, we've been lucky with this wind."

He gathered the plates up and took them below, then came back.

"Want to take charge for a while?" I asked.

"Sure."

I went below for a pee, and grabbed a fleece. The sun was getting low now. I looked at the chart and the GPS. Forty odd miles to go. The last of the foul tide was still holding us back. I looked at our position on the chart - it would be at least another hour before we'd be through the other shipping lane. I took my time down below, going up to the forward cabin to sort out my gear some more, fiddling about to kill time before going up.

Andie was lying on the windward side, back up against the stern pulpit, legs stretched out in front of him. I sat up against the bulkhead to leeward, taking advantage of the shelter provided by the spray hood. The sun was low, shining in my eyes as I looked over to Andie. Again, I couldn't read the expression on his face.

Soon we were in the other shipping lane, but this time it was a lot quieter, and we got through without having to do any more dodging. The sun was down below the horizon now, but it was still quite light.

"I'm turning in for a while," I told him.

"Sure."

I hoped he wasn't going to be as monosyllabic as this for the whole fortnight. Down below, I looked at the GPS and the chart. The tide had started to run our way now - our ground speed was increasing. Time to arrival five hours - 3 a.m. Well, it should start to be getting light by then, I hoped. I looked at our course. If we weren't careful we were going to get swept past.

"Andie?" I yelled.

"Yeah."

"Tide's turned. I think we may have to alter course a bit."

He came scrambling down, looked at the GPS, the chart, the tide tables, and grunted.

"Yeah. Another ten degrees should see us right."

I wouldn't argue with that.

"OK. I'm turning in."

As I settled myself into the lee bunk in the main cabin I felt the motion of the boat alter slightly, as he adjusted the course and retrimmed the sails. Then I went out like a light.

I must have slept well; the next thing I knew was Andie shaking my shoulder.

"Mmm?"

"Pete?"

"Yeah?"

"Three miles off."

"God."

I scrambled up and put my head out. Dead on the nose was Quenard lighthouse.

"Not bad eh?"

Something worried me. I looked back at the GPS then the chart. The tide was still running fast: too fast.

"We're being swept past by this tide."

"What?" He obviously didn't agree with me.

"Look and see for yourself."

He bent over the chart, the dim light catching his profile. I could see the expression on his face - he wasn't liking this.

"We'll have to get the spinnie down and motor across the tide," I said.

"I suppose."

I looked at my watch. Just after two. Wouldn't be light for another hour at least. I went out on deck: there was some moon, and the sky was quite light.

"Turn her downwind," I said. "I'll go up front and ping the pole."

He didn't say anything, but I could see him disconnect the Autohelm.

Going downwind swung us round quite a bit the way we wanted. I released the sheet from the pole, and got ready to bring the sail down. Handling all that cloth could be a hassle. But it came down smoothly enough, and hastily, I took off the sheets and stuffed it into the bag. We could sort it out later.

By the time I'd got back to the cockpit, he'd gathered the sheets in and had started the motor. I went back down to the GPS. Our course was better now. We'd arrived early, so that the full ebb was still running. Two miles to the waypoint - sixteen minutes according to the GPS.

I went back up. "OK, hold her on this course. We should be able to see the leading lights soon."

He put the engine right up to full throttle. The lights in the harbour slowly altered position as we moved closer, then I could begin to see the leading lights. "There," I pointed. As they got closer together Andie started to bring the head round ten degrees at a time. Then we got them in line. As close in as this, the tide was less. Andie eased back on the throttle as we came in closer. I looked at my watch. Three a.m. The sky was beginning to get a touch of brightness to it behind us.

As we came past the breakwater, Andie eased right back.

"I'll swing her round so you can drop the main."

"Fine."

We sat there bouncing slightly as I pulled it down. Behind the breakwater the water was flatter. I put the last sail tie on.

"OK. All done."

Slowly he swung the head round and we moved cautiously into the harbour. I rummaged for the boathook.

"There." Andie had spotted a gap in the moored boats.

We moved in, the engine at a tick over now. He timed it nicely, reversing just as we approached. There was just enough light for me to see the pick up buoy, hoist it on board, make it fast. I turned and gave him the thumbs up.

He killed the motor as I came back, then, slightly stiffly, "Sorry about that."

I shrugged. "We got here, didn't we?"

"Yeah. No thanks to me."

"We got here too quickly. That was thanks to you."

"Yeah. Maybe."

"No maybe."

He was silhouetted against the breaking dawn.

"Come on. I reckon we need some more sleep."

"Yeah."

This time I could make myself comfortable up in the front, with the boat now quiet and still. I didn't have much trouble falling asleep again.

Andie woke me at nine with a cup of tea. I stirred and turned over, to see him holding it out to me. He was wearing only his boxers, and holding a cup for himself.

"Here."

"Right. Thanks."

It was warm already: the sun was obviously quite fierce out there. Andie perched by the doorway, leaning back.

"Wind's dropped completely now, by the look of things."

"Yeah."

"And the sun's shining."

"It's warm in here already."

"Sorry to have cocked things up last night," he said, staring into his mug.

I sat up. He flicked a glance at me.

"You were up there by yourself," I told him. "You can't watch the boat and the chart at the same time."

"Even so."

"We're here, aren't we?"

"Yeah." He gave me a quick smile. Even if we weren't back to our easy relaxed manner, he was obviously making an effort. I sat up further.

"So what's the plan?"

He shrugged again, still looking into his mug. "Chill out for the day?"

"Sounds good to me."

For a moment I thought he was going to say, do something else, but then he hoisted himself up and disappeared. I knew I needed to get up for a pee.

I pottered about, taking my time washing, brushing my teeth, and so on. Eventually I went out on deck, to find Andie stretched out. He'd brought up a cockpit cushion, and wedged a pillow behind his head. He was still just in his boxers, with the dark glasses on again, his eyes closed, basking in the sun. I decided to follow suit.

After an hour or two, I was starting to prickle with the effect of the sun. I wasn't nearly as dark skinned as Andie, and knew if I stayed out there much longer I'd burn, so I retired back to my cabin with a book.

Around four, he came back down, and put his head round into my cabin. He looked at me, smiled.

"We'll blow up the dinghy, go ashore for a shower," he suggested.

"Good idea."

It wasn't that far to row, and we tied up at the jetty among all the other inflatables. Towels over shoulders, we headed for the shower block. Once in the showers, I could hear Andie next door, singing away. Well, if he was singing, he might be in a better mood. When I came out from the shower, he was vigorously towelling his hair in front of the mirror. He turned to me.

"Feel better for that?"

"Sure do."

We rowed back, hung our towels out to dry. Then back ashore for Braye's fish and chip shop, followed by a couple of pints in the Diver. We were in a mellow mood when we got back. The plan was to head off for Guernsey the next day, leaving just before the tide turned.

But early the next morning Andie burst into my cabin, jolting me awake. I looked at my watch: quarter to six.

"What's the panic?"

"I've just caught the early morning Shipping Forecast. Wight and Portland, Variable 3 becoming north east 6 or 7."

I sat up, thinking about that. "I'm not sure I want to be going down to Guernsey with that forecast."

"True, but we can't stay here." Alderney was notoriously uncomfortable in north easterlies. "Let's go look at the chart."

We stood at the chart table, shoulders touching as we leant over. As we touched, Andie moved slightly away from me, breaking contact: I could see a touch of uncertainty in his eyes as he glanced at me.

"How about the French coast, here?" I suggested. "Dielette?"

He looked at it. "Should be sheltered enough there. Where's the pilot book?"

I dug it out, and we poured over it.

"Looks OK," I said. "Tides - I guess we should leave about ten - have the last of the flood in the Race as we cross over."

"Fine." He stood back. His skin seemed even more brown now after his time in the sun. "I'll reset my alarm."

We both went back for a couple more hours of sleep before getting up, snatching something to eat. I cast off the mooring as Andie started the engine. The sky seemed an uninterrupted blue, but the sea was oily, glassy, and there was something of a swell running. Coming round the island we caught the swirls of the Race that ran between Alderney and the mainland; even though there was a flat calm I hoisted the main to help steady the boat. It slatted from side to side as we motored our way across.

The tide rather held us back as we crossed over, but when we got to the French side we started making progress south to Dielette. There was a inner harbour which had a lock to hold the water in at low water, but close to high tide as we were, we had no problem getting in. There seemed to be a lot of empty spaces on the pontoons.

"Over there," I pointed, "Port side to. That way we'll be pointing into the wind and on the lee side."

"Sure."

I hastened to put out lines and fenders, and Andie drove us up neatly to the berth. The pontoons bounced under my weight as I jumped on to it, but we were soon tied up and secure.

We looked around at the sky.

"No sign of that wind yet," said Andie.

I shrugged. "Well, it doesn't matter. We're here now. It's not Guernsey, but so what?"

"Yeah."

We sunbathed in the cockpit again for a few hours. I was hoping to get enough sun to get past the pink stage. Andie lay there, quiet, relaxed. I still couldn't work him out: one moment stiff, awkward, the next eager, almost over friendly. All right, the row had been one thing, but nothing that would explain his present mood swings. It was if ... I couldn't explain it, but there seemed to be something else there, something I hadn't yet fathomed.

But when I got up after an hour or so, I could feel the start of a cool breeze.

"The forecast was right," I told Andie, "the breeze is starting."

"Yeah?" he said, glancing up at me, eyes still hidden behind those shades. I wished I could see behind the dark glasses, to see what was really registering in those eyes. I looked at him, lying in the sunshine, body outstretched. Then I took myself below, out of the sun, retiring to my cabin and a book.

That evening we headed out to enjoy a proper French restaurant. We hadn't any Euros, and the town was too small to have a cash machine, but our cards would do. The restaurant was welcoming, and we settled for one of the fixed price menus, with wine.

As the evening drew on, Andie became more and more animated, completely unlike his behaviour up to now. The wine might have helped: by the end of the evening, we had downed two bottles - which meant one each. We staggered out into the darkness distinctly tipsy. The wind had certainly got up, and we could hear halliards clattering away in the marina.

We climbed back on board, and I put the kettle on. We sat in the soft light of the cabin sipping coffee.

"Better than Alderney," said Andie.

"That's for sure."

Andie was silent for a minute then: "Pete?"

"Yeah?"

"I'm sorry."

"For what?"

He sighed. "For losing my temper back at the regatta. For being so - awkward - this last day or two."

"No problem."

"Yes, it was. I was being stubborn. Forgiven?"

"Of course."

And he stretched out a hand. I took it, and he gave it a gentle squeeze, held it for a moment or two, released it. Then he stood up.

"Bed," he said. "With all this alcohol, I don't think I'm going to have much problem sleeping, even with this noise."

"I reckon not."

I crashed out myself, the wine sending me into straightway into oblivion.

Andie woke me in the morning as before, a mug of tea in each hand.

"Wind's gone down," he said.

It was certainly quieter. He stood in the entrance to the cabin for a moment or two, then sat on the bunk next to me. I looked at him, hair slightly dishevelled, skin tanned by the sun.

"I meant it last night," he said, again staring into his mug.

"What?"

"About being sorry for the way I've been carrying on."

"Forget it," I told him.

But he was still uneasy. "Pete ..."

"Yeah?"

He frowned, still staring down. "It's, well, I don't know ... difficult."

"What is?"

He finished his tea and put his mug down. He looked at me directly, almost for the first time since he'd come in.

"I'm glad you came."

"Well, I wanted to. I've enjoyed the sailing." And now it was my turn to look down at my mug. "And being on the boat with you."

"Even with me being difficult," he said wryly.

"Even with that."

He leaned back, close to me now.

"I'm not always good with words, you know."

"Depends on the words."

"Yeah, sure." He looked at me again, uncertainty deep in his eyes. "I wanted you to come on the boat like this, because ..." he broke off again, looked down, looked back at me.

I think I'd worked out what he trying to say. I reached up, touched his shoulder lightly. He jumped, a startled look in his eyes.

Had I got this wrong?

Then suddenly he lay down flat alongside me, head down in the duvet. I touched his shoulder again, but this time he didn't move. I left my hand there, his skin hot beneath my fingers. We must have lain there for some minutes without stirring. Then slowly he moved his feet, his legs, his body sliding under the duvet next to mine. I freed the trapped corner and pulled it over the two of us. We lay side by side, not quite touching. Then his hand moved slowly, gently, over my arm, my chest, coming to rest over my shoulder.

There we stayed for some time, until I reached out, pulling him gently to me. His feet tangled with mine, I felt his leg moving over mine. His head nestled between my neck and my shoulder. I moved a hand gently over his back, feeling the warmth. He sighed, and again we moved to embrace each other. Slowly our hands began to roam over each other.

And after, as we lay together, his head came up, and he looked at me.

"I've wanted to do this for a long time, you know, Pete."

"I'd guessed."

He fumbled for words again. "If I was acting funny before, it's because, well, I wanted to, but didn't know how. Does that sound stupid?"

"No."

"I didn't know - how you would take it, you see."

I moved away from him, slid a hand down the length of his warm brown body.

"I suppose in one way I knew - but didn't realise it," I told him.

There were tears in his eyes. I lifted a hand, smoothed them away.

"Don't," I said.

"It's all right - it's just that ... it feels so good, being here with you."

"I know."

And I pulled him to me, while we lay in a happy daze together. Happy days. Happy daze.



Comments, criticisms etc: email The Composer.