My home in the South of France – a French mas (Provençal farmhouse) in Ste Maxime – affords beautiful views over the Mediterranean. I often write in the garden, in the shade on the terrace, or in my writing room if the heat is too much; and as I write I glance up now and again to drink in the colours of the view, especially the azure ocean. Sometimes, though, a glance is not enough: the view commands my attention!
This is especially the case at the end of the summer each year, when a regatta, Les Voiles de St Tropez, takes place in the gulf of St Tropez. This is what I see from my house:
I love to watch the sailboats racing through the waters; they call to mine this verse from Lord Byron’s The Corsair:
O’er the glad waters of the dark blue sea,
Our thoughts as boundless, and our souls as free,
Far as the breeze can bear, the billows foam,
Survey our empire, and behold our home!
Freedom, exhilaration, abandon, joy – these are sensations that I associate with sailing, and they were inspirations for my Andalucían Nights series.
The second book, Masquerade, and the final book, Legacy, are set in the city of Cadiz, Spain, which is known as ‘the Bride of the Sea’ because it is almost entirely surrounded by the ocean. In Masquerade, my heroine Luz is spirited and liberated. She feels an affinity with the sea, and is confident in taking to the water herself:
On one of her outings of exploration, as she climbed through the opaque forest of thick vegetation that wound up and down the coast, she had burst into a clearing. From there, as if out of nowhere, she had come upon an expanse of shimmering blue ocean enclosed within a small cove. It lay at the bottom of the escarpment, surrounded by little creeks and rocky caves, with lonely golden beaches sandwiched between haciendas. Since it was impossible to reach by foot, the next day she hired a small boat and, using her sense of direction, found one of the approaches to this magical place through the rocks. It looked lonely, with only a few seagulls strutting about on the wet sand at the water’s edge. And there, in complete seclusion, she bathed until sunset. After that, she came every day.
Later in the book, the hero Andrés takes her sailing and… well, I wouldn’t want to give away the plot. Suffice it to say that I explore the dramatic, as well as the serene, side of sailing.
Legacy, the final book in the series, resonates with echoes of the past, one of which is a return to the water. Ruy takes Luna sailing on the Vela Gitana (Sailing Gypsy), a 1953 yacht. It may be old, but it is also handsome and romantic –‘What a dream,’ Luna says as she climbs aboard.
I could not resist working in at this point Les Voiles de St-Tropez. Ruy explains:
‘Last year she entered the regatta of Les Voiles de St-Tropez, which used to be known as La Nioulargue, and she more than held her own among all the modern yachts, as well as some really beautiful traditional ones.’
There is something sublimely romantic about sailing; but beyond romance, a sensuality can spring up. In both Masquerade and Legacy sailing stirs emotion in the characters; their proximity to nature, to the wild and tempestuous sea, fires up their chemistry.
I will leave you with a poem by one of my favourite writers from English literature, William Wordsworth, which perfectly encapsulates the fusion of sailing and sensuality.
With ships the sea was sprinkled
With ships the sea was sprinkled far and nigh,
Like stars in heaven, and joyously it showed;
Some lying fast at anchor in the road,
Some veering up and down, one knew not why.
A goodly vessel did I then espy
Come like a giant from a haven broad;
And lustily along the bay she strode,
Her tackling rich, and of apparel high.
The ship was nought to me, nor I to her,
Yet I pursued her with a lover’s look;
This ship to all the rest did I prefer:
When will she turn, and whither? She will brook
No tarrying; where she comes the winds must stir:
On went she, and due north her journey took.