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The Spike or Victoria College Review 1936

Sea Fire

Sea Fire

French Pass; one by one we climbed down the swaying rope ladder into the launch, quietly chugging along beside the silent ship. Above, the glaring lights showed the sailors, busy with their duties, against the intense background of the night, while around us we heard the soft swishing of the ripples against the side of the ship as she slowly moved on into the current. "Cast off, below there!" Then for two hours we passed quickly through the night, far up the coast of D'Urville Island, past lonely islets looming out of the blackness, and accompanied all the time by the magic light of the phosphorescent sea. For as the screw churned up the water behind us it became a million points of flashing flame, and each wave as it rolled outwards shone for a moment before it passed altogether into the darkness. I had grown up by the blue-grey waters of Hawkes Bay, where the sea has no strange lights, and this first experience of phosphorescence left me with a quiet feeling of excitement which lasted for the whole of our twenty-mile journey, until in the first light of day we cautiously nosed our way into the tiny bush-clad bay which was our destination.

In Nelson in the late summertime, the warm waters of the bay are full of the tiny organisms whose glow makes the disturbed sea seem a solid mass of flame. It was in Torrent Bay that the yacht was moored, that green paradise which is accessible only by sea, and where the golden sand stretches all round the shore. We had been through the caves where the glowworms shine night and day with a faint blue glimmer, and on reaching the water we stripped off our clothes and swam out to the yacht. In an instant each of us had a wonderful golden body, and a shower of liquid light was scattered by every movement of our arms. With the cool water washing against our bodies, and the unforgettable fire of the sea in our eyes we became as gods, drunk with the joy of life in this quiet haven of the west.

It is in the autumn that the outermost arm of Pelorus Sound becomes clothed in its greatest beauty. There is a subtle change in the landscape. The hills lose their sharp shadows of the summer and become more gentle. The air is clearer, and in the early morning, just as the sun rises from the sea, Mount Egmont stands out like a red sentinel in the northern sky. In the long summer it seemed almost too hot for the insects to sing, but now in the cooler days of autumn, the air of this lonely land is filled with the new friendliness of their song. At nightfall, however, there is no sound but the rustle of the waves on the sand and the occasional splash of a fish as it rises to the surface.

In this enchanted silence we used to sit on the wharf, watching far below us the grotesque balls of light which shone intermittently as they slowly moved among the piles. Sometimes we would row from bay to bay, and when there was no moon we could not distinguish between the reflection of the stars and the points of phosforescence in the sea. Each time an oar was dipped it left a golden disc swirling out behind it, and as it slowly swung forward the water ran off in jewelled drops.

When the full moon rose up from behind a hill the fire of the sea was masked by the new light, and the stars were no longer reflected on its calm surface, but there remained the memory of the beautiful light which shines only in the utter darkness.